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Veronica ChambersA major literary event...surprising, romantic, and wholly satisfying.
Gayl Jones's first novel, Corregidora, won her recognition as a writer whose work was gripping, subtle, and sure. It was praised, along with her second novel, Eva's Man, by writers and critics from all over the nation: John Updike, Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman, and James Baldwin, to name a few. The publication of The Healing, her...
Gayl Jones's first novel, Corregidora, won her recognition as a writer whose work was gripping, subtle, and sure. It was praised, along with her second novel, Eva's Man, by writers and critics from all over the nation: John Updike, Maya Angelou, John Edgar Wideman, and James Baldwin, to name a few. The publication of The Healing, her first novel in over twenty years, is a literary event.
Harlan Jane Eagleton is a faith healer, traveling by bus to small towns, converting skeptics, restoring minds and bodies. But before that she was a minor rock star's manager, and before that a beautician. She's had a fling with her rock star's ex-husband and an Afro-German horse dealer; along the way she's somehow lost her own husband, a medical anthropologist now traveling with a medicine woman in Africa. Harlan tells her story from the end backwards, drawing us constantly deeper into her world and the mystery at the heart of her tale-the story of her first healing.
The Healing is a lyrical and at times humorous exploration of the struggle to let go of pain, anger, and even love. Slipping seamlessly back through Harlan's memories in a language rich with the textured cadences of the black Southerner, Gayl Jones weaves her story to its dramatic-and unexpected-beginning.
I open a tin of Spirit of Scandinavia sardines, floating in mustard sauce. The woman on the bus beside me grunts and leans toward the aisle. She's a smallish, youngish, short-haired woman, small Gypsy earrings in her ears, looks kinda familiar. I offer her some of them sardines, but she grunts and leans farther toward the aisle. I nibble the sardines with one of those small plastic forks and stare out the window. The sun hitting the window makes a rainbow across a field of straw pyramids. There's a few horses and cows grazing in the meadow, a whitewashed barn and a farmhouse, one of them three-story farmhouses, and there's one of them little tin-roofed sheds built onto the farmhouse. It looks like one of them painted scenes, you know the sorta landscape paintings you can buy at them flea markets. Or the sort of landscapes that you see on television, where the different artists teach you how to paint pictures. You can learn how to paint pictures in oil or watercolor, and they teach you the secrets of painting and make it seem like almost anyone can be an artist, at least be able to paint pictures in their style of painting. A Bible's open in my lap. I'm holding it cater-cornered, trying to keep the sardine oil off the pages, or the mustard sauce. When I finish the tin of sardines, I drink the mustard sauce. The woman beside me grunts again. I glance over at her, at them Gypsy earrings. She's got smallish, almost perfect-shaped ears, and is a little but full-mouthed woman. Most people likes sardines, or likes the taste of them sardines, but maybe she thinks it's too countrified to be eating them sardines on the Greyhound bus, even Spirit of Scandinavia sardines. Ever since I seen that movie about the middle passage, though, and they talked about them Africans coming to the New World being packed in them slave ships like sardines in a can, and even showed a drawing of them Africans, that's supposed to be a famous drawing, so every time I eat sardines I think of that. Of course, I still likes the taste of that, and I don't think she refuse them sardines on account of that metaphor, though, 'cause I'm sure there's plenty of people eats sardines and don't think of that metaphor. I deposit the tin in a plastic bag that's already brimming with paper cups, Coke cans, and crumbled paper napkins, then I open a bag of corn tortillas, you know the ones usedta use the bandito to advertise themselves, till the Mexican-American people protested about that bandito, though I remember hearing a song once about a real bandito, not one of those commercialized banditos, but one of those social bandits that the people themselves sing about, like they're heroes.
You teach Sunday school? the woman asks, her head still tilted toward the aisle.
Naw, I'm a faith healer, I say. I give her one of my brochures. I start to ask her whether them sardines reminds her of the middle passage, but I don't, 'cause everybody, like I said, don't think of that metaphor. So I just give her one of my brochures. That brochure don't have no famous drawings in it, like the middle passage, though. It just got a few clippings talking about the people I've healed, some of them famous, but mostly ordinary-type peoples.
She don't say anything, and don't look at the brochure, though she's probably thinking a brochure commercializes the profession of faith healing, that is, if you can call faith healing a profession. I think she going to put that brochure in that trash bag with that sardine can and them paper cups, Coke cans, and crumbled paper napkins, but she don't, she put it in her pocketbook, one of them Moroccan leather pocketbooks, look like real Moroccan leather, not that imitation Moroccan leather. Course some people say that that real Moroccan leather don't look no different from the imitation Moroccan leather, 'cause the people that makes imitation Moroccan leather is more subtle and sophisticated than in the old days when you could tell imitation leather from real leather. You can buy you imitation purses these days, even Gucci, and think it's real. When she put that brochure in her pocketbook, though, I see one of them paperback books peeking out. I don't see the title of that book, though it seem like it the name of some kinda insect, a mosquito or something like that. Maybe it's a book about them African mosquitoes. I know about them African mosquitoes. And them Caribbean mosquitoes. I got me a friend nicknamed Mosquito, though she ain't named after none of them African or Caribbean mosquitoes. Her real name Nadine. I don't call her Mosquito myself, I call her Nadine. And she also got coupla them magazines, I mean the young woman I give my faith healing brochure. I'm thinking maybe she's reading Essence or one of them type magazines, you know, for the African-American woman, but it ain't, it's Scientific American and Popular Culture. It look kinda like National Geographic 'cept it say Popular Culture. I like that National Geographic myself. But them Americans on the cover of the Popular Culture magazine with they tattoos and nose rings and sculptured and painted hairdos kinda look like the kinda folks you usedta just see in the National Geographic-type magazines. But now people all over the world look like they could be in them National Geographic-type magazines, and not just the so-called primitive peoples.
