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"Fishers of Men"
By Patricia Abbott
“Why don’t you help out with the
Lillie’s mother had taken off a few weeks earlier, sending them a postcard from
Later at their own dingy church, Lillie heard the thunderous voice of Jimmy Hart practicing his sermon. It boasted the usual hellfire and damnation.
“Yes, yes,” the congregation agreed every Sunday, their voices rising as one. Life seemed pale after that.
Jimmy Hart heard her at the door. “Who’s that?”
Jimmy stepped into the light. His face was damp; perspiration necklaced his shirt. Holding the door open, he fanned himself.
“Guess I missed the Martha circle.”
“Come and gone.”
“My father said …”
“Lester’s over in Dearborn, right?” he interrupted. “Hunting down lighting fixtures.” Jimmy sat down and opened a paper sack. “Like roast beef?” he asked, pulling out a sub.
“Not really ....”
“Keep me company.”
She sat down.
“I skipped breakfast and my stomach’s begging me to pay attention.” Oil slid down his chin and his gray, flannelly tongue caught it. “Doesn’t all that hair get hot in summer?”
He reached for a handful, but she pulled back. “I’m used to it.”
“Your daddy tests me, Lillie.” Shaking his head, Jimmy pulled out a thermos, pouring a half-cup of coffee. “Most people have somethin’ they’re good at, but Lester—well, I haven’t found his talent. Thought once I got him off the sauce things would change.”
“Hasn’t had a drink in months.”
“So you say. Don’t know how long I can keep payin’ a man with so little to recommend him.”
“He’ll be expectin' me.” Lillie rose.
Groaning and holding his back, Jimmy got up and walked her to the door. As Lillie’s hand went for the knob, his arms encircled her, his pulpy lips pressed against her neck. While one of his hands threw the lock on the door, the other urged her down.
“Your Daddy said you didn’t do things like this,” he whispered, “but I thought otherwise.”
“Get off me right now,” she spat out, struggling to rise.
Laughing lightly, he forced her down again. “Your Daddy won’t find it easy to get another job, Lillie Wist. And your mama ain’t here to help him no more.”
The world retreated to the wild panting of the man above her, the dank blackness of the vestibule, the desperate scratching of her left hand on the metal door. Suddenly, her thighs were wet and sticky.
“Double damn! Should’ve known what would happen lying down with a Wist.”
Lillie scrambled to her feet, trying to clean herself up with her shorts.
“Grab somethin’ from them care boxes over there.” He pointed to the row of soggy boxes lining the back wall. “And that little poke don’t count for nothing neither.”
She stepped into a pair of slacks and started for the door, her yellow shorts balled up under an arm.
“Now, just you wait a blessed minute,” Jimmy bellowed, dropping to his knees again. “Get down here with me, girl.”
Lillie fell to her knees as if fired on. “Merciful God,” Jimmy said “Forgive this girl for temptin’ me. Her Daddy’d be saddened to know what she did. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“That you in there, Lillie?” Lester stood outside the bathroom door. “Why you taking a bath in the afternoon?”
The water was pure cold, though she hadn't noticed. “Be right out.”
In the kitchen, Lester sat with an assortment of electrical supplies, “Wish I knew more about this stuff,” he said. “Like to burn the place down foolin’ with it. Your mother….”
“Gotta to tell you somethin’.”
“Hair’s dripping wet. Didja lock the church door?” Lester’s eyes returned to the socket in his hand. “Sure made these directions hard to figure.”
“Jimmy Hart was practicing his sermon.” The words rushed out. “When I tried to leave, he—he—raped me.”
Lester sat there. “Do you know what that word means—a girl youn’ as you?”
“Put his thing in me.”
You could see Lester's Adams' apple travel like an elevator, and he let out a cry. Tears worked their way down his scarred cheeks. “I’m taking care of this right now.”
“I’ll go with you?” Her mama would have.
“Better if you don’t.” Lester continued to sit staring at the electrical parts. Finally, he took his Tiger hat from the table and left.
Much later. “Lillie. You ‘wake?”
It was dark except for a shard of light from the street lamp illuminating his knees. “Look, I can’t do it. Stood outside his place for hours.”
“Go tell the cops.”
“You don’t understand. What’ll become of me after? I’ll start drinkin’ again. Jimmy’s the only person in the world can save me. Your mama….”
“He wants you to think that.” Lillie felt empty, flat, unreal. Parts of her burned, others were cold.
“Know he did something pretty bad, but you’re okay now. Didn’t beat you, right? Just got carried away. Don’t wanna show any doctors or policemen your—parts--do you?”
“Have to show them… that?”
He nodded. “No nice girl would. Maybe it’d be better if you went to visit your mama in
“Maybe it’d be best.”
“He’s quicker than a snake in the bushes”
Lester nodded. "Seen it myself."
Next morning, her bags were packed.
“Don’t have to wait with me,” she told Lester at the bus station. "Get on to your church and Jimmy Hart."
“Get you a candy bar? Or a Pepsi. How ‘bout some cheese crackers?”
Lillie shook her head, and Lester picked up a newspaper section from the bench and read the weather report for
The bus was on time, and she sat near the front, next to an older woman knitting a yellow baby’s sweater. “You’re always safe with yellow,” the woman told Lillie with a tired smile.
“I guess so.”
The rain started to fall just east of Breezewood.