Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 33—Elder Jesse Youngblood speaks of the Illuminati

“...I dreamt soon after, that I was in a room and the devil entered...
The next day, it was answered me, ‘It is the Christian minister, he will come to thee in disguise.’”

—Joanna Southcott The Strange Effects of Faith

There was a thrumming deep in Francyann’s chest, a ringing in her ears; her knees and hips ached. She had been standing for twelve hours. She was going to die, she knew it. She felt her heart flutter; it was pounding with terror of the coming night. Through the walls she could hear the honeysuckle vine, fall-stripped of its leaves, flapping loose against the outer wall in a quartering wind. From the southeast by the sound, the backside of an ocean storm already passed out to open water. “Help. Help me,” called Francyann Kennealy.

What would they say when they found her here stuck in her pantry? “Silly old woman, living alone and not all there, her mind hung out to dry like a trap door union suit. She should have been in a home. She saved coupons; you know what that means. Surrounded by all that food and she starved to death.” Of course, that would be if they found her—discovered too late: days, weeks, years after her death. If it was a heart attack she would scream from that limbo where the newly dead waited for the ferry to the Other Side. She could say “I did not starve. I had a full pantry.”

The long shadows of early twilight, equinoxial light—the earth’s ecliptic on the wane apropos its axial plane—crept in through the kitchen window. Soon it would be dark.

*  *  *

At the county agent’s office, Heidi Nichols flicked on the overhead fluorescent lights. The telephone rang and she ignored it. After four rings and the machine didn’t pick it up, she answered, “Incredible Farm Service Agency.”

“Marybeth, that you?” a man’s voice at the other end, he sounded confused.

“Uh, sorry. This is the county agricultural extension office. I thought you were somebody else.”

The man chuckled, deep and resonant. “I jes’ might be.”

“I beg your pardon...”

“Somebody else. Who’d you have in mind, exactly?”

“Just a minute...” Heidi walked over to the window, playing out the knotted cord behind her, and stopped short. Just here. She had the distances down pat. She held the phone at arm’s length as she stared across the street. “Just a minute,” she yelled over her shoulder at the receiver in her outstretched hand. “I’m checking.” There were only two late diners at The Wilco. Theo Arsenault stood behind the cash register toting up their bills. The phone booth was occupied by a shadowy figure about Ed Hobart’s height and build.

“Ed, is that you?” she shouted at the telephone in her hand. There was a muffled babble from the earpiece. Across the street, an elderly gent with knee-high rubber boots exited the phone booth. Not Ed. Heidi carried the phone back to her desk. “Uh, sorry. What did you say?”

“I said I’d be glad to be anyone you’d like,” said the voice. “But first I’d have to find out who you are.”

“Heidi Nichols. Like I said, you have called the U. Maine Agricultural Extension—the county agent. We have pamphlets and seminars. I am the office manager.”

“Sounded like you were expecting me. Except it wasn’t me you were expecting. Nice and friendly-like the way you answered the phone. You got a boyfriend.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I am married.”

“So was I. That is not what I asked you. Now if I answered the telephone at the parsonage like that, any wrong number who called me up by mistake would go away sure that I was carryin’ on.”

“Who is this?”

“Elder Jesse Youngblood of the Church of the Divine Satisfaction. Over on Pearl? Nice to meet you. I don’t have any lady friend—not right now. So you are a woman with a husband and her sights set on the unattainable. The object of your affections. He calls you often? Not being nosy, just curious is all. You might need guidance.”

“And you give guidance.”

“Goes with the job,” said Elder Jesse Youngblood.

“You are inferring a whale of a tale from just a couple of words on a wrong number.” Heidi noticed she was sitting down. She shuffled through the papers on her desk, In and Out, rearranging the piles. The man, Elder Jesse, had to be a nutcase. She would humor him.

“No, not a wrong number,” said Elder Jesse.

“You were most definitely calling someone else. Marybeth. She your squeeze?”

“My mother’s name. It calms folks down. I mean, me being a strange caller and all. On the first visit.”

“First visit. Listen, how did you get this number?”

“I just dialed at random. The Lord guides my hand. And yes, the first visit. Most folks like to keep going on their counseling face-to-face. It’s a people thing. I help them. I do most of my evangelism by phone. Easier on the joints, I mean at my age I have to save myself up.”

“You just pick a number out of the air.”

“And talk to folks. It’s good talking to you, Heidi. I have a script. Used to use it when I first started up with my outreach. Been doing it so long I’ve got most of it by heart. Wanna try me out? I mean any questions. About the direction you are taking with your life. You are cheating on your husband. How long’ve you been married?”

“You have a hell of a nerve.”

“I want to give guidance is all. And hopefully bring you into our tabernacle. But that is for later.”

