The Hallelujah Side: A Novel

The Hallelujah Side: A Novel

by Rhoda Huffey
The Hallelujah Side: A Novel

The Hallelujah Side: A Novel

by Rhoda Huffey

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“It had been a Second Coming sky all day, which meant they might be in heaven by this evening.” So begins the uproarious and tender tale of Roxanne Fish, daughter of Sister Zelda Fish and Pastor Winston Fish of the First Assembly of God Church of Ames, Iowa, who believe fervently in the imminent return of Jesus to take the Christians up to heaven. The Fishes’ older daughter, Colleen, wants no part of their exuberant faith (“Where are you going, young lady?” “To find my real family!”), but Roxy longs to be saved even as she fears her sinful desires, such as marrying Elvis Presley when she grows up. If she grows up.
Roxy lives in a world populated by angels with blue noses and demons who follow her around whispering “God doesn’t like you.” And sinners, sinners everywhere, easily identifiable by their makeup and capri pants and knowledge of television programs. Her soul’s journey through this wicked world to her own particular salvation—with an assist from the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin—is unforgettable.
Rhoda Huffey’s affection for her characters shines in every line. She handles large themes with a sure hand, perfect comic timing, and an utter originality that make The Hallelujah Side a joy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453255803
Publisher: Delphinium Books, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/12/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 272
File size: 726 KB

About the Author

The daughter of two Pentecostal preachers, Rhoda Huffey lives in Venice Beach, California. She is a magazine writer and a tap dancer who teaches and performs extensively. She also holds an MFA from the University of California at Irvine, and has been published in Ploughshares. The Hallelujah Side is her first novel.
The daughter of two Pentecostal preachers, Rhoda Huffey lives in Venice Beach, California. She is a magazine writer and a tap dancer who teaches and performs extensively. She also holds an MFA from the University of California at Irvine, and has been published in Ploughshares. The Hallelujah Side is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

The Hallelujah Side

By Rhoda Huffey


Copyright © 1999 Rhoda Huffey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-5580-3


All the Saints

It had been a Second Coming sky all day, which meant they might be in heaven by this evening. Roxanne stood by the mirror trying to make spit curls. Stupidly, her red hair hung there, causing her to glare out at her sister, Colleen the beautiful. Roxanne dropped the spit curl (which went straight), turned to the piano, and hit high C. Then she walked her fingers on the white keys, five notes up the scale and four notes down. Each rang. Over on the couch Roxanne's mother, Zelda Fish, sneezed again, especially hard this time. Sister Fish had the flu, but if they went up she would be cured instantly. Roxanne picked up her doll, Miss Jennifer Smith, and walked back and forth across the living room, back and forth, ready to go. It would happen in the twinkling of an eye, the dead rising first, then the saints going up to meet Him in the air, no time to get your belongings.

"Shhh," said Roxanne to the doll ear.

Out the window a few big drops of rain fell, but the setting sun shone hard, a giant spotlight. Around it the whole sky had darkened. The spotlight made the Second Coming clouds glitter. Holding to the Fish family priscilla curtains, Roxanne squinted, but so far she couldn't see the archangel Gabriel or his trumpet, which was gold. Roxanne allowed Jennifer Smith to look. One leaf of corn was growing almost through the window where the screen was missing. Roxanne's father, Pastor Winston Fish of the First Assembly of God Church of Ames, Iowa, had removed it to paint while he was thinking about world affairs. Outside nothing stirred. The corn hanging from the stalk should be ripe enough to eat in a few days, if the Lord tarried. Picturing the corn on a plate, she hoped He did—a sin, putting idols before God.

"Sorry," she whispered to the ceiling. Surreptitiously she added butter and salt.

"Was that a trumpet sound?" said Colleen.

Roxanne jumped.

"Chick Woolworth's car horn," said Pastor Fish. The Woolworths lived next door, just across the driveway.

Sister Fish turned on the lamp, which they kept off to save electricity. Her pink rollers jumped into prominence, as did Colleen's loose curls. There was the wood piano, with bright sheet music. Roxanne watched the whole room. There her father sat in his blue chair.

"A trumpet sound is higher," he said.

