Colorful and honest, with humor, heartbreak, and ultimate redemption, Blue Jesus is the story of friendship, family, faith, and the power in a commonality of differences.
|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
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By Tom Edwards
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2009 Tom Edwards
All rights reserved.
The day we found the dead baby was like any other hot August day in Georgia. School was out, which meant I spent most of my days alone or with Early. We were all eating breakfast when I looked out our kitchen window and saw him wandering up our road. He waited for me out in our backyard, playing with the laundry Grandma had drying on the line.
When Grandma saw him, she yelled out the screen door, "Early Finch, get away from them sheets, and come in here for a biscuit!"
Early just waved at Grandma and started up the path to the barn. Early never comes in our house when my pa's home. It's not that Pa ever did anything to him, but Early's got instincts about people. He knows Pa doesn't trust anybody, especially anybody blue. Pa says blue people are slick as greasy water and the Lord marked them blue as a warning for us to keep away. I say if the Lord was marking people, He'd start with the criminals and work His way down. I suspect my brother Will would be about number one on His list.
I found Early stacking wood beside the barn. "You okay?" I asked.
"Pa come home drunk. He's getting worser," he said, giving me a half grin, and then we took off down the road. He didn't say anything more. He didn't have to. That's the beauty of the friendship plan.
I wasn't sure what we were going to be doing this morning, but one thing I did know, we wouldn't be seeing anybody else if we could help it. Every time I go to town, I get beat up. There's always some older boy calling me a sissy and smacking me around until I cry. Making me cry is a game all the big boys like. I'm almost as popular as baseball.
In that respect, Comfort Corners is no different from Atlanta. When you're different from everybody else, you get picked on. Sometimes I feel like I'm not really living at all, just occupying as little space as I can so people won't notice me. Early avoids people, too, especially other kids. They call him bait trash because his family owns the bait farm south of town. I feel bad for Early, but I can't stick up for him because then they'd turn on me. I'm not proud of that, but it's the gospel truth, and I'm known for always telling the truth. Ask anybody, they'll say it's so.
This morning we started out for the river. Early likes exploring, especially by the town dump. It's my favorite, too. On a good day you can find all kinds of stuff. One time I found a cracked 78 rpm record of Sentimental Journey by Miss Doris Day. It's one of my favorite songs, right up there with Debbie Reynolds' Tammy, which is from the movie Tammy and the Bachelor. In my opinion this is the best movie ever made.
Early and I crossed the river up by our house and walked along the west bank heading for the town dump. When we passed the cut-off to the cemetery, I waved up the hill to Mama. Further along River Road we were still hidden by the trees when we heard some yelling. Right off I knew it was Butch Calkins, this nasty redneck who is responsible for most of my misery. I don't know what I ever did to Butch, but ever since I moved up here he's been after me. I avoid him every chance I get, but I'd swear Butch spends most of his life thinking up new ways to torture me. Just the sight of me seems to set him off.
If there's a bunch of kids around when Butch has pounded me to the ground, he always lets me go once I start to cry. When we're alone, he won't let me go until I kiss him. He knocks me down, and then throws himself on top of me. I don't think this is right. I'm only eleven. He's at least fourteen and way bigger than me. Grandma says Butch is cussed mean because he's Dutch Christian Reform and his mother's from Wisconsin, which makes him half Yankee. Everybody knows Dutch Christian Reforms don't like anybody but other DCRs.
Early and I squatted down in the woods on the edge of the dump and watched Butch and some other ninth grade boys, one of them was Early's oldest brother, Leon. The boys were shooting their .22s at cans and other junk down by the river, cussing real bad and smoking cigarettes. I was surprised Leon was there because Butch doesn't usually hang around with blue people. We watched the boys for about an hour. By then the mosquitoes were about to chew me up.
All of a sudden the boys high-tailed it for town. I made Early wait and count to one hundred just to be sure they were gone. It takes Early a long time to count to a hundred, and I was ready to go by the time he hit sixty, but, better safe than sorry, so I waited. Even after Early ticked off one hundred, I made him stand in the open for a minute. I'm not proud of this, but I was in no mood to get beat up. When I knew for sure the coast was clear, I came out of the trees and we walked down to the dump to explore.
I could tell right off the dump didn't have anything new. The trash was all smashed down like it'd been there for some time; the magazines were musty, the tin cans rusted and filled with water. Early and I pushed over an old Frigidaire and a bunch of magazines fell out. They were mostly National Geographics, a few Ladies Home Journals. I hoped there'd be some movie magazines. I was keeping a scrapbook on the Lennon Sisters, who are four famous Catholic singers on the Lawrence Welk television show. They are my favorite singing sister act, and as good as the McGuire Sisters, who are a whole lot older and much more sophisticated.
