The Assembly of God
by Molia Dumbleton
The news crew down from Tallahassee kept making a big deal out of how lucky we were, but no one actually from here could stop laughing at how moronic that was, since out of all the nothing around here that tornado could’ve hit, people who saw that motherfucker coming still swear up and down it came straight up State Highway 73, took a hard left on Catalpa, and made a beeline for the center of Frog’s Throat—which wasn’t too big to begin with, population two-hundred-some-odd, at the intersection of two state roads like a great big cross, with a gas station on one corner and a store across the way, a roadside restaurant, and The Assembly of God on the other.
Maybe folks in Tallahassee don’t know a reckoning from a rat’s ass, but when a tornado picks up a single metal storage unit from two miles away, drags it straight up the middle of the double yellows like somebody’s driving it, and drops it clean as can be on the stoop of your town’s only house of God, that’s not what anyone around here would call luck so much as a fucking shot across the bow.
Anyone with half a brain could see this was God raising an eyebrow, saying Try me, fruit flies—as if maybe we’d forgotten He drives the ship, He don’t make mistakes, and He definitely don’t abide secrets—and just to remind us, He’d flown in somebody’s personal damnation, special.
Mrs. Wallace told the TV cameras that bright blue storage unit cut right across her lawn and she could’ve sworn it was coming after her Randall, who was sleeping one off in the back bedroom after having been out all night again at God knows where, but there was more than one person in other parts of town who heard the rumble that day and thought maybe it was come for them instead.
The television crew couldn’t get enough of Father Landy in his too-clean blue jeans, climbing on top of that metal cube to read from the Bible to the ring of us who had gathered there—about grace and chosen people, for Chrissakes—but anyone who knew anything could tell just by looking: we weren’t listening to Father Landy so much as wishing he’d get down off that heap so we could get a look inside that unit. It was crystal clear to us that we were about to see up close just exactly what happens to a person when they quit living with the Lord and get called out on it—and honest to God, we were all just crossing fingers it wasn’t us.
But Father Landy just kept on preaching and preaching, and the newspeople pulled some folding chairs and sandwiches out of their van, and everybody started getting twitchy, especially when more and more people started coming downtown and standing in the ring and everyone was looking around at everybody else because what else were we gonna look at? One thing's for sure: it doesn’t take long of standing in a circle like that to spot the people who are worried about damnation versus the people who aren’t.
Tell you what. That ring had the pretty librarian in it next to the mailman next to a near-blind lady from the old folks’ home, and the snotty checkout girl next to the little pyromaniac boy from the homeschool family, next to more weary-looking moms than you could count, and two married men in suits on either side of two local girls that anyone could agree should’ve stayed in school longer, and one of the guys from the kitchen at the roadside, yakkin’ it up with one of the guys from the fill station, and on and on like that—and a good one in five of that crew was purple-lipped and shifty-eyed after no time at all, cranking their necks around and just praying to God whatever was in there was just some dead lady’s taxes and musty upholstery.
It felt like hours until Father Landy shut up, blessed us all, and went back inside the church, and after that, things thinned out. The news trucks packed up and pulled away, and a fireman from Bridgeton came by and put some yellow tape up and told some teenagers not to climb on the box, you hear, and a hauler would be by in the morning. The littlest kids had been the first to get bored and hungry—what did they have on their conscience?—so their worn-out mothers had cleared them out right away, and then some pale-looking fathers and a couple of teenagers got nagged to get home, too, and so on and so on, until only a handful of us was left—just the ones with the deepest eye sockets, you could say, who’d either already made our explanations for why we needed to stay out or didn’t have anyone to make explanations to.
And as soon as it got dark, some of the boys found a crowbar and jimmied that thing right open. To say God works in mysterious ways is an understatement, because that goddamned box was empty as a sinner’s heart. We laughed ourselves hoarse when we finally stuck our heads in, and our voices echoed. What’s that thing they say about people actually liking to get caught? Because then at least somebody noticed, right?
It was a relief but a terrible lonely thing, too, sticking our heads in there and finding out God hadn’t been watching none of us after all. Me and those boys lit a few cigarettes and hovered there in front of the church for another couple minutes, talking about nothing, and then we all went on back to our houses in the dark.
I got the image of this town and its very literal crossroads in my head and couldn’t shake it.
Molia Dumbleton’s work can be found in New England Review, Kenyon Review, Cincinnati Review, Witness, SmokeLong Quarterly, Columbia Journal, and others. Her debut collection of fiction was a finalist for the 2018 Iowa Short Fiction Award. You can find her at @moliadumbleton and www.moliadumbleton.com.