sixty-seven           

            With damp palms (free of calluses, fingernails clipped), the Reverend Lysle massages—standing behind and above Jewel's backs, pews beyond them vacant. He has kept her for instruction (with Mother Moss's blessing), Bible spread upon her unsuspecting lap like a chloroformed butterfly. Jewel strokes the pages, moved by their arcane symbolsthe Words of Godconcurrently depressed because she cannot read.

            "Don' fret, chile. Gets a feel fo' it first; I know you gots a feel. Soon dem words come plain as plain can be; yo'all be readin' like a scholar."

            Jewel is doubtful. Every lesson is the same. The Reverend recites a phrase; she follows with her finger while faithfully repeating it. He says, "Good', imparts a tender squeeze, then instructs her to continue. And though the thoughts are often beautiful, often fill her heart with joy, the print itself, in its crowded orderly rows, seems unrelated.

            "'De wind blow wherev' it please.'"

            "De win' blow wherev' it please."

            "'You hear de sound, but you cannot tell where it come from o' where it goin'.'"

            "You hear de soun', but you cannot tell where it come from..."

            "'0' where it goin'.'"

            "0' where it goin'."

            "'Thus it is wit ev'one born o' de Spirit.'"

            "Thus it is wiff ev'one born o' de Spirit."

            "Good, Jewel, good."

            Her blouse swags open at the top as her shoulders are bracketed by his reinforcing palms, breasts compressed, bulging somewhat bluely given the sacred context. Jewel reflects on Mojo's mystical powers. Perhaps he, too, had been "saved"—though Jewel cannot recall his ever mentioning God by name.

            "What do de Bible say 'bout Conju'es, Rev'ren' Lysle?"

            "'Beware false prophets.'"

            The Reverend guides Jewel's finger further down the page.

            "'Whoev' believes in Him is not condemned, but whoev' does not believe stands condemned already 'cause he has not believed in de name o' God's one an' only Son.'"

            "But..."

            "'Dis is de verdic': Light done come into de world, but men love darkness 'stead o' dat Light 'cause deir deeds was evil. Ev'one who does evil hates de light, an' will not come into de light fo' fear deir deeds will be expose'.'"

            "But..."

            "'But whoever lives by de truth comes into de light, so dat it may be seen plainly dat what he has done has been done tru God.'"

            Jewel tries to think; in all the time she spent with Mojo he never told a lie.

            "But Rev'ren' Lysle, I knows a Conju'e what tells de truef."

            The preacher's fingers tighten; Jewel feels their fervour.

            "'He who speaks on his own does so to gain honour fo' hisse'f, but he who wo'ks fo' de honour o' de One who sent 'im is a man o' truth; dere is nuthin' false about 'im. '"

            Another thought even harder to accept occurs to Jewel.

            "Don' goodness coun' fo' somethin', Rev'ren' Lysle? I mean, if a body nev' done harm to no one, an' do good aw her days, an' learn her chile know de diff'ence 'twix wrong an' right; couldn' her be save'?"

            "John 14. Turn de pages, chile."

            Jewel turns them. The preacher guides her finger to yet another passage.

            "'I am de way an' de truth an' de life.' Repeat, chile."

            "I am de way an' de truef an' de life."

            "'No  one comes to de Father excep' tru me.'" Jewel hesitates... hoping against hope there may be some exceptions... "Repeat, Jewel." ...conscious, if belatedly, of the Reverend's sidelong gaze... "Repeat, chile. 'Jesus Christ de on'y truth.'" ...glancing up at the altar, to its crucifix, and its ruby-coloured glass... "It is written, chile; it is writ'." ...abandoned by the hum it formerly had incited.