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Oct/Nov 2007 Fiction

Children as Numerous as Stars in the Sky

by Stephen Healey


Once upon a time, the Lord say to Abram, Your children will be numerous as the stars in the sky. Look at heaven's glory, say the Lord, pointing to the desert sky.

Abram say to the Lord, But Sarai, my gal, she near 90 year old. Sides which, that Hagar, she been lookin' real good.

Say Hagar, O Abram. O Abram.

Say Abram, Yes, yes, yessss.

Say wife Sarai, You no good, bullshittin', God fearin' swine.

Say Hagar, Let's name the baby Ralph Waldo.

Say Abram, What kinda name that? You want our son, I mean your son, to be a laughin' stock?

Sho don't.

Then we got to name that boy somethin' normal. I name him Ishmael. Hey, who that laughin'?

That Sarai, she laughin'. She say an angel say she gonna get knock up.

Say that angel what?

The angel say, Go git you to Sarai, and do some boppity-boo, you old coot.

So boppity-boo they did. There no Yes, yes, yessss, like Hagar, but the job get done.

And the baby say, Wahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

And Abram say, Goddamn, that a loud baby.

And Sarai say, You ain't joking. Let's name the little bastard Joke.

Hey that a good name, Joke. So they name him, Isaac. Which mean, Laughing my ass off. It mean Joke.

But then that Hagar bitch, she start to make a fuss. So Abram and Sarai, they change their name to Abraham and Sarah, and chock that story up to the Lord. That that, say Abraham.

Posh laughed, as he recounted this story to the little miracle he was holding: Baby May Kilroy. "Baby May Kilroy, you blessed among the people of the earth," adding, "John Kilroy, you gonna be just like Abraham. Lucy, you the fruit of the garden, you sho is. Just look at them beautiful fruit the Lord blessed you with. John, you a bless man."

The baby Kilroy wailed. Lucy's breasts let down milk. "That blessin' sho got a holy siren. Callin' down the blessin' at two days of age. Amen, she a marvel," Posh intoned.

 

John and Lucy Kilroy had three children and named them in sequence: May, June... before the spell was broken with the naming of Elmer. Each child, a miracle.

Miracles were common in Reverend Jeremiah Posh's Holy Ghost Tabernacle. By their nature miracles break normal rhythms, but patterns that run deep sometimes sidestep de-rhythming. Trying to call out, "May, June, Elmer, git yerselves in here. Dinner is ready," more than once Lucy inadvertently yelled, "May, June, Ju—" The beguiling force of patterns led John and Lucy to make Elmer's middle name Jules, even though no one at the Tabernacle had ever heard such a name. "He the family Jules?" Sister McAdam asked, not trying to conceal a smirk. "Who got Elmer's Jules?" She was tough as the road surface that also bore her name, so no one contradicted her mean-spirited jesting.

John was named after the Jackie Cooper character in Kilroy Was Here, the only film that Granddaddy Jack and Granddame Ethel Kilroy ever saw. Soon after seeing the film, during which John was conceived atop a pile of unpopped popcorn kernels that spilled out of the otherwise empty box during love's final thrust, the Kilroys joined the Holy Ghost Tabernacle and turned their backs on the worldly pleasures of film, drink, and dance. They had visited the Tabernacle on a lark, but the minister's prophetic preaching convicted them of sin. "Keep yo'selve away from them houses o' sin, where all manner o' copulatin' and fornicatin' and stimulatin' go on." Their repentance opened from a deep well of sorrow neither of them understood; it was just there, like popcorn stuck to your ass.

The Kilroys became stalwart members of the Tabernacle. John's birth eight months later was celebrated by the people. He was a handsome young lad, and the people believed he might be a preacher someday. His first words, besides mama and dada, were saint and blessing, which he pronounced sane and blessah. Baby John called Reverend Elliot Cooper, one of Posh's forebears in ministry, Rev Ren Coop. The sisters liked it because it sounded like nincompoop. Cooper had too often denounced the sisters for falling prey to the Satanic allurements of makeup, even though Rev. Mrs. Cooper styled on makeup thick enough to pass for a woman of the night. Reverend Elton Fritz, Cooper's associate minister, was crushed under the weight of a similar prophecy, and that allowed Reverend Jeremiah Posh to assume the mantle of leadership.

