House of Prayer No. 2

Free House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard Page A

Book: House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mark Richard
his pipe and sees you paused in the walnut tree shadows. He starts to cross the street, and you wonder if he’s already heard that you are stealing again. He comes over and lays a steadying hand on you, you hung on your crutches, and with you looking up and him looking down, he says only,
God has His hand on your shoulder
, before he crosses back to his house and heads inside for his supper.
    It is in this fifth-grade year that for Show-and-Tell a boy from the county brings in a board with the piece of shellacked leather nailed onto it with small flat tacks. The leather is old and rough as he passes it around and lets everyone touch it. Nobody can guess what the item might be.
    It’s a piece of Nat Turner’s skin!
the boy says proudly.
    It’s a family heirloom.
    The boy says that when they finally caught Old Nat in a caveof tree root out by his family’s farm, they hanged him, cut off his head, and then some doctors skinned him and boiled him into fat. From the skin, people made little coin purses, Bible covers, and other souvenirs, like this piece of skin on a board.
    Because you are on crutches and are slow, you are allowed to leave class five minutes early, the boy who runs the projector for science classes and has a ring of keys on his hip like a jailer helps you with your books. Out in the hall, the teacher is showing the principal the piece of Nat Turner’s skin nailed to the board and they’re wondering what to do. All you can think about is the time you watched some young doctors try to mend Michael Christian’s red infected incision that had burst open in the bed next to yours.
    Some of the houses where Nat Turner and his disciples killed people still stand derelict. Teenagers dare each other to walk through them at night. In one house there is still a large black stain on the floor where two women were decapitated. It is always cold in this house, even in July. When you are a teenager, you will walk through this house and come home covered in seed ticks after falling through a rotted floor.
    Your history teacher tells your class that Nat Turner baptized a white man and that some people saw a white dove hover above them in the river. Nat Turner asked for signs from God, and he was given hieroglyphics on corn leaves. When he wanted more signs from God, he was given a green eclipse of the sun that was witnessed from Charleston, South Carolina, to New York City, so he and his disciples began killing as many white people in your county as they could, mostly with axes, swords, and hand tools. In two days they killed fifty-six people, most of them women andchildren, ancestors of many of your white classmates. Hundreds of blacks were killed in the weeks afterward, the ancestors of some of your black classmates.
    Before they cut off Nat Turner’s head and spiked it on a crossroads daring anyone to touch it, Nat sat in his cell and confessed that he was a prophet, a man of God.

    THE SUMMER AFTER FIFTH GRADE you limp down to the black swamp riverbank, there’s an old truck someone tried to drive into the water years ago. It’s now just a hulk rusting deep in a ravine of blackberry bushes. You have to crawl through underbrush to get to it and climb in through the driver’s window. The front fender is in the black water of the river creeping past. You can reach out and pick blackberries to eat right off the bushes and nobody knows where you are.
    You are sitting down there one day behind the wheel eating blackberries and you faintly recognize a pattern on the old broken dashboard, the sun-corrupted leather split into squarish diamonds in a long pattern running the length of the dashboard, its triangular head moving toward you over the Sputnik-antennae turn signal jutting from the steering column, the split black tongue flickering, flickering, a sharp black bead of eye watching you as the water moccasin corners efficiently toward you from its hothouse sunning spot where the

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