She ain't say anything about that faith healing, though, that woman with the Gypsy earrings, but I know what she's thinking: that I'm some kinda charlatan and mercenary, or some kinda crazy woman. All that. If I ain't a faker, then I'm a crazy woman that just believes in her own fakery. There's people like that; they's innocent believers, or gullible believers, but it's they own fakery or somebody else's fakery they believe in. And it might not be fakery, it might just be other people believe it to be fakery. You don't always know fakery from fakery. `Cause I can tell she's one of them skeptical types. One of them skeptics. Gotta be a skeptic to be reading that Scientific American, 'cause ain't that the magazine of the skeptical. The gullible reads the National Enquirer. Or maybe they ain't gullible, but just likes to be entertained. Fictional science and popular fantasy. And a lot of movie stars. You's got to have a lot of movie stars in a magazine to interest popular culture. Maybe I'm a crazy woman, though, 'cause there's been plenty to say I'm crazy, but in the small tank town I'm going to they'll welcome me. At least those who believe. The others, well, you know, when they witness the healings, then they'll come `round. Most of them, anyway. In my head, I've already got pictures of my destination, as clear and vivid as if I was already there. And all them little southern and midwestern tank towns, they's all alike. I don't have to describe them little tank towns to you, 'cause they're all alike. I don't know why they call 'em tank towns, though. Them little towns. I think they call 'em tank towns on account of them water tanks, you know them water tanks, where the trains stop to take on water. And that water tank is always higher than all them little buildings in them towns.
I don't know if the modern trains still use water, but them old steam locomotives usedta stop in them little tank towns to take on water. They didn't have depots in a lot of them little towns, 'cause some of them was too small to even have depots, but they'd have them tanks. In some of them little western and southwestern towns where there's always droughts, probably them tanks collects water for the people themselves and not just for them trains. Sometimes the names of the towns themselves are printed on them tanks, you know, or the chief industry in the town sometimes uses them to advertise theyselves. The chief industry might be wine making or cigar making or coal mining or tractor manufacturing or maybe it's a cannery town, then the name of the town's leading employer is on that tank. Maybe that's free advertising for that employer, so's that employer'll stay in that little tank town and not take his business to Mexico or Korea. If it's one of them little tourist towns, though, the chief industry is the town itself. Then the name of the town itself is on that tank. Anyway, I think that's why they call 'em tank towns. If you ain't from a little tank town yourself, you've probably seen 'em on television or at the movies, one of them documentaries on television or one of them movies about ordinary working-class people. I remember there was a controversy when one of them movie stars bought herself a little tank town, bought herself her own little town, though I don't remember if that little town had a tank in it, though. I remember some of them townspeople was glad to have a movie star buy their town, and others were complaining that that movie star ain't done a thing for them but to buy their town. That movie star ain't done a thing for us since she bought our town, said one of the people in one of the newspaper articles where they talked about that movie star and her buying that town. Then the newspaper reporter asked them people whether they'd ever even seen that movie star in their town, and most of them said they'd never even seen her in their town. We seen her in the town when she first bought the town, one of them said. But after she bought the town they ain't seen her in the town. She didn't buy the town like in the movies, though, where this corrupt person is supposed to own the whole town and control the people in that town, and's got his hired gangsters to help him control the town, but her notion were the notion of a virtuous person buying a town so's to make it a better town. I guess they had visions of glory when she bought their town, her being a movie star, and their visions of glory wasn't satisfied, so they started complaining, or that newspaper reporter encouraged them to complain about that movie star so's he could get a story. Course there was others didn't want anybody to buy their town, movie star or not, or whether the movie star a virtuous movie star or a corrupt one. They wanted to own their own town. But whenever they talk about one of them little tank towns, they always show the town's tank that's usually got the name of the town on it or the chief industry. `Cause them little tank towns don't have anything like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building or Lady Liberty or even them Las Vegas casinos to give them distinction, so they show the town's tank. If somebody like Wayne Newton is from one of them little towns, they might put the name of Wayne Newton on that tank. This is Wayne Newton's town, it might say. It don't mean he owns the town, it means it's the town where's he's from, and the town's claim to fame. And it ain't just little southern towns that's tank towns, though, there's little towns up North that's tank towns too. Little towns in Maine and New Jersey and Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and somebody said that all the towns in Rhode Island is tank towns, though I don't remember seeing any tanks in any of them Rhode Island towns. But them that ain't got them water tanks, though, they still call 'em tank towns. So that tank town is just a metaphor for them little towns.
Anyway, in this little tank town, I'm supposed to stay with this woman name Martha Gaines, who right now's making ginger cakes, some of them egg salad sandwiches and probably some of that strawberry pie. This region's supposed to be known for its strawberry pie. And Martha Gaines supposed to make the best strawberry pie. If this region known for its strawberry pie, and Martha Gaines make the best strawberry pie in the region, then she must make the best strawberry pie in the nation and maybe even the best strawberry pie in the world. She ain't thought, though, to commercialize them strawberry pies and refer to them as Martha Gaines' strawberry pies. She could commercialize them strawberry pies, call them Martha Gaines' strawberry pies and sell them all over the world. I think she still work at one of them little factories in the area, though, one of them little doll-making factories. I think they make them Kewpie dolls, them little types of carnival dolls and them little dolls that's sold in gift shops. And she don't even get to put her name on them dolls that she makes; she's got to put the company name on them little dolls. And that's even the Kewpie dolls that is her own original design. I don't think she gets to make Kewpie dolls her own original design, though. I think them manufacturing companies like that have got they standard design. So's anyone who makes they Kewpie dolls makes the same design, though they's got several different designs for them Kewpie dolls. Course this region better known for its tobacco and its thoroughbreds, and there's a place in the area called Wigwam Village near Cave City, I think Cave City is somewhere near here, where you can spend the night sleeping in a wigwam, the motel is made up of these little wigwams or tepees, so that attracts a lot of tourists to the region, them people that's got a romance about them wigwams and tepees. 'Cause there's people that might not know one Native American or want to know 'em, but they romances their wigwams and tepees. I don't believe that it's in the ownership of true Native Americans, that Wigwam Village, though I think once that Wigwam Village or another Wigwam Village, they hired someone with a little Cherokee in 'em that poses as a full breed to tell the tourists Cherokee tales, or whatever the dominant Native American tribe in this area, I think Cherokees, but in the culinary arts, this region known for its strawberry pie. I told my friend Nadine about that Wigwam Village and she say she wouldn't stay in a wigwam or a tepee neither unless it were a real wigwam or tepee and in the ownership of a true Native American. I don't know what's the difference between a wigwam and a tepee myself, but I likes them strawberry pies, though. I asked Nadine, though, whether Native Americans has got they own cuisine, though, like other peoples, because I ain't never seen no Native American restaurants like other peoples' restaurants. She say that most American food has got Native American origins, and especially anything that's got corn in it, except she don't use the word corn for corn, she use another word for corn. I think she say maize. Like when I was in the Southwest I made sure I had me some of that fried cactus and some of them tacos that weren't Taco Bell tacos. Them tacos is made from corn, but you can also have wheat tacos. Any of y'all see that futuristic movie where all the restaurants supposed to be Taco Bell?
