by Josh Skinner
Mama kissed her cheek; Papa patted her forehead. Then they pushed her outside and shut the door.
Lilly stepped into the downpour. Without her plastic body sheath, the rain felt different; not hot and spiky like Tommy Dolan said, and not icy like Becky Freeburn said; it felt soft and warm: God smiling down on her baptism.
Inside the farm house, the gifted members of the church sang the ceremonial hymns. She wanted to sneak up and spy through the window, but if she were seen, Preacher would chastise her, and her parents would be humiliated. Her brother Billy turned ten next year, so she’d get to sing with the other gifted adults while he was outside in the rain.
Preacher told her two things to remember during the baptism. One, open your mouth and try to swallow as much rain as possible; God’s gift exists inside each milky rain drop. And two, be thankful for whatever gift is sown into your belly. Sometimes God’s gifts are miraculous; other times, they test your shame. But it’s all part of His Divine Plan.
Lilly lifted her face, opened her mouth, and stuck out her tongue. The rain drizzled down her throat. It tasted bitter, but she forced herself to swallow. The rain flattened her long brown hair to her head. It soaked her white baptismal dress. It dripped off her fingers.
Three days earlier, Mama had put a drop of water on Lilly’s palm.
“Our skin is like a sponge,” Mama explained, as the drop dissolved.
“To absorb the rain — to grow our gifts. We’re not like those folk who wear their sheaths their whole lives — the Cathlicks in Jonesburg, or the heretics who shout at us to cover up, cover up! We’re Holy Water Baptists. We welcome the fruit of our Lord.”
And what would the rain give her? It was impossible to know. She wouldn’t see God’s fruit until age twelve, although some of the children saw theirs much earlier.
Lilly giggled and ran into the field, into the radish crop. The rain drummed on their wide, yellow leaves. Inside the body sheath, the rain had sounded like thousands of fingers rapping on the plastic, trying to get in. It frightened her. But now, outside the sheath, it was an electric sizzling; perhaps, Lilly thought, the voices of angels.
Her bare feet sunk into the cold red soil; a worm poked its enormous head from the earth to drink the rain.
“Drink,” she reminded herself, and opened her mouth.
Her stomach felt queasy, but Preacher had prepared her for that, too.
“It’s God planting His seed,” he explained.
“He’s going to grow you a gift.”
She bent to touch the greasy head of a worm — she’d never felt them without gloves, when she heard a noise from behind the barn.
Lilly stopped and listened: it sounded like the grating coughs her grandpa made after a big dinner.
“Grandpa?” she said.
She hurried toward the sound, crashing through the radish leaves and stepping on the heads of worms. Rounding the corner of the barn, she saw Clyde, their horse, sitting in the mud, legs bent under.
His big dark eye blinked at her as he choked out a neigh.
She’d seen it before; whenever God’s rain happened, Clyde would sit in the mud. Once, she’d asked her Papa about it:
“He’s kneeling,” he said, “as best as a horse can, to worship the Lord.”
“But when it rains, he looks sick.”
“Not in God’s rain.”
“But I’ve seen others get sick like that, Papa, after their bapt-”
“They ain’t sick, little girl.”
Lilly rubbed Clyde’s snout as he coughed.
She startled, and listened; it was difficult to hear above the rain static.
It was Preacher. The ceremony was over.
She hurried back, hiking her gown so as not to get it muddy. Preacher stood in the back yard, dressed in his black hat, cassock, and shoes. The rain fogged his glasses and spilled over the brim of his hat.
“Where were you?” he asked.
“Round back, talking to Clyde.”
“You should’ve been praying.”
“Yes, Preacher,” she said, hoping she hadn’t ruined everything.
“Did you open your mouth?” he asked.
“Yes, Preacher, I drank as much as I could.”
He stood before her and said, “You have been given a gift today, Lilly Ann. In time, it will grow; it will change you into a special, unique adult. You will help our community; you will not be ashamed of your gift, for shame is vanity.”
“What is shame?”
Preacher placed his right hand on the back of her head, his left hand on her chin, and his third hand — the stubby one that grew from his chest — made the sign of the cross on her forehead.
“Bless you,” he said.
Copyright © 2007 by Josh Skinner