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Pastoral Visit

Brother Pitman pays a call

"You've been good today, so when we get home, you c'n have some ice cream."

Aunt Charlotte holds his hand as they walk out of the white clapboarded church into the spring air. Up ahead, at the foot of the steps, Brother Pitman shakes a hand, then another, smiling at each face of a sister or brother. His preaching lasted forever today, with lots of rumbling breaths and flipping his bible back and forth in his hand. Gary thought so, anyway. His mommy let him stay with his cousins this weekend and part of that was going to church with his Southern Baptist relatives.

Gary smiles now that Sunday school and the preaching are both over with. Ice cream! It's a nice day, but ice cream will make it nicer. He wanders over to an oleander bush and sticks his nose into the pink flowers. They smell like candy tastes. 

"Oh, Sister Charlotte, don't forget, now. I'll be over shortly. It's time for my annual pastoral visit, ya know." Then Brother Pitman shakes another hand as Gary and Aunt Charlotte walk over to the '52 Ford in the gravelly lot. Uncle Francis is waiting for them with one cuffed leg, and a wing-tipped foot hoisted onto the front fender, smoking a Pall Mall. His loose stocking is down around his ankle.

"What did he say? 'Bout com'n over? Dammit, I wanted ta go fishin'."

"Now, Francis. It'll only be a short visit. You know Brother Pitman. He's doin' the Lord's work."

"Lord's work my ass. Shit fire... I think I may have some work ta do in the garage." He flicks the glowing ember off the tip of the cigarette, field strips it, and puts the leavings in his front pocket, then strides to the driver's side of the car. "Well, le's go then. Ain't got all day, young 'un." 

Aunt Charlotte pulls Gary to her side of the car, lets him climb onto the middle of the bench seat, and she slams the door firmly. The windows are rolled down already, but it's still hot inside the vehicle. Seagulls cry out, soaring overhead towards the bay, as sedans and coupes spin out flinging gravel behind them.

In twenty minutes they arrive home. His aunt has him change from his Sunday clothes into a short sleeve shirt, some dungarees, and his sandals. He expects his ice cream, but she tells him to go outside and play. He asks, "Aunt Charlotte, is it time for ice cream?" 

"No, honey. I need to clean up a little around here. Brother Pitman will be showin' up anytime now." She wipes the sweat from his warm brow and promises him, "when he leaves we'll have ice cream." Gary rubs his hands on his pants and goes out to the detached garage leaning towards the bungalow dwelling. Uncle Francis is out there working on some pipes. He has a pot of lead beginning to melt. Uncle Francis is a plumber.

"Careful, now, boy. Ya know how hot that gits. Hell, here he is. Go on inside now. Yer aunt needs ya." Gary reluctantly scuffs across the driveway, passing over the two strips of concrete that make up the drive. He goes into the breezeway, to the side door, and enters the kitchen.

"Gary, come say hello to Brother Pitman. Hurry up now." He sidles over and shakes the pastor's hand then reluctantly sits down on the sofa, slowly banging his heels against the linen upholstered cushions.

His aunt and Brother Pitman are chatting about missions and free-will offerings, but he can't help starting to yawn. "Gary, settle down now, you hear. Be still, child."

It's so boring. So boring. He waits as long as he can, until, finally, "Brother Pitman, when are you going home?"

A large, pasty face turns red. Aunt Charlotte sucks in her breath. Silence.

Gary is not sure what he did, but he doesn't think he is getting any ice cream today. He hops down and tramps out through the archway, down the hall, to his cousins' bedroom where they are giggling about boys. Anyway, this is a better place to be, he reckons.


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