Early took off for the river and I lost track of time. I was reading an old Screen Secrets story about Ava Gardner, a Southern movie star, who is one of Hollywood's most misunderstood actresses. I was at the point in the story where Ava is talking about what she is looking for in a loving marriage when I heard Early holler.
I looked down by the riverbank and saw Early pointing at something on the ground. It's so weird the way I remember it. Early was standing there pointing, looking back at me. His mouth was open like he was trying to scream, but there wasn't any sound coming out. I got a sick feeling in my stomach, and I knew it was something bad.
I tried to run over to Early, but it was like my legs wouldn't work. I was moving all wobbly, like in slow motion. With every step it seemed like Early got further and further away. I saw him bend over and reach for something, but then he sank to his knees like the wind was knocked out of him. When I got up beside him, I saw it was nothing.
"For crying out loud, Early, you scared me to death. It's just a dumb old milk pail!" I yelled.
Early didn't say anything. He shook his head and rocked back on his heels, clutching his middle like he had a stomachache. When I looked closer, I saw there was something kind of bluish-white in the bucket. Early pulled the pail closer, and that's when I saw the two tiny legs, all drawn up and perfect, like a plastic doll baby.
"Is it a real baby?" I asked.
Early reached out in that timid way he has and pulled the baby out on the ground. I could see it was a little boy. The baby's eyes were closed, and he still had his belly button cord hanging down.
"It's dead," I whispered, then my knees gave way and I hit the ground, biting a chunk out of my tongue when my jaws snapped shut. Early just nodded his head and pulled the baby into his lap.
"Stop touching him. We got to get the sheriff," I whispered, spitting blood out of my mouth.
Early held the baby to his chest and started to moan, rocking back and forth. "Baby's hurt," he kept saying, "baby's hurt."
I was so scared, I took off like a scalded cat. I ran to the top of the hill, screaming for help, aiming for the Watrous place. Miss Pink Watrous came out of her kitchen door with her hair all done up in home permanent rods. I ran right into her and her body stopped me cold.
"What're you yelling about, Buddy?" Miss Pink barked.
I couldn't catch my breath and just kept sucking air. To this day I don't know what possessed her, but Miss Pink hauled off and slapped me across the face. Her hand caught my cheek and made me bite my tongue again. I just stood there looking up at her, stunned.
"Buddy, what's wrong?" Miss Pink yelled.
"Me and Early found a dead baby in the dump," I said.
I must've been convincing because Pink bent over, grabbed my face, and said, "Say it again."
"Me and Early found a dead baby in the dump."
"Holy Jesus," Miss Pink said, and threw me out of her way as she ran to the house. I wanted to follow her to make sure she called the sheriff, but I just stood there shaking, smelling the stink of Pink's home permanent solution in the air. I knew I should go back and stay with Early, but I couldn't move.
"Matt Williams is on his way," Miss Pink yelled, running toward me. "Now Buddy, you take me there."
I don't even know if I heard her. I remember looking at her hair all rolled up tight in blue plastic curlers with bits of paper on them. I couldn't even remember how I got there.
"Buddy, show me!" she screamed, smacking me one more time.
I burst into tears and spit more blood out of my mouth. Miss Pink grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back toward the dump. As we crossed River Road, I pulled away from her and ran as fast as I could back to Early.
"Buddy Dean, you wait for me. You know I got bad feet!" Miss Pink hollered.
When I got to the crest of the hill that overlooks the dump, what I saw made me stop in my tracks. Early was bent over the dead baby, and it looked like he was talking. How could he stand being that close to something dead?
Miss Pink caught up with me, puffing and groaning from her run. I know she was scared, but she must have been mad at me for leaving her behind because she raised her hand to smack me again. I ducked the blow, she swatted air, and the two of us started walking down the hill. As we got closer, we could hear Early.
"Don't you fret little feller, you're going to be fine," Early crooned to the dead baby.
Miss Pink and I took a few steps closer, then we saw Early press the baby against his chest, one hand on the baby's head.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Pink whispered. The next sound we heard was a baby crying.
Early looked up, smiling at me and Miss Pink. He kissed the baby on the forehead, laid it on the ground. He looked up at us and said, "Baby's good now."
The three of us watched that baby come to life, his little chest rising and falling with every breath. With each breath he got pinker and pinker. All of a sudden he opened his eyes and let go with a scream that cut to the quick. Early pulled his hands away from the baby and started shaking them in the wind.
"Hot hands," he said.
The baby sat in Early's lap and quieted down a bit. Miss Pink and I leaned a little closer, looking over Early's shoulder. The baby looked back at us, and I think the sight of two scared white faces and one blue one must've been too much. He opened his mouth and started squalling again.
Early put his little finger in the baby's mouth and it started in trying to nurse. Suddenly we heard a "plink" as one of the permanent rods fell off Miss Pink's head. It landed next to my foot still covered with hair. Miss Pink and I stared at it for a second then looked at each other as if we couldn't believe it. Then another rod hit the top of my bare foot.
