You will send a storm for me
by Matthew Callan
You will send a storm for me. The storm will bring three feet of snow or if it is not cold enough for snow then the storm will fill the gutters to overflowing and flood the streets. Buses will be stuck at the depots. Trains will be stalled at their stations. No one will move. Even a trip to the corner store for milk and eggs will be pointless because the store will be closed and the snow drifts will be piled eyeball high against the front door of my building or else the flooding will make walking in the streets impossible. You will see that no one will be harmed by this storm because you are merciful but this storm will mean that I cannot leave the house today to witness for you even if I wanted to which you know that I do. You know that I simply cannot.
You will do this for me because I believe in you with all my heart and I believe that the end times are near and soon your millennial reign will bring piece on earth. You know that anything I used to call love is nothing compared to the love I feel from you now. You know that despite my love and belief when I do go door to door I am not a worthy witness for you. You know that my tongue feels as if it has swollen to the size of a basketball and every word goes into hiding some place deep in my mind that I can’t reach. You know that I cannot find any way to express my love for you without sounding like a complete idiot. I cannot talk about you the way I can talk to you. I fear the old rough words will spill out of my mouth as they sometimes do when get nervous and don’t know what else to say. You know that I am a detriment to the cause of bringing more believers to your side because I am so clumsy and awkward in my ways. You know this fact tortures me because in my old sinful work I was graceful and could perform in front of strangers but now that I need to impress strangers in a different way I can not do it no matter how hard I try. You will find a way to lift this burden you have placed on me.
You know that I can not do this despite all the reassurances from Shawna who brought me into the truth. Shawna has told me that I should not worry about not having much education because she doesn’t have much either and yet she sounds like the smartest person in the world when she talks about you. She says that all people want is for some hope and some love in this world and I don’t need to be a genius to talk about that. You know I believe what she says is true almost as much as I believe in you. And you know that this reassurance does nothing to make witnessing any easier.
You will prevent me from despairing when I wake up and walk to the window and look out over the street and see a low heavy sheet of clouds holding onto their snow like greedy misers and the M train running as it should. You will lift me up when I hear no reports of devastating storms on the news radio station and I feel my mind close to slipping into the sinful ruts of my old life when I would wake up after a rough night at work or a rough night with Bill and the whole world outside my window appeared to be covered in a fine gray layer that seemed like it would never lift.
You did not bring me a storm so I believe that you will instead make something happen to Shawna’s car. Shawna is supposed to be here at 8:30 to pick me up and I know that you will cause some minor calamity to befall her 1997 Honda Civic. You will force the alternator to fail and her battery will die somewhere between her house and mine. Perhaps she hasn’t been bringing her car in for regular oil changes and you will ensure today is the day this oversight finally catches up with her and the car’s every moving part will seize up. You will cause her to run over a nail and a tire will go flat and she will attempt to change it even in the tidy red blouse with the large black belt with gold buckle she’s worn every day witnessing since the day she caught me running out of this building You will refuse to let one of the tire’s bolts budge and she will have to call AAA to come help her out and the mechanic will take his sweet time getting to her car and the car will need to be towed to a garage somewhere. You will make this car trouble an all day thing but it will also be something that Shawna can afford because I know she doesn’t make a whole lot of money waitressing at the diner because I don’t either. You watch out for us all and I know you will not give Shawna more trouble than she can handle as you would surely not give me more than I can handle either. You will not make me go door to door today when I will only fail you in the effort.
You will allow me to keep my cool and still the pounding in my chest when Shawna shows up at 8:23 which means she left early as usual and experienced no delays whatsoever not even when searching my block for a place to park. You will short out the ringer in my doorbell so I can say truthfully that I did not hear her arrive.
You will find some other way to delay me when Shawna fails to press the ringer for my apartment and instead calls my cell phone to tell me she is downstairs. You will place a huge stain on my beige blouse. This blouse is nice but humble and it is the only thing I own that is suitable for witnessing for you because all of my other nice clothing is from my old life when I did not know right from wrong and did not know how a woman should dress and act. I have not given these things away yet because I feel that donating them to a Salvation Army or some such place would only invite some other woman who has not heard of you yet to sin. It feels wasteful to throw them out completely because even sinful clothes would be better than none at all to someone who has nothing. I am sure you will send me the answer to this problem just as you will solve the problem of me going door to door today which I can not do. If you do not put a stain on my blouse then you will make my hose run. You will make a heel snap on one of my shoes. You will pop a lens out of these glasses I’ve had since middle school and was too vain to wear for the longest time though without them I am practically blind and the lens will crash and shatter all over my floor and I will not be able to see and will have to make an emergency trip to the eye doctor and I will not be able to witness for you today.
