--With love and appreciation for my longtime friend and angelic poet, Richard Wilbur, who taught me where my shade of thought was and how to listen to the catbirds sing.
One azure Sunday, Margie Anne Roberts and I went to visit Ananias.
"Ever drifted through the bar-like boles of Eden amid the firmament?" Ananias' words filled the room like a sculpture fills the stone.
Margie Anne gave me a furious frown and pursed her lips when I said, "No. "
"You mean the dark?" Margie Anne asked.
"Nope. Dark ain't got any vaulting hues to it. It just is. The dark doesn't move. "
"What do you mean then?" I asked.
"The undimmed air of the true earth above us that is tormented by the moaning flow of wind in the gray of morning, and it be so strong and powerful that I've even felt it pierce my shell with its black mist low creeping, dragging down before it slams the soul against itself!" he went on.
Margie Anne winced.
I looked out an open window and saw two slender catbirds scratching in some dead leaves for bugs.
I got my nerve up and asked, "Have you?"
"Of course, Myra Boone! How do you think I got my spine snapped in two this way?" He motioned for a bottle of homemade pink liniment that was sitting directly in the center of a pine book-case before whispering, "In the Garden."
Margie Anne took in a deep breath.
I looked from him to the catbirds that were mimicking a much older poetic voice in the lone woods of Goodlife, Mississippi.
Ananias hung his head sorely low.
Margie Anne got up to get the bottle of pink liniment for him.
"Don't burn your'n hands!" he cried out.
"Ananias, I don't aim to put it on you! I'm only handing it to you," she told him.
Ananias looked up at her from his old wooden wheelchair, which sported a jaunty little American flag. He gave a toothless smile and pulled at his snow-white beard then reached into a tiny homemade bright green cloth purse that was dotted with hundreds of daises and pulled out a glowing Bible. He gave it the once over before returning it to the cloth purse.
I looked around the room and saw three, tarnished silver picture shells hanging on the wall over a single army cot and felt an ache in my heart for my folks.
Margie Anne pushed her thick glasses back up onto her nose and looked around for a place to sit.
I hate the smell of liniment.
He made a motion towards a black, glossy three-blade fan and said, "Will one of you plug in my fan? I'm feeling flushed."
Margie Anne obliged him.
The fan made an unstable sound at first. Then it hummed like a bee, and the little American flag began to blow briskly in its secure place from the back of his wooden wheelchair. Then, in the saddest voice I'd ever heard, Ananias told us this: "I was knee deep in the firmament and feeling like a beggar on my knees with the fragrant dark hanging all about me wanting to break into Day's early light that was trying to rise, naturally, on out of Eden. Suddenly the Dome opened up and showed me the water's blue, which is the shade of thought, and shocked my mind into a prism of white, pure light—sun-dipped—if you please. Just then one of life's unexpected explosions came along and snapped my back in two and shattered my nerves to hell and back, leaving me defeated for the rest of my life!"
"My Lord a-mercy!" Margie Anne cried out, clapping her hands twice.
Feeling lost for words, I asked, "What did you do then?"
Margie Anne fell back into in a high-back rocker.
"With a searching heart, I asked God to place within me everything I'd ever need to live in Eden. This was as stupid a thing as any to have asked for—beings I already had it all."
He pointed to the three tarnished empty picture shells, then the single army cot.
"Of all things," Margie Anne mumbled.
I shrugged my shoulders at no one.
Ananias held onto the bottle of pink liniment like an angel holding a column of rose-gold as he told us, "Yep. I was born walking in the light of the living without corruption or lust. And as God tried to reveal Himself to me, I turned a deaf ear to His voice, and in the shadow of my own mind, I tuned Him out."
I didn't know what to say to that.
"Do tell," Margie Anne said, rocking in her chair.
He slid his powder-blue eyes over her way then thumped once at the daisies on his little cloth purse.
I looked out the window and saw that the catbirds were now sitting in a golden pear tree and eating on its first fruits.
"Before coming to the city of Goodlife, I remember living among the dragons, fire, hail, snow, and vapor and all deeps where the sun and the moon used to cry out to my ears amid the blue stars of light. Back when the wind blew so strong that it spoke words of freedom and not violent storms of destruction like it do nowadays."
Margie Anne crossed her legs and began to kick the naked air with her right foot.
"I'll never forget the fruitful trees and the hills where the cedars were loaded down with creeping things and flying fowl that could make sounds like cupped-trumpets."
Suddenly I asked, "Ananias, you ever seen any Saints before?"
"Not in Eden, I didn't."
"Where then?" Margie Anne interjected, kicking the naked air with a great force of energy.
"Between Heaven and Earth is where."
He opened his liniment, and a sharp, piney smell filled the air. >/p>
Margie Anne sat up as straight as a board and said, "Tell us, please."
"You won't think me crazy like the rest of the town?" he asked us. He cleared his throat and coughed once.
"Of course not!" we said in perfect unison.
He reached into his shirt pocket and brought back a little sprayer of sorts and dropped it smartly into the cloudy pink liquid.
