Maps in a Mirror, page 77
Billy didn’t know what to do. If he said anything before Bucky Fay asked him a question, the man would be mad, but what good would it do if Bucky Fay ordered up the wrong miracle? But then he saw how the man who had talked to him turned his face away from the camera and mouthed, “Paralyzed,” and Bucky Fay caught it and went right on, saying “Do you think the Saviour is worried? Paralyzed you are, too, completely helpless, and yet when the miracle comes into your body, do you think the Holy Spirit needs the doctor’s diagnosis? No, praise the Lord, the Holy Spirit goes all through you, hunting down every place where the devil has hurt you, where the devil that great serpent has poisoned you, where the devil that mighty dragon has thought he could destroy you—boy, are you saved?”
It was a direct question. “Uh huh.”
“Has the Lord come to you in the waters of baptism and washed away your sins and made you clean?”
Billy wasn’t sure what that all meant, but after a second the man squeezed his arm, and so Billy said, “Thank the Lord.”
“What the baptism did to the outside of your body, the miracle will do to the inside of your body. Do you believe that Jesus can heal you?”
“Oh, be not ashamed, little child. Speak so all the millions of our television friends can hear you. Can Jesus heal you?”
“Yes! I know he can!”
Bucky Fay smiled, and his face went holy; he spat on his hands, clapped twice, and then slapped Billy in the forehead, splashing spit all over his face. Just that very second the two men holding him sort of half-dropped him, and as he clutched forward with his hands he realized that all those times when people seemed to be overcome by the Holy Spirit, they were just getting dropped, but that was probably part of the miracle. They got him down on the floor and Bucky Fay went on talking about the Lord knowing the pure in heart, and then the two men picked him up and this time stood him on his legs. Billy couldn’t feel a thing, but he did know that he was standing. They were helping him balance, but his weight was on his legs, and the miracle had worked. He almost praised God right then, but he remembered in time, and waited.
“I bet you feel a little weak, don’t you,” said Bucky Fay.
Was that a direct question? Billy wasn’t sure, so he just nodded his head.
“When the Holy Spirit went through the Apostle Paul, didn’t he lie upon the ground? Already you are able to stand upon your legs, and after a good night’s sleep, when your body has strengthened itself after being inhabited by the Spirit of the Lord, you’ll be restored to your whole self, good as new!”
Then the man squeezed Billy’s arm. “Praise the Lord,” Billy said. But that was wrong—it was supposed to be thank the Lord, and so he said it even louder, “Thank the Lord.”
And now with the cameras on him, the two men holding him worked the real miracle, for they turned him and leaned him forward, and pulled him along back to the wheelchair. As they pulled him, they rocked him back and forth, and under him Billy could hear his shoes scuffing the ground, left, right, left, right, just as if he was walking. But he wasn’t walking. He couldn’t feel a thing. And then he knew. All those miracles, all those walking people—they had men beside them, leaning them left, leaning them right, making their legs fall forward, just like dolls, just like dummies, real dummies. And Billy cried. They got the camera real close to him then, to show the tears streaking down his face. The crowd applauded and praised.
“He’s new at walking,” Bucky Fay shouted into the microphone. “He isn’t used to so much exercise. Let that boy ride in his chair again until he has a chance to build up his strength. But praise the Lord! We know that the miracle is done, Jesus has given this boy his legs and healed his hemophobia, too!” As the woman wheeled him down the aisle, the people reached out to touch him, said kind and happy things to him, and he cried. His mother was crying for joy. She embraced him and said, “You walked,” and Billy cried harder. Out in the car he told her the truth. She looked off toward the brightly lit door of that flamboyant, that seductive tent, and she said, “God damn him to burn in hell forever.” But Billy was quite, quite sure that God would do no such thing.
Not that Billy doubted God. No, God had all power, God was a granter of prayers. God was even fair-minded, after his fashion. But Billy knew now that when God set himself to balance things in the world, he did it sneaky. He did it tricky. He did it ass-backward, so that anybody who wanted to could see his works in the world and still doubt God. After all, what good was faith if God went around leaving plain evidence of his goodness in the world? No, not God. His goodness would be kept a profound secret, Billy knew that. Just a secret God kept to himself.
And sure enough, when God set out to even things up for Billy, he didn’t do the obvious thing. He didn’t let the nerves heal, he didn’t send the miracle of feeling, the blessing of pain into Billy’s empty legs. Instead God, who probably had a bet on with Satan about this one, gave Billy another gift entirely, an unlooked-for blessing that would break his heart.
Mother was wheeling Billy around the park. It was a fine summer day, which means that the humidity was so high that fish could live for days out of the water. Billy was dripping sweat, and he knew that when he got home he’d have a hell of a diaper rash, and Mother would say, “Oh you poor dear,” and Billy would grieve because it didn’t even itch. The river was flowing low and there were big rocks uncovered by the shore. Billy sat there watching the kids climb around on the rocks. His mother saw what he was watching and tried to take him away so he wouldn’t get depressed about how he couldn’t climb, but Billy wouldn’t let her. He just stayed and watched. He picked out one kid in particular, a pretty-faced body with a muscled chest, about two years older than Billy. Her watched everything that boy did, and pretended that he was doing it. That was a good thing to do, Billy would rather do that than anything, watch this boy play for him on the rocks.
