December Web Feature by Ronald L. Grimes
Ronald L. Grimes grew up in Clovis, New Mexico. He is a writer and filmmaker living in Ontario, Canada. Among his publications are: “The Backsides of White Souls,” “My Book, My Self,” and “A Pack a Day” (Canadian Notes & Queries). “Boundary Bound” and “His Heart Has Wheels” (El Portal). “Disarming Boys” (The Canopy Review). “Where Is Here?” (Canadian Journal of Native Studies). Two film samples: Rockin’ the Coffin (on YouTube, commissioned by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and A Daughter’s Song (on Vimeo).
Crowbait by Ronald L. Grimes
Shirley steps out of her Airstream trailer into the dark at Spirit Hill Trailer Park and runs her finger around the edges of a cracked pearl button on her ragged western shirt, “The circle of life is coming to an end. So be it.”
The gravel crunches under her boots. A flutter of wings. She stops. Listens. Peers over a clump of scrub oak bushes and says to her dead grandmother, “Angels and crows are passing in the sky. This marks the beginning of the end. Granny, you prepared me. I’m ready.”
Shirley climbs into her black Dodge Ram pickup, stashes her .357 Magnum Nighthawk pistol in the glove compartment, stops at the Sonic Drive-In, buys a chocolate pecan milkshake, hoping the sugar will keep her awake as she drives from Lubbock to Sundown, Texas. She arrives as the sun rises over Resurrection Valley Cemetery to offer a few corn seeds, gifts to her dead grandmother.
Shirley was two, when her parents, Rex and Maggie, were killed when a F-86 fighter jet from Canon Air Force Base lost power and crashed into their car outside Clovis, New Mexico. Her grandmother, Luella Wilmington, adopted Shirley and raised her a Christian fundamentalist. Granny Luella told Shirley, “Whatever is fundamental for Jesus, is fundamental for me and fundamental for you.”
Members of Calvary Methodist Church teased Luella, called her a Bible thumper. “So what?” she said. “Methodists were once called Bible moths.” When Luella sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” the congregation—hearts warmed by the Spirit—wept what Eddie Whatley called the salty tears of Jesus.
Luella knew by heart her favorite hymns in the Cokesbury Hymnal and had no use for the thick revised hymnal. She had doubts about renaming the denomination the United Methodist Church. She resisted being united with liberals who practiced abortion or homosexuality. Abortion was murder and homosexuality, a perversion.
In the summers Luella sent young Shirley to Bible school where she memorized verses from the King James version. Granny knew God had inspired its translators. He held them in his hands—stroked their fingers, stirred their hearts, enlightened their brains.
By the time Shirley was thirty-four Bible verses pierced her heart like arrows. A pain would rise, and a moan would pass through her lips. Granny told her, “Moaning is a sign the Holy Spirit is passing through you, rising up to Heaven.”
Granny Luella died of a sudden heart attack the day after Shirley’s fortieth birthday. She found her grandmother with her hand over her heart, a sure sign that God had welcomed her to heaven. By the time an ambulance arrived, Shirley was lying on the floor shaking. Later she told a nurse at Lubbock Methodist Hospital that she saw Luella standing at the heavenly portal about to enter life eternal.
After Shirley was released from the hospital, she helped the undertaker bury her grandmother. As she pushed her hands into the sandy soil, she said, “Time is passing quickly. The few remaining grains of sand are pouring through the tiny hole of God’s cosmic egg timer. The end is touching the beginning. God is closing the circle of life.”
But grief became a ghost. It held her hand, rode shotgun in her pickup, haunted her dreams. Shirley would wake up screaming, “Granny’s in heaven. You damned unholy ghost, be gone. You’re a devil. Go back and feel the fiery flames of hell.”
Three months after Luella’s death, Shirley met Ozias Abraham at Love’s Truckstop on Interstate 27, where she ate breakfast on Wednesdays with a group of women. She and Ozias became friends. He was a truck driver and often away for weeks at a time. While Ozias was on the road, Shirley drove to his ten acres outside Levelland to feed corn to his five Herford pigs and to put out hay for his two Clydesdale horses.
