The neon sign went up three weeks ago. They’d been knocking around Stan’s old place for a fortnight before, ripping up the weeds, putting in machinery and fancy red rollers. Fellas in grey overalls who said nothing to no-one. Never called at Dosie’s, so she said, not even for an after work beer. Maybe they slept in that van of theirs. I didn’t ask. They caused no trouble. Just happened I was sitting by Dosie’s front counter when they fixed up that sign, lit it, packed up and drove off down Main.
Must have been two days later I was passing on my way to work and there he was. Standing on the sidewalk like a lion sniffing down the wind: arms folded, eyes closed, that grey mane flowing behind. Nearly ran into Dosie’s window when I saw the new billboard. Who the hell opens up the fanciest car wash this side of Atlanta and charges one dollar a wash? Nate Gibson’s boys ain’t gonna like that, I thought. Only when I was patrolling late Friday did I get to read the small print: one dollar but the preacher rides with you; one customer only per car; five minutes and you’ll be on your way. The print got smaller – “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” Ezekiel 36:25, it said.
Business started up the following Sunday. I had to work but my wife said it was the best damn sermon she’d ever heard right there on the forecourt. Even better than that TV preacher in Atlanta. Said his voice rolled like an August storm, flashing then soothing, but penetrating like the deep rumble of a bass. All the money was going to those poor children in Africa, to teach them to love, not fight each other. They were queuing up on Main after that, engines idling, even though it was fixing to rain with those dark clouds rolling in.
Dosie’s was buzzing all week. Billy Baker and Chet Williams had had an awakening, so they said, and were off to some mission house in Shreveport. Ute Svengaard began baking for Jesus. Britt and Courtney began showing off these thin silver rings like they’d invented chastity, and, dammit, weren’t young Hal and Ted Franks wearing them too by Friday. Hattie Franks was seen going through three days running, even though her Cougar was spotless. Sunlight glinted off the sparkling car hoods on Main as I nursed a beer after work. That damn sign was glowing neon red when I left. Nothin’ to be done, I’d told ‘em. Besides, cautions and arrests were down since Lucas Hennessy showered off his sins and dumped his stock of Russian vodka outside on the sidewalk.
Then my wife decided our Buick needed a shine. Came back from my shift to find her just sitting at the table. Nothing cooking, just her High School Bible on the table and two fingers twisting a lock of hair at the nape of her neck. Said he had a power, shown her a new life, a new way. Her eyes shone as she urged me to go hear him out. I fixed up a few franks and chewed it over.
The next morning Dosie’s was closed. Handwritten sign on the door said “Gone prayin’”. I met Murray Franks at the gas station paying two dollars 49 for one of those damn machine coffees. Said Hattie talked of nothing but spreading the Lord’s word. Wanted to go to Shreveport with the boys and learn the guitar. Never seen Murray without a smile. So I paid a visit to “Heaven’s Flood”. Little Annabelle Tavi was just handing over her dollar, the drips still sliding off her VW bonnet and puddling on the asphalt.
‘Well if it isn’t the Sherriff.’ He tucked the dollar somewhere inside his robe. ‘Greetings, sir. Can I freshen up your vehicle?’ He had an accent I couldn’t place but the voice sang soft and low.
‘No thanks. Dusty this week.’
‘Rain’s a comin’.’ He was cool as a cucumber. ‘You can smell it.’
‘Maybe.’ I watched as Annabelle drove off. ‘You planning on staying put long?’
‘Is there a problem?’
‘This is a fine town. Fine people.’ He nodded as Hattie Frank’s car pulled up. ‘I’ll stay while they need me.’
I stood aside as he strode to the passenger door and climbed inside. He hadn’t pressed anything I could see but those big rollers turned and the jets sprayed. There was so much foam I couldn’t see much more. I left him alone after that. Maybe I made a mistake, that’s all I’m saying.
When the rain started I was catching up with paperwork. Half hour later before Murray burst in.
‘Ain’t you seen it, man? Look!’
Taillights glowed red as a procession of cars crawled down Main through inches of water, all heading out of town. The grey van was right at the front. As I craned my neck to get the plate, I nearly missed my own Buick. Oh I ran alright but she was gone. As I splashed back to Murray, I saw the Billboard had a new text:
“Behold, do I bring a flood of waters and every thing that is in the earth shall die”
Town’s flooded now. Murray and I are holed up here if you can send help? It’s still raining.
Had the worst week ever…still, good to be writing even if it’s going out unpolished and raw. There’s something good trying to get out but time’s run out!