the Still Waters
Rachael's earliest recollections, her parents carried her to the
Baptist Church on the outskirts of town. (Due to peculiarities
of districting, the children at church were not those Rachael
attended school with.) Each Sunday morning her parents loaded
her into the Chevrolet station wagon, and tooled down rural lanes
towards the towering spire in the sky. They would deposit her
at Sunday School, before making their way to Adult Bible Study
Sunday School, sunshine streamed through scrubbed windows, while
little girls with bright eyes and ribbons in their hair sang "Jesus
Loves Me, This I Know". There was no question about it. The
love of Jesus was an accomplished fact.
Anderson, her lips gleaming with bright red lipstick, wearing
a different fresh flower pinned to her bleached-white blouse each
week, beamed at the little darlings and praised their singing
voices, assuring each that a bright future lay in store. "In
the United States of America, a man can become anything he chooses.
Why, one of you girls might be married to the President someday!"
It seemed such a romantic notion, to scrub and clean the great
big White House, just as their mothers scrubbed and cleaned the
little Red and Green and Blue Houses that their fathers owned.
Sunday morning, the girls began by singing songs. Then Mrs. Anderson
would read a Bible story. A Bible story, with a great, big, shiny
moral firmly in tow. "So you see, children, as Zachahyma
learned, telling lies makes people sad- the people who tell them,
and the people to whom they are told- while telling the truth
makes people happy!" There was no place for complexity or
ambiguity in Mrs. Anderson's world.
when the songs and stories were safely tucked away on the shelves,
where they snuggled and napped until they were needed again the
following week, the girls colored Bible scenes in booklets provided
from the church treasury for that purpose, until the hour was
full and it was time once again to join their mothers- and for
fortunate little girls like Rachael, their fathers as well- in
the big sanctuary for the Sunday Morning Worship Service.
father held her hand as they walked into the sanctuary, her mother
a few short steps behind. But Rachael found the sanctuary creepy.
The organ's intonations were funereal. The singular voice of the
choir was altogether too solemn for a child's tastes, its lyrics
nonsensical. But the sermon was worst of all.
whole idea of an invisible Man In the Sky who kept a score sheet
on her behavior, and had been known to decimate entire populations
on a jealous whim… well, these thoughts made little Rachael
more than a bit uncomfortable. The sermons were very much at odds
with the Sunday School experience (which was tailored especially
for Good Little Girls, and emphasized the Deity's boundless and
protective love.) The sanctuary experience was spooky, and focused
on His wrath and vengeance. Rachael feared that perhaps the ghosts
of Jehovah's countless genocides haunted the corners of the sanctuary's
pastor promised, time and again, that no matter how dark the stain
of sin be on her soul, her soul, her very soul, that all would
be forgiven- if she would but ask. But if she failed to ask, he
hinted darkly, all would not be well.
could not imagine what she had done, that she was supposed to
repent. The contradiction was fixed, the dilemma insolvable. If
she could never be good enough for long enough, if she was born
into sin and into sin she would die, what was the point in even
trying? If the sermon in the sanctuary was valid, than all the
mighty efforts of the Sunday School to spawn Good Little Girls
was doomed to failure, and so was pointless. They could not both
be true, the sanctuary and the Sunday School. One was Truth, and
the other had to be an abominable lie, the work of Satan.
so wanted to believe that the Sunday School experience was Truth,
and the sanctuary experience an evil con, the product of degenerate
minds. But, at the age of ten, mature beyond her years, she was
prepared to go wherever the Holy Ghost might lead. At times she
attempted, in her childish fashion, to enunciate her concerns,
her fears and doubts. To her mother, or to Mrs. Anderson. But
such personages only parroted the party line: you are too young
to understand. It is not our place to fathom the Hand of the Almighty.
Pray and wait, and all things shall become clear.
Rachael prayed. And she waited. But things became more confusing,
long before they became more clear. Only her father, when queried,
deviated from the script: "Someday you will learn, little
darling, to let the dead bury their own." But Rachael didn't
know what he meant.
for Rachael, the Sunday morning paradox, the tension between the
Sunday School practice and the Worship Service theory, the gaping
chasm between God's love as experienced in Sunday School and God's
vengeance as hinted at in the pastor's sermons, was a finite phenomena.
That is, it only came to mind once a week, on Sunday mornings.
For the remainder of the week, the Sunday School mythology of
the Good Little Girl reined supreme. She knew that when the girls
and boys at school shunned her, and called her "slut"
and "whore", that she was only being persecuted for
His sake. She insisted on continuing to be a Good Little Girl.
