In my neighborhood, which is not a very nice neighborhood, there is a brick church that is maybe too nice for the neighborhood—it used to be Baptist I think, until they decided to call it something else and not to let people know right off it was Baptist—and when I walk the dog, we cut through the church breezeway to avoid the early, heavy traffic, and one morning a pot-bellied man with a radio voice (who I guess is the pastor) stops us and says, hey you can’t walk through here like that, and I say, like what, because I am not used to seeing preachers in the wild and thus am suddenly confounded, and he says, you’re trespassing, and I say, this is God’s house, right, and he says, yeah, it is and I say, and I’m one of God’s children, right, and he says, yep, and I say, so I’m basically cutting through my daddy’s yard, right, and he says, it isn’t that simple, and I say, it never is, and right then I pray hard for my dog to hike one of his back legs and put a wet punctuation mark on things, but his tank is empty and that is probably too much to ask of him anyway.
Every Wednesday the church with the sacred breezeway puts out a big sandwich-board sign on the street about a free dinner for any hungry soul, and I have learned to say free dinner tonight in Spanish—cena gratis esta noche—because the dog and I pass the sign on our late walks, but one Wednesday evening in August, I spot a fellow who has seen better days, wearing too many layers of clothes for the time of year, leaning on his rusty, noisy bicycle outside the fellowship hall—me and the dog are cutting through that breezeway again—and a woman waving a spatula and filling up most of the doorway yells at him, you got to come inside, this ain’t Pizza Hut delivery, and he says something that sounds foreign and far away, and she says it’s free for God’s sake, all you got to do is come inside, and the fellow starts laughing because I suppose he has a code of some kind about crossing thresholds, and he peddles off slow and steady, all those metal pieces between his legs grinding against each other, and the woman just stands there, staring at me and my dog, wondering if the two of us want something for nothing, I guess.
During that time of the year when it gets light later in the morning, we walk early, in the dark, and a couple of mornings each week, when we get near the brick church that used to be Baptist, I turn off my flashlight because the pot-bellied pastor’s truck sits in the prime parking spot next to the holy breezeway, alongside a beige sedan I imagine belongs to the church secretary, so I make up stories for my dog while we walk in the dark, trying to avoid the worst sidewalk cracks, and all the stories are about married preachers who meet their secretaries when the sun isn’t up good yet, and one morning—hand to God—instead of telling a story, I start humming that R.B. Greaves song from the late 60’s (because I am old and all that AM radio music lies puddled in my brain somewhere) and the song is called Take a Letter, Maria, and I won’t worry you with what the song is all about, but if you look it up, I think it explains why an F-150 and a little Toyota are parked together in the dark, but come to think of it, you could probably find the same sort of thing in the Bible somewhere, because you know what they say about that book.
Scott Gould is the author of the story collection, Strangers to Temptation. His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, storySouth, New Madrid Journal,, Carolina Quarterly, Pembroke Magazine, Garden & Gun, New Ohio Review, New Stories from the South and The Bitter Southerner, among other publications. He is chair of the creative writing department at the
S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville, S.C.