Four days before her sixth birthday, Glory Hallelujah Bishop knew a whole lot of things. As a matter of fact, she knew more things than anybody else in her kindergarten class. She knew all her letters, and she knew c-a-t didn’t say “cuh-at”—it said “cat,” like a real cat that said “meow.” And s-t-o-p didn’t say “stop sign” or “red light” or “stop it” or “freeze”—it was plain old “stop” and meant stop just like the word said. And Glory knew not just school things—she knew important things, too, like how to spell and write her whole name and her mama’s name and her daddy’s name and her address and her phone number and her mama’s phone number at work and the license number on her daddy’s truck and the phone number on the door on her daddy’s truck.
But that day, the most important thing Glory knew was that weddings were dumb and wedding ladies were crybabies and wedding boys were dumb and flower girls were the biggest, meanest dummies in the world. They were so mean and dumb in their big, dumb, fluffy dresses with their dumb ribbons, throwing their dumb flowers—and they were all doing it wrong anyway—that God was going to get them and make them ugly one day because it was a sin to act pretty in church.
Glory stood on the balcony, looking down on the empty church sanctuary where that day’s wedding had taken place. The only kids allowed down there were wedding kids, so Glory and the other children had watched from the balcony. Everybody said it was happy, but almost all the ladies had been crying. Glory hoped there wouldn’t be another wedding the next day. It seemed like lately, every time they came to church, there was a wedding. There’d been two the day before, and her mother hand sung in the choir and cleaned up both times, and today after church there was another one, and her mother was still in there, talking and cleaning up.
“Hey. Whatcha doin’?”
Glory sighed. “Nothin’.” She glanced out of the corner of her eye but didn’t look directly at the boy on his hands and knees beside her. Josiah Jackson wasn’t one of the wedding kids because he was a bad boy. He always had to sit out in the hall because he acted up in Sunday school, and his mom or dad always had to come and get him out of the nursery during church service. Sometimes, they even had to take him into the bathroom to straighten him out. When he stood up beside Glory, close enough that their shoulders touched, she moved over a step.
“How come you wasn’t a flower girl?”
“I don’t wanna be a flower girl.” Glory wouldn’t say out loud that they were mean dummies because she didn’t want God to get her and make her ugly for saying mean things in church.
“Flower girls are stupid anyway. Trina is the stupidest.”
Glory’s eyes went wide, and she gaped at the very bad boy standing beside her. “You can’t say stupid in church!” Glory whispered as loudly as she could. “God is gonna get you for saying that!”
“Well, you just said it!” Josiah didn’t whisper at all. “Is God gonna get you?”
Glory turned away from the bad boy and took a giant step to the side. Of course, Josiah followed, so she took another step, and another. After many more steps, they’d moved almost halfway around the balcony that encircled the sanctuary, and their battle of wills had turned to giggles. The game paused when a teenage couple walked into the sanctuary, looking around. Glory and Josiah watched the pair hugging and kissing. Well, at least, Josiah watched. Glory covered her eyes when the kissing started.
“It’s okay. You can look now,” Josiah whispered.
Glory peeked through her fingers. The teenagers were still kissing. She covered her eyes again and heard a thump as Josiah fell over, laughing. She peeked again to see the teenagers looking and pointing in their direction. The teenagers laughed and waved as they walked out, the girl with her arm around the boy and the boy with his hand on the girl’s bottom. The girl tried to push the boy's hand away, and he whacked her. The girl just laughed. Glory decided teenagers were dumb too.
“Hey, c’mon!” Josiah said suddenly. “I wanna show you a trick!”
Glory watched the bad boy running down the spiral staircase.
“It’s not bad—I promise! Hurry up!”
She followed him but didn’t run. Even though she wanted to see the trick, following Josiah had gotten other kids in trouble, and watching him do a trick in church was probably a bad idea. At the bottom of the stairs, Josiah gave her a handful of flowers that had been left lying around from the wedding.
“Wait right here,” he said. “I’ll tell you when.”
Glory watched him running again to the front of the sanctuary and shook her head. No matter what the trick was, she was not going to run in church.
“Okay, you can come here now!” Josiah called. “Bring the flowers too!”
Glory looked around and then walked to meet Josiah. She wondered if she looked like the flower girls walking up the aisle, even though her dress was yellow and she didn’t have ribbons and she wasn’t acting pretty.
At the front, Josiah bounced on his toes, grinning. “Okay. Do you like ice cream?”
Glory scrunched her eyebrows and looked at him. She wasn’t going to be tricked into saying a bad word in church, so she just nodded.
“I promise it’s not a bad trick.” Josiah laughed. “You hafta talk. Do you like ice cream?”
Glory sighed, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Yes.”
“No, you don’t.” Josiah said
“Huh? Yes, I do.”
“Nope. You dooon’t,” Josiah sang.
“I do!” Glory said again as loudly as she dared.
Josiah broke into a wider grin. “I do too. Okay. Here’s the good part. Close your eyes.”
Glory folded her arms and stared at him.