Lucy Kilroy née Lucy Firebottom the demoniac, née Lucy George the little girl down the street, the child of Brother and Sister George, was three years old when John was born and nineteen when the lad came down with mumps and she with demon possession. Rev. Nincompoop had been brought low and Posh had been appointed minister years before. Lucy and John thought little of Cooper, but Posh loomed large in their minds.

The Kilroys and Georges asked for healing prayer—from mumps and demons—and two miracles came, but not before, as John put it to his mom, "My balls lit up like fire," and, as several brother saints confessed to their wives, "That demon-possess bitch lit my balls up like fire." Though it was a hit some years earlier and a sin to listen to, Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire" affected the parlance of everyone involved. After the healings—John was anointed and proclaimed whole, Firebottom was exorcised and presented to the people 'in her right mind'—Doctor Peterson was called in because John developed encephalitis and Lucy continued growling at some of the men in the Tabernacle.

Everyone hated Peterson because he wasn't Christian. He a Methodist, the saints would say. Peterson explained the people's miracles "like a doctor." He also possessed a sadistic bedside manner. To the Kilroys, he said, "I hope you have other children, because John's testicles are infected. If he lives through the encephalitis, he'll be sterile." To the Georges he smirked, before adding, "You should probably call a veterinarian."

John was fifteen when Lucy became a demoniac. Her main powers, so far as John could tell, were growling like a dog and seducing the saints. Though the saints were terrified of Lucy, John thought she was acting. He sensed a trace of smirk when she was growling, and to him her ability to seduce men seemed more natural than supernatural. He once overheard Brothers Filmore and Black talk about Lucy's "devil growls and heavenly titties." Then came the mumps, and the rest of the summer was blank in his mind. By the time John came to his senses, Lucy had come to hers.

John's recovery left him with a broken series of memories about that fateful summer. He was sure about few things. Before the encephalitis he was 16, now he was seventeen. Before it, he was young and single, now he was married. Before it, he was unable to even look a girl in the eye, now he had frequent intercourse with Lucy—or at least she had frequent intercourse with him. The clearer his mind became, the more he realized that mumps had changed him forever.

Most miraculous, however, was Lucy's transformation. Before John's encephalitis, she was an unmarried demoniac, now she was in her right mind, happily married, and pregnant. John had Reverend Jeremiah Posh to thank for that miracle.

It happened like this.

Polly and Lucy were best of friends, and Polly's own son was born just three months before Lucy's daughter May. Polly insisted, against everyone's protest, on naming her son Jesus, which she said should not be pronounced Hey, Soos, as if someone were trying to get Soos' attention, but Jee-sus, just like, well, Jesus.

"You can't name a child Jee-sus. Who you think you is?" Sister Blake asked, echoing the sentiment held by everyone.

"Since his father ain't here, I think it the best name," Polly replied.

"What kinda answer is that?" her mother asked.

"The kinda answer I give."

"Well, then, who the father?"

"Don't know. Just know he has one," Polly mumbled to herself as she fell asleep before their eyes.

Polly had briefly tried to claim she was a virgin, but no one was convinced by that. "Ain't no one born o'a virgin," Brother Blake declared, before adding as an afterthought, "Except Jesus."

 

"Reverend Posh, save us," cried a horrified Sister Black. Lucy George had clawed a handful of skin from the face of Brother Black. She was growling like a wild dog. From all corners of the Tabernacle, saints looked on in horror. None dared approach the scene. "Reverend, we need the Lord. We need the Lord," they cried.