Maybe these tank towns is all alike, but in the culinary arts there's still some distinction. Even though McDonald's and Colonel Sanders and Taco Bell and McDonald's and Colonel Sanders and Taco Bell architecture is everywhere, you still find some distinction in certain of the culinary arts. In the evening we'll go to the basement of the Freewill Baptist Church and then I'll show 'em my miracles and wonders. Of course they's always three kinds of people there: them that believes without questioning, those that believe only when it's themselves being healed, and those who could suck a cactus dry--they ain't got cactus in this region, but the region I just come from, little town name Cuba, New Mexico--and'ud still tell you it ain't got no juice in it. I'll tell y'all the truth. If I wasn't the one doing the healing, I'd be among the tough nuts.
That's a big beautiful Bible you got there, the woman says.
It's one of those King James Editions put out by the Spiritual Harvest Bible Company. And Nicholas is on his way there to meet me, catching a plane from Kodiak Island, that's in Alaska, where he bought himself some land. He tell me he always have him them dreams of going to Alaska, though, ever since he were a youngster, during the days when Alaska first joined the Union, and again when they was working on the pipeline, when there was a lot of mens going up there to Alaska to work on that pipeline, maybe even that Anchorage, and then he heard about that Kodiak Island. Kodiak Island, not Kodak. I think there's bears that inhabit that island. Ain't they got bear that they refers to as Kodiak bears. Then they's got the Eskimo people. I don't know if they inhabits that island, them Inuit and them Inupiaq peoples. I remember when one of them talk shows was doing a segment, though, maybe Sally Jessy Raphael or Geraldo, though probably Sally Jessy Raphael, on the men from Alaska and was trying to match them up with women, and them men from Alaska even had they own magazine advertising theyselves, and wasn't a Inuit or Inupiaq amongst them. I think there were one African American, though, that kinda remind me of one of them men in that singing group, the Village People, who somebody said is all supposed to be American masculine stereotypes or American stereotypes of the masculine hero--the "Indian," the cowboy, the soldier, the construction worker, the cop. Like them men that dances for them women in the nightclubs, you know, usually they costumes theyselves to resemble the masculine stereotypes of men. But Nicholas, even Nicholas kinda resemble them masculine stereotypes of men. Maybe this the last time he'll come along to bear witness to that first healing, that Nicholas, though, 'cause he's been hinting about retiring from the faith healing business, you know, saying that I can tell about my own first healing my own self better than any other witness. I thought about hiring me another "witness" but that would be duplicitous and Nicholas the true one witnessed the first true healing, and that ain't the same as a hired witness. He's thinking of maybe going into the private investigations business or maybe opening himself up a little shop, maybe selling sporting gear for the fishermen-tourists, up there on that island. Seem like he would be good at that private investigations business, for although he might resemble one of them masculine hero types, he still seem like he too much of a thinking man to be content with just selling sporting gear for the fishermen-tourists. Anyway, he's bought hisself some land up there in Alaska. I think he's originally from Denver, Colorado, somewhere out there in Colorado. To tell the truth, I ain't really sure where Nicholas from, though I think it's Colorado. It ain't Boley, though I remember once him telling me about that town of Boley, Colorado, supposed to be a town originally chartered by African Americans, one of they own towns. Least I think it's Nicholas told me about Boley. He ain't from Boley hisself, though.
Course there's probably a lot of fakers that hires theyselves witnesses, y'all know like them evangelist fakers--there's true evangelists and there's evangelist fakers--and some of them probably do better witnessing than the true witnesses. You know, maybe one of them evangelist fakers have a true witness to they healings, but the people don't believe the true witness so's they's got to hire theyselves a fake witness, 'cause the fake witness to the healings is more believable than the true witness. Now I'm wondering whether that would make the healer a faker, if the healings theyselves is real, but the healer got to hire a fake witness, 'cause even the true believers don't believe the true witness. 'Cause maybe the fake witness got more confabulatory imagination than the true witness that just got a knowledge of the healings. Ain't one of them scientists say something like that, about imagination being superior to knowledge in them scientific experiments and scientific theories. But Nicholas he say that I can tell about my own first healing my own self better, though, than any hired witness. Maybe that's the truth. All I know is that Nicholas himself usedta tell the tale with more fanfare, more flourish, more confabulatoriness. And when he tells about that healing, it sounds like a true tale; it don't sound like no confabulatory tale. Least the way he usedta tell the tale of that healing. Now he tends to be kinda dry. And those people that come to faith healing most of them want to hear confabulatory-sounding stories, which don't mean they's confabulatory stories they ownself. It's just that when people come to be healed, they just likes to hear them confabulatory-sounding stories. And there's other folks that comes to them faith healings not to be healed but to be entertained, like it's a circus or a carnival rather than a faith healing. Them sorts you don't know whether there's true believers amongst them or not. And then, of course, there's the scientific-minded people that comes to some of them healings, and you see them jotting down in their notebooks, and questioning the people that claims they's been healed, even questions Nicholas--I tell them they can watch me heal, but I don't answer they questions--and most of them decides it's the people's own gullibility that's healed them. There ain't many true believers amongst the scientific-minded, though there's them that says that science itself is a religion, just another form of the modern world's religion. So you can't categorize all the scientific-minded as a skeptical people. I think I read that in the People's Almanac, that that modern science just supposed to be another religion. When I first seen that People's Almanac, though, I thought it was like the Communist Manifesto, but it ain't. You know, talking about its being the People's Almanac, like the People's Republic of China.
