That’s your cross, boy. Don’t put that on God or me to carry.


By Donnie Moreland

You always toss the white bass back into these waters. They had it hard enough than to be wrestling in somebody’s hands for air, for too long. When one catches on the line, you pull it up and toss it back. Most of the time, you just let it have the lure and go about their business. It seemed a strange practice but Earl’s Daddy always had a way about him and death. Didn’t like it. Hated ministering over funerals. When they say a person wouldn’t swat a fly, they are talking about Clarence Thurman. Willis always thought it had something to do with when they were kids, in Kentucky, and found some Black man with his head caved in, pantsless, unburied in the brush of some Tobacco field they would play in after church on Sunday’s. Willis could never make sense of it, especially having fought in Korea. If a man needed to take a life to tend to his own, he had that right. Let God sort out what happens after that. Earl did agree and that was something they saw eye to eye on: death. Thinking about it, talking about it. But that’s where it ended. 

Earl was like his father. Wasn’t a fire and brimstone preacher. Wasn’t prosperity, either. Was more pragmatic in how he used scripture to coach folks on Earthly matters. His daddy wasn’t quite as liberal but he couldn’t discuss Heaven, or Hell, without thinking about death, that dead man in that big field, so he avoided it. Talked about Earthly matters. How you do your best Jesus loving, right here, where you stood. Maybe that planted the seed for how Earl thought about Christ now. That avoidance as a transgenerational precursor for emptiness. It didn’t matter to Willis none. He always thought the pulpit would have been better off in his hands. The spiritual realist and moral dichotomist. But when Earl decided to stay in Clarkesville, having come from union work in Pittsburgh, Willis knew he’d probably die an advisor to his brother’s philosophies but could have never imagined Earl to be so damn stubborn and, in his mind, corruptive. Especially since he knew the boy’s secrets. 

READ: The God Shop, Part 1

The sun was just below the skyline, behind the trees, as the two drank some Colas from the cooler between them. 

“Was talking to Bubba about what the boys need this season. He ever get with you?” Willis said, being reminded of what too much of Earl’s silence meant to him during breakfast. But beginning any conversation with the football team seemed an insult for Earl. Still, he obliged. He was sore from quiet, himself.

“Talked to him a couple weeks ago. Said we’d put together a fundraiser for whatever money they’d might need that the school couldn’t take care of. Was thinking about putting Gina and Cooper in charge of it,” Earl replied.

“Cooper and Gina? I thought they were still getting on each other about that Fall bake sale.”

The two shared a quick laugh remembering Gina and Cooper Rogers’ Fall bake sale for a proceeding choir field trip. One of them left their kitchen door open and their two pitbulls mapped out the smell of baked goods to the dining room table, where about 35 cupcakes were found to have been torn to bits. Some stomach aches for the dogs and headaches for them were the extent of the aftermath, but they still bickered on about who was to blame every Sunday, still.

“I’ll be damned one of them don’t leave over it, but they about the most organized of all the folks I could think of,” Earl chortled. 

“Nobody on the board?” Willis said, coming back to the urgency of bureaucratic tasks.

“I can’t get them five to decide on what ties to wear on Easter Sunday, let alone put together a fundraiser.”

“Might be time to bring in some fresh blood. Shake things up a bit.”

“Maybe. I been eyeing Bobby and his brother, but they about to really get going on that chop shop, pretty soon. I wouldn’t think they have the time. And if it means letting them alone so we not overcharged on every dollar for a damn oil change, like they do us in Hill County, i’ll let them be.”

Willis let out an affirming “hmph” and it was quiet again.

“Sometimes it feel like we being watched out here,” Willis said, not really talking to Earl but talking to someone. 

“How you figure?”

“I don’t know. Been the last few trips out here, I just feel something staring at me.”

Wilis looked out at the dense wall of trees, surrounding them, writhing like hollow ghosts. He wasn’t afraid. Just aware. Spiritually aware, as he’d might say. The vet in him knew better. He was afraid of something. For how long, he’d never admit. Even to himself.

“We ‘bout the only some of us in these parts. I know you still got that old rifle under your bed for a reason,” Earl replied, between the last two sips of pop.

“It ain’t crackas. I know what those eyes feel like. I don’t know what it is. We should probably head on back, now that I’m thinking ‘bout it. Put some burgers on the grill.”

Arriving back to the property, Earl couldn’t help but want to bring up the morning. It was nice sharing a few curticious pleasantries, but he couldn’t hide his displeasure with his Uncle’s ways much longer. As they walked inside, Earl finally spoke up.

“I know we don’t get along.”

Willis didn’t stop. He grabbed some coals in the pantry to prepare a fire, looking everywhere but where Earl was, near the front door.

“Ignore me, if you like. That’s not what I have a problem with. But how you talk to me. What you propagate…”

“Propagate, huh. Sound like a pretty big word.”

“You not going anywhere, but neither am I. I can’t afford to let you just take up space in the pew. You know that. You know entirely too much, but I am not going to let you disrespect me much more than what you have.”

Willis was rummaging through one of the utensil drawers for what he may have forgotten to bring along.

“You gonna help me get dinner together or you just gonna keep telling me what I already know?”

Earl slammed the front door.

“Uncle. I’m talking to you.”

Willis stopped, turned around and found a chair to sit in, still without eyes on his nephew. 

“You don’t have to look at me, but you gonna listen.”

“What you want, boy. What you want from me? An apology. I don’t have those to give. Not to you, especially.”

Earl was now sitting across from his Uncle, demanding his eyes. Willis obliged.

“You don’t like my preaching? Fine. You don’t like the way I keep the lights on. Fine. You don’t like me. Fine. But you not gonna hold that shit over me like I owe you your secrecy.”

“Watch your mouth, first of all. Secondly, what’s on your heart ain’t about secrets. They just sin, son. That’s all. Sin. Nasty sin. You shouldn’t be preaching. But you won’t step down, so what am I supposed to do? Tell them about what I know!? How you came to my home, drunk, throwing up on yourself. Crying about Lorna and Clarice like you… boy you prayed them dead! That’s what you did. Then you got the nerve to say you can’t believe in a God that would take a life like that. He ain’t kill that woman. You did! Your words. Yours. Your infidelity. That’s your cross, boy. Don’t put that on God or me to carry.”

Earl leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs and as he was removing his glasses, something happened. Something quiet, like lightning before thunder erupts. Glass shattered and Willis was on the ground. Then the next shot. By this time, Earl had flipped the table and jumped towards Willis.

“Go get that damn gun!” Willis shouted, a bullet in his arm, as Earl crawled to his Uncle’s room. Another shot and another. One more before he found the gun beneath the bed. He checked for ammunition and there was none. None loaded. None in sight. Earl was panicking, but with enough sense to grab his Uncle and bring him into his room, where there were no windows. 

Earl had his Uncle draped in his arms, staring at the door, waiting.