Sister Fish coughed, resigned to the difficulty of being in her mortal body. On the coffee table in plain sight lay Das Kapital, a shocking book that Sister Fish rushed to hide each time the doorbell rang, for fear it would give someone the wrong impression. Pastor Fish, to be stubborn, always put it back. He was reading it in order to refute it point by point with Scripture, for his own edification. Human beings had to get their blood boiling each day, he believed, to stay in top working order. A seemingly impossible fight, flying, and fishing were his three great loves.

The couch squeaked. Sister Fish, surrounded by Kleenex, was turning the pages of the new Pentecostal Evangel, the magazine of the Assemblies of God. It had color pictures every month and told the truth, giving out information you could trust.

"I'm bored," said Colleen.

"Speed-the-Light has bought an airplane. Amen. Why don't you write to Grandmother?"

"I hate Grandmother." Colleen's beautiful nose wrinkled.

"Careful, young lady," said Winston. "I wonder what sort of airplane."

"It doesn't say."

Speed-the-Light was Christians giving money to take the news of Jesus to the unsaved, fast. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," read Scripture. This airplane was for Africa so the heathen might hear before it was too late. The missionaries had Speed-the-Light jeeps and Speed-the-Light bicycles and Speed-the-Light speedboats. There was not much time! For Christ was coming back. Picking up Miss Jennifer Smith, Roxanne thought of the whole world. This morning Jennifer Smith had been bicycle riding up and down the streets of Rome. In a flash the rug under the piano bench became Paris, and Roxanne walked Jennifer up the Eiffel Tower steps.

"We need to pray for Speed-the-Light," said Zelda. She raised both hands. "God longs for the souls of men. Hallelujah! We are going to meet Him in the air!"

They took good Christian families in total, as long as the children were still innocent. Kids did not have to get saved until they reached the Age of Accountability. So far Roxanne could play all day. The Fish family would go up together, holding hands, ascending through the sky. These were the Last Days. Some Christians sold their furniture and moved out on the lawn to show their faith, a behavior Pastor Fish ridiculed. They had to move back in when it snowed. Pastor Fish laughed and called them fanatics. The Fish family, by contrast, sanely went about their business, mending torn clothes, washing their faces, but they were ready every instant of the day. They didn't steal or take the name of the Lord in vain, including the abbreviations "gee," "gosh," and "golly." God knew all the Christians personally, but He especially counted on the Winston Fish family.

"Oh, I wish we could afford a new church carpet." Zelda turned another page of the Pentecostal Evangel. "Someone's going to trip on that bad spot."

"I'm bored," said Colleen through her nose.

"C.M. Ward has a sermon here on perfection." Zelda waved the magazine. "Look. With a picture. Now, this sermon is complete from the Revivaltime radio show. My, C.M. can preach! 'Christians, Be Ye Perfect!' it is called."

"I am b-o-r-e-d," said Colleen.

"'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,'" quoted Winston Fish. A finger marked his place in Das Kapital. "This is God's command. God tells us it is possible."

"Well, C.M. doesn't keep house. His wife does." Zelda blew her nose. "There's too much to do. Roxanne? Pick up your socks."

It was hot, and beads of sweat sat on Roxanne's face. Winston went back to his reading, his suit coat off.

"This Marx fellow has some strong ideas."

"Oh, I wish you'd hide that, Winston. What if people think we're Communists?"

"Let them."

Roxanne glared across at Colleen, who with her eyes closed did resemble a movie star. Between them the Missionary Box spilled out good clothing gathered from all around America and sent to Pastor Fish. Preachers got first choice, missionaries second, natives third. Sideways, the word "Missionaries" looked Japanese. Roxanne pulled out a scarf, soft material covered with zebras and giraffes. The box was huge. On the floor she was making up an outfit, a navy blue dress and one white high heel so far. She added the scarf.

Roxanne continued to rummage through the sturdy cardboard, looking for the other flash of white shoe. She wiped sweat from her face again. She had sixteen pairs of high heels lined up in her closet, all too big. There it was! She grabbed it and carefully put both high heels upright next to the dress. Their beauty shocked her.

"Mom," she said, happy, "can I sleep in the bathtub tonight? With two pillows?" The bathtub stayed cool when even the living room floor was too hot to breathe.

"I don't see why not."

"Weirdo," said Colleen.

Roxanne's foot shot out to kick Colleen, but she hit her shin on the coffee table, hard.

