Windy Lynn Harris
There was a dust storm in Duval that September, during the single driest month the town had ever recorded. Harsh winds became mini twisters that tore across cotton fields and baseball parks. One of those dust devils knocked over a cow. One ripped the “Welcome to Duval” sign clean off its post.
And one of them brought Jesus to Mrs. Anderson’s front porch.
Painters working on Mrs. Anderson’s railing had to abandon their job when a swirl of dust crossed main street and spun right into Mrs. Anderson’s yard. The men dropped their brushes and ran into Mrs. Anderson’s house, leaving the open paint cans to the will of the twirling wind. Hunter green and lemon yellow globs flew up and out, splattering Mrs. Anderson’s home.
“Stop right there,” Mrs. Anderson barked. She admonished the men for taking it upon themselves to rush into her home. Not one of them had wiped his feet.
“The wind,” the foreman said, hands in the air. “It attacked us.”
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Anderson said.
The wind had died down enough for the men to feel foolish under the scrutiny of their client. “Please forgive us,” the foreman said. He motioned for his men to head back outside, but all three of his employees hesitated. The foreman had to open the door first to prove it was safe. When he did, green and yellow globs dripped down the door and onto Mrs. Anderson’s polished entryway.
Mrs. Anderson shrieked. “What have you fools done? You’ve ruined my door!”
“We’ll fix it, I promise,” said the foreman. He hurried the other men out and used his hands to stop more paint from dripping. “Hand me those paper towels and a tarp,” he said to the open door.
Nobody answered him.
“Hurry!” yelled Mrs. Anderson, watching the circles of paint begin to harden on her floor, but still, not one employee came back.
Mrs. Anderson stomped to the door and peered past the foreman. She saw all three painters on their knees. “You idiots!” she cried. Mrs. Anderson pushed the foreman into the wet door as she passed him. “Can’t you hear your boss? Don’t any of you boys obey?”
The three men ignored her, shaking their heads in disbelief. She walked up behind them and that’s when she finally saw it too, the face of Jesus in a blend of yellow and green against her once-white front wall. The Son of God was quickly drying in the hot sun, smiling right at Mrs. Anderson.
“It’s a sign from God,” she announced, and the men nodded. The foreman came to the porch too and gasped. Mrs. Anderson swelled with pride.
Neighbors soon came to inspect the miracle and all who saw it concurred. It was Jesus all right, and nobody was more pleased than Mrs. Anderson. She’d been avoiding her church ever since her sister had taken Mrs. Anderson’s place as the leader of the choir, stealing the spotlight with her trumped-up ideas about fairness and taking turns at the top. Jesus himself must have been upset about it too, Mrs. Anderson decided. He’d practically shouted his opinion across the front of her house.
Mrs. Anderson basked in the new awe of her neighbors. She nodded at her Jesus, thanking him for choosing her. She silently made a pact with him. Mrs. Anderson promised not to let her greedy sister Beatrice get in the way again. Beatrice had already ruined the choir with those flashy red satin robes. Who knew what the woman would do to Jesus himself? They’d be dignified, this paint Jesus and she, and discerning about sharing God’s mission.
The town clergy came around within the hour. Reverend Frank shook Mrs. Anderson’s hand and blessed her right there on her front porch in front of the growing crowd. She closed her eyes demurely and accepted the Reverend’s praise. It was even better than an apology.
Soon the Lutheran pastor came, and the Catholic Deacon, too. The three holy men studied the blobs and drips, each seeing their own nuances in the paint. Pastor Gold saw Jesus’ full robe and sandals in the paint below his face, right where Deacon Merr saw a 100-year-long beard. Mrs. Anderson thought they were both wrong and tried to share a knowing look with Reverend Frank, but he was distracted with his own interpretations.
Mrs. Anderson invited the clergy to sit on her comfortable porch chairs while they drank her homemade lemonade. She thawed a container of snickerdoodles for them on her best china plate and presented the cookies with a newfound piety. She’d intended to bring the snickerdoodles to the choir meeting when they asked her to return, but so far, Beatrice had kept the singers from calling. That was about to change, Mrs. Anderson thought as she watched Reverend Frank take his first bite. She’d gladly bake another batch for her homecoming.
