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from "SAINTS AND STRANGERS" / Andrew Hudgins At the Piano One night two hunters, drunk, came in the tent. They fired their guns and stood there stupidly as Daddy left the pulpit, stalked towards them, and slapped them each across the mouth. He split one's upper lip. They beat him like a dog. They propped their guns against the center pole, rolled up their sleeves as Daddy stood and preached about the desecration of God's house. They punched him down, took turns kicking his ribs, while thirty old women and sixteen men sat slack-jawed in their folding chairs and watched. Just twelve, not knowing what to do, I launched into "Amazing Grace"—the only hymn I knew by heart—and everybody sang. We sang until the hunters grew ashamed —or maybe tired—and left, taking their guns, their faces red and gleaming from the work. They got three years suspended sentence each and Daddy got another tale of how Christians are saints and strangers in the world. I guess he knows. He said that I'd done right to play the song. God's music saved his life. But I don't know. I couldn't make a guess. Can you imagine what it means to be just barely twelve, a Christian and a girl, and see your father beaten to a pulp? Neither do I, God knows, and I was there in the hot tent, beneath the mildewed cloth, breathing the August, Alabama air, and I don't know what happened there, to me. I told this to my second husband, Jim. We were just dating then. I cried a lot. He said, Hush, dear, at least your father got a chance to turn all four of his cheeks. I laughed. I knew, right then, I was in love. The Missouri Review · 145 But still I see that image of my father, his weight humped on his shoulders as he tried to stand, and I kept plunging through the song so I could watch my hands and not his face, which was rouged crimson with red clay and blood. Where the River Jordan Ends She put two flowered hair clasps in my hair. They held. I was amazed. Though Daddy thought I should be wearing ribbons on my head he couldn't make them stay. One Christmas Day he saved the ribbons left from opened gifts and looped them though my curls. We went to church, where Aunt Bess snickered, picked them from my hair and off my neck. She told Daddy, Jerome, she's festooned like a nigger Christmas tree. But Mrs. Shores knew everything! She smiled and smoothed her hair around the flowered clasps. Her husband had invited Daddy down to preach a week's revival at his church, and she, since I was almost thirteen, let me drink coffee when the men were off at work. Their son took me and Sis into the church. We ran around the aisles till we got tired, then shucked our shoes and socks, sat on the rail, and dangled feet into the River Jordan— a painting on the wall that seemed to flow into the baptistry. We splashed around, got wet, then stripped down to our birthday suits, and leapt into the fount. We went berserk. We were cannonballing off the rail when Daddy threw the double doors apart. We jumped into the fount and held our breaths. When I came up, Daddy was standing there, waiting. I flinched. Instead he touched my cheek: Put on your clothes, Elizabeth Marie. And then I saw the tears. I cried all day. That night as I sat staring at the wall behind my father, where the Jordan ends, 246 · The Missouri Review Andrew Hudgins I heard God's voice and went to be immersed, trembling and happy in a paper robe, and Daddy hugged my body to his chest. I left a wet dark shadow on his suit. I wanted to be saved again. Again. The Southern Crescent Was On Time I played piano while my daddy knelt, unlaced their shoes, and washed the clean pink feet they'd washed before they'd come to have them washed. He...


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