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Forgiveness Follows Suit 

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Mother told me he memorized most of his sermons because of his terrible vision. His glasses distorted his eyes so much that the irises were vacant and wide, made owlish in appearance. My father walked with slumped shoulders down the aisle trying to find us when the pastor began.

"The fathers," Figg spat, "have eaten sour grapes." There were still people shuffling, finding their seats. Others had been talking, but Figg's abrupt start silenced them. Usually the service began with a welcome prayer or maybe a chorale, but never anything like this; nothing would have prepared us for this almost sinister delivery. Figg grabbed the edges of the lectern and savored the pause between.

He licked his chapped lips. "And the children's teeth are set on edge."

My father sat between us and did not move. The flush crept up from below his collar, but I could see my breath in the cold.

"What is this passage in Ezekiel telling us?" Figg continued, "What does it mean?"

Figg looked out at the congregation. I was certain he couldn't see us in the front, let alone those in the back. "Why are the actions of the fathers a reflection of the family?"

His words grew more fervent, increasing in volume. "Of the community? Of the church?"

He glared at my father. The whole room seemed to lean forward. My father stopped for breath in surprise, choking for a moment and coughing.

"Behold!" Figg shouted, "All souls are mine! As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine – the soul that sinneth, it shall die."

This was more like the Baptist preachers the kids at school talked about, the ones who would tremble and sway, sweating before the mighty word, than a mild-tempered Lutheran. Figg was engulfed in the full brunt of his Calvary, the fuming heat of the God-fire that lived deep inside his pink flesh had stayed dormant until now. He gushed and spat; the man acted possessed by a spirit I'd never seen, his face red and his white, limp hair falling to his bushy brows as he railed against grapes and forgiveness.

"The soul of the son is the soul of the father," he said, "the soul of the son is the soul of the home, if the soul is full of sin, it dies."

My father was still coughing, trying to smother it with his fist.

"Do we forgive them?" Figg demanded. My father began to gag.

The pastor compensated for the noise; he shouted across our heads, past us and into the world as if to lay down some challenge to all outside our walls, "We know they do know what they do."

Figg pounded on the lectern. My father doubled over, those in our pew looking down to see the commotion.

"The fire of doubt, the sin of secrets can burn, my friends," Figg sang, thundering majestic like the eagle, the lion, whatever we could muster as the fiercest animals known to us, "the fire of love can burn you, but God will protect you from the flame!"

And we all shook with his closing; the word blew past the church doors and into the empty and forgetful streets outside.

"There keeps a fire here," the pastor hollered across the pews. "This flame cannot be extinguished!"

The lectern shook and rocked, bucking against Figg's violence. My father righted himself as the hallelujahs rained down like hailstones. I'd never heard a murmur from the congregation before, but I turned around to see people standing and swaying. I wanted to see the look on their faces, what rapture looked like, but my father grabbed my arm hard and pulled me back to my seat. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

My mother, usually reserved like the rest of the congregation, added a hesitant "Amen" to the cries. Figg kept his eyes on my father, now I knew he could see us. They bulged, and flop sweat showered all over his index cards. My father looked blankly into his hand at the tooth nestled in his palm, a sleeping incisor flecked in blood, oblivious to the sermon.

My mother, her face drained of color, fumbled in her purse for a handkerchief and blew her nose. My father extended his palm, as if offering it to me.

"Baby," he whispered. I wasn't quite sure if he was referring to me or the tooth.

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