When Ozias was on the road, Shirley was lonely and on edge. She watched late-night evangelists on television and kept her pistol on the bedside table. She touched her gun, stroked its barrel, put it in her mouth and sucked until she tasted burned gun powder.
Granny Luella had loved bacon fat and corn dripping with butter. Shirley became addicted to chocolate chips. After a few years, she was shaped like Granny Luella—short, stocky, with a powerful, commanding voice.
Women began to follow Shirley. Once she had followers, she decided to attend Caprock Christian College. She majored in Bible and graduated at the top of her class. She also earned a certificate in court reporting and began to travel through Texas and New Mexico. She had nimble fingers, so her transcripts were fast and accurate. She became a favorite of circuit judges. Soon she had a thriving business.
On the road Shirley carried her Nighthawk pistol to protect herself from men who had rape on their minds. Granny had taught her that rapists wore a peculiar look on their faces, that you could smell the foul scent of their lust in the air as it burned your nostrils.”
Ozias gave Shirley a Buck hunting knife. “Hold their balls up like this. Castrate the bastards.” He gave her a John Deere hat, told her to put it on the dash of her pickup, so men would think there was another man around who could protect her.
“I don’t need protection,” she said, “I hit what I aim at.”
Shirley told her best friend Chris Hilton, “Granny Luella said if you’re round and heavy, like me, you’d better develop a compelling personality.”
By the time Shirley was forty-two, she had organized a dozen faithful followers into the Holy Hallelujah Prayer Group. The women prayed together on Wednesday nights. The group started after Shirley told the women who gathered for breakfast at Love’s Truckstop about a vision. She saw Granny Luella weeping in heaven eagerly waiting for her granddaughter and the righteous. Granny said, “Look. The crows are gathering. Circling in the sky. The unrighteous are crow bait. Time is running out. Tell people to get right with the Almighty Judge or he will send them straight off into the fiery flames of Hell, where their skin will boil and bubble. The pain will never go away.”
Shirley was eager for the Lord to come. She had visions of the last days, heard voices radiating from lumbering ice-cream trucks, swift racing bikes, howling coyotes, and would act out her visions for the prayer group.
“You’re God’s puppet,” said the women.
“I like that,” Shirley said, “I’m God almighty’s squawking puppet.” The women laughed.
Shirley watched her neighbors like a crow, hollering at their kids for throwing yucca spears at each other. She shouted caw-caw-caw to make them stop. “You noisy kids ought to obey your parents and neighbors.”
They ignored her. Called her a witch.
Shirley wasn’t a witch. Far from it. At age forty-three, she married Ozias Abraham, who converted to marry Shirley. Together, they joined the Lone Coyote Cowboy Church in Lubbock. Both dressed western and carried pistols to protect the church from drug lords and illegals. Ozias—tall, lean, full of play and humor—drove trucks from Mexico through the United States to Canada.
Chris asked Shirley, “Isn’t the Cowboy Church full of racists?”
“No. We can’t possibly be racists. We’re Americans.”
“You have three Donald Trump signs on your lawn.”
“We do. But we’re not racists. Neither is Trump. Soon he will be president.”
Shirley had picked out her plot at Resurrection Valley Cemetery next to Granny Luella’s grave. She covered it with yucca plants. She touched the point and ran her finger along its jagged edge. She called the blades of the yucca plant arrows of God.
Shirley’s gravestone was ready for the Great Arrival. The stone was carved with her birth date followed by a dash. She was not eager to die but knew Jesus would soon arrive and resurrect the righteous. She had faith, knew she would be among the saved. She turned east, the direction from which the Great Judge would come, and strolled among the graves, talking with the dead and the living. She pounded the ground with both hands and breathed, “Come to Jesus,” hoping the unrepentant dead would hear and repent.
