Lucinda felt the soft skin of her bare thighs molding to the dented pattern of the linoleum where she’d fallen. Crumbs of food punctuated the lines forming on her leg. The bits embarrassed her. She tried to remember the last time she’d swept. Surely it wasn’t so long ago that she hadn’t noticed chunks the size of pebbles. Perhaps if she could actually see them she would be amused to find that they were smaller than she imagined. Maybe Bates had made a mess that morning fixing his breakfast.
The chill of the linoleum brought relief from the heat radiating from her heart outward into the air around her. She decided she had more important things to worry about now than poor housekeeping. The spasms of her mind flung memories at her the way Burrito flung dirt from his bone holes, as if eventually, enough of her past would be removed to reveal a treasure she’d hidden long ago.
The heat subsided. She wished for it again the moment it left since nothing in its wake remained to shield her from the torrent of images, or from the muscular assaults of the giant that lay inside her. She placed a shaking hand over the place where its parts pushed up from within her against her bulging front. What was it? A foot? A hand? An elbow? Whatever it was, it hurt like the dickens, and as always, it never stopped with just one shove.
Why did it have to come along and ruin a perfectly good descent into hell, she wondered. There had never been a smoother spiral down. She was sure of it. That was until the doctor looked pitifully at her that frostbitten day last fall in his office and said, “Well, Lucinda, you got yourself pregnant.”
She’d tried to pretend the news was the best she’d ever heard. She did the same that night when she told her husband, Bates. She smiled a big grin that even she knew looked forced. She kept it plastered right there on her face as he shook his head just like the doctor had, the bastard.
That wide-eyed smile was one she’d learned as an occasionally boozy teenager on the gospel music circuit with her family.
“Lucinda,” her dad seethed into her bedroom one Sunday morning when her Jaeger-soaked gut threatened to keep her clutching her knees in bed instead of singing on stage with the rest of the family, “you’re gonna learn this very morning that the Lord’s got work for us to do. He don’t wait for nobody, including you. And that is work we got to do. Ain’t nobody else can do it but us. The best I can do for you today is kick you out that door and on to church. You got to learn to smile through your mistakes. No doubt in my mind you’ll be making plenty more than your share of ’em.”
When it came to her mistakes, she preferred her father’s matter-of-fact assignments of penance to her husband’s more fatalistic responses. “Not even mine, I bet,” was all Bates had said when she told him she was pregnant, which let her know exactly what kind of help she could expect from him.
Not that Bates wasn’t a good man. He was, and when they’d married seven years ago, she’d been a good woman, more or less. But that was before they met a couple from church who were into things they’d not even thought about before. A few card games and a few laughs, a little booze just to keep things friendly, then one night a pipe, it looked to her like a toy really, and what seemed like a little piece of rock salt. The whole world looked different to her after that evening, and she had a hell-bent desire to keep it looking that way that she never could explain to anyone, not even Bates.
“What are you gonna do about it, Lucinda?” Bates had asked with no expression on his face when he found out she was pregnant. Not how are you feeling or what will we name it? She didn’t know what she would do. She decided to wait until the day after her doctor’s visit to figure something out, but Holt Hollis came by that next morning and had some really good stuff, and, well, that took care of that day. Truth be told, the stuff was so good it pretty much wiped out her chances of figuring anything out for the rest of the week.
Then there were her walks in the woods behind the trailer. Getting further down in the fall like it was, the air was sharp and smelled like the underside of a wet log. A walk to think would do her and that baby some good, she figured. She thought she probably ought to lose some weight since she was carrying big, and the child was only a month and a half along. Could she help it that she found two scraggly teenaged boys who gave her a hit just for letting them suck her already swollen titties. That took care of that week.
Thinking back on it all now with her legs sprawled out beneath her on the floor, Lucinda realized that time sure enough will fly that way, and pretty soon, she had put off the question of what to do with that baby long enough that the decision was made for her. She’d be having that baby no matter what Bates thought about it. The thought gave her a rare sense of moral superiority, which she savored. Yes, sir, she’d have that baby, and that was just fine by her. She’d figure something out like she always did.
At least she thought she always figured something out, until just a few moments ago when her body collapsed under its own weight and she believed she might turn to syrup and ooze right through a seam in the crumby linoleum, down through the spidery crawl space beneath the trailer, through the rain-chilled April soil and straight into the bed in hell she figured she’d been making for herself. She could feel the steam from below rising up through the floor and thought she caught a whiff of sulfur.
“Whoa, Lord! Not yet!” Lucinda shouted, still unable to open her eyes, but grateful for the return of her voice at least. She discovered her fingers sleepily responded to her intentions and placed both palms on the floor in an attempt to push herself to her feet. Her sudden drug-addled fall back to earth, her enormous belly and the giant in it, however, seemed determined to keep her pinned to the ground. She collapsed against the sink cabinet and with a frustrated but at least conscious breath blew a stray bang, brittle at the ends, from her eyes. She decided she’d just have to make her case from where she squatted and plastered on a smile for the Lord.
She started with a nervous laugh to lighten Him up a bit.