The next morning, people showed up from all over town and crowded themselves onto Mrs. Anderson’s lawn. She had to shoo a few of them from her front porch, and before the three town clergymen returned, she’d been forced to tie a garden hose across her stair rails to keep the rest of the gawkers out. When the men finally arrived, Reverend Frank was too distracted to notice how perfectly matched she and her Jesus were, even though Mrs. Anderson had posed beside the miracle in her best yellow blouse as the men ducked under the hose and joined her on the porch. Reverend Frank asked her about coffee instead. The men settled into their now-familiar spots on her furniture and waited to be served. Mrs. Anderson hurried, eager to rejoin them. She’d had an idea about a lawn sign declaring the significance of her property last night. Reverend Frank would want her church to sponsor it, she was sure. Even Beatrice, who’d traveled to hungry countries helping the poor, hadn’t ever been blessed by Jesus himself. Maybe there should be a shrine.
When Mrs. Anderson brought coffee out to the men, they were nearly shouting to each other over the noise of the swelling horde. The crowd had doubled in her minutes away. Mrs. Anderson couldn’t see a blade of her own grass under all those feet. Women kneeled in her flowerbeds, murmuring their prayers. A man on crutches leaned against her mailbox and chanted in a foreign language. A baby wailed loud enough to be heard over them all. Mrs. Anderson fought the instinct to clap her hands together and hurry them away, reminding herself that she was hosting a miracle from God. She’d have to endure some sacrifice.
And that included Beatrice, who was right that moment trying to duck under the garden hose.
Mrs. Anderson waved her sister back before she could barge onto the porch. She slipped under the hose herself and joined her sister on the other side of it. She pulled Beatrice to the edge of her yard, away from the important trio discussing her Jesus.
“It’s a miracle, Aggie!” Beatrice gushed, hugging Mrs. Anderson too tightly around the neck. “We’re saved!”
“It is a blessing,” Mrs. Anderson agreed. She nodded her head thoughtfully and worked on a humble smile.
“Everyone is so excited! The whole town is coming. It was on the radio!”
“Is that so?” Mrs. Anderson let a smile escape. “I would have called you, but I’ve been so busy here.”
“No worry. We’ve come to help. The ladies and I have taken care of everything.” Beatrice clapped her hands three times. “We’re setting up in the driveway.”
Mrs. Anderson puckered at what she saw behind her sister. Long tables were already dressed in white cloth with pot luck dishes lined up in a row. Two men pulled stacks of folding chairs out of the back of a pickup truck. “What’s all this?” Mrs. Anderson asked.
“The whole town is buzzing, Aggs. The drought will be over soon!” She grasped her sister’s hands. “We’ve been praying for this all month.”
Beatrice planted a wet kiss on her sister’s cheek, then bustled back to the driveway leaving Mrs. Anderson to absorb the rest of the scene. Cars jostled past each other down the block, vying for the last parking space. Neighboring yards swelled with people. A brown-eyed girl asked to use her bathroom.
“Find your mother!” Mrs. Anderson snapped. “This isn’t a carnival.”
Mrs. Anderson hurried back up to her porch. The town’s newspaper photographer had crept through her barricade and was snapping shots of the clergy in front of her Jesus. Mrs. Anderson inserted herself into the frame next to Reverend Frank, but it was a moment too late. The photographer had just called, “done.” The men returned to their chairs and asked Mrs. Anderson to bring a fresh pot of coffee.
She did refill their cups, but she left the brownies she’d made that morning on the counter in her kitchen. Mrs. Anderson parked herself in the chair next to Reverend Frank and tried to regain her footing. This was, after all, her property they were all so excited about.
The Jesus painting was a sign from God, the church leaders agreed, but it wasn’t until lunchtime when the national news crews arrived that they formed a united opinion about it. “Jesus has come to Duval to send a message of peace,” Reverend Frank told the cameras. He spoke to the vast crowd from the railing of Mrs. Anderson’s front porch, with the hostess shoved far off to the left. “We are all God’s children,” he said and motioned to the crowd with open arms.
