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by Don Narkevic                                                                                                                          

        By sundown, the revival tent congregation sang a final hymn, their clothes soaked in sweat and their souls high on Bible adrenaline. Onalee sat in front on a wooden bench. Beneath her seat, baskets full of fried chicken, baked bread, pickled green beans, and apple pie awaited the hungry faithful, those willing to sit through two and a half-hours of fire and brimstone preached by the reverend William Thornton Greenleaf. At six feet, five inches, the Reverend Greenleaf towered over people. He dressed in black wool pants and a white shirt with his sleeves rolled up to mid-bicep. A gold watch fob dangled from his vest, swaying hypnotically as he paced in front of his audience. His most distinguishing feature, however, was his sterling silver nose. Thirty years before, at the Second Battle of Bull Run, a piece of shrapnel sliced off his nose like a carrot. After the war, after he discovered religion could make him a comfortable living, a smithy in his hometown designed and donated the glittering silver prosthesis.
        Earlier, when a tobacco chewing usher spied Onalee with a runt dog at the entrance and refused both of them admission, she whispered something into the man’s hairy ear. Then the usher spit, smiled, and led her and her dog to the front bench.
        After ushers passed the hat, most of the crowd followed a large woman who emptied the food baskets onto picnic tables just outside the tent.
        Half a dozen people, including Onalee waited in front of the Reverend’s makeshift podium, a stack of baled hay. Each person hoped the Reverend would cure whatever ailed him or her. For five dollars, the Reverend promised to lay his hands on their infirmed bodies and heal them. His hands could have picked more watermelon than three normal pickers, each hand big enough to hold one watermelon apiece. People believed that anyone with hands that large had been ordained by God to cure.
        Onalee watched as an elderly woman with a cane hobbled forward. After an usher pocketed the five dollars, he led her to the Reverend. After exchanging some private, low-voiced chat with the woman, the Reverend placed one of his large hands on top of her head like an oversized nightcap. Then he prayed over her, his voice as loud as God’s on Mt. Sinai. After finishing his prayer, he touched her forehead with the tip of his finger and the woman fainted, falling safely into the waiting arms of two freshly barbered ushers. When she revived, she waddled out of the tent like a toddler, but without her cane.
        That procedure repeated itself many times on the other ailing people, mostly elderly. When the Reverend cured all the adults, one of the ushers motioned Onalee to step forward. He whispered in the Reverend’s ear. At first, the Reverend frowned. After further whispering, he smiled, his silver nose reflecting the yellow glow of lantern light. The usher motioned for the offering. From her skirt pockets, Onalee pulled out one bill and a fistful of coins. After the usher helped her pick up several coins dropped on the ground, he counted the money, totaling three dollars and thirty-four cents.
        “Not enough,” the usher said, scowling, and handed it back to Onalee.
        Onalee did not reach for the money. Instead she held out her dog toward the Reverend. Tears shined in Onalee’s eyes like silver coins.
        “A bird in the hand,” Reverend Greenleaf whispered to the usher, who then crammed the money in his overstuffed pockets.
        Like a giant tree branch pulled low, the Reverend bent down, asking Onalee, “What do you ask of the Lord?”
        Onalee stood silent.
        The usher, wanting to go outside the tent so he could bite off a new wad of chew, said, “Come on, kid, tell the Reverend what you want.”
        Onalee held her dog close to her chest and whispered, “I want my dog to see, sir.”
        The usher looked up at the Reverend and both men smiled. The Reverend wiped away his smile and stroked his long white whiskers. His nose shined like a star over Bethlehem.
        “And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good,” the Reverend said. “What is your dog’s name?”
        “Named no doubt,” the Reverend said, “after the dragon slayer, St. George, patron saint of disease sufferers.”
        Onalee didn’t name the dog after any saint. After her grandpap discovered that the runt of the litter was blind, he tried to drown it in the West Fork by bagging it in burlap, tying it with a knot of rusty barbed wire, and tossing it off the bridge into the river. But Onalee, the fool girl, jumped in after it. You can still see the scar on her right thumb where she cut herself, crying through a switching before anyone noticed she was bleeding her way to five stitches just to save a blind runt. She named the dog, George, after the town butcher who gave her scraps and bones for the puppy.
        Onalee remained silent, closed her eyes, and bowed her head. The ushers, attendants, and the Reverend grinned at each other. When the Reverend heard a woman outside the tent shouting that the chicken was running low, he placed two fingers on the mutt’s tiny head and said, “Ephphatha,” Greek for ‘be open’, the word Jesus used to heal a deaf and dumb man. The Reverend figured it would work for the blind as well.
        For the longest time, Onalee feared opening her own eyes. When she finally did, she found herself alone with George in the tent, the others having left to eat. Onalee looked at George’s eyes. They seemed the same. She placed him on the ground, and she walked behind the bales of hay. Once on the other side, Onalee crossed her fingers and called out, “Here, George!”
        The small dog’s ears perked. As he ran toward Onalee’s voice, George slammed into the bales of hay.
        “Go around, George. What’s wrong with you?” Onalee said. George continued to bump into the hay. “Don’t kid around, George. You can see. I know it!” At last, he made his way around the prickly object. When George reached Onalee, she picked him up and began to cry. Running out of the tent, she found the picnic table where the Reverend sat. Still crying, she shoved herself and George between him and the large lady serving him more mashed potatoes.
        “He can’t see! He can’t see!” Onalee shouted. The woman serving potatoes tried to shoo Onalee away, but the Reverend let her sit next to him.
        “Now what’s this? What’s this about your little dog?” the Reverend asked.
Onalee held up George in front of the Reverend like a dish of cobbed corn. “He still can’t see, sir.”
        The Reverend smiled. In the light of sundown, his silver nose seemed tarnished. “Well,” the Reverend said, “sometimes it takes a while to see the light.”
        One of the ushers, his mouth full of chewing tobacco, told Onalee she needed to leave. The Reverend’s fingers, greasy with chicken fat, attempted to pet the dog goodbye, but George bit his index finger.
        Like a Fourth of July rocket, the Reverend shot up out of his seat and the picnic table fell over, throwing chicken, corn, potatoes, and apple pie all over the grass. In the ensuing commotion, Onalee ran home, the echoes of the Reverend’s threat to have the mongrel menace destroyed resounding in her ears.
        That night, Onalee hid with George in an abandoned silo. When she returned home the next morning, her grandpap told her that she would have to turn George over to the Sheriff who waited, warrant in hand, in the parlor. It seems the Reverend had once cured the Sheriff’s bunions. Onalee ran from the house to her grandpap’s barn, then to the West Fork Bridge. By the time the Sheriff and her grandpap caught up with her, the dog was gone, Onalee was sobbing, and her right thumb was bleeding like she cut herself on a can of beets. You can still see the scar.




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