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“’Father, I stretch my hands to thee,’ George Louse said before he gave up the ghost. Now he was a bad man—had chopped off people’s heads and disemboweled their insides. He bashed in a few baby’s skulls. But on that gallows’s platform—him the rankest sinner knew how to call on Jesus. Now you tellin’ me, Kirby Bob, little five year old Kirby Bob, who’s just startin’ out sinnin’– little tiny sinnin’ of pullin’ his sister’s hair and throwin’ her doll in the mud, and climbin’ over the fence when I’ve told him not to– you tellin’ me this little boy won’t say the prayer his poor tired Mother taught him so he can get into heaven and walk with Jesus? Is you an imp that’s growin’ a tail, Kirby Bob?”
Kirby Bob had the thought to touch his backside to see if he was growing a long hairy cat’s tail back there. But he saw something in Gretta’s wide legged hand on hips stance that made him think she would think he was being sassy. He shifted his bunny covered feet and said, “No’m.”
“Well why won’t you say your prayers, son?”
“I’m scared to go to heaven, Mama.”
“Scared to go to heaven? What you scared to go to heaven for, boy?”
“Cause you always say that bad man, George Lo…Lousy is going to be there.”
“So what that got to do with anything? “
The wheels in Gretta’s head turned as she tried to understand the wheels that was turning in Kirby Bob’s head. Her son had a strange way of processing the world, Gretta thought. This was a boy who arranged rocks and painted them and pretended they were planets. This was a boy who had stayed inside her womb all day and didn’t come out until the moon was full on a Sunday night almost five years ago to the day. It was Kirby Bob who survived unscathed except for a purple patch on his left cheek, after eating a handful of oleander petals.
“What’s George Louse goin’ to heaven got to do with you?”
“Mama I just don’t feel like getting my head chopped off.”
“Do Jesus, boy, he ain’t going to be choppin no heads off in heaven. He prayed to the lord to forgive him and the lord done forgave him his sin and made him an angel. Heaven is a good place to go.”
“Heaven is too far away, Mama. It’s just too far away.”
“Well Kirby Bob it is for some of us.” She cocked her head slightly and thought of her husband in Miss Mandy’s yard way across town raking up the leaves that fell off her chinaberry tree and singing. Gretta’s sister had called and pulled her coat. The leaves, dead branches, and sharp dried berries from Gretta’s chinaberry tree just blew all over their yard and stuck in Kirby Bob’s feet. But did Herbert care about his son, Gretta asked herself? Hell no. Kirby Bob’s life and soul was left up to her.
“You better get on your knees right now, young man and start to prayin’ ‘else somebody’s birthday cake for tomorrow in my stove is goin’ to be burnt to a crisp.” Gretta said in a sweet way more to soothe herself.
After he had prayed and after he heard Gretta ease into her empty squeaky bed, Kirby Bob snuck out of the window. He stood outside and looked at the full moon. Next to him his favorite tree shimmied and a leaf fell at his feet. A notion came over Kirby Bob to climb up in the tree and put the leaf back. He sneaked very quietly back into his window and walked down the hall past Gretta’s and Herbert’s room, and past his sister’s into the kitchen. He tucked a roll of scotch tape under his pajama coat and went back outside. He grabbed a low branch and swung himself up. He climbed and climbed and climbed until he reached almost the top of the tree. He taped the leaf to a branch that he thought had the fewest leaves. He stayed there a moment looking up at the sky and thinking of angels and heaven. He remembered the silky glowing angels in Gretta’s big white bible. They had wings just like birds. He thought to himself, why climb down out of the tree? He had never seen an angel or a bird climb anywhere.
The next morning as the sun and the moon sat side by side, Gretta was in her kitchen making coffee for herself. She looked out her window and fussed for a moment at the pile of rags lying at the base of the chinaberry tree. She knew Herbert wouldn’t do a thing about it. As she strained her eyes a little more, something in her heart made her legs wobble. She whispered, “Come here, Herbert,” just before her blue linoleum floor like a big piece of heaven rose up to her face.