People cheered and pressed forward. Mrs. Anderson saw Beatrice slip up the stairs, a spectacle in her red choir robe. “It’s so exciting!” Beatrice said, winding an arm around Mrs. Anderson’s waist. Mrs. Anderson bristled, but kept her smile tight in case the camera had a wide enough angle to include them.
“Come and pray with us tonight,” Reverend Frank said. He clutched a bible to his heart. “We’re hosing a candlelight vigil. We’ll stand together and sing to our Lord!”
A rush of heat marched up Mrs. Anderson’s neck. She refused to look at her smug sister. She nodded along instead. “Yes, of course,” she said. “We will sing.” Mrs. Anderson saw a flash of red near her driveway and turned to watch the rest of the choir zip themselves into their hideous new robes too.
Reverend Frank had the church ladies fussing with Mrs. Anderson’s porch for the rest of the afternoon, stapling cheap streamers to her railing and paper flowers in a rectangle shape that framed Jesus’ face. They replaced her deck furniture with the church’s wooden pulpit and placed eight folding chairs in a row under her Jesus. Beatrice set songbooks on each of the chairs humming “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” but it may as well have been a victory song. There was no place for Mrs. Anderson to sit.
In that moment, Mrs. Anderson formed a plan. She looked her Jesus in the eye and knew he agreed. Sacrifices would have to be made.
Swarms of people came to Mrs. Anderson’s lawn that evening holding tall white candles and trampling her begonias. They pressed themselves right up against her railing. Mrs. Anderson stood at the edge of her own porch with a lit candle in her hand wondering why the choir members each had one as well. They’d be clapping to the rhythm, if Mrs. Anderson was still in charge, but Beatrice had made so many foolish changes it was hard to keep track. Reverend Frank quieted the crowd and began his sermon with the Lord’s Prayer. Mrs. Anderson mouthed along with the crowd. Beatrice and the other singers were a garish spectacle of red against the backdrop of her Jesus.
Mrs. Anderson waited until Reverend Frank was to the part of his presentation where he stepped into the crowd to offer his blessings by placing his palm on the forehead of the lucky parishioners nearest him. Desperate people cheered and begged Reverend Frank to come further into the crowd. During a brief rehearsal, Reverend Frank had told the choir to stand near the front of the porch while he did this and sing “Thou Art a Savior.” The women now swayed and belted out their song for all to hear, dripping wax on Mrs. Anderson fine wood.
When the hymn began its second verse, Mrs. Anderson made her move. She crept behind the choir and touched her candle to the nearest paper flower. Her Jesus would have winked if he could. Mrs. Anderson nodded a goodbye before slipping back across the porch and down the stairs.
Beatrice was the first to see the flames, but her screams and gestures were drowned by the revelry and song. She pulled the rest of the choir off the porch with her right before the last of the flowers lit up. Screams rippled through the crowd then, and all eyes watched as Mrs. Anderson’s Jesus was swallowed by flames.
A man ran to the porch with a fire extinguisher in time to save Mrs. Anderson’s home, but it was too late for Jesus. The fire had blackened His face to an unrecognizable smudge. “No!” cried Beatrice. She was the first to run back onto the porch. “He’d come to save us!” Beatrice stood in the glow of Mrs. Anderson’s porch light, arms back, screaming to heaven.
And that’s when Mrs. Anderson saw it. She covered her mouth and didn’t dare point to her sister’s red choir robe, in case she was the only one to notice, but one by one the crowd dropped to their knees in silence. Mrs. Anderson’s curse shot like a cannon across the quiet yard.
Reverend Frank walked slowly toward Beatrice as she herself looked down at the reason the mood had changed. Mrs. Anderson’s sister pointed to the white wax that had splattered across her robe in the commotion. Even she could see the perfect outline of the Virgin Mary’s delicate face. Reverend Frank knelt in front of Beatrice and took her right hand. “It’s a miracle,” he said.
Windy Lynn Harris has been published in The Literary Review, 34th Parallel, Poor Mojo’s Almanac, and many other journals. She is the Tips editor at The Review Review and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers. She is a 2015 recipient of a Professional Development Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which is funded by the state of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is working on her first book.