Sister winds her small brown hand around the chipped, black iron railing, watches the way her joints flex under layers of skin. The streetlights are beginning to blink on. We’re supposed to already be inside, brother thinks. What about when daddy gets home? Brother keeps putting his ear against the front door, hearing the voices rise and fall like air moving through his chest. Muffled shouts of Hallelujah! A word as familiar as the pew they sat in every Sunday. Then a phrase that sent chills down Brother’s spine: From the snares of the devil. Deliver him, O Lord. Banish the devil that lives inside of him. There is a beating on the floor. A stomping about that matches the sound of sister’s feet on the concrete steps. Where she sits shifting her weight, trying to find comfort, because the ground is cold.
Daddy is finally home.
A beige car pulls up in the driveway. He steps out, forehead moist with sweat. His police uniform slightly wrinkled. Eyes bloodshot, seeming always angry. Black coffee skin. Smelling faintly of the whiskey he failed to give up before I was born. Why are you outside? He looks from face to face. Sister looks down tugging on her braids. Brother swallows. The door is locked, mama is inside. She locked us out of the house when we got home from school. She says she has God’s work to do. He looks up into Daddy’s frowning face, and can still somehow see the hot Georgia sun in it, though it is thousands of miles away. Daddy’s lips form a tight straight line across his face. Same look he gives Brother when he does something wrong. Daddy’s anger radiates off of him in waves. Stay here, Daddy says. Brother thinks, but where else are we supposed to go?
Brother hears Daddy’s hard angry footsteps across the wood floor as he stomps upstairs to the second floor and then makes his back down. Brother imagines Daddy walking into the living room. There is a sudden hush of silence. The whole house holds its breath. Daddy’s voice inside is a low rumble of thunder before a lightning crack. What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck out of my house.
Brother rushes into the house. Finally set free of the spell the fear him and sister had of being in the house full of strangers. Brother stands in the doorway inside of Daddy’s shadow. Peering into the living room where his mother stands over a man laying on a table covered in a white sheet. Other people are pressed against the wall: their mouths wide open as if ready to speak in tongues. Stunned by Daddy’s sudden appearance. He’s got the devil in him, their mother finally speaks. Clutching her own bible to her chest not unlike the way she used to hold sister when she was first born.
There is a sharp intake of breath that seems to suck the air out of the whole room; Daddy clenches his right fist. Keeps his left hand on the holster at his hip, which holds his nine-millimeter. Daddy’s voice is quiet, dangerous as the landmines he had to avoid in Vietnam. I’m gonna go outside and walk to the corner, and count to ten. Sister appears next to brother under the doorway with the pale yellow trim. Thinking it was just a game, wanting to know how to play. Daddy looks down at her and thinks about his words carefully, then says, and if these niggers are not out of my house by the time I come back, I will exorcise the demon out of all of you by putting bullets inside every single one of you. The room is silent. Daddy is no longer an officer, but a madman. The man under the white cloth looks up much like Lazarus must have when Jesus called to him from inside his tomb.
Daddy walks out, left hand still on his gun holster. Slams the door. Brother watches after him from the front window. He wonders whether or not it is the man under the white sheet or Daddy that has the devil in him.
Jordan McNair is a recent graduate of The University of Maine at Farmington BFA program in Creative Writing. She enjoys the quite serenity of Sunday mornings, and turning stones of citrine and obsidian in her palms.