Still the wonder's in what happened, the wonder's in the healing, ain't in how it's told. It's the healing itself ain't how it's told that draws the folks like bees to wild nectar. Or like flies to honey. But I think bees is fonder of wild nectar than even flies is to honey. Course the bees makes they own honey.
But that's always been the procedure, though. Nicholas stands up in front of the people and tells them all folksy-like about the first time I ever healed someone, and then, after they's caught up in the tale, whether they thinks it's confabulatory or not, I begin the healing. I tell them a little about the first healing my ownself, and sounding more folksy than I naturally am, 'cause when you's doing the healing you's got to talk about the healing yourself, 'cause amongst some that lends as much credibility as the healing itself, but like I tell the scientific-minded people or them media people that wants to write up they own confabulatory stories about faith healing in America, I'm mostly there to do the healing. You's got to heal people to prove to most people that you ain't just talk. Course there's some of them disbelievers, even amongst them that ain't scientific-minded and ain't the media types, that believes it's the talk itself that do the healing. That all you's got to do is talk that healing talk and there's some gullible folks that is healed. Or they thinks that you's some kinda hypnotist. After one of them healings, somebody ask me whether I'm some kinda hypnotist. I don't even know the laws of hypnotism. Ain't all the scientific-minded cynics, though, and ain't all the mystical idealists true believers.
But she don't look like no preacher woman. I wouldn't want her in no roodloft of my church and no pulpit neither.
She ain't a preacher woman, she's a healing woman. And us church don't allow women to preach anyhow. They allows a woman to teach but they don't allow her to preach. You know that preacher woman that come here and they told her she couldn't preach. They said she could teach, but they wouldn't let her preach. And what if a woman is called to preach the same as a man? she asked. But us church don't believe a woman is called to preach, even if she herself believe she is called to preach, and one of the women, you know the one from Memphis, say, Maybe she called to teach and thought she were called to preach. Maybe the Lord say teach and she thought he say preach. So she give that little lecture. She referred to it as a lecture, but it sounded like preaching to me.
I can already hear 'em talking about me, those flibbertigibbets. She ain't no preacher woman or a teacher woman neither, she a faith healer, one of them others be saying. What's the difference? She look like she belong on a submarine or on a motorcycle. They don't allow womens on no submarine. On the modern submarine they do, 'cause this is the age of feminism. Her and that bum's jacket. It's what they call a bomber jacket. Anyway, I seen her heal someone in D.C. I seen her when she healed in Memphis and then again in Kansas City. She even healed folks in Milan, that's over there in Italy. Dottoressa is what they calls her there in that Milan. I seen this picture of her healing over there in Italy and she were surrounded by all these Italians who looked just liked colored people to me. Say she's even healed folks in Brazil. I know they's got colored people in Brazil. Curandera's what they call her in Brazil. She sent us them article clippings about that. And them looking at her like they believes in that healing, and others like they's sure that she's a shyster. And she don't just include them clippings that quotes the true believers but also them that say they think she's a shyster and a subversive. Seems to me like if you's going to advertise your healing powers that you'd just include clippings of them people that says you's a true healer. `Cept it just she wants us to make up us own mind whether she a true healer or not? I don't know if she's healed anybody over there in that India, though, but they's supposed to have a lot of they own healers over there, you know them yogis and such fabulous people, like them healing monks, and they probably wouldn't want to import no healer from over here when they's got they own true healers. They's got they own true healers everywhere, shamans the Native Peoples calls 'em, but that don't mean they might not want to import another one. I don't know whether she's ever healed any white peoples, though, I mean true white peoples, even there in Memphis, 'cause somebody say she especially likes to heal people over there in Memphis. What you mean the true white peoples? 'Cause in one of them articles she's with these peoples from West Virginia and they's looking like true white peoples, but then when you read the article it says they's colored people, or they white people claiming they's colored and's prouder to be colored than a lot of the true colored people. That's 'cause they's got the pride of being colored and ain't the prejudice. They's gullible when it comes to they own healers, the true whites, though, and them evangelists, but I don't believe they'd be true enough believers to believe she could heal 'em, I mean a woman of us persuasion, I mean true colored women. Seem like in all them clippings and them brochures they's colored-looking peoples in them photographs being healed, or white-looking peoples claiming to be colored. Not to say that they's true colored, even them looking colored. You know they's colored-looking people in the world that claims to be white the same as they's white-looking peoples claiming to be colored. What were her first healing? She healed herself. Aw, girl, you don't believe that! Yes, I believe it, 'cause that's the proof of a true healer. They's got to heal theyself first. You's got to work your own salvation first, even us preacher say you's got to work your own salvation first. He say when he preach it ain't to work us salvation for us, we's got to work us salvation usself. He say he can tell us how to work us salvation or how us religion say work us salvation, but we's got to work us salvation usselves. He say that almost every religion say that, ain't just us religion. He say he don't like to compare them religious books to them how-to books, 'cause he ain't a sacrilegious man, but most of them is how-to salvation books. But ain't none of them religious books works your salvation for you. There's people that hides from they own salvation, but even they's got to work they own salvation first.