Despite their arguments about Chris’s participation in the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, the two women clung tooth and nail to the old friendship. When Shirley began to talk about the unrepentant dead, Chris, a part-time cognitive therapist, asked Shirley questions, “Can the dead repent? Can you be saved after death?” Chris was skilled at keeping the focus off herself and on others.
Chris poured a tumbler of tea with four packets of sugar for Shirley, then a glass of Pinot Noir for herself. Chris saw Shirley was embarrassed by her questions. She smiled, “You know, Shirley, Jesus turned water into wine, not wine into water.”
Shirley laughed, “Shut your trap, sister. You know I’m a teetotaler.”
Shirley had not always been alcohol-free. When she was a student at Caprock College, she became a barrel-racing champion. Late one night, against the rules of the college, she guzzled cheap tequila with other members of the Annie Oakley Rodeo Club. They stumbled toward a corral, smelled the foul air from the oil pumps, vomited and rode their horses bareback across a flat field. Shirley’s horse Matilda stepped into a prairie dog hole and broke its leg.
That was the day Shirley stopped drinking.
There was no room in the Airstream for Shirley’s rodeo trophies and buckles, so Chris stored them in her two-car garage, beside her pink Corvette. Together, the two friends decided to name the Corvette, “Matilda Down the Hole.”
“Which hole?” Chris asked.
Shirley blushed, then laughed.
Chris, whom local teenage boys considered a stunner, was blond and gorgeous—a poster woman for Miss Texas but with the wrong political sentiments. She was a Bernie-Sanders Democrat and a Presbyterian who donated much of her inherited oil wealth to peace and justice causes.
Chris had frequent, short headaches. In August a migraine started and lasted for a week. The pain was so intense she could hardly walk. Shirley pressed her hands to Chris’s head, prayed, then said, “Chris, ask the Lord to come into your heart and you’ll be healed.”
Chris was desperate, so she went with Shirley to the next meeting of the Holy Hallelujah Prayer Group. Chris allowed the women to lay on hands. She could feel the heat radiating through their fingers and smell their sweat. She allowed them to anoint her head with holy water that Shirley had brought home from her last trip to the Holy Land.
The next Wednesday the women cried out for the Holy Spirit to descend. They saw visions of red and yellow flames in the heavens, spoke in tongues, fell into trance, rolled on the floor. Terrified, Chris ran out of the meeting. When Shirley accused Chris of retreating, she heard the word as a sign that they should go on a real retreat.
The next week, after the migraine had lifted, Chris bought two expensive camping tents, one red, the other blue. Shirley insisted on using her black Dodge Ram pickup, “No gravel chips on your pink Corvette.” They drove to Amarillo, ate jalapeño-laced enchiladas at the Saguaro Restaurant. Chris skipped dessert. Shirley ate four sopapillas filled with butter and Busy Bee honey.
The two women headed north toward Palo Duro Canyon. A ranger handed out a pamphlet at the entrance gate. Chris read a few lines to Shirley, “When the Spanish first discovered Palo Duro Canyon, they said it was like an upside-down mountain.” Chris said, “That’s me. I’m an upside down mountain. My head is below my feet. Something is wrong with me. I’m dizzy. I’m not sure where I’m headed.”
As they drove deep into the canyon, the sun was setting. Chris said, “Sorry, old friend, I need to be alone. I have to figure out what I’m doing, where I’m going.” They agreed that Shirley would set up the red tent and Chris, the blue one. During the day they talked and explored the canyon valley, but at night they were alone in their tents.
Each night Shirley began, “Dear Lord.” Every prayer ended with, “Please Jesus. Come soon.”
Chris pulled off the rain fly and stared at the sky through the mesh at the top of the tent. She talked to the stars, imagining the twinkling was star-talk. The stars asked, “What are you doing with your life? Who do you want to be with? Where are you going?”
