Nov/Dec 1999  •   Fiction

Florida Gothic

by Stanley Jenkins

Well, they took her away, you know. And she was shivering and sobbing all night in the jail cell. And she was yelling, "I'm so sorry!" And "I never meant to."

And nobody had anything to say. And there just ain't nothing to say after something like that. She sure was pretty though. Even after she had done what she had done. Sure was pretty.


As for him: He was two people, really. He was Pastor Bill, shepherd of the Gilead Assembly of God Church. And he was the scared man. The man who, push come to shove, couldn't make himself believe that he belonged anywhere but on the county backhoe. Anywhere but on the heavy machinery he'd worked before the church called him. And he was scared his flock would realize it.

Yes sir. There was two of him, all right. And this other Bill, the one who sometimes couldn't sleep Saturday nights worrying about the sermon and the deacon who didn't like him, still remembered his mama's tongue. That woman's words could sting. There's something about that mixed up in this mess too.

Anyways. They all pretended to be shocked. But they weren't. It was to be expected. Liza was just trash. Weren't a man in the county, let alone the congregation, she hadn't flipped her hair at, crossing and uncrossing those legs like she was wet just looking at you. She was trouble. And Pastor Bill knew it, all right.

Well, I don't know what you'd want to say about that. He had such a pretty wife at home.


Course they'd bought a new house. And the wife couldn't get pregnant. And it didn't seem to bother Bill much. But it sure did bother her.

And I expect it pleased the ladies in the church. All those mothers. You gotta throw that into the deal too. It's only fair. Sure, they "oh my!"-ed and "bless her heart!"-ed. But they were happy that she didn't have any kids. Ladies like that? If they'd only known it, they would of liked to scratch her eyes out and snatch her head bald. Putting on airs like that. Who did she think she was, anyway? Miss America?

Course to her face they smiled real pretty.

She just didn't have no one to talk to.


"Bill, is that you?"

"Go back to sleep, hon."

"Where you been?"

"Had a meeting at the church."

"It's 12:30, Bill."

Seemed like she waited a long time. For him to say something.

"Well, it got over late. And some people wanted to talk," he said after a while.

And the air conditioner was dripping.

And after a while.

"I'm tired. Gonna take a shower."


And there was the bills too. Seems they were behind on the mortgage. And the credit cards were topped off. Bill bought her everything she wanted. And a whole lot of stuff she didn't. Like they had it to spend. Like spending made it true.

And the church always needed something too. The cinderblock building was only about ten years old, but they'd built it themselves. The congregation. Bill collectors were calling about the truck. And she feared poverty like wetting her pants in grade school.

Didn't take long until everybody knew about Liza and Bill. You couldn't help but notice. And what could you expect? She flaunted it, really. Hooked herself a reverend. Man of God. Just like out of the "Thorn Birds." But nobody said anything to him for a while. And I don't know what you'd want to say about something like that.

Bill wasn't talking. That's for sure. He was always tired. Tired like a man just all swallowed in horror. And getting up each morning and tying his tie. Like everything depended on his getting that tie knot right. Things were moving fast.


"What are you doing?"

It was about three in the morning.

"I said what are you doing?"

But she was just standing there with the weed wacker.

"Answer me, dammit." His fists were clenched.

She was just standing there in the moon. And she didn't have nothing on. In the front yard. Front yard of the house everybody knew belonged to Pastor Bill. With the weedwacker. And nothing on. Wack. Wack. Wack.

"God forgive me..."

He actually said that.

"God forgive me....sometimes I hate you," he said.

"Fuck you, Bill," she said very. Very. Slowly. And loudly enough to make some dogs bark. She was smiling.


Course something had to be done. And hell, even Bill must of known that. Probably just what he wanted, don't you know. The Assemblies of God. They ain't just no Holy Rollers no more. And ain't it just something to become respectable in America? Lot's of good folks done suffered a long time. Been snubbed. And ain't about to stand for it no more. House Republicans. Yeah. Those hoity toity Episcopalians. Those Presbyterians. Even the Methodist and the Baptists. Putting on airs. Well. Times are changing in America, you know.

And maybe Bill knew that better than most. And maybe he not only wanted to be caught. But maybe he wanted judgment. He'd been two people his whole life. Sooner or later a man gonna fall in love with what he fears. Sooner or later he's gonna wanna twist. Twist and burn bright like a bird in the flame.


"I need you."

She was just sitting there trembling.

"I'm talking to you. Say something."

"Dammit, honey I love you."

She was just sitting there.

"As your husband, I command you..."

But he couldn't even finish.

And then he started begging again. And crying. Big snotty tears. Blubbering.

She was just trembling. And looking around. Like if she said something. Or looked him in the eye. She'd lose her rage. And sir, that was all she had.


It was all gone. They were gonna take the church away. You better believe it. He was gonna give a public apology tomorrow at the 10:30 service, ask for forgiveness and resign. And they couldn't keep the house. On account of how far behind they were. And the truck was all but repo-ed. It was over, sir.


"Jesus Christ! I've sinned, all right? Jesus forgives me. Why can't you?"

She was asleep on the couch. Anyways, she wanted him to think that. She wasn't sleeping. But he was standing over her half threateningly in his briefs. She was on the couch in the living room. He'd been lying real conspicuously on the floor. On the floor next to the bed in the bedroom. In his briefs.

"Honey? You asleep?"

She could feel the vein in her forehead. It was just thumping.


"This is all your fault!", he was screaming.

It was about 45 minutes later.

"This never would have happened if you were a real woman!", he said melodramatically. Desperately.

And that vein was still thumping.

"You're wicked! You slut! You cunt! Get behind me Satan!"

He was making a cross with his fingers and putting it in her face. He was actually doing that.


"I'll do anything baby! Anything, please!"

Must have been about two by now. He was on his knees before her on the couch. In his briefs. He'd been smashing himself in the face as hard as he could. There wasn't blood. But his temples looked bruised.

"If you'll just give me another chance..."

Thump. Thump.


About four he was finally asleep. And by now, on the bed. Curled up in a fetal position. His left fist was balled up and shoved in his eye. She was standing over him as he slept. And she sure was pretty.


Well, you saw it on the evening news as well as I did. The Pastor's wife stabbed him in the groin 37 times. But, believe it or not, technically speaking, that's not what killed him. He was still living. She'd severed some artery. It was every step he took. Pumped the blood out of him. He was walking and he was pumping blood out. With every step.

When they found him he was on his knees and slumped over. Like a balloon three days after the party. He was gone, sir. And the blood was everywhere. He sat on his knees and his head came to rest on the floor. His head supported him. It made his butt stick up a little. And the blood just dripped out of those briefs.

It was her who called 911. And she was there when they came.

"He was sleeping," she said.

She was just real calm then.


And all this happened in Florida. And I saw it. I saw it all, sir. On the evening news.

And whatever else you'd want to say, she sure was pretty.