I take off my bomber jacket in the heat, roll it up into a pillow and place it in the crevice near the window. The mustard and sardines still gives off its pungent odor.
She really do do some powerful healing, though. And she ain't a root doctor neither. She don't need no root to heal. Some people say that that is a superior form of healing when you don't need no root to heal. When you just healing people by knowing that they is healed. You know, that Christian Scientific woman that Martha know was talking about that. That they just heals people by knowing that they is healed. Other people, they trust them roots and herbs and potions, though. This woman just heals by healing. I don't know if she claims to be Christianly Scientific, though, or a Scientific Christian. I know she heals by healing and don't use no roots or herbs or potions. Wait till y'all hears about that first healing she done. I don't rightly recall the man's name that witnessed it, who was there at that first healing, I mean. He supposed to be here too, tonight, though. Wait till y'all hear. Wait till she sees, you mean. She healed me. You don't say. What was it you had? I don't rightly recall what it was called, or even if she named it, but when I walked I felt like I was walking in chains. I felt like I was in the old days of slavery and walking in chains. Or like them men we seen in them chain gangs that they's trying to renovate down South, down there in Mississippi or Alabama, I think. One of them states in the Deep South. Said they had brought back the chain gang in one of them southern states in the Deep South. Ain't that how they got the name gangster on account of them chain gangs? Naw, a gangster's a gangster. Somebody said that they made that against the law, ain't it? Them chain gangs, I mean. I think somebody said that they made that against the law, that they can make them prisoners work, that that ain't against the law, but that they can't tie them together on no chain gang, 'cause that chain gang is cruel and inhuman. How come you don't see no womens on them chain gangs, though? In all the history of the chain gang, I ain't never seen no womens on 'em. They usedta say there ain't as many criminally minded women as the mens, 'cause they say it's always easier for the womens to find work than the men, even that domestic work, but now they say they's almost as many criminally minded womens as mens. You've got freer women, but you've also got more criminally minded women. I felt like I was walking in chains. Doctors couldn't do nothing or didn't want to. I would go from doctor to doctor and couldn't none of them heal me, or didn't want to. The women doctors or the men. Then she just looked at me and know my trouble. She said the trouble would end, and touched me, and it did. That's what I mean by she heal by healing. Now I moves easy as wind through trees. Sometimes she speak a word and it's done. Other times she got to lay on hands. She don't prescribe none of them herbs and roots and potions, though. She ain't that sorta healing woman. Well, I heard other vile things and notions about her. Say she was a gambler. Say she was loose-virtued before she become a celibate. You don't always begin on the right road. Especially saints and prophets don't. They says that saints and prophets always begins as sinners, even them minor prophets. In fact, I don't know a prophet or a saint--I don't think they's any minor saints, a saint's a saint, ain't they? they talk about the minor prophets, but I ain't heard them talk about no minor saint--that ain't began as a sinner. When you reads tales about them saints and prophets, whether you reads about them in a book or sees it on the Learning Channel or TNT, or even learns about the modern-day saints and prophets that appears on the talk shows, though, seem like they all of them begins as sinners. Especially them male saints. Seem like they demands more of they female saints than they do of they male saints. Seems like they allows they male saints to sow they wild oats, but not they female saints. That's why you's got so many criminally minded modern women, 'cause they believes they oughta be able to sow they wild oats the same as the mens. Naw, there is female saints that also begins as sinners. You ever heard of that Saint Mary of Egypt? Is that the other Mary? Or is that the same Mary as that Magdalene? Was a rock 'n' roll singer they also says. Naw, but she did used to manage one, they says, that were her profession, a business manager. One of them rock 'n' roll and rap singers business managers. I don't know if she sing that rap or not, but I know she sing that rock 'n' roll. That Tina Turner-type rock 'n' roll. `Cept she ain't no Tina Turner. Talk about them minor saints and prophets, one of them minor rock 'n' roll singers. And nothing to glorify the Lord in none of that music. Talk about people hiding from they own salvation. One of the beautiful people, though. And somebody even say she usedta be a beautician or one of them makeup artist out there in Hollywood. Seem like she'd know how to beautify herself.
Martha, tell us what stuff you know.
I got my sweet cakes and strawberry pie to make. All this gossip about gossip. Ain't gossipmongering a sin? Seem like gossipmongering oughta be a sin. Y'all is gossips' gossips. Y'all learn all there's to learn when she get here. And when that Mr. Nicholas get here too. She ain't gonna tell you no more about herself than's in them brochures, though, and what y'alls read about in them clippings, 'cause she believe that the important thing is the healing. Who Mr. Nicholas? He the one that witnessed that first healing. I like to hear him talk about that first healing almost as much as to witness the healings.
Saint Nicholas. Ha-ha-ha. Is he a saint too?
I want everything to be so fine. I'm honored that she chose to stay with me. And Mr. Nicholas too. I remember when I got healed, he witnessed for her, and a fine specimen of a man. She don't just pause with anybody y'all know and Mr. Nicholas neither. Course Mr. Nicholas usually stays at the hotels or the boardinghouses, 'cause he's the reclusive type. But she don't just pause with anybody, especially amongst the skeptical-type peoples that just wants to test her healing powers, you know. She knows I'm a true believer. And I'm one of the first people that she healed in them old early days when she first started with her faith healing. And I fancied myself to be one of the skeptics myself. I didn't believe she could heal a flea myself. And then I witnessed it when she healed her own grandmother. Straightened out her shoulders. Say she have a hump in her shoulders just like a turtle's. In fact, there's people usedta refer to her as a turtle woman on account of them shoulders. Other say it ain't on account of them shoulders, that she usedta be a real turtle, which is nonsense, ain't no real turtle turn into no human being, not in the natural world, but I know them shoulders kinda look like that turtle shell. They say she look like she have a turtle shell on her back and the healing woman healed that. But that's a whole nother story. Mr. Nicholas don't tell that one. He just tell the tale about her first healing herself. I could witness for her myself, but I ain't as good at witnessing as Mr. Nicholas. He one of them charismatic-type people. He more charismatic than the healing woman herself. What charismaticism she got come from them healing powers. When you heal, you creates your own charismaticism. But you needs somebody like that charismatic Mr. Nicholas to witness for you, though. If I was a healing woman, I'd sho want a man like Mr. Nicholas to witness for me.