Chris wanted to talk with Shirley about these questions but didn’t. She knew the answers would be predictable, “Give your life to Jesus. Turn it over to the Lord.”
At midnight Shirley had a dream that woke her up. An angel came down. They wrestled. When the heavenly being touched her nipple, she felt a burst of pleasure. When she woke up, she was horrified.
In the morning she crawled out of her tent and confessed to Chris, “Last night an angel touched me. Here…”
“Ah, you know angels—their messages are mixed. You never know what they mean.”
“I’m a Christian, so I should know how to interpret dreams. The Bible is full of them.”
On Wednesday, when Shirley told the dream to her prayer group, arguments erupted. Some said the dream was from Satan. Others said it was from God. One said breasts aren’t for pleasure but for feeding babies. Another said, the Savior was gentle, there was something feminine about Jesus. Another said, women were the first to see him after his resurrection. He had a gentle touch. He was kind to children, had long hair, and loved the disciple John.
Shirley went home confused. She examined her nipples, squeezed them, said to the empty Airstream, “That feels so good.” She wished she and Ozias could have children. She began to pace back and forth. Like many members of the Cowboy Church, Shirley had a reproduction of Warner Sallman’s painting, Jesus Knocking at the Door. She had heard sermons from Brother Goodnight assuring the congregation that the door in the painting is a symbol of the human heart. As she passed by the painting, she would pause and put her hand over her breast, sometimes feeling a hard nipple.
Late one Tuesday night, hand over heart, she realized her nipple was hard. Desire surged through her body. Her overalls grew damp. Ozias had just returned from trucking medical supplies from Mexico to Texas. He was surprised when she unzipped his Wranglers. He had driven for sixteen hours without sleeping.
Their delight was quick lived and deeply unsatisfying.
Chris and Shirley met the next morning at Roadrunner Coffee Shop. Shirley talked about the prayer-group controversy and her feelings about the painting. Chris reached out and gingerly touched Shirley’s breast, “Here?” she asked.
Shirley smiled, “Yeah.” Then she began to drum her fingers on the table.
Chris changed the subject, “Remember when we were in high school and took an archery class?”
“Yeah, we both got A’s.”
“Well, I was in an archery shop at Sweetwater last week and bought a lefthanded bow and two dozen arrows. Maybe we should take up archery again? What do you think? There’s a pit outside of town near the Rainbow Center.”
“Not sure how good I’d be now,” said Shirley.
“But we could try, couldn’t we?”
A week later Shirley found her old Bear recurve bow stashed away in Chris’s garage. Shirley showed it to Chris, ran her finger up and down the bow’s curves, “They’re gorgeous, like you Chris. I get more pleasure from Ol’ Bear than from Ozias.”
“There are other ways to get pleasure.”
The next week the two women visited the pit and were surprised at how much of their skill remained after twenty-seven years. An elderly custodian at the Rainbow Center said, “The pit, back in the early 1960s, housed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that rose up out of the ground like huge, deadly dicks—like rattlesnakes.”
Shirley fell silent.
For the next year, on Saturdays, Chris and Shirley went for an early morning coffee then headed to the pit. They became quite skilled and entered local competitions they often won. Dr. Eunice Beavin, a professor of anthropology and religious studies at Trinity College, saw them on television and asked the two women to come to her class for a demonstration. She wanted students to understand that the aging body continues to learn, that getting older does not prevent you from being a student. “We are all students,” she said.
Two field targets were set up in a large classroom. For five minutes the women shot arrows, most of them dead center. The students were stunned at the skill of these middle-aged women.
The professor borrowed the women’s bows and passed them around, “Don’t just look at the bows or think about them. Stroke the bow. Touch it. Feel it. Become one with it.”
Puzzled but interested, the students passed around the bows. They stroked and imagined. One of the students, Sarah Gillford, a pitcher for Trinity College’s baseball ball team, sat on the back row. She imagined Chris naked. Sarah opened her zipper and covered her hand with her baseball cap.
