Unsaid 7: THE NAMES (Excerpt from SCRAPPER), by Matt Bell


names picThe circle turned and the congregation turned around its hem, the apostle leading his followers, their feet dancing behind his feet, tracing the invisible circle his steps circumscribed, a geometry of belief cut across the stained concrete floor, the blackened squares where the rows of washers used to be. The circle contained and guided them and as they turned they lifted toy swords and crimson banners, raised voices toward tongues. The folding-table altar held the speakers and the speakers were containers too, containing cheap electric crackle and the salvation of the congregation, which did not require fidelity, only volume, the voice of the spirit technology-amplified, extracted out of the fire and the dove and magnetized onto tape and uttered upward at decibel strengths born of the far end of the dial.

There were ways to take the air out of a room and this noise was one conceivable method.

Along the edges went the chairs, the buckets lined with plastic bags, ready for the vomit and the retching and the casting out. The congregation used to unfold the chairs into rows but now the chairs were rarely used. Let the faithful sit in their houses. In God’s house they would stand and move to his word. The spirit needed space to churn but the apostle wasn’t fancy about smells, walls, former tenants. The apostle had held his services in the former laundromat for many years and there were enough brothers and sisters to fill the circle. Any empty room could be a space for the spirit to move. The apostle raised his hands, strung some syllables of speech together. He wrote his sermons but during the service he said whatever the spirit put into him, voiced the submarine calls of aah-ooh-ga, the high-pitched yip-yip-yip of the coyote.

The apostle and his ministers were there to work the deliverance, to cast out the demons of anxiety and shyness, the demons of addiction, the demons of obesity and fornication. So many Christians wasted God’s money on psychology and psychiatry, like science could fight a demonic symptom even one inch. The apostle cast out the demons and the demons came back: See one sister, with the big black bouffant and the wide eyes and the plastic sword held aloft two-handed on quivering arms, baptized on a Wednesday, speaking tongues on a Sunday, back on the street one week and back in church the next.

It only took one good moment to get the demons out. The miracle wasn’t how you were cured. The miracle was how God was willing to cure you again when you fell.

The miracle was that the swords were just imported plastic, made from recycled soda bottles and lead paint. It was the symbol they needed, not what the symbol was made of.

The apostle began his sermon, gave his cardinal testimony: He had been an autoworker, a reserves officer in the police force, a taxi cab driver. In the cab he’d never shut the sliding partition between him and his fares because the spirit wanted it open. He was the open window that followed the shut door. Once the backseat passenger put a little Israeli SMG through the window. A weapon had been fired twice in his cab and the bullets hadn’t ruined anything but the machine. In each instance the apostle had kept driving, begged his loudest prayers, enfaithed the situation: Sometimes they had a conversion right there. Other times the gunner withdrew the weapon back through god’s little window, took the rest of his ride. Not every attempt succeeded. Another time a prostitute he’d talked Jesus to for an hour stepped out of the cab and reopened for business right there, exposing her bag of tricks to anyone close.

He’d bought the services of a whore once too but those days were behind him. Now he was immuned against her, her employer. Now he worked for the Lord, who paid him in addicts and pedophiles, wife beaters, rapers, the homeless, the lost. There were at least one hundred eleven ailments a deliverance could cure and his saints could name them all. When he told stories, he encouraged people to take notes. A reminder of what could go wrong. Later he took questions from the audience: Do you bind the demons together or do you bring them apart? What’s the most demonic drug? What’s the demon who giggles?

His name is Mockery. He fears and hates Psalm 18, can be driven off by its obligation.

Tattoos drew demons close. Piercings revealed the promiscuous. A woman with a stud in her nose had opened herself to wantonness. When the microphone squealed it was the demon Bling Bling. It wasn’t a biblical name but most of the demons weren’t so named. The enemy bred them from scratch in every age, improved his technology. Anything new could bear his sigil.

He’d seen third-degree burns take on cloaks of baby skin, seen cataracts leeched from eyes. Mending broken legs was old and easy work that started in the circle, with the dancing, the music so loud it could shatter eardrums for the spirit to heal. The will was tied to the flesh. You had to get the body exhausted so what ailed it could be drawn free and broken by the word.

The apostle clapped, asked for a volunteer: Who among you came to be delivered?

Now someone unfolded a chair, placed it before the two ministers in heavy sweaters and slacks flanking the one to be delivered. Everyone else shaking plastic swords in the air, howling in tongues, spinning the circle. From the street passersby could see what they were doing, through the floor-to-ceiling glass meant to show off the mechanics of laundry. Some of the storefront churches smeared their windows with paint or covered them with paper but the apostle left them clear, kept them clean. Some nights the apostle saw a face pressed to the street-side of the glass, leaving the smear of the curious. Inside the church they weren’t doing anything needing hiding. He wanted the dark streets to see the bright work being done beneath fluorescent light.

The one to be delivered: the apostle could see what was inside him, could reckon all his failures, the demons, yes and the bad choices, too: because not every bad thing was the enemy and this man before him had as much free will as any other.

The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him.

Demons aren’t complicated, the apostle said, smearing a thumbprint of ash across the other’s forehead. No need to confess their every title. Just give us their names.

Give us Grief. Give us Sorrow.

Say the names Abuse, Abuser, Abused. Say the name Suicide.

If it’s drink then name it Drink. If it’s drugs then name it Drugs. If you’re a thief then you’ve got a thief inside you, named by his action.

Name the killers, the apostle said. Speak the every name of every bedeviling thing. The music boomed. The congregation held their swords up and they spoke their high speech and at his command the apostle saw the angels filling the room too, their winged glory summoned, their pale and dark faces. God had made an angel for every shade and an office to obliterate every shadow and they were in the room too, ready for the one who was to be delivered to call out the names of their opposites and as he did so the expressionless angels stepped forward and put their flaming brands to what was called. Someone put one of the plastic-lined trash cans in front of the one being delivered and he filled it with retch and when it was out of him the two ministers on his sides lifted him to his feet, wrapped him in their embrace, a new brother.

Say what you’ve come for, the apostle said, and the one delivered answered.

Sanction, he said. Protection.

The one delivered was wobbly on his feet but the ministers added him to the circle again, got him back in step, pressed a dollar’s worth of plastic into his hand. There were others to save and his voice would help the saving get done—a charge, a commission. The speakers offered loud directions to the body and if the one delivered couldn’t speak right yet it owed to how he opened his mouth. He could mimic, work out some call and response. Later perhaps he’d earn his own voice, his own universal manner of speech. The apostle hollered above the noise, danced with his feet high, his knees lifted, kicking up his robes, promised tonight they would all sleep sweet dreams, and the one delivered heard this, considered. The apostle said it was hard to sleep with the lights on but it was impossible to rest without the light within and by the end of the night they would all have their light renewed. The apostle said he would preach until dawn if it delivered them all. The apostle said he was sixty-two years old and if it took forever to put all these waiting angels to work then he planned to live forever.






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1 Response to Unsaid 7: THE NAMES (Excerpt from SCRAPPER), by Matt Bell

  1. Pingback: Vol. 1 Brooklyn | Morning Bites: A Matt Bell Excerpt, Rosie Schaap on Kurt Weill, Lincoln Michel Fiction, Ritual Mess, and More

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