You will make the toilet back up after I realize I cannot stall anymore and Shawna calls my cellphone again to check on me and I run to the bathroom to vomit and I pull the handle down slowly to buy myself as much time as I can. Disgusting vomit-filled toilet backwash will spill all over my bathroom and I will plunge through the sick but the water won’t recede. Then I will be forced to call a plumber and pray to you later that the landlord will pay for this plumber because I can’t afford the service call but since I will have to wait all day for the plumber to arrive I will not be able to witness for you. You will do this because it is in your best interests that I stay home and not witness for you today.
You will make something happen to the stairs as I descend from the third floor to meet Shawna in the vestibule. You can command termites.
You will cause one of automotive issues you did not cause earlier as Shawna drives us from my house to the Kingdom Hall. You will do this as Shawna chirps about what topic we should present in our visits today. She will consider what’s been in the news lately and suggest we should share the pamphlet When Will We Truly Be Safe? Then you will make some small but vital part will fall out of the car and we will be detained for the rest of the day. Shawna does not take the bus or the subway because she did not grow up in the city and so she suspects these things are dangerous. When Shawna tells me she believes the buses and subways are dangerous she says this in a way completely different from how I say I am afraid of things. I say it like a confession of some hateful secret but Shawna’s voice does not sound the least bit afraid. She sounds as if she is better than her fear and her fear is the thing to be pitied.
She sounded this way from the first moment I met her when she caught me storming out of the building after Bill had gotten rough again and she could see in my eyes that I was in pain and she told me that one day there would be a world without pain. She brought me to her diner and bought me some coffee and told me for the first time of the world that will come after you defeat the forces of Satan on earth once and for all and she told me you will do this because you love us all. Shawna had no fear in her voice when she told me that wives must obey their husbands even if those husbands are nonbelievers and told me even her husband was not a perfect man because no man is but the love we can feel by giving ourselves up to your will is far better than any other love we can feel. She had no fear in her voice when she asked her boss if I could pick up some shifts in her diner because I had to leave my old sinful life behind even if it made Bill angrier each day counting out the loose change I made in tips at the diner compared to what I used to get at my old job. Shawna didn’t even have fear in her voice when she spoke of the oblivion that awaits those who do not heed your call. The idea of being gone forever terrified me more than when I was kid and my mother dragged me to a church where the priest would lapse into tongues and said those who sinned were destined for eternal damnation. Hell is still something and I believe an eternity of torture would be better than an eternity of being nothing at all. But when Shawna described that oblivion awaiting sinners she was dismissive and she even laughed as if the thought of living without you and disappearing forever was not terrifying but silly.
You will make Shawna’s car break down on the way to the Kingdom Hall because you know as well as I that she will under no circumstances take a bus to get there instead. You will do this because I love you with every fiber of my being and you love me and you want me to be well. It is a love greater than anything I knew with Bill. I do not think of his embrace anymore and I no longer feel stirrings when I think of words he used to call me that no good woman should want to be called. You know about that time a few months ago when he came by to get some of his things and I was weaker than I wanted to be but since we were still married I believed it was my duty to obey him. You know this was really a blessing because as Bill pulled my hair out and held my face down until I could barely breathe I thought to myself how superior your love was to this man’s idea of love.
You will cause an eruption of emergency construction work. You will make a gigantic sinkhole open up in the middle of the street and again no one will be hurt but a huge road crew will be needed to repair the hole with front loaders and steamrollers and a dozen men leaning on shovels and cars will be backed up for miles honking at each other but there will be nowhere for any of them to go. You know Shawna will not be rattled by this traffic because she does not get rattled under any circumstances. One afternoon while we were out witnessing and I was praying for something to bring our outing to a premature end we came across a crazed man who marched up and down Myrtle Avenue and he was foaming out the mouth and big draggles of snot trailed down his face like giant icicles hanging from a roof and he pointed at us and screamed I AIN’T SICK over and over again in a voice sounded like sandpaper. I believed you had sent this man to attack us in some way where we would not be hurt but would have to talk to the police about what happened and that would wipe out any chance we would have to continue witnessing that day. Then Shawna walked up to him and pressed the pamphlet called Can We Find Comfort in this World? into his hand and she never broke her smile that could melt steel and for a moment the fog of insanity that surrounded the man lifted and he did not know what to do and so we were able to walk past him safely.
If Shawna could remain calm during that scene then I’m sure she can endure a traffic jam. She will sit patiently behind the wheel and whistle along to the Kingdom Melodies CD she always has in the stereo and sing the words to all the songs even though the entire CD is instrumental and she will wait out the backup and by the time we get to the Kingdom Hall the service meeting will be over and all the brothers and sisters will be gone and we will not know our territory assignment for the day and therefore cannot witness for you today.