After class the Dr. Beavin gave Chris and Shirley a two hundred-dollar honorarium and a copy of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery. Chris took it home and read it avidly.
Shirley kept saying she intended to read it, but never did.
A year passed. Ozias had been away for three weeks. Shirley was lonely and slept over at Chris’s. Shirley said, “I worry he’s having an affair with somebody in Windsor. He keeps getting text messages. Says they are from someone at a Canadian biotech company. Maybe he’s having an affair with her?”
“Want to talk?” asked Chris.
“No,” said Shirley. She went to bed depressed.
Chris stayed up late. She had bought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and read the first few chapters. She was imagining herself sitting on a big Harley Davidson motorcycle headed to San Francisco.
The next week she started taking motorcycle lessons and within a few months she bought a new Harley. She loved to feel the roaring engine radiating its power through her thighs.
A few weeks later, she sold her pink Corvette and put her house up for sale.
When Shirley saw the for-sale sign, she was furious. She screamed, “You didn’t tell me you were leaving.” She stormed out the front door, slamming it behind her.
Not a word passed between the women for a week.
The day Shirley showed up at Chris’s home, she was taken aback. “I’ve come to forgive you,” said Shirley.
“Forgive me? For what?”
“For being a coward, a runway. You are leaving me and leaving the Lord.”
“You and the Lord are the same? Isn’t that idolatry? I’ve lived all my life here. I’m not running away, just wanting to explore the world outside the Southwest.”
“Chris, you should settle down. But I forgive you.”
“I don’t want your forgiveness. I want your understanding.”
“I understand that you’ve sinned and need to repent.”
“For what? No. Absolutely not.”
“Maybe you’re a lesbian.”
“And if I were?”
The Wednesday after this argument, Shirley went to her prayer group and told the women what had happened. Most of them cheered her for standing up for Christian principles. Anne Vass said, “If she’s a lesbian, that’s against God’s will.” Most of the group agreed that a husband is the head of a household, and that the purpose of sex is not enjoyment but reproduction. Males and females were meant to have babies, to create—just as God created the universe.
After the meeting Shirley went to LouAnna, a prayer group member, and asked why she had been quiet. “I don’t think we should be judgmental. Judgment belongs to God.”
“But God wants us to judge between good and evil,” objected Shirley.
“Maybe, but our judgments are fallible. We’re not God. We’re not omniscient.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
The next morning Shirley drove to Resurrection Valley Cemetery in Sundown. She saw seven crows sitting on her grandmother’s gravestone, the grave was covered with rabbit fur, blood and guts. Shirley smelled the rotten odor and knew this was a sign the Tribulation had begun and that she was being tested.
She felt the crows were calling her, “Come, Shirley, come join us.”
She was attracted but terrified.
She stood still.
Determined not to yield.
Shirley invited Chris out for coffee. “I’m confused. I heard the crows calling me and was tempted to follow. Jesus is calling me too. I want to follow him. He’s divine and forgives. I know you don’t want to be forgiven for running away, but the End is coming soon. I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to say.”
“Maybe the best strategy is to say nothing. Be silent.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Shirley as she stared out the coffee shop window, “Prayer isn’t only about talking. Being quiet is a way of praying too. There is a passage in the Old Testament that says we should silent before God, since the Last Days are near.”
“Those days have been near for over two thousand years.”
“But you know what I mean?”
“No, not really.”
“I mean, Jesus never left us. He’s here now, sitting beside us. Can’t you feel him?”
“Where is he sitting? I thought he was in heaven.”
“He’s in both places.”
“Where is he now?”
“In my heart.”
“Not your brain? Not your belly? Not your vagina?”
Shirley blushed, shuffled her boots on the wooden floor, “Now why would Jesus be down there?”
“Because the whole body, not just your heart, is sacred. If you were raped, you’d feel that some sacred part of your body had been violated. Right?”
“Come on, Shirley, you know that’s true.”