“My telephone pastor. You have a certificate...? You have been ordained.”

“I am one of God’s chosen, yes.”

He sent away to some place he saw on a matchbook cover, on the Internet. “The Church of the Divine Satisfaction, I never heard of it. You have office hours. Where is your home office, your higher authority: bishop, pope, whatever?”

“My kitchen,” said Elder Jesse. “I’m getting on in years and I need to be near a bathroom. The Church of the Divine Satisfaction is autocephalic. We are who we say we are, whenever we say it. God guides us. That is enough for me. God and all...”

Heidi found herself bring lulled by the man’s rich, slightly accented baritone. He was not from here. Or... “Pardon me for asking, and I want you to know that there is not a biased bone in my body, but are you black by any chance?” Hearing herself say this—and she had said it, she had heard her voice, her voice in the earpiece saying the unspeakable, the incorrect. Heidi blushed. Her palms started to sweat. “No. Don’t be mad. Don’t hang up on me.” The soothing voice gave a small chuckle and continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“Ahh, you’d be surprised how many folks ask that. It’s being on the phone. Guess I talk funny. No, I am not black, as you say. I have been transfigured. My parents were Negroes though. I may have been, until I was called to God. I have photos with me in them—a high school basketball team, that was before my vocation. I was the starting center. I’ll show them to you when you come over.”

*  *  *

Francyann had to go to the bathroom. Desperately. She placed her weight on one leg then the other in a fidgety dance. No. Not here. That any rescuer might discover her corpse standing wedged in a puddle of its own excreta was beyond humiliation. She lifted her skirt and attempted to slide down the shelving that held her in a death grip to position herself over the cat’s litter box. Bonaparte, her cat, looked on curiously from the kitchen table. Close enough. She peed and peed and peed.

Adjusting her skirt, she managed to stand almost upright. Almost. Her struggles to squat over the litter box must have changed whatever arrangement of planes and angles held her tight. She could not stand up again. Now she was unbearably thirsty.

She was on a level with the club soda and mineral water neatly shelved in two liter plastic bottles labeled “July 2006 $1.25” in neat penmanship. She managed to grasp a bottle of club soda but could not bring a hand around to manipulate the twist-cap. In the movies swashbucklers knocked the necks off bottles of wine, not bothering with uncorking.

Whack. The plastic bounced but did not break.

Pickle juice. Yes, pickles were packed in glass.

*  *  *

“You are the secretary at the Extension you said.”

“I am the office manager. Mr. Youngblood...” They had been talking for over two hours. Elder Jesse had prompted her and she told him everything. He was calming, comforting, nonjudgmental. Heidi was at peace with the world and the inner turmoil she had not realized until Elder Jesse’s random wrong number. “You know everything about me. The Catholics have a, what do they call it... a privileged confessional.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell, yes. Like a lawyer or a doctor. I am not a lawyer, not a doctor. I am the messenger. You are the message and only you can know your contents. I have heard nothing except the cry of a fellow human soul. Do you have pamphlets on hunting?”

“There is the Inland Fish and Wildlife Regulations. We have migratory birds and hunting and trapping. And cabbage maggots, cluster flies and bedbugs, if you’re interested. Carpenter ants...”

“Groundhog. Woodchucks, you know... Groundhogs are my calling, too.”

“Groundhogs.”

“Groundhogs indeed, Heidi Nichols. A difficult creature. Not mentioned in the Bible. Not once. Groundhogs, I eat ’em.”

“That’s kinky.”

“Like Yankee pot roast in a slow-cooker. A whole day. Mighty fine eatin’ groundhog.”

“You get them at the store. No. Oh, you hunt. I have never seen a groundhog that I can remember.”

“The groundhog is secretive. They live under things. Stumps, mostly, the side of a hill. I read them Scripture and they come to me.”

“And you shoot them.”

“Well, yes. That is why they call it hunting, Heidi.”

“You read the Bible to them and kill them. Then you take them to the Church of the Divine Satisfaction and cook them in your office.”

“In a crockpot. Correct. I got an accidental phone call. Once.”

“From a groundhog?”

“Heh, heh. No, I figured it was a wrong number. A seven-thirty phone call. It was Saturday about suppertime. Since I do something like this myself, I always hang on in case something worthwhile takes place—who’s working the other side of the street, so’s to speak. I’m curious about how the other callers work their pitch. I listen politely till they stop to breathe. Then I spring my trap.

“‘My wife. You are calling for my wife,’ I say.

“‘Oh, is she there?’

“‘She died in April.’

“There is a pause and they ring off. Then I eat dinner. Now, Wilberforce College is trying to build a new field house and the news of the death of a distinguished alumna has slowed them down but it hasn’t stopped them. The fundraising committee still calls about once a month.

