Miss Hooker died in my dream last night. She’s
my Sunday School teacher and pretty old,
25, I’d guess, to my 10. She was
run over by a Mack crossing the street,
I mean that she was crossing the street, not
the Mack–she wasn’t crossing it, either
–on her way as usual to teach us
all the dope about God and Jesus and
the Holy Ghost, Who isn’t as spooky
as He sounds, says she. Whew. That’s a relief.
But now she’s dead, though not for real and so
not for keeps, but only in my dream and
I sure can have ’em, nightmares sometimes and
sometimes just goofy ones, like my dog wears
glasses and drives me to school each morning.
That means something but I don’t know what. God
sends dreams sometimes. He sent some to Adam
and Pharaoh and maybe Jesus Himself.
I’ll have to ask Miss Hooker about that
because she sure knows her Bible because
she’s the library assistant downtown.
So in my dream she didn’t see or hear
that Mack, her glasses on and her nose in
the Scriptures, wouldn’t you know. It hit her
just as she was nearly out of the way
and spun her around where I was standing
by the side of the road waiting for her
as usual, in my dream and in real
life, but I caught her before she hit ground
and I could tell she was hurt, I’m going
to be a doctor one day so I’ve got
an instinct, I think it’s called, for that kind
of thing. I’m just glad she wasn’t smashed to
pieces, pieces in people being bones
and guts and blood. And I didn’t throw up.
But I caught her, like I say, and she swooned,
which is what gals do in the movies, not
just faint or pass out like Mother does from
two glasses of Mogen David, bless her.
And as I lowered her to the shoulder,
it’s a soft shoulder, like the sign says, she
was looking at me but not seeing and
hearing my voice but not listening and
still in this world but likewise out of it.
Then she breathed her last so I knew she was
probably dead but just to be safe I
closed her eyes with my thumbs, like they do on
TV shows I’m not allowed to watch but
do when I can’t sleep and the set’s too loud
so I creep down our thirteen stairs and
watch through the bannister. One time I fell
asleep there and rolled down the steps and woke
up thinking I was dead but Mother was
there and not very happy. I wonder
if I was killed and if I think I’m still
alive I’m really in Hell, or when death
gets you you live again but somewhere else
that’s pretty much the same. Or I dreamt it
and woke up. Or I’m dreaming still. Who knows?
After I shut Miss Hooker’s eyes I woke
up in the dark, alone in my own bed.
I wonder if I should tell Miss Hooker
what happened to her last night, and that I
woke up crying but still feeling pretty
good, it was a good cry, I mean, and God
saw that it was good, even in the dark.
Or maybe she really is dead and my
dream was the kind that’s also true, call it
prophecy, or is that premonition.
I almost hate to go to Sunday School
and find out that she’s missing. I’ll confess
that she’s dead but that I didn’t kill her.
Maybe they’ll start an investigation
and I’ll go to jail forever or they’ll
execute me. If I have a choice then
I’ll go with crucifixion. She’d like that.
I wonder if they’re lonely, the naked
girls in Father’s magazines that he hides
in his top dresser drawer with his change
and squashed balloons and the pocket watches
that don’t work and cufflinks, just five when there
should be six, and some black and white photos
of him and Mother before they had me,
however that happened. I’m only 9
and probably too young to know but I’m not
stupid, they got me at the hospital
so maybe the doctor helped, and a nurse.
But they’re awful pretty, especially
Miss May, who gets the biggest picture and
I can see why this one takes three pages.
I don’t read so good, so-so for third grade,
but on the back page-full of her legs and
ankles there are three numbers. I say them,
36, 34, 36 but
I don’t see a hut or hike to follow but
we might have something in common though she’s
way too old for me, 22–I like
football, too, but if I played touch with her
I’d have to be careful to concentrate
on her waist or she might slap me and I
wouldn’t blame her. I’m a gentleman or
will grow to be one unless I die first.
And she says here that she likes romantic
walks in the moonlight, and so do I but
my folks don’t allow me outside after
dark and I don’t blame them, what with vampires
and werewolves and Bigfoot and burglars at
large but I can go out if I hang on
the porch and mind my own business, they say.
I like the ocean, too, but I’ve never
seen it, face to face, I mean, up close and
personal. It has a lot of salt and
comes in and goes out and comes in and goes
out and it’s the moon does that and I guess
that’s romantic, too, I’m not sure why. Is
that what they mean by rhythm method? But
I like to swing and seesaw but Miss May
is a little old for such, I guess, and
not dressed for it–in fact, she’s not dressed for
anything but she can sure smile, and I
wonder how Father would react if he
could see Mother in that position. I
don’t want to think about it but somehow
I can’t stop. Oh, well. Her favorite
food is spaghetti and she likes meatballs,
the bigger the better, she says, and that’s
what’s wrong with Mother’s, they’re too puny, more
like marbles than golf balls. Her idea man
–I guess my idea man is Santa Claus
–makes her laugh, Miss May’s I mean–Mother’s is
probably Uncle Dick but they’re just friends
and I don’t think that they’ll have a baby
but that would be a good one on Father,
I’m not sure why. I know a few jokes if
that’s all it takes to grab her attention.
I’d tell her, I know a dirty joke and
if she asked, What? I’d say, The white horse fell
in a mud puddle. That’s pretty funny.