“Okay, I do.”
“Let me ask you a question,” said Chris. “You’re always taking about the incarnation. If God became flesh in Jesus, every part of our body is sacred. Why not a toe? An elbow? Why not the clitoris? You like touching it, don’t you?”
Shirley looked at Chris and smiled. Then, embarrassed, she stared down into her coffee cup, poured in more cream, stashed her napkin into her purse.
Desperate to change the subject, Shirley said, “Listen. You hear that? Hundreds of crows are landing in the dead elms outside the coffee shop. That’s a sign the End is near.”
“Maybe Jesus is a crow?”
“Crows are devils.”
Chris laughed, “Crows are smart. Maybe you and I are crows? What’s so special about humans?”
“We have souls.”
“How do you know animals or rocks don’t?”
“They aren’t living.”
“You don’t know that,” said Chris, “The rock that closed Jesus’s tomb…well, maybe it rolled itself away. Even rocks could have spirits. Native Americans think so.”
Shirley rolled her eyeballs but said nothing.
The two women paid their bill and headed out into the blinding sun toward Hillcrest Park. “You know,” said Shirley, “We rarely take long walks, but when we do, we always get along. Why is that?”
“Don’t know. Maybe walking is prayer? I heard about Pueblo people in the Rio Grande Valley. For them dancing, their feet touching the earth, is prayer.”
“Being silent is prayer? And dancing is prayer? Maybe I should teach the members of Holy Hallelujah these ways of praying.”
For the next half-hour the two women walked and said nothing until a crow flew overhead.
“Yeah, why not?”
The two women began to build female scarecrows out of dried corn stalks from Ozias’s garden. They used cornsilk to give them curly, frizzy wigs. Each was dressed in a frilly old dress that Chris was going to donate to the Salvation Army. They called each of the scarecrows Major Barbara, since Chris had seen the play Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw when she was in Washington for the Women’s March.
Ozias donated the corn. The women built seven Barbies, but the crows were unafraid. They landed on the scarecrows, pecked out the eyes and gobbled the corn kernels. At sunrise and sunset hundreds of crows gathered. Ozias laughed, calling the gathering a conference of stand-up Jewish comedians.
Chris laughed, but Shirley didn’t think the joke was funny.
One day at noon Shirley walked calmly to the garden and shot arrows through the hearts of the scarecrows and burned them. For hours the crows circled the garden. One crow circled, swooped down, slammed its beak into her skull and left her bleeding. When it came back a second time, Shirley grabbed her Nighthawk pistol and shot it out of the air.
She ground the crow’s head into the dirt with her boot heel.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Shirley was jubilant. “Chris, he’s been chosen by God, and that means an end to abortion, to murder. He has been chosen to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.”
“He was elected by people with your views, not mine. He likes to pinch asses and grab women by their pussies. He’s had many affairs and probably paid for several abortions. Anyway, he lost the election.”
“No, he won by a huge majority,” said Shirley.
“He lost the popular vote by over two million votes, although he won the Electoral College. He was elected by people with your views, not mine.
Three days after Trump’s election Shirley had a dream. She sat up in bed at two in the morning. Ozias was still sleeping. She drove to Chris’s home, woke up her friend, “I’ve had a vision. I see a huge mansion full of dead souls. Granny Luella’s there. She shouts that the End is here. The Handmaidens are lighting candles. Jews are blowing the ram’s horn in Jerusalem. They are being converted to Christianity and are calling people to prepare their souls to meet God Almighty, the Judge of Souls.
“An angel flies over, then turns into a dove. I fall on the floor and weep with joy. I cry please come. The Holy Spirit arrives. Our spirits intertwine. We make love. We become one. I feel my soul starting to lift off my body. I shout, O God, O my God.
“I wake up dizzy, ecstatic. Hoping to see the dove again, I fall asleep and dream. The dove returns. It flies outside my bedroom window. I am so happy.