"In the middle of the earth, there is a deep neon purple space where the souls lie in wait until their names are called. Some call it Glory—some called it Rest. I ain't narrow-minded enough to rule anything out beings I aim to tell you girls. I ain't for sure what God is up to in His just and secret counsel. And He ain't one known for deceiving folk, let alone telling more than we now frail ones have a need to know about. In other words, He ain't revealed it to me, but I've been there!"
Margie Anne looked over the rim of her glasses at him, but she didn't utter a sound.
The catbirds began to sing sweetly outside the window, all the while pecking on the gold pears in the brightness of the sun that had singled them out like a moving picture.
I asked, "Are the Saints happy there or not?"
"Being among the first to fall, I can only speak this much Truth to you girls: The Saints be in the company of angels and beyond the reach of the Enemy—Death—and a little bit like Adam and Eve in the beginning with the pure and white-white light," he told us, giving his neck a sure shot of pink liniment.
"What I would like to know is how you remember that far back?" Margie Anne asked him with true Roberts' concern.
"Girls, I may not have my back to hold me up, but I do have my mind," he told us. I nodded, knowing he was speaking the truth. Margie Anne put her thumb in her mouth and began to chew on her thumbnail. The wind visited the room like an invited guest but failed to stay.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm walking to sleep when the memories snake into my mind and blacken it with thoughts that God has left me...."
Margie Anne gasped.
"Especially when the town's people laugh and make fun of me. Some of the children even kick my wheels and throw pennies at me, and I can't do nary a thing about it—being paralyzed like I be in some places and without family to help me toward the house."
I ran over to him and Margie Anne did the like.
"Ananias, we'll see to it that they leave you be—from here on out!" I told him and put my arms around him as best I could. And when he got one look at the scars on my hands that resulted from the Merrihope house fire that killed my folks and left me alone in the world save for the Lord, he gave a little disgusted shutter leaving me feeling worse than ever.
"From here on out!" Margie Anne echoed me.
He hung his neck down as if a great yoke of sorrow had been placed around it.
I bowed my head and prayed for grace. Then, I looked over on a little cherry, glass-top coffee table and saw an unusual flower with petals that seemed to be hanging on for dear life. "Ananias, what kind of flower is that? Is it a witch hazel?" I asked, pointing to the potted plant.
With a great effort, he lifted his neck and gave a bright smile.
Margie Anne walked over to the cherry table for a closer look.
"It is a windflower with petals of chalcedony and leaves of gold," he told us.
"Oh, my," Margie Anne said into the leaves of gold.
"I'm good at growing things-it's my gift," he stated.
I walked over to the windflower. And sure enough it bore petals of white opal and leaves of pure gold.
"My gift is the one thing I managed to hang onto since day one in the Garden," he muttered and clicked his tongue once.
"Me too," I said, knowing first hand that God never takes away any gift He gives His children.
"Lilacs are my favorite," Margie Anne told him. She began to blow lightly at the windflower as if it were a lighted candle.
"Mine is yellow violets," Ananias put in, then uttered soft and low, "Ve-ri-tas."
"Margie Anne, what are you doing?" I asked.
"Saying a prayer," she replied.
I rolled my eyes. "Why?"
"What else would you do in the presence of such a handsome plant?"
Ananias gave a little laugh and said, "Myra, don't worry none about your scarred hands. You hear?"
"Don't you know?"
"If I knew, why would I ask you?"
"Because those scars make you like the rest of us souls lingering in Goodlife until we cross over," he told me.
"And Soso and Goshen," Margie Anne put in, eyes wide-shut.
He took out his Bible. It was glowing.
Outside, I could hear the catbirds singing with many voices like a Mozart sonata. I closed my eyes and said a prayer too. And when I opened them, I saw that Ananias was desperately trying to stand up from his old wooden wheelchair. The sight of his struggle brought tears to my eyes, causing me to squint even tighter and wish as long and hard as my mind would let me while trying to imagine what it would be like to walk to sleep and live among the angels and the Saints amid the blue stars of light in a purple neon space in the earth called Glory where an Enemy called Death could not touch me nor any of my family ever again. Then, I searched my mind for the Dome to show me the water's blue that held my shade of thought until I heard something hit the floor. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the little American flag had fallen from its secure place in the wooden wheelchair and was lying on the floor. Margie Anne opened her eyes, and as if she were a turtledove, she flew over to the colorful flag and picked it up and began to twirl it like a twigged laurel of praise between the fingers of her right hand to the echoes of the poetic catbird's song in the woods of Goodlife, Mississippi, and just as Ananias took his last breath and entered Glory, the glow on his Bible grew dim until it was no more.
Eileen St. Lauren is a Southern writer and poet who has over 80 publications. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former Commentator on Nebraska Public Radio Network, she is an award-winning photojournalist, news, and feature reporter. In 2007 she completed two novels, The Adventures of Myra Boone: Goodlife, Mississippi, and My Neighbors: Blue Roses, of which Glory, Ananias, is an excerpt. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband. This is her first appearance on the magazine. http://mysite.verizon.net/eileenstlauren.