All I know is when I’m at the doctor’s
for a checkup I always have to strip
my clothes and they leave me in that little
room which isn’t much bigger than Father’s
dresser and I’m all naked except for that
paper gown they give me that ties behind
and there’s nothing to do but examine
the calendar and cotton balls and ear
swabs and metal stool, and spin around like
at the drugstore, which is where they’ll take me
for a double strawberry ice cream cone
if I don’t cry, much, but I only cry
because they left me alone and I’ve got
what you call an imagination, so
next time I might take off my paper gown
and lie on the table like Miss May does
on those three pages and see what they’re made
of when they stroll back in. It’s nice they knock
but that won’t stop me. Miss May must have known
that they were taking her photograph, she’s
smiling in every shot so I wonder
if she’s sadder when she’s dressed or even
happier. I’d ask Father but if he
knew I was in his bedroom, it’s Mother’s
too, he’d skin me alive. Now that’s naked.
In Sunday School today Miss Hooker said
that every man must die. I think that means
every woman, too, and probably
every girl and boy, once they get old
enough or even not. Anyone can
die at any time, at any age, in
any way, I guess. Miss Hooker says that
then the soul goes to Heaven to be judged
and if God finds it wanting, that means not
up to snuff, not up to His high standards,
then it goes to Hell and burns forever.
I guess it’s like the burning bush backwards
and maybe a lot bigger, the better
to roast the souls of all the bad people.
I wonder what the population is
in Hell and how it compares to Heaven’s.
Something tells me it’s like the Civil War
–the Rebs put up a fight but couldn’t whip
Heaven in the end, even though the South
had warmer weather and some spirit but
I guess in Hell hate’s burning to a crisp.
I’d better be careful, Miss Hooker says,
and try not to sin, and if I do, which
I’m going to, being in a fallen
state, she says, I must pray in Jesus’ name
to be forgiven. Then I’ll be alright.
Whew. But if I die in sin, she warns, which
means I croak when I’m doing something wrong,
I’m doomed, unless I’ve done enough good to
balance out the bad. God keeps a record,
Miss Hooker says. My name is in that book,
The Book of Life, if I’ve been good, more
good than bad, I guess. But if I’m standing
before Him and He doesn’t find my name,
then woe to me. If that happens maybe
I’ll ask God to look again, maybe ask
if He wears glasses and could He please find
them and put them on. That might be good. He’s
pretty old, I guess, around a long time,
at least since He made everything–I think
that’s called Creation. Maybe He even
created Himself. That’s a neat trick. Or
has always been around and was never
born. If He was born then I wonder what
He looked like at my age. I’m almost 10.
I wonder who His parents were, or if
He even had any. I hope so. Me,
I’d hate to be an orphan but I guess
it has its advantages, but you won’t
get an allowance every week and
then go bust. I wonder what will happen
a zillion years from now. I guess that folks
will still need to die, still stand before God
to be judged. Will He still be up to it
after all those years? I’d be embarrassed
to stand there and watch Him search for my name
and The Book of Life be upside down. I
might be able to sneak into Heaven
anyway. If an angel catches me
I’ll buy some time by telling him that I
want to file a complaint. It’s worth a try.
But maybe by that time Jesus will have
taken over. Anyway, I’ll die long
before then, with God old but still too sharp
to fool, not that I really want to but
I’m afraid and that’s good, it might save me
from Hell. At the end of Sunday School class
today, I led us in the Lord’s Prayer.
I stood up, shut my eyes, and bowed my head
and said it like I meant it, even though
I knew that my classmates, or some of them,
mostly boys, would make fun of me later.
What do I care? I guess what that is is
faith. I’d rather take a ribbing than burn
eternally, which is a fancy word
for forever. Still, I wonder if God
died and I was stuck in Hell–and why not,
you get no second chance when you’re dead, as
far as I know–would I get out on parole
or would Satan be so excited that
I could escape and he’d never notice
and Jesus so darned blue He wouldn’t care?
But I can’t count on that. No, it’s better
to be good. When I said “Amen,” my voice
was the voice of Miss Hooker and the class.
I didn’t even hear my own. If I
lost it I got it back when I told her
“Goodbye, I’ll see you next week.” She took off
her glasses and said, “Goodbye, Gale–bless you.”
If I die before next Sunday I’ll be
sure to remember that while I’m burning.
Amen and Amen
In Sunday School I said the Lord’s Prayer
near the end of class like Miss Hooker asked
me to even though she didn’t so much
ask as order but anyway I did
it, her wish is my command, and then we
all said Amen, practically shouted
it, and that was that for one more week, no
more God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost
’til we return, I sort of forget Them
Monday through Friday–regular school
–and Saturdays, too, because I just play
since I’ll have to deal with Them tomorrow
again and then get them out of the way
for another week, and so on and so
on ’til I die, I guess, or at least ’til
the end of the year, when I’ll have someone
else to teach me, Miss Hooker left behind
to younger students. And then I’ll die. But
maybe not right away, maybe when I’m
older, a lot older, and Miss Hooker
dead long before me. Maybe I’ll see her
if I ever really get to Heaven
and maybe haven’t sinned too much by then,
too much sin means you go to Hell and burn
and burn forever. And burn some more.
Meanwhile Miss Hooker will be up yonder
with the saints and angels and Jesus and
the whole gang. I’ll never see her again
if I’m being tortured down in Hell so
starting tonight I’ll try to say my
prayers, unless I forget, so that God
will hang around every day of the week.
Sometimes I think I love things more when they’re
gone forever. I ought to tell my folks
I love them, and I should pray for them, too,
but I don’t. I’ll love them more when they’ve left
but they’re still here. I’m looking for a way
to love them now like they’re dead already.
That goes for my dog, too. It’s when things leave
that they’re closest, and when they’re around who
needs them as much as when they’re not at hand?
I ought to pray about that. I wonder
if God will know what I’m talking about
when even I don’t know what I’m saying.
If He doesn’t then He isn’t God. If
I don’t then I’m only human, and if
I do then I guess that I’m saved. Amen.
About the Author: Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has also authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He also teaches university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.