“Suddenly a crow tears into the side of the dove and rips its head off. The crow stands upright on its legs. It’s taller than a person and has wings. It’s the Devil. Its beak changes into a bullhorn with a crackling sound like an electrical short in a revival tent. The Crow-Devil calls out to dead souls, Follow me. Skeletons sit up in their graves. I scream, No! It’s too early. It’s not time. Jesus, stop the Devil.
“I’m not ready. I’m waiting for Chris.”
Three months later the women go the sandhills for a picnic. The sun is setting. Chris says, “Sorry Shirley but Jesus isn’t coming. Not now. Not ever.”
“Yes. He’s coming. But not yet. He’s waiting on you.”
“And I’m waiting on Her.”
“What on God’s green earth are you talking about?”
“We’re made in God’s image, right?”
“In our image—yours and mine,” says Chris. “That would be female. Shirley, we’re doves. We’re also crows. We daughters of God are both doves and crows.”
“That makes no sense. The world is divided—good on right, evil on the left.”
“We peace-loving humans think we can scare off crows with scarecrows. But scarecrows—meant by us to repel crows—attract them like magnets. Let me ask you, Shirley, will God forgive the crows?”
“He will forgive all who repent.”
“Can crows repent? Why should they? I don’t repent. Why should I? God made crows and women smart and curious. Like Eve, we women keep eating apples and crows, corn. That’s how we know the difference between good, evil, and everything in between. There is no heaven. There is no hell. Just the all-encompassing Mother Earth.”
“I can’t remember my mother or father, and my grandmother was a saint.”
“I never knew my grandparents. Like you, my parents died early but left me wealthy, with stocks in Diamondback Oil Company.
“You follow Jesus, but I adopted the Great Cosmic Mamma, blind to virtues and vices, blind to religion. We’re all saved. Now and forever, right?”
Shirley takes off her boots, digs her toes into the sand, stares at the disappearing horizon. “Maybe so,” she says, “I’m tired. Tired of waiting.”
As darkness creeps in both women grow silent. Each decides to leave. But neither moves. They fall asleep in the warm sand. The next morning, when the sun rises, Shirley sits up, sees wave patterns in the sand and knows they are the tracks of a sidewinder rattlesnake. She follows the tracks to an old yucca plant. Sees it is about to drop its seeds. Behind the yucca are hundreds of crow tracks, a few black feathers, and a dead sidewinder with its eyes pecked out.
Ozias parks his truck beside the Airstream, goes in, finds a note from Shirley, “Chris and I are taking a trip. We’re riding her motorcycle to Corpus Christi. Should be back in two weeks. Maybe longer. Don’t worry.”
Ozias does worry, “Chris has a motorcycle?” He drives to her house and discovers it has been sold. Goes back to the Airstream. Searches Shirley’s closet. Her good clothes are gone. Drives to his garden. No scarecrows. Only ashes, burnt arrows, crow feathers. He examines the scene, imagines what happened. Fails. Goes to the Holy Hallelujah Prayer Group. They haven’t seen Shirley for weeks. The air is thick with burning questions. Has she been taken? Why have we been left behind? LouAnna reminds the group that Shirley had said, “Women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will not.”
Ozias drives to Corpus Christi. Can’t find Shirley. Drives back to Lubbock after two weeks of searching. Files a missing-person report.
Three months pass. Ozias can only speculate about Shirley’s fate. Abducted? Raped? Dead? Maybe she just left me for another man?
Ozias stops taking baths. Quits shaving. Stops eating.
Jake Goodnight, senior pastor at Lone Coyote Cowboy Church, pulls Ozias aside after Sunday praise and worship and says, “Come with me.”
Jake suggests that they build two scarecrows to resemble Shirley and Chris. They take them to Resurrection Valley Cemetery. Jake suggests that they use Shirley’s Nighthawk pistol to shoot the Barbies to shreds. Ozias balks, then vomits at the thought of shooting holes in a manikin of Shirley. But he’s desperate and respects Pastor Jake’s judgment. The two men fill the scarecrows with lead. Then burn the straw, corn shucks and wood.