"Weirdo spastic in the bathtub. Help!"


Hopefully Colleen would go to hell if the Lord came this very moment. Roxanne smiled secretly. People said Colleen had the looks and personality of Shirley Temple, but those would not help you in hell.

"Look at that corn!" cried Zelda. "It's decided to come in!"

"Ripe in two more days," said Winston.

Teetering, Roxanne stood up in the white high heels, huge on her bare feet. She walked around the living room without falling, an acrobat, her arms out.

"I'm bored, bored, bored!" declared Colleen, bouncing on the red chair. Her red lips sparkled, and so did her eyes. Colleen talked to sinners without a second thought. "Can't we go ice fishing?"

"That's what we do with Grandmother up in Minnesota," said their father. "We used to fish all night when we were boys. But it's for winter, not a July heat wave. Wait a few months." He looked up at the other Fishes from Das Kapital, his face illuminated by the lamp, his finger at the top of the left-hand page, willing as always to discuss fishing.

As a rule Christians had to stay away from worldly things, but Pastor Fish was sufficiently strong in the Lord, and regularly read Newsweek and Life magazine. There he often found fodder for his sermons, the abhorrent things Americans were doing. Not very many people living were going to go up. Episcopalians thought they were, but Episcopalians were just as lost as the killer on the street. The apostles would be there, and the Foursquares, and Martin Luther, because he spoke directly to God.

"Let us practice your harmonica and cello duet," said Winston. "You can play it Sunday night. Girls, get your instruments."

"I am too bored," said Colleen.

"You won't be bored if Daddy spanks you." Zelda sneezed.

The girls ran into the church, where the musical instruments were kept. The Fish living quarters were behind the back part of the tabernacle, starting at the end of the platform where their father preached. You could walk through the whole house in a circle, except for the two bedrooms Pastor Fish had built for the girls, which were ex-platform space. During church the platform was holy, but a door from Colleen's room opened directly onto it, and now the girls raced out onstage, Colleen turning two somersaults and jumping down to land on the Communion Table, where she sat for ten seconds. That was sacrilegious. Roxanne hopped onto the first pew and stepped up on the narrow back, starting along its length, arms out, eyes forward, a tightrope walker in the circus. From the circus tent the crowd gazed up, spellbound. When she reached the end she turned around and started back the other way. Her toes felt every swirl in the grain of the wood.

"Let's get going!" came Winston's voice.

They retrieved the instruments from the church orchestra corner and trudged back across the platform to Colleen's bedroom and into the living room, where their father sat waiting. Colleen waved the cello bow and wiggled her hips behind his back.

"'Just a Closer Walk with Thee.' Let's begin." Pastor Fish plunked out the melody on the piano.

Laboriously the girls played. It sounded terrible, but no one said so.

"Help!" Colleen laid down the cello and waved her arms and kicked her legs, her head jerking wildly. "I can't stop dancing! Satan has me!" Her eyes rolled up in her head. "Help!"

Roxanne grabbed the white high heels and jumped up on the piano bench. Possessed! Desperately she got the heels on and wiggled her knees, arms extended. She shook her red hair back and forth in a demonic frenzy.

"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog!" she screamed.

"That will be enough," said Pastor Fish. "Stop."

The girls tried, but they were in hysterics. Behind the Pentecostal Evangel, Zelda fought to read.

"Satan and his tribe are not a laughing matter." Winston Fish's face was deadly serious, but the girls laughed on.

"It is very dangerous to ask him in. I'm going to spank the daylights out of you until you both have some sense. Colleen, you first. You girls are going to see the light here. I don't care if we stay up all night."

He stood. Das Kapital landed with a thud. Two large hands hung, the skin rough. When he spanked, it made your inner spirit droop. Roxanne looked toward her mother, who was trying to sit up against the couch arm.


Colleen walked toward the piano bench, her eyes wet, hiccupping. She could not quell her laughter.

"Lord, give us a burden for Africa," intoned Sister Fish, the Evangel open on her chest. "Send the gospel."

"Ha-ha-ha," giggled Roxanne, hardly able to breathe, her hands over her mouth.

Just as Colleen reached her father's knees by the piano bench, someone knocked on the front door, which was really on the side of the house facing the Lutheran neighbors' hedge.

They all stopped.