But all the time there was this idiot girl watching Billy. She was on the grass, far back from the shore, where all the cripples have to stay. She walked like an inchworm almost, each step a major event, as if she was a big doll with a little driver inside working the controls, and the driver wasn’t very good at it yet. Billy tried to watch the golden body of the pretty-faced boy, but this spastic girl kept lurching around at the edges of his eyes.
“Make that retard go away,” Billy whispered.
“What?” asked Mother.
“I don’t want to look at that retard girl.”
“Then don’t look at her.”
“Make her go away. She keeps looking at me.”
Mother patted Billy’s shoulder. “Other people got rights, Billy. I can’t make her go away from the park. You want me to take you somewhere else?”
“No.” Not while the golden boy was standing tall on the rocks, extending himself to snatch frisbies out of the air without falling. Like God catching lightning and laughing in delight.
The spastic girl came closer and closer, in her sidewise way. And Billy grew more and more determined not to pay the slightest heed to her. It was obvious, though, that she was coming to him, that she meant to reach him, and as he sat there he grew afraid. What would she do? His greatest fear was of someone snatching his urine bag from between his legs and holding it up, the catheter tugging away at him, and everybody laughing and laughing. That was what he hated worst, living his life like a tire with a slow leak. He knew that she would grab between his legs for the urine bag under his lap robe, and probably spill it all over, she was such a spastic. But he said nothing of his fear, just waited, holding onto his lap robe, watching the golden boy jump from the highest rock into river in order to splash the kids who were perched on the lesser rocks.
Then the spastic girl touched him. Thumped her club of a hand into his arm and moaned loudly. Billy cried out, “Oh, God!” The girl shuddered and fell to the ground, weeping.
All at once every single person in the park ran over and leaned around, jostling and looking. Billy held tight
Carefully she took a step, not toward her parents, but toward Billy. The step was not a lurch controlled by a clumsy little puppeteer. It was slow and uncertain, but it was a human step. “He healed me,” she said.
Step after step, each more deft than the last, and Billy forgot all about his lap robe. She was healed, she was whole. She had touched him and now she was cured.
“Praise God,” someone in the crowd said.
“It’s just like on TV,” someone else said.
“Saw it with my own two eyes.”
And the girl fell to her knees beside Billy and kissed his hand and wept and wept.
They started coming after that, as word spread. Just a shy-looking man at the front door, a pesky fat lady with a skinny brother, a mother with two mongoloid children. All the freaks in Billy’s town, all the sufferers, all the desperate seemed to find the way to his house. “No,” Billy told Mother again and again. “I don’t want to see nobody.”
“But it’s a little baby,” Mother said. “She’s so sweet. He’s been through so much pain.”
They came in, one by one, and demanded or begged or prayed or just timidly whispered to him, “Heal me.” Then Billy would sit there, trembling, as they reached out and touched him. When they knew that they were healed, and they always were, they cried and kissed and praised and thanked and offered money. Billy always refused the money and said precious little else. “Aren’t you going to give the glory to God?” asked one lady, whose son Billy healed of leukemia. But Billy just looked at his lap robe until she went away.
The first reporters came from the grocery store papers, the ones that always know about the UFOs. They kept asking him to prophesy the future, until Billy told Mother not to let them come in anymore. Mother tried to keep them out, but they even pretended to be cripples in order to get past the door. They wrote stories about the “crippled healer” and kept quoting Billy as saying things that he never said. They also published his address.
Hundreds of people came every day now, a constant stream all day. One lady with a gimp leg said, “Praise the Lord, it was worth the hundred dollars.”
“What hundred dollars?” asked Billy.
“The hundred dollars I give your mother. I give the doctors a thousand bucks and the government give them ten thousand more and they never done a damn thing for me.”
Billy called Mother. She came in. “This woman says she gave you a hundred dollars.”
“I didn’t ask for the money,” Mother said.
“Give it back,” Billy said.
Mother took the money out of her apron and gave it back. The woman clucked about how she didn’t mind either way and left.
“I ain’t no Bucky Fay,” Billy said.
“Of course you ain’t,” Mother said. “When people touch you, they get better.”
“No money, from nobody.”
“That’s real smart,” Mother said. “I lost my job last week, Billy. I’m home all day just keeping them away from you. How are we going to live?”
Billy just sat there, trying to think about it. “Don’t let them in anymore,” he said. “Lock the doors and go to work.”
Mother started to cry. “Billy, I can’t stand it if you don’t let them in. All those babies; all those twisted-up people, all those cancers and the fear of death in their faces, I can’t stand it except that somehow, by some miracle, when they come in your room and touch you, they come out whole. I don’t know how to turn them away. Jesus gave you a gift I didn’t think existed in the world, but it didn’t belong to you, Billy. It belongs to them.”
