Noelle Wells

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In Her Own Words, Evelyn

He was my brain; I was his feet. That’s how we got on. His words were like pegs I could hang my heart on, his thoughts were where I could rest myself when I was tired. But his prayers! Those were the blueprints that rebuilt me into someone I could grow to love.

My first husband before Ben had no use for my words. He was an eraser, and I was a line he was slowly doing away with. This was on account of my empty womb, which he would say, never looking at me, was nothing short of an empty life. I was emptiness to him. He would walk through me and around me like I was a ghost he had no business in seeing. So eventually, I didn’t see myself either, and my tongue became a box of old linens that was ready to be packed away. And my dreams of babies—fat, pink, and warm against me—I packed those away to. I went so far as locking the door and throwing out the key.

When my husband died suddenly, I cried buckets. The folks who came visiting thought I was grieving, but I’ll tell you a secret: I wasn’t, I was having spring showers! The winter that had been my life was finally over. That was the day I began to believe that God might have something better for me.

When I found Ben some years later, he looked at childless old me like I was someone complete, with hands like fruit trees and feet like good soil. He didn’t mind what I didn’t know how to say. He just learned to say it for me, “In the strong name of Jesus, Evelyn, Amen!” He’d kiss the top of my head, and I would get on serving him his dinner. He never covered me with his shadow like I needed to be hidden. No, his shadow was just a nice good chair I could sit on and be carried along by. Ben was good to me.

I never planned to bury two husbands. I had hoped to bury the first, but I dreaded burying the second. I had thought it would be real nice to ride up to heaven with Ben, wrapped up in the coattails of his faith. He’d enough faith for both of us, and now I worry there is hardly enough left for one of us.

I’ve been alone again now for six months, and every day I have knocked on God’s door and asked him his purpose in giving me more time. But all he gives me is blank answers on blank papers. And with these fingers growing stiffer by the day, what am I going to do with that! When the pastor comes visiting lately, he brings me markers. The ladies at church told him I color now. It’s true, I do. He asks me how I am. I never say much, and I know it troubles him. He is young, new to this. His eyebrows strain like he is searching for lost words hidden in my eyes so he can understand something of who I am. I think I want to tell him, but it is hard to speak of being erased, to not know when it started—was it my father or first husband? I don’t know, but maybe God’s not letting me off until I do. Maybe he wants me to find that key I buried, unlock everything I put away, air out the whole sad story until I see something good in it.

Sometimes I wonder, and I am embarrassed to even think it, that I keep on because God wants me to learn how to be a brain for my feet, and to find words that could fall off my tongue like little seeds into a garden. These little seed words would make some pretty flowers grow. Maybe a child would pick them, look my way, and know they are from me. Maybe they would come my way, hug me around the waist real tight before running off. Maybe so, maybe so.

The Gospel of Skirts

“God intended to clothe you,” my mother would say when every skirt I wore was too short and every shirt gave opportunity for Daddy to sermonize the scandal of my neckline. “Higher up! Lower down!” he’d preach and I’d follow, hungry for the whiff of his presence blowing in then speeding out of our home.

But she, my overshadow, hung around me like a tent. Combing through every inch of my life with her long-knuckled fingers, she catechized the patterns of me till I moved in cadence with her. “God understood,” she would say, “that the mistake of Eve was her bare skin making Adam weak to the foolishness of her indiscretion with the serpent!” She was coy, the corner of her mouth dropping when her words were so good they dripped off her lips like chocolate. “Like Bathsheba did David, and Delilah did Samson, a show of skin, and a kingdom falls!”

She, not wanting of her own sermons, would lead me deep into the lower levels of our house, chanting her platitudes like songs. We’d go down one step, the next, farther in, deeper down. “A woman is a basement of a well-built house. She bears the shadows like a crown!” She’d continue, arrived now under the lone lamp of her alterations room. Needles clenched between her teeth, she’d start yanking my hems another inch lower. “But!”

One, two, three more yanks!

“If the basement tries to be the main floor, the house will crumble. Civilization cannot withstand a woman out of place! You’re a stool, you’re roots, ground water, tectonic plates—Daughter, listen!”

She’d pull me to her level grabbing my chin in her palms, kneading it like dough till the lumps were smooth and blue. “The bottom dwellers will rise!” She’d hiss like some ancient witch sure of her future eminence, the low light flickering incantations of shadows across her face. She, so like a nocturnal creature, cockeyed towards the light, would straighten me back up to observe my length for error and promise, and sure enough it would be there shaking like a small child in the corner of my eye. She, pulling fabric scraps from her basket, would rise to meet it. The gentlest I ever knew her—she’d dab the tear away. “At the last day he’ll see you covered head to toe in garments of holiness. It’ll all make sense then…that holiness hurts so much now.”

Our eyes, so rarely meeting, would try to reach to each other, but she, never done straightening and perfecting me, would fall like something hollow to the ground to continue her work. And there’d be nothing but the groan of pipes until—


She’d clap her hand in victory as the hem of my skirt tickled the tops of my toes! She’d close her eyes like she saw it: the two of us black, blue, and clothed all over, ready before Jesus to receive our reward. “The last will be first, little girl. That I know! Amen! Don’t I know it.”

She’d run her hands down the length of her denim skirt like it was rivers headed straight to Zion. She’d rock to-and-fro, lost to me in the fervor of her visions, humming her hymns and savoring her prayers. “Such a little price, for such a great reward? You understand? Tell me you do.”

Her eyes like lunar eclipses would startle open. In rhythm with the tickle of fabric against my toes, I’d nod with her such that the ripples of my longest skirt were like waves slowly guiding me to beaches of glory. “Such a little price…” I’d whisper, in awe of the work of her hands: her callous, needle-pricked fingertips; her latent, hope-fogged eyes; her red hands smoothing the tempest of my skirt
Till it was
As calm
As water
On a windless day.

Noelle Wells is a writer and counselor who hails from New England but is currently residing in Middletown, PA. She lives with her husband, and three children. Noelle’s work has appeared before in Ekstasis and Calla Press. She is inspired by the works of Eli Weisel and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

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Artwork: “Couple” by Lette Valeska , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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