I first seen her picture in the Louisville Defender before she started printing up them brochures. It talked about all the travels she'd done over there in Africa, and somebody asked her whether she had learned her healing powers from one of them Africans, whether she were a apprentice to one of them African healers, but she said she had never been a apprentice to none of them African healers, but did say that she knew of a African healing woman, but they didn't heal exactly the same way. And the woman who were interviewing her said that maybe that African healing woman had transferred some healing powers to her without her knowing it. I don't know, she said, maybe she put some healing powers in some zebra stew or something, but I do know that I never apprenticed myself to any of them healers over there. And then they did this little tabloid story about her, "I Healed Kong's Daughter," and made it so you'd think it's King Kong, you know with all that talk about Africa, at least that's what I thought when I read that blurb, 'cause there's only one Kong that I know about and that's King Kong, and then it turn out it this little Chinese girl named Kong, you know, that famous little musician prodigy she supposed to healed, so's she could continue playing her music, you know. Naw, she don't play the violin. I know who you thinking about, naw this little prodigy I think she play the flute. That's the healing that's supposed to made her world famous. I don't mean the little Chinese girl, I mean the healing woman. `Cause that little Chinese girl she already famous. You know, that Chinese woman named Kong that's got all those Kong restaurants all over the world heard about her healing powers and hired her. That's her claim to healing fame. 'Cause if she was just healing ordinary colored people, I don't think anybody woulda heard about her at all or written about her in no tabloids. She mighta been written about in Ebony, but I don't think she'da appeared in no tabloid, and there's a lot of colored people that wouldn't want her to heal us usselves if she hadn't healed that famous Kong little girl, 'cause we's like that usselves. It's Kong that made her a star, at least in the world of faith healing. She don't look like she can heal a flea, though. Or them bees. You know, they's talking about them bees around here that needs to be healed, naw I'm not talking about them African bees, I'm talking about the native American bee, unless they's colonized bees, I mean originating in England, 'cause the farmers needs them to pollinate. Bees don't just produce honey, they pollinates. That's what they refer to as the ecological system. I wonder if she can heal them bees, if she can heal the human species. Do that Mr. Saint Nicholas heal? Is he a healer? A healer ain't necessarily no saint, is it, Martha? You can be healer and don't mean you's a saint. Bible say to be wary of folks of that sort. It warn you about them false prophets and them false saints. But the Bible also talk about them gifts of the spirit, and God don't give gifts of the spirit to looks. Tell her, Martha. Bible says Jesus was ugly, and He is the greatest spirit gift His ownself. Course the description they gives of him don't sound ugly to me. Sound like a man meant to be glorified. Supposed to have hair like lamb's wool and to be the complexion of brass. That sounds like a man meant to be glorified to me. If most of these people talking about Jesus see the real Jesus, though, they would probably run from him. These holy evangelists and religionists. I mean them that thinks he's supposed to have blue eyes and blond hair and them Nordic peoples from Sweden or them Germanic looks, I mean them Aryan-type Germans, not them dark-haired Germans, 'cause them pictures you see of that Jesus even in us church that ain't the real Jesus, that ain't the true Jesus that even the Bible describes. Like that little Buddha that Martha got that they make out there at that factory where she work, now supposed that little Buddha was to have blond hair and blue eyes? Suppose they made that little Buddha to look like them little blond Kewpie dolls they make out there? Now I ain't amongst the folks to say that Jesus is a African or even a North African, like that schoolteacher telling us about, you know Little Sal, but that ain't even a Mediterranean Jesus. Devil came as a angel of light. Ain't that what the Bible say? Aw, girl, I know that. I usedta belong to the A.M.E., the African Methodist Episcopals, before I joined y'all's church. That's what it says, don't it, Martha?
Yes, it does say that all right. It most certainly does. And Jesus is Jesus. I know there's folks who searches for the real, historical Jesus. But Jesus is Jesus.
That smells so good, Martha. What is it? Ginger. Will she be here one night or two?
Depend on how big the crowd is and how much healing need to be done.
Do she heal crazy peoples?
Yes, I do believe she do. Seem like I heard she healed some crazy woman in Memphis. Some crazy woman from over there in Memphis. Seem like that one of her first healings, some crazy woman, or at least amongst her first healings. I do know the crazy peoples do come to her healings to be healed the same as the sane peoples, them that knows they's crazy or has the suspicion of it. I know when she healed me, I think there was several crazy peoples there that got healed, at least they didn't seem to have no visible ailments. Yeah, that brochure do mention insanity as one of her cures. Yeah, that brochure do say something about insanity as one of her cures. I know that old brochure she usedta distribute when she first started advertising her healings don't say nothing about insanity, though, it just list the physical cures. I don t thin a true healing woman should advertise herself myself. I still know her to be a true healing woman, though. But that new brochure do mention insanity. She don't refer to it as insanity, though, she refer to it as a ailment of the spirit. She don't mention insanity at all in that brochure, or even eccentricity, she just mention ailment of the spirit, which she say encompass a lot of the metaphysical things.