“Lord, how many times must dumbasses like me have had to ask you for help out of messes they got into all by themselves?” Not expecting any kind of verbal response, she answered the question herself, “Seeing how I know most of the fools for three counties, I reckon that number’s pretty high. Well, Lord, you know I ain’t never asked for help.”
“You know I’m a doer. I sure enough am. Now I don’t hardly ever do right, but I go right ahead and do just the same. You got to give me credit for that.”
Lucinda felt her creativity running thin. She heard nothing in return for her babbling except the ringing she’d heard in her ears for the past thirty minutes. She kept right on going.
“But, Lord, I got this baby, see. And I didn’t know what to do with it. Hell, I don’t know what to do with me. The welfare office is tight as Dick’s hatband these days. I got cops swinging by here at odd hours trying to catch me up to something or trying to get me to do something with them. Surely you can see where this problem is going if I don’t get a little help. And … let me just put it all out on the table. You know good and well I never asked for this baby.
“I mean, maybe I did by not having guys pull out or wear a rubber or whatever, but for seven years Bates and I never used no protection and I never got knocked up, so I just figured you knew better than to give me a baby. Well, I got to hand it to you. That was a funny joke you played. And believe me, everybody from the welfare office down to the church has got a real good laugh out of it, but now it’s gettin’ serious. This here is your baby as much as it is mine, ain’t it? I didn’t want it. But you give it to me, so I’ll raise it. See here, though: I need some help. This here is your baby. I promise I’ll remember it’s your own, if you’ll help me out. I can’t do this by myself. And right this second, I can’t even get my fat ass off the damn floor!”
Suddenly the air was filled with a sweetness so strange and beautiful that it took Lucinda’s senses a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t in fact a scent but the sound of what was left when the humming in her head suddenly ceased. In the corner, in front of the trashcan that overflowed with crumpled beer cases and greasy carryout boxes of fried chicken from the Piggly Wiggly, a sliver of light pierced the gray darkness and poured like mercury into the kitchen air. The light was so bright, in fact, that it pushed right past Lucinda’s closed eyes and seemed to open them from the inside out with the only force she could ever remember being stronger than the hunger that had driven her for the past few years. A gleaming shimmer lay over everything, from the grimy cabinets to a half-eaten drumstick lying like carrion on the floor.
A hand the size of a frying pan stretched through the air in front of her. At first it just hung there, hovering, milky white with a dull shine like an aluminum pie tin. Lucinda thought maybe it was about to slap her. Then a sleeved arm unfurled back from its wrist. Lucinda craned her neck and peered, mouth agape, around the wide-open hand. The arm, which had moments before been stretched into nothingness, now had the body of a giant spilling out from the shoulder. Finally, she saw the whole of him. He was like most any man, really, except that he glimmered a bit and was so big he stooped, either to bend toward her or to keep from bumping the ceiling of the trailer. She couldn’t be sure which.
“What in God’s name …” Lucinda’s dingy tennis shoes pushed against the floor, forcing her to slide sideways against the kitchen cabinets away from the hand still opened wide before her.
The hand followed her.
“Take it,” the angel commanded. The words echoed off her cheap kitchen appliances, crackling and roaring like a forest fire in tones that sent waves of fear through Lucinda’s pregnant body. The baby inside her seemed to beat at her belly to get out and see it.
“Take what?” she screamed, holding her arms close to her chest.
“My hand,” the voice boomed in a response so sensible Lucinda felt a little embarrassed she’d not understood it the first time.
Lucinda reached for the hand, which didn’t wait for her to get close enough. It gripped her with fingers that reached her elbow. Large as they were, they pulled her up to her feet just as gently. After weeks of wishing she could hire that good-looking McClure boy down the road to walk in front of her carrying her pregnant belly on his back, Lucinda suddenly felt as if she weighed nothing. The baby inside tossed and turned as if it floated weightlessly, too.
“He belongs to Me,” the angel said.
“The child belongs to Me. He will be a hope for the hopeless, sight for the blind, an everlasting love. The strength of the Lord beyond measure is his.”
Lucinda considered the angel’s words and hesitated before speaking.
“Well, that’s all fine, I guess. Thank you kindly, but I don’t really see a need for most of that business. The welfare was just getting a little slow to take care of us both, that’s all. Oh, and I got a funny feeling Bates is gonna leave me.”
“The blessing of the Lord is upon him if you leave his hair unshorn,” the giant said.
Lucinda couldn’t make out this last bit.
“Un-what?” She asked, but before she got a response the hand released her arm and the giant disappeared into its wrist the way it had poked into this world. It vanished completely into a flash of light the size of the fingernail on its pinky finger, which, Lucinda noted, on any other man wouldn’t be that impressive, but on the angel’s hand made for a pretty big spark. The flash was big enough to revive the painful throbbing in her head that caused her eyes to squint again.
Lucinda’s legs wobbled. She brushed the crumbs from the backs of her bare legs where they’d hitched a ride up from the floor. She held her forehead with both hands in an attempt to push the pulsing pain back into a manageable place.
“All of that, just to get me up on my feet?” she muttered. “And not a damn word about the welfare.”