“C’mon. It’s not gonna be bad. I promise.” He smiled at her again. “Trust me.”
Glory took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She felt Josiah’s hands on her shoulders, and then it was over so fast she wasn’t sure what had happened. Her eyes flew open, and her hand went to her mouth. She stared at the grinning boy in front of her. “Josiah, you just kissed me?”
“Yup!” He smiled like he’d just done the best trick ever. “Now we’re married.”
Glory gasped. “No, we’re not!”
“Uh-huh.” Josiah laughed. “This is our wedding. We said I do, and you let me kiss you. That means we’re married!”
Glory looked at the flowers in her hand and dropped them like they burned. “You tricked me! You take it back right now!”
“Nope, Mrs. Glory.” Josiah picked up the flowers. “It’s too late. You’re married to me now.” He offered her the flowers again, still smiling like he’d won.
“No! I’m not married to you, Josiah!” Glory pushed him down, and she didn’t care if it was mean. She didn’t even care if God was going to get her for it. There was no way she was going to be married to a bad boy like Josiah. When he didn’t stop laughing and kept calling her Mrs. Glory, she hit him in the head with the flowers, and when he kept laughing, she bent down and hit him in the arm with her fist, and when he still wouldn’t stop laughing, she sat on him and kept hitting him. Josiah shielded his face with his arms, and Glory hit him everywhere she could, demanding that he take back their marriage until she felt herself being pulled off of a laughing Josiah by the teenage boy they’d seen earlier.
“How y’all gon’ be fighting in church?” The teenager held Glory up by her wrists so her toes were barely touching the floor.
Josiah sat on the floor, leaning back on his elbows, smiling up at her. “Sometimes married people fight.” He shrugged.
“We are not married, Josiah!” Glory didn’t care about being quiet in church anymore.
“We just got married today.” Josiah stood up and dusted himself off. “Now she mad.”
“Married, huh?” The teenager laughed. “I don’t know, li’l man. This one might be too much for you.”
Glory was so angry she had to fight back tears. Struggling against the smirking teenager holding her wrist, she kicked at Josiah. “Let me go, you mean dummy!” She pinched the teenager, and he grabbed both of her wrists in one hand.
Josiah was starting to look not so happy.
“Li’l man, if you wanna be married to this woman, you gon’ need to control her, or you might get hurt.”
Glory kicked the teenager as hard as she could.
“Okay, let her go now,” Josiah said. “We’ll stop fighting, right, Glory?”
“I’m not married to you! Leave me—”
The hard smack on her bottom stunned her but not as much as the roar that came out of Josiah as he rammed his head into the teenager’s belly, sending everybody tumbling to the floor.
“Don’t you ever hit my wife!” Josiah kicked and pummeled the overwhelmed teenager while Glory scrambled to her feet. “Glory, run!”
Glory took off running and didn’t stop until she reached the back of the sanctuary. She turned to see the teenager on his knees, laughing, and Josiah using karate moves just like the robots on TV. “God is gonna get you for tricking me, Josiah!” she yelled as she climbed the stairs to go find her mother.
At home, seated at the kitchen table, Glory watched her mother spoon and stir the brown chocolate powder into a tall glass of milk. After church, after the walk home, after changing clothes and eating dinner, mother and daughter had sat down to enjoy a dessert of flower-shaped butter cookies and, for Glory, a glass of chocolate milk. Her mother, Mary, had a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Glory dipped a cookie into her milk and counted to one—any longer, and the cookie would fall apart and sink, leaving muck at the bottom of her glass. Her mother sipped her coffee and took long, slow puffs on her cigarette.
“That was sho’ a nice wedding today, wasn’t it?” Mary said, blowing smoke into the air. “Jamette was so lovely. They gon’ have a blessed life.” She sipped her coffee.
“Mama, what happens when you get married?” Glory asked. “I mean after the wedding part. What do you do next?”
Mary coughed and put down her coffee cup. A puff of smoke blew out of her nose. “Well, baby, after the wedding…” She sipped her coffee again. “They start married life. They live together and have a family.”
“So they hafta live together to be married?” Ah-ha… I can’t be married to Josiah because we don’t live together.
“Well… sometimes married people don’t live together. Like, your daddy mostly lives in his truck, but we’re certainly married. His job makes him be gone a lot. And Jamette’s new husband is going away to the army, so they’re not gon’ live together. She’s gon’ stay with her mama, but they still married.”
Glory’s heart sank. She dipped another cookie and forgot to count, realizing too late that she had only half a cookie in her hand. “What do you hafta do when you’re married?”
Mary sighed a little and took a deep drag on her cigarette. “Well, baby, Bible says husband take care of the wife, love her, give her what she need, protect her, teach her, make her godly. Wife obey the husband, do whatever he say, don’t shame him, take care of the home, take care of the babies.”
Glory thought about Josiah, and her heart sank even further. He had tried to take care of her. He’d fought the teenager to protect her. “Oh.” Glory picked up another cookie. “How do you stop being married?”
“Bible say what God has joined together, nobody can take it apart. Once you married, you married.”