Be here two days then, maybe three. Maybe stay the week. 'Cause they's plenty crazy people round here to heal, ain't it, Zulinda? Ailment of the spirit nothing. Metaphysical nothing. They's crazy. Big Sal is crazy. I know Big Sal is crazy. Y'all know Big Sal. Now I ain't talking about Little Sal, ain't that Little Sal, speak of the devil, I seen that bicycle she rides around on, I said that looks like Little Sal's bicycle chained up there, look like a little girl don't she, woman her age riding around on a girl's bicycle, now that's eccentric, a schoolteacher, you'd think she's one of her students, I'm talking about Big Sal. Everybody know that Big Sal is crazy. She look crazy her own self, if you ask me. Looking like she belong in a comic book. Though looking crazy don't mean you is. Do looking crazy mean you is? If that looking crazy mean you is, then them psychiatrists and psychologists would have more work than they's got now. Lotta people say us Wisdoms looks crazy us ownselves, but I know insanity don't run in us. Maybe some of the New York Wisdoms is crazy, 'cause that's New York, and seem like I heard some of them has been psychoanalyzed, but the Wisdoms from around here ain't crazy. I know that for a fact, though like the poet says sometimes the facts about a people obscures the truth about 'em. There might be some ailment of the spirit people amongst the people she heals in her world travels, or even amongst the New York Wisdoms, but around here the crazy peoples that's crazy is crazy. Ain't they, Zulinda? Martha, you acts like all crazy people is sane.
I get off the bus carrying a small overnight case made out of imitation crocodile. To meet me at the station's three middle-aged women in a Ford convertible. Martha's the driver and she's the slender one and the tallest, the others are the proverbial stereotypes of plump church womens. Cotton print dresses, pillbox hats, oversized vinyl purses that dangles from their wrists or elbows. Zulinda and Josephine don't hide their disappointment. I know they's expecting me to be more impressive, look less like some ordinary, common woman and more like a legend. More like some legendary healer. Even them pictures of me in them clippings and in that brochure looks more legendary. But people always say I don't look like my photographs. There's people look more impressive than they photographs, others look less impressive than they photographs. A lot of them models and movie stars, people say, looks more impressive in they photographs. Or if they do still look impressive in person, I know a lot of them movie stars people's always telling them that they looks taller on the screen. They might be the shortest man in Hollywood, but onscreen they look like the tallest. Now that rock star I usedta manage, she look more impressive in reality than in her publicity photographs and her album photographs. That's the same with them movie stars, like I said. That's why they always insists on giving them them screen tests, to test whether the camera loves them. The camera's gotta love them. They's gotta be photogenic. Now she's making herself them videos, that rock star, but them videos ain't half so interesting as the woman herself. It's Martha who comes forward to greet me first, bringing with her that odor of ripe strawberries and fresh ginger. We shakes hands. Hello, Martha.
The other women step forward to introduce themselves. They're staring at my blue jeans and bomber jacket, worrying that I'll appear in church dressed so outlandish. Josephine gives me a look, then holds out her hand. We shakes hands, then I shakes hands with Zulinda, but I know they're eager to test my healing powers. Josephine Wisdom's already telling me about her sinus problem and Zulinda Tage's already mumbling about her fear of cats. We walk together toward the car. I ride in the front with Martha, while Josephine's in the backseat taking Kleenex from her purse, hawking into it, and Zulinda's glancing up at the tattered ceiling and wishing they coulda borrowed the reverend's car, the Cadillac or the Mercedes, but though he's opened his church to me, he's one of them skeptical ones, and ain't about to lend them his Cadillac or the Mercedes either for some fool calling herself a faith healer. Still, she thinks that Martha oughta mend that tattered roof of that convertible. Gifts of the spirit ain't modern gifts anyhow but ancient ones, he believes, that skeptical preacher, though the Lord Himself supposed to be the same yesterday today and tomorrow.
Martha, why don't you ever convert your convertible? asks Zulinda.
I prefers the top up.
I wouldn't have me no convertible not to convert it, says Zulinda. I wouldn't have me none o' these old reckless tops if I didn't use it.
Martha got style, say Josephine through her Kleenex. Them fast womens rides around in them converted convertibles. You know them fast womens always got them converted convertibles. Martha got class.
Well, I likes me them converted convertibles and I ain't a fast woman, nor a slow one neither, and I got as much class as Martha. Everybody says I gots class.
When I'm scheduled to appear? I ask.
Aw, you got plenty of time to rest and freshen up, says Martha.
And change, adds Zulinda from the backseat.
Josephine hawks into the Kleenex. The show don't start till eight, she says, making sure I hear her call it show. Martha turns on the radio. This is an old Memphis song, the singer announces. Do y'all guys feel funky tonight? Martha turns off the radio, then turns it back on, twists the dial, only to find more funky music, then some of that gangsta-type rap, then little D'Angelo. She listen to a little of that D'Angelo music, some love's melody, sophisticated-type rap, which she say sounds more like real music, like intelligent music, than some of that other music, then she cuts the radio off.
I'm really looking forward to tonight, says Josephine. I wants you to cure my sinusitis. You going to, ain't you?
I don't say nothing. To tell the truth, I don't like to say what I'll heal until I heal it.
I guess for you it's easy to heal folks now after the long time you been doing it, says Zulinda.
The first time is easy when you got the gift of the spirit, says Martha. It ain't like them learned things, things you got to master. It were easy the first time, weren't it?
Yes, it were, I admit. I wasn't trying to be no healing woman. In fact after that first healing, I denied I was a healing woman, that that healing was just a fluke, then I healed a horse, I touched a horse's phalanges and I healed it, somebody was talking to me about one of their horses and I touched it and healed it. I guess I coulda just kept healing horses, worked for the racing industry healing their horses, you know, and then I went down to Memphis and healed a crazy woman. I don't just heal physical ailments, I heal ailments of the spirit, like my brochure says. Anyway, someone heard about my healing powers and someone else heard about my healing powers and then I just started healing, but in the beginning I denied I was a healing woman. I know a lot of people are skeptical of my healing powers. I was skeptical of them in the beginning myself, but I just kept healing people. Like you say, one of them gifts of the spirit.
