by Austin I Pullé
Before the Reverend Jeremiah Symthe opened the letter addressed to his son from the admissions office of Northwestern University, he popped an Oxytocin pill into his mouth. He prayed this would not be like The Liberty University letter that rejected the application of his other son, Cooter.
The Smythes lived in a purpose built MacMansion in Morgantown, West Virginia. The congregation of “God’s Harvest Church”, or his flock, as Jeremiah liked to call them had funded the construction of his dwelling through their generous tithes. The prosperity gospel that Jeremiah preached was now beamed through cable channels and he had devout followers in Dubai, Lagos, and Brisbane. He called himself a prophet. Now dressed in a seersucker suit, a blue shirt, and a red tie, and slipped off his Gucci loafers as he sipped some Jack Daniels. He imagined the future of his eldest, Isiah who would be going to Northwestern and hopefully become a doctor. With his Paul Newman looks, Isiah would marry an heiress and live the life that once was Jeremiah’s dream. The reverend was in his study and behind his leather desk was a portrait of his hero, the Reverend Billy Graham. He ran his fingers through his ginger colored hair and stroked his reddish beard. He grinned in satisfaction thinking himself a good and loving parent.
Jeremiah remembered the time he wanted to apply to the University of Virginia. He wanted to study mathematics but his father, also a pastor, had insisted that Jeremiah remain and succeed him. His father wrote his first sermon for Jeremiah. Full of fire and brimstone, the sermon mentioned the wrath of God and called sinners, especially those who didn’t pay their tithes, to repentance. He recalled his father’s admonishment. “Here in Appalachia, people are not interested in the sermon on the Mount. We live in an eye-for-an-eye community. Forgiveness and love are only for family, not for strangers.” From that day, Jeremiah hated his job, his father, and his congregation.
Jeremiah tried unsuccessfully to hide the acceptance letter as Cooter entered his study. “Has Buster been admitted?” he asked his father. He gleaned the answer from the expression on Jeremiah’s face. “So Abel comes through while your Cain here is doomed to live his life among these inbreeds?” he demanded.
“Don’t be ungrateful, you have a cushy life ahead of you. You won’t have to work in a body-shop or sell drugs to survive. After Liberty rejected you, what chances were open to you?”
“You think this is funny?” Jeremiah said and glared at his son.
“My college essay to Liberty examined the morality of the founder’s son encouraging his wife to sleep with the pool boy while he watched.”
“You what!” spluttered Jeremiah. “I wrote you a perfectly good essay about Christianity in Appalachia. Didn’t you send that?”
“A boring read. My essay was more interesting.”
“I don’t feel well,” his father said and closed his eyes. “I’m so tired.”
“Take it easy Father,” Cooter said.
Cooter volunteered to take the Sunday Service. He brought the rattlesnake that he had defanged and tried to recall the gibberish that he had practised for his “speaking in tongues” routine. He had forgotten but never mind.
The congregation was a mix of men and women in their mid-forties and teenage girls and boys. Cooter winked at the pretty blonde teenager whom he had kissed and groped the night before. He knew she was underage but few took that factor seriously. Their blue eyes met and he knew that she loved him. When Cooter undid his pony tail shaking off his red hair and reached for his guitar the congregation went wild. He strummed a few notes on his guitar and then began to sing:
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hours for bullsh– pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
The congregation erupted into hallelujahs and began to high five each other. The teenagers began to whistle and dance. Many whooped and threw their red caps in the air. There were tears in the eyes of both men and women. As Cooter started to sing the next verse from “Rich Men North of Richmond”, the congregation joined him. Cooter reached for a defanged rattlesnake from his bag. One woman fainted but the others cheered.
Reverend Jeremiah nodded to the two deacons to pass the offertory plate. His son was a born evangelist thought Jeremiah as he noticed the dollars piling up on the plate. Cooter was pure gold, the golden goose, whose eggs would help pay Buster’s tuition and expenses at Northwestern. He hoped his divorced wife would not make a claim for more alimony. The harridan had left him for a county judge and by all accounts the judge seemed to have sentenced himself to hard labor.
Back in the mansion, Buster felt stressed. He had never left Morgantown let alone West Virginia. He went to Cooter’s room and opened the desk drawer where his brother kept his stash of the drugs that he bought from the dealer who visited from Charleston. He opened a packet and cut a line. The dealer did not know, Cooter did not know, Buster did not know that the cocaine had been laced with a deadly dose of Fentanyl.
Buster struggled for breath after he ingested. He collapsed on the floor looking at the large poster of Taylor Swift hanging on the wall. He did not have his phone and could not call 911. As he lay dying, he heard the congregation sing.
Lord, it’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is
“Yes, it is, oh, it is” were the last thoughts of Buster as he breathed his last.