“I touch myself every day,” Billy whispered, “and I never get better.”
From then on Mother only took half of whatever people offered, and only after they were healed, so people wouldn’t get the idea that the healing depended on the money. That way she was able to scrape up enough to keep the roof over their heads and food on the table. “There’s a lot less thankful money than bribe money in the world,” she said to Billy. Billy just ate, being careful not to spill hot soup on his lap, because he’d never know if he scalded himself.
Then one day the TV cameras came, and the movie cameras, and set up on the lawn and in the street outside.
“What the hell are you doing?” demanded Billy’s mother.
“Bucky Fay’s coming to meet the crippled healer,” said the movie man. “We want to have this for Bucky Fay’s show.”
“If you try to bring one little camera inside our house I’ll have the police on you.”
“The public’s got a right to know,” said the man, pointing the camera at her.
“The public’s got a right to kiss my ass,” said Mother, and she went back into the house and told everybody to go away and come back tomorrow, they were locking up the house for the day.
Mother and Billy watched through the lacy curtains while Bucky Fay got out of his limousine and waved at the cameras and the people crowded around in the street.
“Don’t let him in, Mother,” said Billy.
Bucky Fay knocked on the door.
“Don’t answer,” said Billy.
Bucky Fay knocked and knocked. Then he gestured to the cameramen and they all went back to their vans and all of Bucky Fay’s helpers went back to their cars and the police held the crowd far away, and Bucky Fay started talking.
“Billy,” said Bucky Fay, “I don’t aim to hurt you. You’re a true healer, I just want to shake your hand.”
“Don’t let him touch me again,” said Billy. Mother shook her head.
“If you let me help you, you can heal hundreds and hundreds more people, all around the world, and bring millions of TV viewers to Jesus.”
“The boy don’t want you,” Mother said.
“Why are you afraid of me? I didn’t give you your gift, God did.”
“Go away!” Billy shouted.
There was silence for a moment outside the door. Then Bucky Fay’s voice came again, softer, and it sounded like he was holding back a sob. “Billy, why do you think I come to you? I am the worst son-of-a-bitch I know, and I come for you to heal me.”
That was not a thing that Billy had ever thought to hear from Bucky Fay.
Bucky Fay was talking soft now, so it was sometimes hard to understand him. “In the name of Jesus, boy, do you think I woke up one morning and said to myself, ‘Bucky Fay, go out and be a healer and you’ll get rich’? Think I said that? No sir. I had a gift once. Like yours, I had a gift. I found it one day when I was swimming at the water hole with my big brother Jeddy. Jeddy, he was a show-off, he was always tempting Death to come for him, and that day he dove right down from the highest branch and plunked his head smack in the softest, stickiest mud on the bottom of Pachuckamunkey River. Took fifteen minutes just to get his head loose. They brought him to shore and he was dead, his face all covered with mud. And I screamed and cried out loud, ‘God, you ain’t got no right!’ and then I touched my brother, and smacked him on the head, I said, ‘God damn you, Jeddy, you pin-headed jackass, you ain’t dead, get up and walk!’ And that was when I discovered I had the gift. Because Jeddy reached up and wiped the mud off his eyes and rolled over and puked the black Pachukey water all over grass there. ‘Thank you Jesus,’ I said. In those days I could lay hands on mules with bent legs and they’d go straight. A baby with measles, and his spots would go. I had a good heart then. I healed colored people, and in those days even the doctors wouldn’t go so far as that. But then they offered me money, and I took it, and they asked me to preach even though I didn’t know a damn thing, and so I preached, and pr
Billy nodded, tears in his eyes, and Mother opened the door. Bucky Fay was on his knees leaning against the door so he nearly fell into the room. He didn’t even stand up to walk over to Billy, just crawled most of the way and then said, “Billy, the light of God is in your eyes. Heal me of my affliction! My disease is love of money! My disease is forgetting the Lord God of heaven! Heal me and let me have my gift back again, and I will never stray, not ever so long as I live!”
Billy reached out his hand. Slow and trembling, Bucky Fay gently took that hand and kissed it, and touched it to the tears hot and wet on his cheeks. “You have given me,” he said, “you have given me this day a gift that I never thought to have again. I am whole!” He got up, kissed Billy on both cheeks, then stepped back. “Oh, my child, I will pray for you. With all my heart I will pray that God will remove your paralysis from your legs. For I believe he gave you your paralysis to teach you compassion for the cripple, just as he gave me temptation to teach me compassion for the sinner. God bless you, Billy, Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah,” said Billy softly. He was crying too—couldn’t help it, he felt so good. He had longed for vengeance, and instead he had forgiven, and he felt holy.
That is, until he realized that the TV cameras had come in right behind Bucky Fay, and were taking a close-up of Billy’s tear-stained face, of Mother wringing her hands and weeping. Bucky Fay walked out the door, his clenched fist high above his head, and the crowd outside greeted him with a cheer. “Hallelujah!” shouted Bucky. “Jesus has made me whole!”
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