She began to suspect that all was right with the world, that all
was well and good, that Sunday School reigned supreme, and that
the only actual problem was that some people thought incorrectly.
She began to suspect that the problem resided within the pastor's
head, and within the minds of her would-be friends at school.
She was sure that a better world awaited her above the clouds,
free of charge, and that the pastor's ranting about Our Father
in Heaven being a spiteful sadist, was erroneous.
the pastor just needed to take some of those pills that Mommy
swallowed when she got all stressed out.
The year was 1970. The smell of roasting flesh wafted across the
yard. Ribs and chicken sizzled on the grill, while potatoes sheathed
in aluminum foil lay ensconced in the glowing coals. The sun played
tag across the sky with sparse wisps of cloud. Rachael was running
and playing with Mrs. Anderson's daughter. Her dress was knee-length,
off-white with blue borders. She was ten years old. Life was good.
sat beside the grill, a can of Budweiser in his hand, still dripping
wet from the ice-cooler at his side. Mr. Anderson, a pipe fitter
at the mill, was saying that ever since the Tet offensive, the
war in Viet Nam was going to hell in a hand-basket. He thought
perhaps it was time for the nation to cut its losses, and live
to fight another day. Heck, even Walter Cronkite had said as much.
Mr. Samuels, a maintenance man, was arguing that if those goddam
hippies would stop being a bunch of dirty commies and undermining
the war effort, it could still be won. He was beginning to slur
a bit, and his behavior bordered on poor taste. It was quite acceptable
to slur, of course. (In fact, if a male guest failed to become
at least a touch inebriated, it was something of an affront to
the host.) And it was acceptable to express racist, patriotic,
and hateful opinions about the war. But taking the Lord's name
in vain in earshot of the womenfolk, was a bit much.
Daddy seemed distracted. He was paying scant attention to the
conversation, and appeared oblivious to Mr. Samuels' breach of
etiquette. Suddenly, Rachael's bladder was full to the brim. Mommy
was nowhere in sight. She ran to her father's side, just as Mr.
Samuels was summing up: "A haircut and a good kick in the
ass is what they need."
daddy. Daddy, I have to go to the little girl's room." Rachael
might have said "pee", were it not for the mixed company.
She was trying to set a good example for old Dan Samuels.
Daddy didn't hear her. His mind was elsewhere.
the hell do you want, child? Speak up, damn it."
a barley audible voice, she told him.
if you need to pee, then go do it, and leave me alone."
shoulders slumped as she walked across the porch into the house.
She was Daddy's little girl. He never spoke to her that way. What
had she done?
passed through the kitchen, down the hall, and into the bathroom.
Vomit soiled the bowl, and some had found its way onto the floor.
Rachael desperately needed to pee, but hated to use such a filthy
apparatus. Where, oh where, was Mommy?
backed out of the bathroom. She peered inside the bedroom door.
Mommy was laying on the bed, fully clothed, a shoe on the floor
beside her, the other still resting on her foot. Dog feces was
smeared across the sole, as well as the bedcovers on which it
lay. Tidbits of vomit stuck to her face. Mommy, in short, was
Rachael understood. That morning Rachael's clothes had been scattered
across the bedroom floor. Mama had been upset about that, and
told her that Good Little Girls put their clothes away. Now, because
of that, because Rachael had been naughty and stressed poor Mommy
out, Mommy was drunk and Daddy didn't love her any more.
was the Sunday School/sanctuary paradox. Now Rachael understood.
She must go to Sunday School and try to be good. But, as the preacher
said, she never could be good enough for long enough, because
she was "born into sin". She couldn't help being naughty.
Without thinking, she had scattered her clothes about the floor.
It must also be true what the girls at school said, that she was
a slut and a whore (whatever that meant). This state of affairs
was neither right nor wrong, it was just the way things were.
It was God's will.
next morning Rachael's mother was too sick to attend church, but
Daddy carried Rachael. He was quite solicitous, sensing the child
was upset. (For his part, Daddy felt better, having berated Mommy
regarding her behavior of the day before. Mommy, being ill unto
death, had cried and begged forgiveness.) But Rachael kept Daddy
at arms length. She had a mission to perform.
dutifully attended Sunday School. She sang the songs. She listened
to the stories. She colored. But all the while, her mind was on
the sanctuary, the Sunday Morning Worship Service. For now she
understood that Sunday School was, quite literally, child's play,
and that the real deal was going down in the Big Room. When she
had been a child, she had seen as through a glass, darkly. But
now twas time to put away childish things.
the Sunday School hour ended, she joined her father. They held
hands, and walked into the sanctuary. The weight of the world
rode on her ten-year-old shoulders.