You will make something happen at the bar next door to the Kingdom Hall now that you have not caused a traffic jam or even deterred Shawna in her search for a parking spot near the Kingdom Hall. The bar will be open at this hour on a Saturday morning because there will be a big soccer game going on across the ocean in England or Spain or some other place and you will make a pair of drunks exchange harsh words with each other because they are fans of different teams and their fight will spill into the street and then something bad will happen. From my old job I remember the viciousness and stupidity of drunks who think they have been wronged. I remember times when a pair fought because they each read something in my eyes that said I had fallen in love with them when in truth I could not see either of them from the stage because of the lights. Then the fight started and bottles were flying and the bouncers ran out to knock their heads together and throw them outside. But unlike that time you will watch over the drunks spilling out of the bar near the Kingdom Hall and make sure they hurt no one not even each other. You will make one drunk swing at the other and miss and connect with the window of a parked car and break it. His hand will be cut but he will otherwise be okay and the police will be called and I will be asked to provide an eyewitness description of the affair and so I will not be able to witness for you today.
You will change minds when this does not materialize and Shawna and I walk into the Kingdom Hall and we settle into our seats with the scratchy blue cushions. The sisters do the bulk of the witnessing because Brooklyn leadership feels this is the best way that we can be of service to you while the brothers give the speeches and do the administrative work and oversee the details of all the Kingdom Halls. But I know you can make Brooklyn have a change of mind. You will make those wise and learned men consider that women can do these things as well. Not speeches for me of course but I can take up any of these other tasks that right now are reserved for the brothers. I can serve you by tending to any of the needs of the congregation. Perhaps I could write talks for someone else to deliver. I have many detailed notes on how the words of Leviticus still apply to us today. This is a thing that may not seem important to most people but it makes a lot of sense to me and I am sure that I could find a way to say this in words I have written even if I cannot say them to a room full of people. I could write well when I was a kid. My teachers liked my stories even if my mother would yell at me for reading them out loud to her because she had a headache and would tear the paper from my hand and throw it in the garbage. I have not written in a very long time but I’m sure I could write well enough for a speech to be given here at the Kingdom Hall. The talks do not have to use fancy language or big words. The talks only need to be filled with your love which is something I have in abundance.
You will make Shawna see that sisters writing speeches is a thing that should be considered and that will give me the strength to talk to one of the elders. I have asked Shawna many times why the sisters cannot do these things and she beams her smile at me as if I were a child who needs reassurance and she tells me that the sisters contribute in an equal way to the brothers even if the contributions are different. She says this with a sad shake of her head because she has told me this many times. She senses that I am thinking of ways that I can contribute without going out into the field. She tells me that you will give all of us who love you strength and resolve we did not know we possessed and all we need to do is ask you for that strength. She tells me you have already given me the strength to deal with the pain when my husband screamed and yelled and kicked and punched me because I would no longer do sinful work and that strength sustained me until Bill finally left me behind and I was free to take the job at the diner for which I remain forever grateful.
I tell Shawna that I have prayed to you many times to give me this strength when I go out into the field and still it is no easier. Shawna tells me to keep trying and she tilts her head in a way that says she believes I have not tried hard enough. I will always be grateful to her for bringing me to the truth and finding me a new job but I do not think she understands that I have tried as hard as I can. She is a person who can talk to strangers. Going into the field is not the difficulty for her that it is for me. Even at my old job I could not do this. I had to be bold but it was a different kind of bold. There was always a wall between me and the audience. When the lights were right I didn’t see them at all and if someone tried to get too close I would just nod and a bouncer would come in to whisk him away. Now you are my bouncer. I have had hardships and I have prayed to you for strength to remove these troubles and you show the troubles the door each time. You strengthened me when my husband left because he could not bear a life without sin. You strengthened me when my mother stopped responding to my calls and texts because I no longer had enough money to share with her. But you have not given me the strength to speak about you when going door to door. So you must have different plans for me.
You will change minds. There were elders who believed the world would end in specific years and you showed these men the errors of their ways. You changed the minds of the elders in Brooklyn who once swore they would never sell all their downtown buildings and now they are all being sold to make luxury apartments for sinners which is fine because that money will be used to spread your name throughout the world. Every day you change the minds of people who believe they have no use for you. You change the minds of people who are caught up in drugs and drink and adultery and idolatry. You changed my mind to give up the sinful things I believed I could not live without. You changed my mother’s mind for a while and made her study the Bible with me and Shawna before she came with us to the Kingdom Hall and was annoyed because the talk that day was about pain and it was given by a brother visiting from Virginia and she folded her arms and muttered about how some guy with a fancy suit and a syrupy southern drawl couldn’t tell her nothing about pain. She was very angry afterwards and pointed in my face and said nobody cares about your pain because pain is the most common thing in the world and everybody’s got their own pain and everybody thinks theirs is the worst in the world even guys in suits from Virginia. But I hold out hope that you will change her heart again because you can change things. You can make the change of heart that will allow sisters like me to do things other than field work. You can make anything possible.
