John Conaway: Palace of God : Fiction : March 2019
Southern Legitimacy Statement: Heck, eighteen years in Charleston, eighteen more in Charlotte. If I’m not legit by now when will I be? Gators in the pond, hurricanes whirling up and down the coast–I’ve run from them and most times got away. Sweat dripping down my face, shirt stuck to my skin. The greatest hits of tree frogs and cicadas buzzing in the bushes. You better believe I’m legit–doggone it.
Palace of God
Three years ago I lived in a million dollar house on the harbor. Now I rent a one room apartment in a dilapidated house on Folly beach. I sleep on a sofa bed and cook on a hotplate. It’s a drafty place in the winter but a paradise in summer when Gotti and I can sit out on the porch and observe the tides. We both love long walks on the beach.
Gotti’s a Pitbull, a rescue from a dogfight ring. He loves it here. He sleeps in the bed with me. It’s a bit crowded.
One day we’re walking on the beach down by the inlet and I see a couple of familiar faces jogging my way. It’s my old boss Jonas and Anna my ex-secretary. I’m not sure what kind of reception to expect from Jonas seeing as how I turned state’s evidence against him but they both greet me warmly.
Anna, radiant as ever, gives me a hug. Jonas and I exchanging pleasantries. He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “Todd, I have to ask you something.” He says, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?”
I confess that I haven’t. Maybe I wasn’t in prison long enough. I got a nice reduction in my sentence for testifying against Jonas. I walked out of the slammer as agnostic as the day I walked in.
We continue down the beach together. It’s a lovely afternoon. The tide is pushing in and waves are lapping at our feet. Gotti follows along stopping now and then to bark at the waves. There’s a stiff breeze blowing onshore. Anna keeps fingering strands of long blond hair out of her face. Jonas describes how Jesus came into his prison cell and comforted him in his darkest hour when he’d begun to doubt his reasons for living. He was broke and disgraced and seriously thinking of ending it all when Jesus lifted the darkness.
“What did he look like?” I ask.
“He was incorporeal,” Jonas says. “I couldn’t see him but his presence gave me such a deep feeling of peace. The room was full of tranquil light. It was like the most gorgeous sunrise you’ve ever seen in your life and the peacefulness was stunning.
“How did you know it was Jesus?”
“Who else could it have been?”
He goes on to tell me about his new life. He has a new wife—Anna Mae he calls her. He’s started his own church, the PALACE OF GOD MINISTRIES. He says that for the first year he held services in an empty store front but business has been brisk and now he’s building a church of his own on Jim Island. Jonas always was a charismatic fellow. I remember him standing on the picnic table in my back yard with his sleeves rolled up addressing the troops. Even talking about mortgages the man could hold you spellbound. Those were the days.
I have many questions. I want to ask him what became of his old wife and why he calls my old secretary, Anna, Anna Mae; but we have walked all the way down to the Holiday Inn where the beach ends. “This is where we get off,” he says.
“Listen Todd come see us, please. We’d love to have you in our congregation.” He asks what I’ve been doing and I tell him that I’m still pumping out flooded basements in the historic district. It’s been a stormy spring and work is plentiful.
He hands me his card. “If you ever want to get back in the game give me a call,” he says.
I don’t know what to say to that. Is he offering me a job? I don’t know anything about the religion business but then I didn’t know anything about the mortgage business either when Jonas hired me. I say goodbye to Jonas and Anna Mae and watch them walk toward the Holiday Inn parking lot. I look at the card. The Reverend Jonas P. Hargrave PALACE OF GOD MINISTRY—Spreading the Gospel of Peace and Prosperity. I shake my head and smile. So Jonas is back in the game. I have half a notion to call agents Hensley and Gorko and say ‘hey boys you’d better have a look at this.’ But what’s the point? A man has a right to make a living in this world doesn’t he?