pastor preached. The choir sang. The organ played. The plate was
passed. At the end of the service, the pastor gave the alter call
as the choir murmured, "Just as I am with out a plea/but
that thy blood was shed for me/ And that Thou bidst me come to
Thee /oh Lamb of God, I come, I come."
stepped into the aisle. He father looked up, alarmed, and reached
for her shoulder. "What in the hell?…" But she
was gone. She had to go. Everything good and wholesome in life
hinged on it. She had to save the family, to save Mommy and herself,
and make Daddy love her once more.
kneeled in front of the alter with the pastor, who had never known
such earnestness in one so young. They prayed together, and the
congregation prayed with them. They asked to be forgiven for their
sins, to have the stains of evil washed from their craven souls.
Rachael swore a silent and passionate oath that, God willing and
though all Hell should bar the way, she would never leave her
clothes scattered across the floor again. And, child-virgin though
she was, she would try to stop being such a slut.
Rachael was ten years old when she gave her life to Jesus, to
do with her as He would. The next summer, in 1971- during one
of those hung-over acts of atonement that were becoming increasingly
characteristic of Rachael's mother- arrangements were made for
Rachael to attend a church camp on the far side of Lawrenceville.
A two-week Bible retreat. Similar to Girl Scout camp, but with
a spiritual angle.
was delighted, as she lugged her backpack full of clothes onto
the old church bus. Under her mother's tutelage, she had packed
cut-off denim shorts, tee shirts and tennis shoes. All rugged
outdoor wear. (Or at least, as rugged as the garments of a doe-faced
child can be.) Red tones were beginning to show in her darkening
hair; her complexion was deepening; her breasts were beginning
to sprout tiny buds; and she was beginning to assume a quiet maturity
that was lacking only a year ago. Straight is the path and narrow
the way. The burden of salvation weighed heavily upon her.
the girls from church near to her age, were on the bus. They laughed
and played games and sang, all the way to camp. "Do Lord,
oh do Lord, oh do remember me/Away beyond the blue, blue, blue,
blue…" It was a great adventure, made safe by the presence
of familiar faces.
debarking from the bus, they toted their bags into the cabins.
The walls of the cabins were concrete up to the fourth foot, then
crowned with wire screen, in order to keep bugs out, and let fresh
girls were hot and sweaty from the long bus ride, sans air-conditioning.
So Mrs. Anderson led them to the showers. As they entered, an
old black man was exiting with a bag of trash in his hand. "Good
afternoon, Mrs. Anderson." He flashed a big smile, and a
gold front tooth gleamed in the sunlight that shined though the
entrance to the showers.
good morning to you, Willie," Mrs. Anderson responded. Willie
McCullough ambled on his way, his back just a touch stooped and
a slight hitch in his gait.
Anderson addressed the girls. She informed them that they would
be required to maintain appropriate hygiene while in her care.
This meant brushing teeth on a regular basis. And bathing, daily.
are the showers?" a child asked.
right here. We are standing in the showers," Mrs. Anderson
where are the shower curtains?"
there don't seem to be any. But I'll tell you what, I will stand
watch outside the door, while you girls bathe."
Anderson didn't get it. The girls were not simply worried that
a stranger would enter the shower; or, perhaps, peer through the
open space in the wall that was the entrance. They were embarrassed
in front of each other.
least, some of them were embarrassed. But not Rachael. Ever since
Rachael took to wearing mini-skirts in the third grade, she and
her father had played "fashion show". When her mother
took ill for an extended period, or visited friends- which was
more and more often- Rachael would try on clothes for Daddy. She
would pretend to be a model strutting down the runway, now in
a miniskirt, then in a bikini, later in a bikini bottom with a
flowing silk top (actually a large scarf that she had pinched
from Mommy's drawer)- the combinations were endless. As Rachael
would parade, Daddy would sit in the easy chair with an unread
newspaper across his lap, and pound his left hand on the arm of
his chair in applause.
Rachael was accustomed to being looked at, stared at, admired.
And she was accustomed to undressing with others in the room.
Without a hint of embarrassment, she peeled off her clothes and
stepped into the open shower area. The combination was delicious,
being wet and naked, with fresh air billowing through the walkway.
Why, she spied a squirrel toying with a nut, even as she washed
herself! And she didn't mind at all that the room was filled with
little girls, and Mrs. Anderson. She took her time, relishing
the novelty of the experience. She felt something stir between
her legs, something new and dangerous and exciting. The whole
camp adventure felt that way.
one of her friends joined her in the shower. Soon the row of shower
heads was soaking a gaggle of naked, giggling little girls. Mrs.