“But I don’t wanna be married!” Glory blurted. “And today, Josiah—”
“What?” Mary sat up straight in the chair, her eyes wide. “What you say?”
“I said I don’t wanna be married,” Glory whispered.
“Don’t you ever let me hear you say no mess like that!” Mary snapped.
Mary stood up from the table and grabbed the extension cord hanging by the back door. “You hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Glory cried, pulling her knees up to her chest, making herself as small as the kitchen chair would allow.
“I’m raisin’ you to be a good, godly woman, and tha’s what you gon’ be, understand?”
Mary shook the extension cord in Glory’s face. “You ’a be a good wife and a good mother and obey yo’ husband. You understand me? Answer me!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Glory trembled, tears streaming down her face, not daring to look away from her mother.
“Ain’t gon’ have you runnin’ around like yo’ Aunt Ruth, all them demons up in her, tryin’ to be a man. I’a give you back to God first! You be a good wife just like God made you, understand me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Glory sobbed.
Mary dropped the cord on the table. “Good. Now, finish yo’ milk.” She sat down and lit another cigarette.
Glory wiped her tears, drank her milk, and suddenly understood why wedding ladies were crybabies.
Just breathing in the crisp night air made Glory feel free. The February wind was cold, but the sky was clear, and she could see the stars. Even though her whole body ached and burned, and she was covered with cuts and welts from her mother’s extension cord, on this bitter-cold Valentine's eve, Glory slowly made her way up Seventy-Fifth Street.
She had always loved Seventy-Fifth Street in the South Shore neighborhood, with its bright lights and beautiful—and not-so-beautiful—people. In warmer weather, it would be alive nearly all night with traffic and music and pulsing neon beer signs in the tavern windows. Seventy-Fifth Street was where she’d dreamed of living one day. A cute little third floor apartment… just she and JT, looking down on the streetlights or up at the stars. They would have been Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, living happily ever after.
Glory had taken maybe thirty steps when she realized she was getting near the gangway—that gangway. She slowed her pace. The opening between her building and the next looked like a black cave… a black hole… a black doorway to her nightmares. Getting closer to the gangway, Glory moved to the curb. That night was her first time out alone since Malcolm had rescued her from a rapist in that gangway—since the twenty-seven-year-old minister had become her gallant protector.
After nine o'clock on a Monday night, Seventy-Fifth Street looked like a ghost town. Most of the shops were closed and dark, their metal gates locked tight. The tax office was still open, its fluorescent light casting a greenish glow on the sidewalk. Up the street, a local tavern spilled music and smoke every time the door opened, and a few men stood huddled in the cold outside the corner store—Glory’s destination, the only open business in the area with a pay phone.
Glory stepped from the curb into the dirty-snow-covered street. The dark gangway loomed in her peripheral vision as she gave it wide berth, barely shielding her face in time to keep from being sprayed with slush by a speeding car. As she lowered her hands, she felt her four gold bracelets slide down her wrists. They had been a gift from her fiancé, Malcolm, this past Christmas. She’d been thrilled and flattered when he’d locked the engraved bracelets onto her wrists: I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. The jingle of the bracelets was a constant reminder of Malcolm’s love and protection.
Each step she took, she prayed the cuts and welts wouldn't start bleeding again. Fighting against the biting winds of the frigid February night, with her bracelets jingling softly, Glory tried to pick up her pace, but the moist bandages on her legs rubbed against her long skirt and loosened. Her head ached from that fall against the metal bed frame, and the gauze covering the gash was barely enough to staunch the blood flow. The purging shouldn’t have been a surprise. She must have been possessed by demons to say the things she’d said to her mother. Did demons of doubt make me question God’s will?
“What if God sent somebody else for me?”
Did demons of disrespect loosen my tongue and cause me to speak against Malcolm?
“Mama, he’s too old for me! I’m only seventeen! I don’t wanna marry him!”
Did demons of worldliness make me forget my place, make me ungrateful, make me argue?
“Why can’t I be normal? I hate this!”
Pulling her collar tighter, Glory walked the two blocks up Seventy-Fifth Street to the store with the pay phone. She had no idea who she’d call. She wished she could call her friends Tressa and Christy, but having no phone at home, she hadn’t bothered to learn their numbers. She could call the salon, but her boss and best friend, Herschel, was not likely to be there on a Monday night, and what would she tell him? He’d want her to go to the hospital, but that was out of the question. And what would I tell a doctor? They might lock her up if she said she was injured in a demon purge.
Glory shivered. The small movement sent lightning bolts through her aching head and caused her undershirt to rub against the open wounds on her back that she hadn’t been able to reach. That old extension cord, cracked and jagged in places, had scraped across her skin, raising welts and opening cuts, digging into the flesh on her left side, arm, and leg and on her back. Her mother wielded the weapon, shouting prayers to bind Glory’s demons, and Glory sobbed and screamed for Jesus and begged for mercy. And when she could scream and cry no more, when she had no energy left to fight, when the pain was so much that she could no longer feel it, Glory drifted off to sleep while her mother pressed a pillow over her face to see if God would take her this time.