This monthly story series tells of the loss and bittersweet redemption of the African-American Knox family, specifically Tim (father), Clarisse (mother), Laurel (daughter) and Matthew (son).
“We afeared that there ain’t enough, sisters and breathern. ‘Scared that ya’ won’t see ‘cause God the firefly in yo’ darkness and you be wanting mo’ light. Aw, chil’ren, in yo’ heart, he wants yo’ to love. That’s yo’ everlastin’ light.” – from the last sermon of Pastor Ezra Zachariah Jones, of Colonial Church in Sustain, Virginia.
The park was public, so Tim couldn’t stop them from watching his baby girl’s wedding. Standing at the back lawn Tim was sentinel and most folks walked on. Two didn’t walk on. Of the two, Tim didn’t know the woman, but knew he hadn’t invited her to his daughter’s wedding. She came inside the gate and sat on the back row of white chairs, but Tim didn’t make a scene. It was the boy he focused on, kept watching as the boy watched him. That tall, dark, black boy with eyes deep and intent stood curling his fingers around the top of the wrought iron fence; him he knew. Tim Knox saw Tyrion, his lover’s boy, standing by the park gate just before the wedding. Tim turned away.
“God is as kind as you are,” Pastor Jones had hollered in his last church sermon, sweating and beating his fists in the pulpit, his voice coming out like a howl torn from him. Those words were years ago from his old dead Pastor, that same pastor who the congregation turned out of the pulpit of the small clapboard church he and 12 illiterate black carpenters built in ‘38. By then, widower Pastor Jones was 89, had passed his undertaking business to his son six years before, only to have the son, only child, die two years later in a car accident when the boy was 42, killed the daughter-in-law too. They had no children. Pastor Jones was the one who had buried and gave eulogy over Tim’s Aunt Eula, the Aunt Eula who died when Tim Knox was 16. Both Pastor and Tim Knox knew that ‘alone’ was stray pebble on sloppy moss.
The boy stood there the whole ceremony and Tim thought about him every second, that tall, dark, black boy at the gate, in his white shirt, slightly wrinkled but obviously pressed in some places, a thrift store broad tie. It was bad enough that the boy’s mother came. Tim felt the moment when Darla, his lover, saw her son. No, she didn’t tell him to come, her stiff neck and pleading eyes tried to convey. Tim thought of how with just one look he made Darla turn from her boy. She had had to make a choice. She didn’t turn around again. Even Tim could feel the boy flinch inside.
Three deacons and four trustees had a meeting at the church on a Thursday night and didn’t tell Pastor Jones. Newest Deacon Earlan Washington, a robust man with big soulful eyes, was the eloquent one said Pastor Jones, didn’t talk like a
man of God ought, might near to be get-ting on…in age, he clarified. Those seven had more meetings—until the thought of getting rid of Pastor Jones rumbled around and took hook in their heads.
As Laurel made her vows, Tim made his. He wasn’t going to go to that gate, nor look at it or think about who stood at it anymore. Folks would condemn him having his lover’s boy to his daughter’s wedding. This wedding was the beginning of his redemption. Clarisse, his ex, wasn’t going to take him back, but she wasn’t going to hate him any more over the affair. And that hate going down was a weight lifted. And sure, Tim didn’t love Darla, but she loved him. And you take love when you can get it. Tim knew he had messed up his life, but when you trade what wasn’t yours to take, you can’t complain when the Devil cheats you. And Tim was lucky to have any part of this wedding, his daughter’s almost forgiveness.
After they put Pastor out, Tim didn’t go to that church or any other, but even he heard about the “witnessing,” how old Pastor just stood, in rain or shine, each Sunday and delivered his mumbling sermon to the gravel parking lot, how Deacon, now Pastor Washington threatened to call the police, but never did. Because what could Pastor Washington do about an old man mumbling his prayers?
They had cut the cake by now, and the guests drank lemonade in little clear plastic cups. The band Tim hired clear from Winston-Salem played the opening of a blues version of the Bob Marley song, Could You Be Loved? Everywhere he went, people smiled at Tim, on his way to the bathroom, to pay the leftover vendors, as he gave a quick kiss on his newly married daughter’s jaw. But in his mind, he saw not the boy by the gate, but old Pastor, who he had never seen again after his Aunt Eula was buried.
“God is as kind as you are.”
He could imagine Pastor, holding the Word, mumbling, old and outcast, and Tim, who had no use for religion, felt some of his faith shake just a portion. He looked to the gate. Then he went to Darla, pulled her from her seat in the shadows. Folks did talk and remember. Folks remembered Tim opened the gate. Folks remembered it was Tim who finally pulled the boy through into his mother’s grateful trembling arms, and how beautiful the wedding was as evening was leaving memories in the sky, with the band playing, with the stars like strings of small ivory lights coming on like fireflies.