Anderson beamed with pride. No one even noticed when Willie McCullough
shuffled past the doorway, pausing to bend and pick up a piece
night, before retiring, Mrs. Anderson taught the girls how to
build a camp fire. They sang songs, Kum-bah-yah, Do Lord, and
I'll Fly Away. Heaven seemed very close to Rachael that night.
tired and happy, they marched to their cabins. Rachael stripped
down into panties and a tee shirt, and climbed onto a top bunk.
After a few minutes, she pulled the covers down to expose her
bare legs. Then she raised her shirt up, just to the bottoms of
her tiny breasts, and let the cool forest air wash over the bare,
goose-pimpled flesh of her stomach. She feel asleep like that,
listening to the chirping of the crickets, the croaking of frogs,
and to the other friendly, exciting forest sounds.
following morning, Mrs. Anderson led the girls to the breakfast
tent. As they stood in line, holding their trays and awaiting
their portion of bacon and eggs, Rachael noticed Susan B. Lansing
standing in the queue behind. Susan, from school: the scorned
child who had tagged Rachael a "slut". Rachael quickly
looked away, to avoid acknowledging her.
afternoon the girls climbed onto the bus, and traveled to a nearby
lake to swim. The girls camp was segregated from the boys, but
the sexes were allowed to mingle at the swimming hole. They were
just old enough to desire each other's company, and yet young
enough that such interaction posed no great risk to the moral
integrity of the girls. During an afternoon of bare, wet skin
in the company of boys, Rachael once again felt that strange and
exciting sensation between her legs.
the first couple of days, Mrs. Anderson stopped leading the girls
around. They knew where the meal tent was. They knew where the
showers were. Only activities that posed a potential danger, like
swimming and mingling with boys, required a full time watch guard.
shared all of her daily activities with one friend or another,
except for one. She noted that her friends did not want to share
the showering experience, with her or anyone else. Not in the
great, open stalls of the camp shower room. The other girls remained
embarrassed. They would take pains to arrive when the shower cabin
was empty, and hurry through before someone else came in. Rachael
was not embarrassed; but noting her friends' discomfort, she respected
it. She, too, took her showers alone, for their sake.
loved the feeling of practically showering outdoors. She relished
the cool breeze on bare, wet skin. She begin to employ the third
shower head from the right, because it seemed to catch the most
fresh air, and afforded the best view of the world outside.
Wednesday, the third day of the first week of camp, Rachael was
showering alone. It was the middle of the afternoon. The swim
with the boys had just been completed, and she supposed that supper
was at least an hour away. She finished washing her hair, then
turned her attention to her body, beginning at the bottom at her
feet. How dirty they had gotten, just in the walk from the bus
to the cabin, and then to the shower! She stood on her right foot,
her back leaned against the concrete wall, her left ankle crossing
her knee as she examined the bottom of the offending foot.
didn't hear or see anyone. She just felt someone watching. Slowly
she raised her eyes, without dropping her foot. Old Willie McCullough
was just outside the door, a rake leaned against a nearby tree,
his mouth agape. Oh my goodness, this was exciting! This was better
than watching a squirrel in the tree, by far!
at being found out, Willie grabbed the rake and begun furiously
to scatter imaginary leaves. Rachael dropped her eyes. The poor
man. At his age, and still every bit as embarrassed as her little
friends. She made a point of not looking directly at him. She
had no more desire to upset him, who wanted to watch her shower,
than she did to upset her cabin mates, who wanted to shower alone.
She resumed scrubbing her foot, with her ankle across her knee.
She turned around, facing away from the entrance, bent over and
washed her calves. She stood and reached behind her, still facing
the wall, and washed the cheeks of her buttocks. She washed them
well, lathering them repeatedly with a bar of soap in her bare
hand. Then she turned around, making a point of not looking directly
at the door. She washed her hair, again, leaning her head far,
far back to rinse. She washed her stomach, her arms and her breasts.
Finally she reached between her legs, and began to lather the
downy hair that had just begun to grow. Only then, at long last,
did she chance a peek. Willie had abandoned all pretense of raking.