"Damn it to hell, I've burned up my hair!" Miss Pink screamed. She tore off for home, dropping permanent rods along the way.
"Well, boys, what we got going on here?"
The sound of Sheriff Williams' voice gave me such a start I yelped and jumped about a foot in the air.
"I asked y'all, what's going on? Where'd that baby come from?" The sheriff reached out and grabbed me by the back of the neck and pulled me to him. "Buddy, what happened here?"
"We were exploring, and then Early found the baby. It was dead when we found it. Early breathed it back to life." I was babbling, but there was no stopping me.
"What are you telling me, Buddy? What'd Early do to that baby?" Sheriff Williams knelt down and we were face-to-face.
"That baby was dead, I know it was," I said. "How could Early make it live again?"
"I suspect it weren't really dead. Earl Lee, where'd you find that baby?"
Early pointed at the milk pail. Matt Williams bent over, picked up the pail, and scratched at some dried blood.
"Was that baby warm or cold when you found it?" he asked Early.
"Cold. It were all blue and not breathing. He looked like me," Early answered, rocking back and forth with the baby in his arms.
"Well, boys, y'all better come along with me. We got to get this baby over to Doc Rodger's. Early, can I trust you not to drop that child?" Early nodded, and we all climbed up the hill and got in the sheriff's patrol car. Early cradled the baby all the way through town.
At Doc's, the grownups took over, and Early and I were told to stay on the porch and keep our mouths shut. We sat in the swing and didn't say a word.
All of a sudden Early started to cry. This was a loud crying, like he was gulping for air. It must've spooked the sheriff, because he came out on the porch and knelt down by Early, and kind of petted him on the back. He reached into his back pocket and handed Early his handkerchief. It didn't look clean to me, but Early took it anyway.
"Buddy, you got any idea whose baby that is?" The sheriff asked, coming around to my end of the swing.
"I was just trying to figure it out. He's pinked up so we know it doesn't belong to anybody blue."
"That's what I was thinking," Sheriff Williams said. "But who'd leave their baby in a dump? You hear tell of any young girl in these parts in the family way?"
"Nobody I know. Early, you know a white girl that was pregnant?" I asked, giving him a nudge in the ribs with my elbow.
Early didn't answer, he was still sobbing sort of quiet.
"You boys see anybody suspicious hanging around the dump?"
"Yeah, Butch Calkins was there. He had a rifle and he was smoking." It was out of my mouth before I could stop myself.
"What was that Calkins kid doing in the dump?" the sheriff asked.
"Who knows? Butch is real wild. Everybody knows that. If I were you, I'd find out." Finally Early gave me a jab in the ribs to shut me up. Well, I was nervous and wasn't thinking right. There was a lot going on.
"He is a wild one all right," the sheriff answered.
I just looked at my feet, knowing full well if word of this ever reached Butch, I would be beaten senseless.
"All right, boys, I'm done with y'all," the sheriff said, motioning for us to go on home.
We got up and started down off the porch. Matt Williams called after us, "Earl Lee, was that baby alive when you found it?" Early looked back at Sheriff Williams and shook his head. "Then how do you account for the fact that he's inside with Doc right now, bawling his head off?" The sheriff eased down off the porch and walked over to Early. "Mr. Early, what'd you do to that dead baby?" he whispered.
"I touched him," Early said.
Sheriff Williams studied Early for what seemed like a real long time, then he said, "Well ain't this a crock of you know what? You boys want me to carry you on home? Your folks will want to hear about this."
"Thank you sir, we'll get home just fine," Early said.
"Suit yourself," the sheriff said. I knew he was relieved. It was well-known the sheriff didn't take to blue folks on account of he's Dutch Christian Reform. All the blue people in Georgia are Baptist. I'm Catholic because my Pa's kin come from Louisiana, but we're not real religious, which is lucky since there's no Catholic Church in Comfort Corners. The DCRs don't like us either.
"I'd tell you boys to keep quiet about this, but I can promise y'all Pink Watrous has spread this news all over the county by now." With that he got in his patrol car and drove off.
As I watched the sheriff drive off, I could see the steeple of the Baptist Church against the horizon. "Early, just wait till the Baptists find out about the baby."
It took me a minute to realize Early wasn't behind me. I looked back toward Doc Rodger's house and could see him peeking in the office window.
"Early, come on," I hollered.
"I want to see the baby," he yelled back. Then he knocked on the window. He waited, then knocked again.
Finally Doc opened the window. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but he was smiling. They talked for a couple minutes, and then Early leaned in the window, his butt and legs hanging out. He stayed that way for a bit, then disappeared into Doc's office.
Excerpted from Blue Jesus by Tom Edwards. Copyright © 2009 Tom Edwards. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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