Backseat Jesus: Thursday, Aug. 14th, 2014

“…and that’s why we use the King James Version.” Sunny concludes, almost out of breath from his fifteen-minute, pseudo-historical, adjective-rich lecture. Honestly, I’ve never heard the word ‘infallible’ used so often. “If you want, there are other translations, but they just aren’t the same to me.”

“That so.” Morgan says. A head full of yellow hair (fate spared her the “carrot top curse” Oliver and I inherited from Dad) she slumps further into the passenger seat, flipping through my DMV driving manual. Though the car window, Greenville passes by in the form of pine trees, fine Colonial and Cape Cod style houses, and the occasional under-dressed jogger. Being good little WASPS, we’ve stuck to the middle-class part of town. “I’ll have to look into that.”

“I mean, I don’t want you to think we’re uptight at Lighthouse Baptist. We’re pretty easy going.” Sunny’s words rush out. “You don’t even have to dress up. We care about whats on the inside.”

I eye him in the rear-view mirror, rubbing his close buzz cut. Sweat covers the front of his faded, once black shirt. With the breeze flowing through my open window, the raw stink of his armpits is slightly more bearable than before.

“You should come visit us; Sunday mornings at ten, Sunday nights at six and Wednesday nights at seven.” Sunny grimaces at a passing jogger, his nose wrinkling at the sight of skin tight black leggings and a heaving sports bra.

“I’ll have to do that sometime.” Morgan points left, and I steer her 72′ dumpster green Cornet down Grover Street, being careful not to break 35 mph. I’m already overdue for my license, so Dad’s promised his unemployed eldest daughter twenty dollars a lesson to get me mobile. Not bad, she just has to endure seeing Greenville in slow motion a few afternoons a week. Sunny being with us is just a happenstance-one June owes me for. She said she needed some alone time and when asked if Sunny could ride along, Morgan only shrugged.

“Have we missed anything?” I ask.

“Nothing. This book is the same as when I took it, none of this crap changes.” She tosses the manual onto the dash and leans her head out the window. Her Cornet (a present from Paw Paw on her sixteenth birthday) is a tank with an all-metal body and heavy chrome plated bumper. But it doesn’t have working AC and its AM radio can only receive cattle auctions out of Brannon, so Morgan has spent most of the afternoon with her blonde hair blowing in the wind.

“What school do you go to?” This is Sunny’s twentieth question since we picked him up an hour ago, the first not involving Jesus in some way.

“Marion County Community College.” Morgan closes her eyes and breaths in the August air. She regrets taking him along but is too polite to say anything. Kudos for that.

“Why didn’t you go to GCC?” Sunny asks.

“I wanted a change, I have a dorm room but spend most nights at Charlotte’s house. I still come home on weekends and maybe one afternoon a week. It’s only forty-five minutes away.”

“Is it fun?” Sunny asks. Looking at him in the mirror, I wonder what his definition of fun is. Bible drills, prayer meetings, speaking in tongues-all can be considered.

“It can be,” Morgan says. Under her flowing yellow mane is an occasional glimpse of a hickey, maybe two. Or three. “Charlotte and I are pretty close. She’s Mormon. We chaperone her church dances sometimes.”

“Mormon.” Sunny mumbles. I watch him in the rear-view. He squints in concentration, his lips puckering. He wears concern like a Halloween mask. “Maybe you can bring her to Lighthouse too. Sister Martha was a Seven-Day Adventist before she was saved. I think that’s kinda like Mormon.”

Silent, Morgan allows the breeze to work her over, maybe wondering what the hell this kid was about.

“What do you do down there besides classes?” Sunny asks.

“I’m in the band’s color-guard,” Morgan says. “Other than that we just hang out at peoples houses. We go to Dollar Bill’s a lot. You know, the one from TV?”

“That’s a bar.” His voice is smacking with something that can only be called Concern 2.0. “Do you dance like in the commercials?”

Morgan huffs an amused little huff but says nothing. Her hair, now a tangled mess, has become a halo in the late afternoon sun. The hickies appear black on her skin.

“Brother Calder, our pastor, was in the Navy and was an alcoholic before he was saved.” Sunny says, “Then he was a missionary in Rota, Spain. He did that for ten years. Now he’s with us. You’d like him.”

We pass West Greenville High School and then the Clover Field Shopping Center. Eventually, Morgan taps the time on her phone. Our lesson is about over. I turn the car around in a gas station parking lot and head for Hunter Estates.

Sunny cómo va la escuela?” I ask Sunny. “How’s school going?”

Bien.” His shortest answer of the day.

“Is Oliver in any of your classes?”

“I sit beside him in Science and English. We talk some.”

“He can help you a lot in science. He’s an Einstein.” I like this feeling, being proud of Oliver, talking him up.

“June has it covered.” Sunny groans. “I’m a chapter ahead in everything except PE. You can’t fail PE.”

We pull into Sunny’s trailer park, passing an assortment of late model cars and battered work trucks, many old enough to have 8-track players. Near a nest of mailboxes sits a gorgeous cherry red GTO. It’s raised on blocks with it’s hood up and engine missing. Every yard is overgrown and seems to contain at least one small, suspicious child. Their eyes are like the points of raised ice picks.

“Mom’s home.” Sunny points to his pencil-thin mother (still in her Waffle House uniform) reclining in a lawn chair. I wave. She doesn’t wave back but takes a long drag on her Pall Mall or Winston or whatever it is cheapest at the corner Pump and Go.

“Thanks for letting me hang out with you,” Sunny steps out, his back one dark sweat stain, and pokes his head in through the passenger window. “Morgan, you should come to Lighthouse with your friend. Mable’s already been, she liked it.”

“I go to 12th Street Baptist on Sundays,” Morgan says. She fumbles with the glove compartment latch, the empty ashtray, the overhead lights. As any accomplished fibber knows, avoiding eye-contact is key to any lie. “I help teach Sunday school sometimes.”

“Can you give Charlotte these.” Sunny pulls two sweaty gospel tracks from his back pocket and hands them to Morgan. The words ‘Get out of Hell Free…’ and ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock…’ are printed in a swirling Corinthian script.

“Ok?” Morgan shrugs.

Like a small rabbit, Sunny hops up the drive and kisses his mom on the cheek. Her smile is a strange, otherworldly thing.

I back out of the driveway, narrowly missing an already battered mailbox, and head out on Easter Street. Morgan tossing the tracks into the glove compartment.

“You owe me an air freshener. That kid stunk up my car.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” I look into the rear-view, worried somehow that, even with a half-dozen miles between us, Sunny would hear. He’s the type that would redden and melt into a puddle if he did. Who wouldn’t? “Really, he was pretty cool.”

“He smells like sweat, and he has turd breath.”

“I’m not buying you anything.”

“Fine,” Morgan says, “I’ll put it on Dad’s tab.”


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