He stood leaning on the yard tool, staring, a second tool bulging
from his left pants pocket.
was clean, but she did not wish to break the spell. She turned
to the wall and began to soap her buttocks again. She heard a
sound from outside. Turning, she was disappointed to find Willie
gone. Mrs. Anderson stood at the door, her hair in a bun, wearing
hemmed shorts and a tee shirt whose lettering declared her devotion
to Our Lord and Savior. She looked Rachael up and down, but somehow
it was not the same. Her tone was a touch reproving. "Well,
there you are, little missus. If you want to eat supper, you had
best get rinsed, and into the meal tent." And with that curt
admonishment, she turned and primly strode through the great,
gaping opening of the shower cabin.
the midpoint of the second week of camp, the sense of familiarity
had increased until the girls felt like veterans of a foreign
campaign. They were worldly wise. They looked forward to going
back to their respective neighborhoods and telling the children
about life "out in the woods." They made knowing references
among themselves to the cabin, the meal tent, the lake. But not
the showers. The showers remained strange and intimidating, for
the duration of their stay.
not so for Rachael. Each day she showered at some time between
going to the lake, and supper. And each day, if no one else was
nearby, Willie McCullough watched.
tried to have an orgasm in the shower with Willie watching, but
she couldn't. She would close her eyes and slowly, lovingly massage
her slick, slender, soapy pubic triangle, occasionally opening
one eye to peek at the lone member of her rapt audience. She had
great fun, and was quite pleased with her performance. But somehow
she could not make it across the finish line, although she did
start in that direction a couple of times. She thought perhaps
she was too self-conscious. Or perhaps she simply needed to be
lying down, for she had no difficulty achieving orgasm late at
night, stretched out upon her bunk, listening to the crickets
and the snoring of her bunkmates.
Rachael passed Willie on the paths around the camp, she smiled
at him, to acknowledge their secret. But Willie ignored her, a
troubled look clouding his old face. Finally, one day Rachael
was walking from the cabins to the meal tent, and she passed Willie
on a woods trail. "Good afternoon, Mr. McCullough."
Willie looked away. "I said, good afternoon, Mr. McCullough,"
she repeated, all but forcing him to acknowledge her. Willie looked
up at last, terror in his old eyes. He said nothing. "Do
you like your job, Mr. McCullough?"
I guess I do. Dey some nice folks around here, for the most part."
you like the work you do? I mean, do you like working where you
can watch the squirrels and the birds and the bees, and all that?"
yes ma'am, I shore do. Now that you mention it, I have always
been a lover of nature. Of the birds and the bees. And all that."
chattered on aimlessly. She talked about the weather, about the
war, about nothing and about everything.
you hunt, Mr. McCullough?"
no ma'am, I shore don't. I fish a bit. But when it come to those
beautiful young animals out in the wood, I doan want to hurt them.
I just like to walk the trails, and watch them."
thought so. I would never want to hurt anyone, either, Willie.
now. Ma'am, you know. I shore appreciate you telling me that.
You know I shore appreciate you telling me that."
love the Lord, and all that He makes is good, and worthy of love.
Don't you think so?"
now, you know, now that you mention it, I suppose that is just
how it is."
I have to go get lunch, Mr. McCullough. Maybe I will see you later
ma'am." And just maybe I will see you later today, as well.
the two long and exciting weeks drew to a close. The camp was
a bustle of activity, as children packed and stacked and compared
impressions with old friends, and made plans to stay in touch
with new ones, plans that would soon be lost and forgotten as
each once again immersed herself in home and school.
searched the camp, but Willie was nowhere to be found. She wanted
to say goodbye. She wanted to say that, although to everyone else
he was just an old man who cleaned and raked, she thought he was
sweet and nice and, in his own way, beautiful. Yes, that was what
he was: beautiful. She would ask him to bend over, and then plant
a big kiss on his old black cheek. And Willie would smile, and
the corner of his eyes would crinkle, and his gold tooth would
flash in the sun.
Willie was nowhere to be seen. "Mr. McCullough? Mr. McCullough
does not work on Fridays. The budget only allows for him to clean
four days a week. Why on earth do you ask, Rachael?"
just wanted to say goodbye. That's all. It, it's no big deal."
cried all the way back home. She cried for poor old Willie, trapped
in a world that he could clean and rake, but not take part in.
And she cried for herself. Before boarding the buses, Susan B.
Lansing, whose guiding ambition in life was to wed Rachael's former
beau and spend her days choosing fabric for curtains and eating
bonbons, had sought out Rachael's church friends, and informed
them that Rachael- who masqueraded each Sunday as a Good Little
Girl- was in fact the most infamous slut in all of Stockton Elementary
cried alone. Her erstwhile friends made no effort to console her.
They might have liked to, but they had their reputations to think
of. For her part, Rachael knew that she was being persecuted for
His sake, and that she should rejoice. But she cried instead.
is a former contributing editor for the Tennessee Indymedia web
site. Under the pseudonym prole cat, his poetry and prose have
appeared in Fifth Estate, Social Anarchism, and elsewhere. Praise,
editorial queries, and idle death threats may be sent to p_c
the Still Waters
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