God will curse you, he told us when they took him away. God will curse you if you leave this place. Wait, and I’ll return for the faithful.
I wake to the first crow of the roosters, and his voice is the first thing in my mind. Sunlight is filtering through the curtains in my bedroom, and Wax is lying on the rug beside my bed, watching me. Waiting for me to wake. I roll over and smile at her, and her tail thumps the floor. She has mismatched eyes, this dog of mine. He said it was lucky, a blessing from God.
Emmanuel used to say things like that all the time. I never understood them.
God will curse you.
The rooms are empty when I rise, and the house is silent. I make my bed, folding the quilts, and watch the dust play in the light spilling through the window. Most of the others left immediately. They were ashamed to see him driven away in the back of a squad car. They left in the night, stealing away like thieves through the back pasture, and I wrote their names on the wall beside my bed and wondered every night if they were happy, or if God really had cursed them.
Maybe he did. I don’t know.
The rest left one by one. Some after the trial, after the sentencing. Others drifted away through the years, tired of waiting for a man that wasn’t going to come back. Only I stayed, reading the list of names beside my bed every morning and every night and praying that wherever they are, wherever they went, God really didn’t curse them.
Wax follows me downstairs. I feed her first, then the cats. The kitchen is clean, my plate from last night in the sink. Emmanuel used to tell us that leaving dirty dishes is a sin, that it made our house less holy. It took me years to wonder if that was really true or not. Three years. It’s been seven since they took him away, five since the papers said he died in prison. The last of the faithful left when that happened.
Only I’m still here.
The sun is already hot by the time I get out into the barnyard. Heat shimmers on the gravel drive, and the goats are waiting for me. They nibble at my faded sleeves as I let them out into the pasture, and I give them all the grain we have left. The chickens, too, get the last of what we have, although it’s much more than I usually give them. I leave the gates open when I go back to the house, and Wax follows me with her nose pressed against the back of my knee, as if she knows something is different about today.
I sweep the floor before I leave. Dust the mantle. Wash my dishes and put them away. Emmanuel watches me. The papers published an article about how he died. They really seemed to think he was gone, but I’ve always known better. He’s alive in this house. I still hear his deep voice, his persuasiveness, his gentle prodding.
I’ve waited a long time for his memory to fade. It still hasn’t.
I lock the door when I leave. Wax comes with me, and the backpack I was carrying when I first came, all those years ago. Nothing else. I couldn’t take anything else and still escape from him and his stupid curses.
God will curse you.
I bury the key in the garden, between the kale and the carrots. Wax follows me to the end of the lane, past the willow trees and the Black-eyed Susans growing in the ditch. I brush their heads with my fingers as I pass them, and they leave their pollen on my hands. The gate at the end of our property is open, and Wax is the first out on the road beyond. I follow more slowly, leaving the gate to swing wide behind me, and wait for God to strike me dead for leaving this place when I swore I wouldn’t.
He doesn’t. A soft breeze floats through the willows, toying with my hair, smelling of fresh hay and dust, and the gate swings shut on its own. As if God himself were closing it behind me, as relieved as I am to see the last of that house. And of Emmanuel.