The Blood of the Lamb
Lorna spat on the floor of the barn and considered the mangy creature Dell had brought back.
“Ain’t no lamb,” she said. “Just a dried-up old ewe.” She gave Dell that look, the one that said he weren’t right, not with her, not with the Lord.
“I know, Mama. But the man said t’aint the time of year for no lamb. Says we a month late at least.”
“This thing look a month old to you? This old girl, she got curdle in her teats older than you. Man tells you you be a month late, then you tell the man you give me the closest thing to a lamb you got. You don’t let him shuck off some poor creature too wormy for mutton and two mangy to even shear.” The look again, those dark eyes locked on his. Only time her eyes was scarier was when the prophecy come over her.
“I’m sorry Mama. I’ll head back up to Elsworth . . .”
“Too late for that,” Lorna said. The old boards in the barn wall shuddered, a blast of wind, cold after the summer day’s heat, blowing dirt through the cracks, kicking up bits of hay from the floor. “The Angel of the Lord, he’s coming again.”
The twisters had whittled away at the homestead for the last month. Took Dell’s trailer the first time, him having to move back into the house with Mama. Next time, the chicken coop, killed every one of the hens. Then the hog shed. The farm hit with three twisters in as many weeks, now another storm blowing up, Mama always knowing when it was coming, even though they didn’t have no TV, no radio. Windows for Satan, Mama called them, open doors that let the Devil in.
After the hog shed, she took to prayin’ all day, the way she did when she needed the prophecy to come over her, when she needed some alone time with the Lord. Always scared Dell when she done it, way she’d quit eatin’, quit sleepin’, not even wash up none or change, just take to that rocker on the front porch, starin’ all empty-eyed out to the west, chair rockin’ slow, ‘till the Lord done had his say. Two days she rocked, and the Lord had his say that morning, Mama popping up out of the chair, goin’ on part in tongues like she tended to when the prophecy finally come, tellin’ him they was like the Israelites under the heel of Pharoh, telling him they needed to be washed in the blood of the lamb if they wanted this pestilence to pass them by. And she sent him off to Elsworth with the last cash money she had, told him to buy them a lamb.
Dell was scared as hell now. “The Lord will know we meant good, Mama. He’ll know we tried. We can still wash in the blood of this lamb here, and the Lord will know we done our best.”
She snatched a length of scrap from the shelf and turned on the boy, snapping the wood hard against his side. “Blasphemer! You got Satan in your mouth boy! The fires of hell is full to roarin’ with the crackling souls of back-sliders like you who meant good, who say they tried!” She smacked Dell again, the wood cracking against his head, a piece of it flying across the barn. The clouds opened, the first fat, heavy drops smacking onto the metal roof of the barn.
Dell started to speak, then stopped as he saw his Mama drop to the floor, her eyes wide and fixed, her body contorting and shaking, her mouth moving, her voice speaking the tongues. Finally, she was still, and she rose, and she embraced her son.
“We are saved. Even in our inequity, the Lord in his mercy has delivered us.”
He’d seen the old homestead down off Moriah Road before, but the look of the place told him right off they weren’t prospects. Less than a hundred acres in corn, used to be an old pig shed down there, but it looks like maybe the last twister took that. Wasn’t gonna sell any crop insurance here. But the house looked sturdy enough, and he could see the door to a storm shelter on the east side. The way the weather was coming in, there wasn’t any place else to go. He nosed his F-150 down the rutted drive, saw an old woman standing in the door to the barn. Get her down in the cellar and ride this out. Crazy fucking month, one twister after another, all ripping through this same chunk of the state, like God had painted a bull’s eye on somebody.
Lorna stood in the door of the barn. She could see the wall of greenish black building along the horizon, hear the rain turning to hail on the roof of the barn, smell the electric in the air. And she was unafraid. His rod, his staff . . .
The truck crunched to a stop only a few yards away, and a man in fresh jeans and a pressed shirt hopped out. Clean boats, a new Stetson. City clothes. The devil’s clothes.
“Howdy Ma’am,” he half-shouted over the building roar of the storm. “Got quite a storm coming in. I think you better get down in your cellar. And I’m hoping you’ll let me join you.”
She smiled, it being just fine to mislead the devil. “Of course, friend. I’m Lorna Beale. What’s your name?”
“Isaac,” he said. “Isaac Lamb.”
He never heard Dell, never saw the ax fall.
And they bathed.