Trying to conceal the horror he felt, Posh strode the aisle to the scene, walking with a faux confidence that the people would identify as Jesus-given. "Lucy, what manner o' foul—"

Lucy gnashed her teeth, and blood from her tongue coursed down her chin. Then she fainted. Sister Smith joined him, and Posh exorcized the demon.

After Lucy regained consciousness, Posh asked, "Demon o' hell, what your name?"

Lucy whimpered, then her face mottled, and she growled, "I am Firebottom."

Posh commanded, "Firebottom, I command thee, in the name o' Jesus, the saints, Jehovah, and... the Lord our God, get thee hence from this girl. And return her to her right mind."

So it was that Firebottom was cast back to hell, and Lucy Firebottom once again became Lucy George. Posh declared to the saints, "I will take this girl to her home, to make sure that the demon has not put down roots in her abode."

 

"O saints o' God, listen to me now. There I was last week in Lucy's apartment, and the place was demon filled. Took some real spirit baptizin' to rid the place o' evil. Amen, Lucy?"

Lucy said amen, then held her hands in the air and spoke in tongues.

"Bless, you, child o' God," said Posh.

"Reverend, I got a word o' the Lord," she said.

"Speak it."

"Lord say you should come back to my place tonight. The baptizin' ain't done yet. Gotta git you back tonight."

"People o' God, this child, this saint, this newly blessed woman o' God's heart. She speaks a word o' prophecy. And I confirm it. The Lord also say that three sister saints should meet me at the Tabernacle tonight. We gotta break through to heaven before I go to Sister Lucy's apartment."

The spirit moved on the sisters, seeming to prefer those who liked to gossip. Sisters Felcher, Black, and Smith stood and shouted amen.

"That that," said Posh, triumphant.

 

"Sisters, come in. Join me in prayer. I been fasting and praying since the service this morning," Posh said, trying to conceal the gravy stain on his suit coat. "The Lord say, 'Jeremiah, Get these fine women to pray for your strength, and git you down to Lucy's apartment.'" Before the sisters could protest, Jeremiah bolted out the door.

Posh sped across town, ready to do the Lord's work, not sure what to expect.

Lucy greeted him at the door, wearing only a t-shirt, her ample bosom inviting his attention.

"Lucy, you sho lookin' fine, but I not goin' into that demon possess pussy o' yours."

"I no more demon possess than you, Reverend," she replied. "I just need some love. All the men I ever knew treat me shamefully. Make me feel bad. The other day, I just started to shout, 'I gonna kill my fucking self. I gonna take my life. That it, I can't take no more.'"

"Child o' God, get thee on thy knees," Posh said as he moved into her apartment.

Lucy wet her lips and kneeled before him.

Posh put his hands around the back of her head. She reached out to his zipper, but he pushed her hands away. Posh looked at Lucy kneeling before him; she was bathed in light spilling from the bathroom. Her freshly washed hair smelled like roses. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Child o' God, child o' God, you sho a beauty. God himself would say that, I suppose."

"Reverend Posh, I love you. You the first man I ever known who love God."

Posh remembered that Lucille once said that to him, years ago. He thought of Lucille, home, dying of cancer. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he said, "Lord, you have broken this girl, and you have broken me. How long, O Lord? How long? Why do the heathen prosper while the saints live in darkness and travail? Why do we die, unnoticed, unknown, broken and in despair. How in your holiness could you have allowed this girl to suffer from the heathenish darkness o' man?"

Lucy looked to Posh and again realized why she loved him. In Posh, heaven and earth came together. "You the man o' my dreams, Reverend," she said.

"Lucy, I a man o' sin. I am sin itself."

But that why you also heaven, she thought.

"Lucy, get thee up, and put on some clothes," Posh demanded.

"But—"

"But nothing," Posh said, "Get your clothes on. God gonna give you a blessin'. That a word o' prophecy. You gonna be blessed now."

Lucy went to the bedroom to dress, not knowing what to expect when she returned. Posh was kneeling in front of her couch. Lucy walked to him. "Join me in prayer, Lucy."

