Walk in Bethel
Rose Mary Stiffin, Ph.D.
The room reeked of human waste.
Nashville Thompson’s early morning breakfast of johnnycakes, eggs, and coffee threatened to come up and out of her mouth. She clamped her lips shut, acknowledging that to take a steadying breath would further her nausea. She didn’t want to be here, but, as her husband said that morning, as his wife, as the local preacher’s wife, she had a certain duty to perform: visit the sick, offer clothing, her services, and lastly, but most importantly, offer up a word or two of prayer to God.
She recalled his black, handsome-ugly face – handsome to her because he looked like and represented a black man straight from Africa: tall, muscular, broadly built, intense black eyes, black, smooth skin, haughty nose, thick, sensuous lips, high, prominent cheekbones. Ugly because, to the whites, she supposed, he looked like a vilified African male, full of rage, strength and too much pride, straight off the boat – that morning at the kitchen table.
“Poochie, that gal of Mr. Wash’ton’s done lost another baby. Her third, I’m told, since they – been man and wife. Po’ thang, married to that – Well, just go there, pray with her.” He smiled his white smile and she, like a giggly teen-ager, smiled back, ready to do anything he asked of her.
Now, Nashville pushed the heavy door open farther, walked into the room. It was like a ventilated cave: cool, dark, but not dank. Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She could make out a chair, made of roughened wood and cowhide. A bed was against a wall. There was a table by the door, a crate that served as a storage bin. There was no other furniture in the room, no sign that anyone was there but the girl in the bed. No heavy boots, no hint of pipe tobacco odor that would mark the presence of the husband, Mr. Washington.
There was a small mound in the bed, in the shape of a slim girl. She knew the body was that of a girl, hardly eighteen, if her information was correct. She approached the bed, stared down at the girl.
“Belle, how you feelin’, chile? I heard you lost another baby. I’m so sorry. I brought some sheets; they soft and fine. I got ’em from the Allens. I brought some of Icie’s dresses, too. She about yo’ size and – ” She stopped, realizing she was babbling. She laid the packages carefully by the bed, so that when the old man came home, he would see them and know that the preacher’s wife had come to visit, to offer her services. She was about to take a seat by the bed when she saw it.
It was a rag, dyed red with dried, clotted blood that lay by the bed. The girl’s gaze followed Nashville’s and she opened her mouth to explain, but already Nashville had all but forgotten she was even in the room.
Her entire being focused on that rag, the painful significance of it. She felt her stomach muscles lose their tenuous hold on her morning meal. Then, the room did a curious thing: it buckled, its walls caving in on her. It ricocheted her out of the dark room, into the glorious morning sunlight. She lost the battle and vomited until nothing came up but bitter bile. She lay on the ground, ashamed of her weakness, ashamed of her lack of Christian faith. What would Buddy think!
She wiped her mouth with the hem of her dress, straightened her gray hat atop her head, twitched her dress into place. It wasn’t as if she had no experience about the loss of a baby, remembering her own agonizing miscarriage six years ago.
Excerpted from "Walk in Bethel" by Rose Mary Stiffin PhD. Copyright © 0 by Rose Mary Stiffin PhD. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.