And Sinners Yet Live In God’s Country

By H.A. Luck

We live in ruinous times. The train that is all of our lives swings scantly on uncertain tracks and nobody knows any real thing about the engineer. Being elderly and alone, I have evidence but no certainty. I drink worse liquor since my wife died, and my mind glows like a cinder.

I am taking an interest in my neighbor. He lives in the ramshackle next door, and he is a pastor whose god is known only to him. His ordination was, I believe, of his own devising. His voice rasps like rust tin. His laugh can disperse belief and gather it in equal directions. He drinks a great deal of sweet soda mixed with screwcap wine, and this world is not his home.

Everything shall pass, the pastor says, although christ will be taking the milk train because a cleansing fire is coming. Those in condition to meet him will be salved by his grace.

We live in god’s country here, the plain and the mountain hold us in their fold. My wife and I lived simply here, according the ways of the land. We had children, some lost, some raised and gone.

The pastor has riches in diamonds. These were clawed from rock by black men who accepted the lord as their saviour. Riches unto the worthy, the pastor says. Though who among us is?

The pastor’s wife is gray as weathered board. But the daughters bloom. There are three, and they blush with life. They do not belong here in this place of stick and scrabble. The pastor hopes to bring cool water to this dry crust.

The pastor desired to turn his wealth to wood, concrete and steel. A chapel for those of mighty faith. This was his vision, and if it was madness, the devil whips up the horses of that particular chariot. Men came to lend their skills, and one of them was a black-eyed boy, too turned out to be turned loose. Tragedy comes suddenly for some and is inevitable for others, I imagine. When it came, there was just a mellow wind and a boy singing down the road with his tools slung on his back. He locked eyes with the pastor’s eldest daughter. The pastor had weakness and jealousy in his mind. His love for his daughters was of a particular kind. It is not a pretty thing to see a half-built church. Scaffold and skeleton. And the man of the cloth with his rust-red knife. Soon I will have no neighbors and a bleak landscape. An old man’s view.

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H.A. Luck was raised and educated in Baltimore, Maryland and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He currently lives in Bern, Switzerland, where he is a writer and teacher.

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