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The Body’s Amen

Story by Brigitte N. McCray (Read author interview) November 21, 2016

Art by Karen Prosen

In these southern mountains, men cleanse spirits with prayer spit—tobacco water, vinegar—while women swallow dust.

Daddy and his men hunt snakes beyond the holler; they carry snake hooks that they slip inside rattler dens; they tail the snakes and push them around with those hooks before dumping them in a bag of God.

Daddy forces my arm into one of the serpent boxes that line the inside of the farmhouse; my stomach feels like a hundred of those snakes are wiggling inside it.

“Girl,” he says. “Don’t fear the bite because there’s always whiskey or a piece of fat meat, salt, onion—a paste that’ll suck the poison out, and there’s the Ole Maker that’s going to make your body amen amen amen.”

But for me, the Spirit is Margo, the girl who takes me down into a pile of leaves after a prayer meeting. Her saliva’s birch syrup, and when I slip my hand up her leg, the darkness inside her skirt is damp as soil under rock. After I tell her I’m scared of what more Daddy will do, she says, “Someone up in these mountains is always dying or is about to die. You’ve got to know you don’t have to die.”

“I can smell how mad he makes those rattlers.”

“I know you can,” she hisses in my ear.

When he catches us, he calls us Wicked Ones and tells me I’ve got to learn my place.

That night, I sit by my window and hiss out at the dark. I sense Margo out there.

She conjures my salvation out of paper-thin skins whispering to bone, flesh. Throat tightens, neck constricts. Skin transforms from flesh to keeled scales.

Daddy enters my room wild and fast and carrying a snake hook.

Coiling, I refuse to retreat.

He shoves that hook under my belly, but I strike fast. Fangs thrusting into his skin. Like biting Adam’s rib in half. His arm becomes puffy and his thumb becomes as black as a coal chunk.

In my new tongue, I tell him, “Rubbing dried snake root won’t heal you, and don’t bother with intestines of a black chicken. My venom can’t be drawn out.”

As his limbs swell and his breathing slows, I slither around his feet hissing amen amen amen.


Notes from Guest Reader Georgia Bellas

I love the lush, dark, menacing spell this story casts on the reader, how it sucks the air out of you and leaves you paralyzed, breathless, waiting for the end.

About the Author

A 2014 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and a member of Codex Writers, Brigitte N. McCray earned an MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and a PhD from Louisiana State University. McCray’s fiction, poetry, essays, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine; Cease, Cows; Rose Red Review; Prick of the Spindle; Mythic Delirium; Southern Humanities Review; storySouth.com; Red Rock Review; and elsewhere. @bnmccray

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four

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