Lee Wright :: Southern Sunday Snow ::

Flash Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Growing up in northwest Georgia, very near Chattanooga, right on the Tennessee state line, my parents would drag me to a small independent Pentecostal church every Sunday morning as well as every Sunday and Wednesday night. It was one of those tiny spirit-filled churches that always seemed just one bad decision away from snake handling. I remember commenting to my mother one time when I was fairly young that her mother looked like she had just won a car on The Price is Right. Great religious fervor can certainly be fun to watch sometimes but, when you’re a kid, it just seems to go on forever.

Southern Sunday Snow

Ten-year-old Jack Flick squirmed on a worn oaken pew the color of old butter, his jockey shorts climbing relentlessly into his ass crack. To his right, through a window of the Church of the One Mighty God Christ Jesus, he could see the late December sun spitting summery wrath at a town where the three inches of snow that lay on the ground at dawn was as much a miracle as anything Brother Everett spoke of from the pulpit. He could see his mother’s station wagon, its nose pointing toward the church. Before entering the sanctuary, Jack had formed five perfect snowballs and rested them on the car’s long hood so they would be ready to hurl as soon as the doors opened at the end of the weekly show. By that point in the sermon however, they were little more than misshapen white lumps on a snowless slab of metal. Jack watched in almost physical pain as, all over the parking lot and in the small cemetery beyond, glistening piles of flakes became water and ran in thickening rivulets, washing away his chances to enjoy the day.

A fervently loquacious man beset with a shaky grasp of both grammar and science, the preacher was just starting the second hour of his sermon, which meant they were, at best, only halfway through his weekly holy rambling. When Everett finally wrapped it all up, Jack would still have to endure an altar call, a final round of worship music (at least three songs), another passing of the offering plate, and the always overlong benediction. Of course, there was always the possibility (heightened significantly by the joy of the approaching holiday) that the service would be stretched even further if someone (or, worse, multiple someones) got slathered with a thick helping of the Holy Spirit and started confessing transgressions and speaking in tongues. Spontaneous praise always led to another hymn, which often led to more spontaneous praise, which led inevitably to another hymn. It was a painfully time-consuming cycle. On a good day, the service could easily run past a reasonable lunch time and well into the afternoon.

Putting up with the boredom of lengthy services was just something a kid got used to when growing up in the rural south but the length of that particular Sunday’s service was like a personal attack on all the children in attendance. Before the previous night’s snowfall, more than a decade had passed in Lamont, Georgia without significant accumulation, yet unrestrained spirituality and seemingly endless stories of martyrs were conspiring with an unseasonably warm day to turn God’s powdery winter miracle into useless slush incapable of supporting even the lightest of sleds.

Jack sighed and looked at his mom. In response to something Brother Everett had said, she raised a hand, palm up, fingers parallel to the floor, and pumped it twice. She nodded vigorously and loudly said, “Hallelujah.” He knew better than to ask her a question in the middle of a service, no matter how discreetly he whispered. More than that, he knew in his bones that she was not one to run out on a service before the last amen was said, the last hand was shaken, the last shoulder was clapped, and the last person was wished well with either honest or carefully faked sincerity.

He had asked her once why the services had to run so long. She told him that the world was so wicked, it sometimes took hours just to keep good folks out of Hell. He believed that because, all his life, he had been told his behavior, his attitude, the shows he watched on TV, the books he read, and even the children he associated with were certainly putting him on a path to damnation. Only the interminable services of Brother Everett could possibly save him.

But the snow was melting. And it was melting fast. Given the lack of snow in Lamont during his life, he’d never been able to go sledding and his chances to do so were turning to water that flowed in silvery streams down the massive hill just outside the church’s front door. There he was, in God’s house, trying to not be too squirmy and, just beyond the window, Satan was melting away the fun. Jack could almost feel the demon’s breath hot on his cheek as Old Scratch laughed in his ear. Since he was a little kid, he’d heard the expression, The Devil made me do it, but it wasn’t until that rapidly warming Sunday morning that he truly understood just how manipulative Lucifer could be.

Jack took a deep breath, let it out slowly then stood on the pew and shouted, “I feel the Devil creeping into this house! Pray for all our souls brothers and sisters! Pray hard!”

Every eye was on him for three seconds then every eye closed and every hand raised. Brother Everett, only temporarily stunned, recovered quickly and led the raucous prayer, the whole congregation enthusiastically joining in. Even Jack’s mother, after staring at him for a long moment with a mix of horror and pride, closed her eyes, smiled and joined the others in condemning Evil. Grinning, Jack slipped to the floor and, without a single adult noticing, went quietly down the aisle and out the front door.

At the foot of the stairs, he yanked from the frozen ground an old wooden sign with fading and flaking paint that read JESUS IS COMING SOON! Before him, a gorgeous white hill sloped steeply downward toward a valley blanketed in the greatest gift God had ever given the south. He dropped the sign flat on the snow at the top of the Church’s long drive then flopped prone onto it. Gripping the leading edge, a wide smile on his face, Jack pushed off and slid blissfully down the hill toward damnation.