Zulinda's thinking of a furry ball and gray radar eyes perched on her lawn. Martha even give her a book of cat poetry to help her get over her fear of cats. But that poem about that galloping cat, even galloping about doing good, made her more skeptical of cats. She's thinking that if I'm a real healing woman I'd know what she's thinking and heal her right then and there. How do you know who to cure first? she asks. I just know.
The car turns a corner and climbs a hill. The narrow road's lined with duplex houses, green and white and yellow. Beyond them the land slopes down to a railroad track. Zulinda's thinking that if I'm a real healing woman, I'd piece out the deeper fears, deeper than the fear of cats, and heal them too. She thinking she just test me first to see if I can cure her fear of cats. I reach down and scratch my ankle.
You ever got lost coming to these little out-of-the-way towns? Martha asks.
Naw, not really, but then I always got nice people to meet me like y'all. And it's mostly in these little towns that there's true believers. Ain't too many true believers in the big cities.
Martha smiles, but that cynical Josephine just blows her nose. Or true fools, she thinking. Them big city people ain't such fools, she thinking. They say she healed people in Rio, though. Ain't Rio a big city? And maybe them true believers in Rio is actually from them little towns, and they just comes to Rio to the big city. Zulinda hums a jaunty tune then changes it to a more holy one. The car sloping down bumps into the railroad track, crosses it, then climbs another hill.
Didn't know the train came through here, I say.
It don't anymore. Depot's closed down. A lot of these little train depots around here have closed down. Just the tracks left.
The women in the backseat are still thinking how common I am, how full of chitchat, and my vocabulary sounds elementary, it don't even sound like that preacher-teacher woman that give that lecture, ain't that wondrous and fantabulous vocabulary them healers uses, and if I could really heal, wouldn't I already just know about them trains too? And I don't talk that revelation' talk, that prophet passion. Just some ordinary woman, could be one of them, or one of their daughters, one of their own girls. They're staring at my bomber jacket, its gray fur collar, imitation fox, 'cause I wouldn't have a collar with no real fox, like I wouldn't have no real crocodile, and my greased and braided hair. I'm one of their own girls, they're thinking. "Except maybe more streetwise and jazzy," thinks Josephine. "Full o' all that city flash." I know Martha's told them grand things about me, 'cause Martha's like that. It's Martha showed them all them clippings about me. "She a regular boogie-woogie," thinks Zulinda, clucking. Josephine blows her nose almost into the back of my head. Then Martha turns into the driveway. We climb out among honeysuckle bushes and them maple trees. Inside, Martha's house is spotless and smells like lemon oil. There's two of those comfortable flowered sofas, a long beige coffee table loaded with them whatnots--wooden elephants, a brass Buddha, state fair mugs, a little glass tiger. There's some of them little Kewpie dolls she makes, even a few multicultural Kewpie dolls. They usedta just make them white Kewpie dolls, but I guess now they makes them multicultural Kewpie dolls, or maybe they's Martha's own inspiration. There's an upright Steinway piano, mahogany and shining, standing beneath a gilded mirror. I watch the women reflected in that mirror. Martha's the gingerbread woman, Josephine's a chocolate eclair, and Zulinda's a lemon snap. I'm thinking of the names of horses I would've bet on if I was still a betting woman: Regal Fawn, Box o' Chocolates, and Banana's Kin.
I take you upstairs so's you can get refreshed up after all that long ride, says Martha. It's a real great pleasure, though, to have you here. Ever since you healed me, I've been wanting to invite you here to do a healing, but they says that your schedule has always been filled up with that healing in them other little towns. Well, when you first healed me, I wouldn't've known that you'da developed into a healer to be known worldwide. At least amongst the true believers.
At the top of them stairs, I can hear the women downstairs just chattering. She got on mascara. Teal blue. Did y'all see that? Teal blue. And dressed up like a soldier. But we's God's army, anyway. Aw, girl, I'll have to see to believe. I'm a true believer, but that don't mean I got to believe in that bogger. Harm a flea, but cure one?
You can rest up here, says Martha, reaching into one of them drawers and holding up a clean towel and washcloth. I'll call you. We can have a light meal here, but they want to have a real supper at the church, after your ... presentation. I mean, the healing. Bathroom's down the hall. Where you headed after here, up North again?
Naw, Tennessee. Memphis.
There must be more true believers in Memphis than anywhere, 'cause seem like you's always healing folks in Memphis.
And there's a group in London, in Brixton, who've heard about my healing powers too, and want me to come over there to Brixton to do some healing.
I've heard about that Brixton. I know some folks name Brixton. They might be at your ... healing.
Performance, she'd started to say at first. The healing? She hands me the rose and cinnamon towel and washcloth, then heads downstairs. I go in her bathroom and toss water onto my face and rearrange my braids. Listening to those voices downstairs. It ain't a auditory hearing, I should tell y'all. I mean, to y'all their voices would be inaudible or merely whispers, but to me they're as clear as Martha's glass tiger.
Is she gonna change? whispers Zulinda.
Why don't y'all come back and help me pack the cakes and my strawberry pie, says Martha. I thought we'd have us light ham and potato soup--for her--before we go on account of all that healing she be doing. Poor child looks weary ...
If she were a true healing woman she wouldn't take no thought to light ham and potato soup.
We can put everything into this straw basket.
I'll have to see to believe. Don't look like she could cure a flea. If it's true, I don't see why God don't give such gifts of the spirit to good women like you, Martha, and a woman with class, instead of who ... trollops.
Hush, girl. It ain't for us to judge. Zulinda, you hold my strawberry pie right. Hold it up like this ... The last time you held my pie ...
I come downstairs wearing a plain-cut beige dress, plain beige pumps, and a paisley scarf around my waist. Poised in front of the Steinway, Zulinda frowns at the paisley but grins approval at the beige dress and round-toed pumps. And Martha's palms are held up to demonstrate how to hold a imaginary pie.
Don't you tell me how to hold no pie, now Martha, says Zulinda. If I knows anything, I knows how to hold a pie.