"My, it's late," said Zelda Fish.

At this hour it could be an angel. It could be anything. They stared at the door, Satan and his antics relegated to another universe. The girls could breathe now, except for the occasional hiccup. Winston opened the door, and the three female Fish family members leaned, straining to see wings. Instead it was a couple, the boy's arm around the girl. Sinners. You could tell by her earrings.

"Good evening," said Pastor Fish.

"Can we come in?"

"My wife has the flu."

"We want to get married. How much do you charge?" The young man looked nervous. He smoothed back his hair, which was already oiled flat.

"Ten dollars. Well now, I don't know."

From the couch, sitting partway, Zelda made frantic signs that meant the Fishes did not have money for groceries. The church paid almost zero.

"Close the door," mouthed Zelda. "Close the door. Close the door."

Pastor Fish excused himself. When the door was shut he turned toward her.

"We need the money, Winston. Ten dollars."

"The Lord will provide."

"Maybe the Lord provided them."

"Well, we can at least talk to them."

He opened the door again. Outside, Iowa smelled fabulous. There were no stars because of the Second Coming clouds and the full moon. The corn would not be ready for two days, her father had said. Roxanne's mouth watered. She apologized to the ceiling again. In heaven you ate manna. Sugary, it fell out of the sky all day long. There was no night up there. If the trumpet sounded Roxanne planned to grab Velveeta out of the refrigerator.

The young couple looked hopeful.

"Generally," said Pastor Fish, "I do not like to marry people who are not saved."

"We go to church," said the young man.

"That's not enough!" cried Zelda Fish, tightening her robe belt. Her cheeks looked pinker. Her arm waved. "You are on the edge of a great gulf!"

She motioned and they stepped inside. How exciting it would be if they got saved, and only seconds before the Rapture! But they were not sincere. Neither one was even crying.

"We've got our papers," said the young man, reaching into his shirt pocket.

"Would you like to kneel down now and ask Jesus into your heart?" Zelda sniffled. "Don't get too close. I don't want to get you sick."

"Well," said the boy. The girl clung to him.

"Zelda," said her husband. He observed the lovebirds. "I'll tell you what. I'll marry you, but will you come to our Wednesday night service and hear the Word?"

"We'll be gone by Wednesday," said the young man. The girl's eyes had become huge. "We have to make California by Friday."

"Will you look up an Assembly of God church? And aim to be there by Wednesday night?"

The couple exchanged glances. Das Kapital was still lying on the floor, but they were too in love to see it. The man laughed.

"Wednesday, Reverend. Yes. All right."

All at once the Fish living room seemed to be bathed in light. Sister Fish directed from the couch, and the girls ran around cleaning up. Das Kapital vanished. Suddenly humiliated, Roxanne scooped up the new outfit and pushed the Missionary Box backwards out of the living room with her hip so the writing did not show, "Missionaries" written in pen. The Fishes wore used clothes! With a pop she shoved the box through her parents' bedroom door while Colleen polished the end tables until the tops shone. The two young people beamed. Roxanne ran back in. How beautiful it all was! The girls sat on the piano bench side by side, striped bows in their hair. Ten dollars was a large sum. Pastor Fish put on his suit coat and stood holding his big Bible.

The lovers faced him, trembling.

"My goodness. Flowers!" cried Zelda. "Girls, the sweet pea! Run. Run!"

When they got back, Pastor Fish preached a short sermon. The young woman, Doris, held the trailing sweet pea vines in her arms like a baby. The fragrance washed everything, and lamplight glowed. Their father's voice was a good voice, deeply satisfying to the ears. Colleen swung her legs. Everything was perfect, Pastor Fish's voice, the crickets. Roxanne began crying. They endowed one another with their earthly goods. As they did not have rings, they pantomimed that part.


Excerpted from The Hallelujah Side by Rhoda Huffey. Copyright © 1999 Rhoda Huffey. Excerpted by permission of DELPHINIUM BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


All the Saints,
Blue Nose Walking,
Welcome Wagon Day,
Sunday School Room Three,
Babysitter Schmitz,
War on Carroll Street,
Temptation Strong,
The Damned,
Cadillac Faith,
Storm Lake,
Last Days,
Rock My Soul,
Heebie Jeebies,
The Hallelujah Side,

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