Preacher Jackson was pretty popular round the community. He was a farmer during the week and spouted hellfire and brimstone on Sundays, and almost every Sunday was invited over to someone’s house for lunch.
His wife, Miz Annie, was always quite the guest. Never content with being treated, the woman would always pack a cooler of deviled eggs or a passel of beans. People would sometimes wonder if it wasn’t her food and hospitality that brought more people to Jesus than her husband’s exhortations.
That made it all the harder for the entire community when she came down with the cancer.
The doctor’s office was far away, and even Miz Annie would admit she’d hidden the condition for longer than was good for her. It didn’t take long before she became bedridden and the death watches began.
When it was clear the last moments were near, Miz Annie took Preacher Jackson by the hand. Her skin was thin as paper and her face pale as a sheet. She’d not gone through radiation or chemo, so her hair was still present and her mind still very much intact. “I won’t leave you,” she said. “I won’t leave you ’til you leave me.”
Preacher Jackson shook his head. “I love you. I wouldn’t leave you for anything.”
And so he stayed by her side, only leaving for bathroom breaks and the barest requirements. Ladies at the church brought by food to sustain him (Miz Annie wasn’t eating anymore). Preacher Jackson’s and Miz Annie’s three children tried to get him to sleep in his own bed, but he refused and insisted on the small chair next to the deathbed.
She slipped in and out of comas, and her breathing slowed. Preacher Jackson’s fingers were on her neck, feeling for a heartbeat, about as often as they were wrapped around her hands in the hope she’d wake up again.
At last, while Miz Annie’s friends Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace were visiting, Preacher Jackson stood to take his leave. He wasn’t a spring chicken, and he still had to do the duties of a living man.
Right when he was zipping his fly and preparing to return to her bedside, he heard gasps and sobs coming from the bedroom. He barely washed his hands and completely failed to dry them before he rushed back.
Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace were holding each other’s hands, stunned while tears and short sobs ran down their face. Preacher Jackson tumbled past them and put his hand to his wife’s, finding it still warm but completely still. A touch to her frail neck told him what he feared most – she’d gone while he’d left.
At long last, Miz Kathleen put a hand to his shoulder. “It was beautiful,” she said, “It was… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“We saw the spirit leavin’ her,” Mama Grace added. “It was like a white dove, and it flew out the window. You should’ve been here, Preacher.”
Preacher Jackson wept on her bedside. She’d gone, left, without him there to see her off. She’d done just as she promised. Had he stayed too long? Had he made her suffer by his side?
With Preacher Jackson beside himself, Miz Kathleen and Mama Grace called around to start the wake. They curled Miz Annie’s hair and slathered her dead face with make up so she’d look natural. Preacher Jackson’s house soon became a pit of food and filled with reverent, gloomy worshippers that wanted to see the body of a woman so certain to be a saint.
The next day they put her in the ground and covered her grave with flowers and polypropylene ribbons. It was rare for such a showing to be seen for anyone, man or woman.
It took a long time for Preacher Jackson to return to the pulpit. But when he did, the fire didn’t burn as hot, and the brimstone wasn’t so painful. It may have been Mama Grace and Miz Kathleen that saw the miracle, but he understood God’s message. Up until now his official title meant he showed people how to get to heaven, but her flight from her body was proof she’d known the path better anyway.
If you’ve read my garbage for a while, you might remember Mama Grace showing up before. I’ve kept her in mind since publishing that because someone commented that they found her complex and interesting. This story is based off one she told me when I was little. In fact, it was so long ago that she told it to me that my descriptions are surely not quite to the exacting standards they should be. As such, I took a few liberties by keeping Mama Grace as the only real-life character and making up the situation surrounding what I do remember.
What I know is true is that she was tending to a dying woman once (a preacher’s wife), and she swore that she saw the spirit leave the body like a dove, reminiscent of when the spirit came upon Jesus after baptism. I’m not sure if people believed her or not, and I’m afraid to ask around in case no one else remembers this tale.