“The phone rang. Hmmm. Them I figured. I folded my napkin and answered. This time it was neither aluminum siding nor the Wilberforce Lady Bulldogs. A man in Windham, Maine was checking on a bogus charge on his bill. Had I received a call charged to his number? No. September fifth? I checked the calendar. I had been home all day waiting for chimney work. The caller identified himself as Carl, a born-again Christian who listened to Christian radio stations. I mean, the first thing outa his mouth, like I cared. I asked was he selling something; he said no. Now me, I just can’t stand ‘Christian’ radio stations; they play that jumbled up rock ’n’ roll and read from a list of contributing sponsors every ten minutes. Then they slap on some recorded program from a preacher who thinks it would be nice if you sent him fifty dollars right now.

“Oh yes. Carl. All his story did not come out all at once; it was scattered through our conversation. We must have talked for ten minutes or so, he incurring charges far in excess of the 57 cents he was checking up on. There had been a lot of billing mix-ups last month and he was calling all the listed numbers to frame a complaint. I was the first who answered.

“I said since the death of my wife, Mrs. Youngblood, I had lived alone with a dog and two cats. Might they have learned to dial? No, besides this was a call to my number billed to his, from a third location. Hmmm.

“‘We grew easy with each other and made observations about how computers were sending the world to hell.

“‘Big Brother is here,’ said Carl.

“‘He’s always been here,’ I replied, ‘except what with home-based downloading I expect he’ll be in our movies, too.’

“‘Next year. The technology is online. Two master numbers, supposedly known only to the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation and they can tap into your home computer. We are at the mercy of any hacker.’

“This was stretching out and introductions were in order. ‘Youngblood. Jesse Youngblood. Elder Jesse Youngblood. I’m with the church,’ I said. Now, Heidi, for some reason I felt I shouldn’t mention the Church of the Divine Satisfaction’s name first off, and certainly not our address. I had a hunch that maybe I’d talked enough. I said those things folks say when they’re winding down on a conversation and don’t want to take the blame for hanging up on you—‘I’ve kept you long enough…’ ‘I got a Rottweiler chewing on my leg...’ But I couldn’t stop; I just kept on talking. ‘My kids use the same last name, but they moved out years ago. Then, there wouldn’t be any names on your bill.’ I could hear him nod and wait and continued on into the silence. ‘They’re not little kids who’d be playing telephone games.’ I held my hand in stages off the floor, indicating the heights of small children. Carl was easy to talk with. And wary. He never gave me his last name even after I had told him mine several times, the repetitions in a context that my adult children had been visiting at about the time of his snaggled bill and perhaps one of their cell phone calls to the coast had been misinterpreted by their telephone carrier’s computer.

“Once he got cranked up again, Carl brought up the Illuminati and the act of Congress that in 1913 created the Federal Reserve to keep foreign money manipulators out of our system. ‘But the secret control of the Federal Reserve. What about that? There is no way of finding out.’

“He had found out. Some Christian radio station had mentioned it. ‘I’ll bet you see little hints in the news, Carl. I do. Even in the weekly newspaper and on the TV.’

“‘There are hints. Can’t deny it. The Illuminati. It’s Celtic.’ Keltic he said, politically correct. Celtic with a K. ‘Europe will take control of the North American money market, the world. A few control and direct everything, sharers of secret knowledge. There is a plan, Jesse, Satan’s plan.’

“I was tempted to quote some Scripture but didn’t—he might see me as competition. Now this is Jesse Youngblood, Heidi, who’s not one bit shy. Heh, heh. Not shy about plots, but about plots inside of plots. Enough worried people, feeling powerless, and they go home and get their guns. Carl knew my number. Things were going to hell and God was on his side to fight a conspiratorial secret evil out there. Carl was thoughtful, not crazy. But he had my number and my name while all I had was ‘Carl.’

“Carl explained, calming and confidential. Everyone suspected that there were puppet masters controlling things. What else could explain so much misery if there is a just and merciful God? Carl was talking and I had not been listening. I hurried to catch up. ‘Illuminati, sure. Hey, ever read Name of the Rose? They made a movie out of it.’ Gotta fess up I didn’t read the book.

“Ahhh, they made a movie out of it. Not to worry. There was silence, just line noise and both of us breathing. Hollywood had squeezed his fears onto the small screen, video to be compressed and downloaded. I decided Carl and I had talked enough. He had gotten me to defending the established order. Anything I could say he could refute: the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, tainted money ever circulating through the same hands, controlling.

“‘Goodbye, Carl.’

“‘Goodbye, Jesse.’

“I wished I had remembered to tell Carl not to worry, it was only a picture show.”

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