"O Lord, our great and holy God, we call upon you. We call upon you now. Lord, here I am a sinner, a childless man, with my wife Lucille ready to die. Why Lord? Why you give her the need to drink? Why you look at her womb and grow icy cold? Why you not bless this young girl Lucy? Why she surrounded by evil men, like her father, uncle, and me? What wrong with this world, Lord?"

Lucy's soft crying deepened into a sob.

She prayed, "Lord, I will follow you all my days, but I want to know love. I love Reverend Posh. Can't you get that through his thick head?"

"Lord, I a thick head. You tell her she right about that. But you also tell her, I a man o' sin. And, yes, Lord, I want to—"

"You want to what?"

"I want to follow where the Lord leads. But I a needy man. You a young girl, not yet twenty, and you don't know what kind o' man I am. I been with whores, I been drunk when I preachin' to the saints, I been cold-hearted, to the saints and sinners alike."

"Reverend Posh, I never met a man like you. Don't you understand anythin'? Don't you know that love sees through everythin' to the real person underneath? Like you saw through Firebottom to the real Lucy."

"Child o' God, you sho a blessin'. I should o' met you twenty years ago, except that you weren't yet born, so I met Lucille."

"That funny," Lucy said, laughing.

"What so goddamn funny?" he asked, hurt.

"Reverend Posh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I love you. I'll never hurt you. It funny because my given name is Lucille. I go by Lucy, but I Lucille."

Posh looked to Lucy, and she did a little dance. "I am Lucille, I am Lucille," she said, continuing her dance.

"And I your man, Lucille," Posh said, joining her in dance. The two danced for hours, before the spell was broken by a bird singing outside her window.

"Reverend, I got somethin' to tell you."

"What that, Lucille?"

"Reverend, I sterile as a tree trunk, because o' a sex transmit disease. That what Peterson say. He gave me pills that made me better, but he said I can never have children. He made up some fancy something about what it was."

"Child o' God, that same thin' happen to Lucille—"

Lucy laughed. "Sorry," she said, drying her tears. "I laughin' cause you say Lucille, not because o' what happened to her."

"Lucille, my wife, she got sick after I slept with a whore, and the doctor say she sterile. And, true, we never had any children, even though she and I, well, you know."

"Reverend, I want to have a baby. That mean more to me than you can imagine. That baby be my way out o' this place. Even if I stay here forever, the love o' that baby is my way out o' here."

"Lord might give you a miracle, Lucille, but I don't count on it."

"I mo' than countin' on it. I demandin' it. The Lord say, 'Reverend Posh my miracle workin' man. So ask, and ye shall receive.' So I askin."

"Okay, then, here we go. Lord, give this child a healin'," Posh prayed.

Lucy looked Posh in the eyes and said, "Posh, I healed. Just like that."

"Just like that? What about all the holy callin' down?"

"Just like that," she said, undressing as he watched, becoming more and more aroused. "I am Lucille," she said, teasing.

 

Three months later the Lord commanded in a prophecy to Posh that John Kilroy should marry Lucy. So it was that the two became one flesh. Lucy schooled John in the arts of love, her demon possession and his brain fog left far behind.

Were that not miraculous enough, John Kilroy was anointed for healin'. "Lord, bless this young buck. Give him a family like Abraham's," a prayer that was answered.

 

In April, Jesus was born; in July, May; a week after May, also in July, Sister Emmy's baby Elijah was born. So it was that Jesus, May, and Elijah were born in Posh's Holy Ghost Tabernacle in the span of four months.

Years later, Jesus killed Elijah in a fight over May in June while June and Jules—who preferred his odd middle name—looked on in horror. Everyone said the spirit condemned their child, Jesus, Jr., because he was born with a slope head. An aged Dr. Peterson said he suffered from microcephaly and, not knowing what that meant, the people hated him all the more.

 

Editor's Note: Can't get enough of the good reverend? Join us next issue for another installment in the saga of Jeremiah Posh.

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