They carry the ashes to Granny Luella’s grave in Sundown. Ozias says, “Luella Wilmington, listen to me. Shirley’s lost. Maybe she’s with you, maybe not. Is she crowbait? I hope not. Here are some ashes from burned scarecrows. I’m sorry. You’re sorry. The world is sorry.”
Jake sits in silence with Ozias who weeps and weeps.
Ozias jumps up, grabs Shirley’s Nighthawk, “I’m going to bury this too.” Jake, a devoted gun lover, hesitates. But he knows this act is Ozias’s way of dealing with grief. They dig a hole in the ground at Shirley’s headstone, pull apart the pistol, and bury it.
A month later Ozias sells the Airstream trailer and moves back to Canada.
Seven months later he receives a letter from Shirley forwarded from Lubbock to Windsor. “Dear Ozias, I’m so sorry I didn’t have the courage to tell you I was leaving. You are a good man. You deserve better. For several months I couldn’t admit to myself what was happening. You’ve always known that I love Chris, but it took me a long time to realize that I desire her as well. You and I both know we didn’t have a great sex life. Now I understand why.
Chris and I are living in San Francisco in a commune sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. It’s an LGBTQ+ church, very different from Lone Coyote Cowboy Church. I don’t ask for your forgiveness, but I would like for you to understand what’s happened to me.
“I have begun to sing in the church choir, and Chris has become a full-time therapist for this community. People like us, who live an unconventional lifestyle, have lots of problems, and that includes me. I still have Granny Luella’s voice in my head pounding me with Bible verses. I thank her for raising me, caring for me, but I resist her view of the Bible. Now I can see that it’s not, as Granny used to say, rules for life. The Bible is about liberation. I’m now reading James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Granny Luella would have hated the book. I have strayed from her faith but found my own. Thank God.
“I’ve always wanted to ask whether you were having an affair in Windsor, but, well, that’s none of my business.
“If you’d like to write back, that would make me happy. If you don’t, I understand.
“A new Shirley.”
Ozias Abraham reads the letter to Norma Bergstrom, his new wife. They agree. He should write Shirley. But he waits for three months.
“Dear Shirley, I can’t tell you how sad, disappointed, and angry I have been. You should have told me before you left. We could have parted amiably. I wasn’t happy in our marriage either. I wouldn’t have guessed that you are a lesbian, although, as you say, our sex life was poor.
I know you suspected that I was having an affair. I was. Norma and I married last October and have joined Congregation Ahavath Sholom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Detroit across the bridge from Windsor, where we live. I feel good about reconnecting with my Jewish roots.
“You’re singing in a choir. It’s curious how you and I converge as we diverge. People in the synagogue enjoy my baritone voice. I am now in training to become a cantor. I chant. You sing hymns.
“When I moved back to Canada, I gave up my guns and buried your Nighthawk pistol. I donated my cowboy duds to the Salvation Army. I’m now the manager of TGIF Trucking International, so I have to wear a suit. Some days I pretend I’m Leonard Cohen. You might like some of his music. He was a Montreal Jew and a Zen Buddhist. I’m reading a biography about him now. I have a vague memory that you and Chris were reading one of those Zen-and-the-art-of books.
“Anyway, Shirley, I’m glad you wrote. Now we can put our relationship to rest. The circle of our life together has ended.
“As always, but different, Ozias.”
Shirley writes back a short note, “Dear Ozias. You’ll laugh when you read this. There is a huge square in front of the Metropolitan Community Church. Pigeons and crows gather there. Hundreds of them. I feed them seeds and food scraps. There is a wounded crow with only one leg. Her flight is so beautiful, but when she’s on the ground, she can only hop. She’s my favorite. She always comes to me. I like to imagine I’m a wounded healer. I call her Black Beauty and feed her only dried corn.”