You will give Shawna and I territory that is on the far reaches of the congregation’s borders. You will put traffic between us and that neighborhood so we will have less time to go door to door before we have to report back to the Kingdom Hall. You will make our territory the nice neighborhood with all the brick Tudor style houses. The people in these houses tend to be away on Saturday mornings and even when they are home they peek out of their windows and do not answer the door.
You will keep me away from the neighborhood near the Kingdom Hall because over here live so many of the people who work at the factories and warehouses and shipping facilities who would go straight from their shifts to my old job. You will make sure I do not again see someone like I did last weekend when we knocked on a door and a man in a basketball jersey answered the door and his eyes were angry with sleep until he saw me and they widened and I could tell that those eyes had once looked at every inch of me through the haze of 2 am and a bucket of Miller Lites and I nearly passed out from fright.
Shawna told me later that my past should be an inspiration because it demonstrates that no one is too far gone to make their way back to you. I know she was just trying to encourage me but it felt like a judgment. I told her that my old life may have been sinful but I’ve heard of worse people coming into The Truth. You have brought thieves into the truth. You have brought people who killed into the truth. You forgave them because you saw love in their hearts. You know nothing I ever did in my old job was as bad as what they have done. When I did not yet know you I told myself that what I was doing was love and you know I truly believed it and you have forgiven me but I am sure that I didn’t have as far to come to meet you as some might. But when I tried to express this to Shawna the words came out much sloppier than they do when I speak to you and she patted my hand in a way that told me I shouldn’t have said anything at all.
You will give me the strength to ask Brother Diaz if there is any work I can help out with here at the Kingdom Hall before he hands out the territory assignments and I find that ours will be in the neighborhood closest to the Kingdom Hall and Shawna won’t have to drive us there and I will be in danger of meeting someone who may have seen me at my old job. You will make some sort of cleaning emergency happen. A stopped up sink. A dead rat in the air ducts. You will tell Brother Diaz to let me stay here and deal with this emergency so that others may go out into the field and preach in my place. You have given me strength when I needed it. You once gave me the strength to quit my old job and tell my boss exactly why I was doing it even though he shook his head and laughed and said he lost girls all the time because they got knocked up or hooked on a million different drugs but I was the first one he ever lost to you. You even gave me the strength to hold out a trembling hand and give my old boss the pamphlet Shawna gave me the first time we met called A World Without End and he laughed some more and put it inside a dirty magazine as if it were a bookmark. So I am sure you will allow me to stand up from my seat and move my aching feet in these heels and walk up to him and ask him and you will make him to look back at me with his coffee-colored eyes and nod with understanding and say yes sister of course you can stay here and take care of this very important work. You will not force me to sit still with Shawna and roleplay the same encounter at someone’s door we do every week while Brother Diaz shakes other brothers’ hands and bids them a fond afternoon and leaves to do his own witnessing for the day.
You will give me the strength to do as I’m told when we leave the Kingdom Hall and Shawna tells me to smile and look cheery because people will not respond to gloomy faces. You know that I can smile when I am by myself and I think of your heavenly kingdom on earth and the different races of the world living in peace and harmony and all the weapons rusting away and no one remembering who I was and what I did in the old world. You know I am thinking of this right now and still cannot bring myself to smile. You know I am trying.
You will allow me to walk down the street and not trail Shawna by too far a distance so she won’t suspect me of stalling. You will allow me to follow her to our first stop and climb the steps. You will allow me to overlook a patch of ice still frozen to the stoop and flail helplessly as my legs swoop out from under me and I fall backwards so I can’t break my fall with my arms and crack my head against the very first step. You will allow me to realize what is happening to me but you will not allow me to feel any pain. I will stare up at the flat gray sky while I feel something trickle out of the wound at the base of my skull and I will know you have saved me and I will use my last bit of strength to push out one single word and it will be love. Amen.
Matthew Callan‘s short fiction has appeared in Newtown Literary Journal, Sixfold, Eclectica, and Nimrod International Journal, where he was a quarterfinalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. His essays have appeared at The Awl, Vice, The Onion AV Club, and elsewhere. His nonfiction book Yells For Ourselves—a study of the rapidly changing New York City of the turn of the 21st century, as viewed through the prism of baseball—will be published in 2018 by Inkshares.
Image source: C. Johnson via Creative Commons