To Their Grinning Altars

by Marvin Shackelford

The Bible means more, but the brick is heavier. The brick is the only loose piece from the home they built together, a failing of the mortar along the porch, but the Bible has the family tree. It branches back before them to Ellis, to gangplanks dropped against New England rock. It singles down after them to son and daughters and has begun splitting and grafting away again. Their life a still, narrow point. She can dig on into the Bible and turn up the roots of all mankind. She can stumble through vows chanted and sworn and inscribed. She sits and thinks. She sits and drinks wine from the wedding, dusty from the cabinets. Too soon for it still, really. It’s wrapped up, the Bible, in black leather stiff with age and scoured smooth by fingers.

They didn’t carry it to church, never took it from a small cedar box on the coffee table’s lower shelf. She’d see it every time she glanced down through the glass if she ever thought to look or took any notice at all. She can’t remember. She knows it runs start to finish. She knows Jesus and Moses, Noah, and Peter and Paul, and Mary blessed mother, and all the big stuff. There’s salvation, and there’s Revelations. There’s fire and flood. She thinks about Jacob and Leah, Jacob and Rachel, years of work and misplaced love. Delilah taking Samson’s hair. She wonders about Mary Magdalene, if there was anything to that. She can’t think of a thing that ends well. Later, when she’s driven slowly across town and stumbled onto his new lawn with the short-mown grass wet between her toes, it’s the brick she finally tosses at the tall, scenic window of the house, but it’s Jezebel on her mind. Driving those men of God into the caves and hills and worshipping dirty little idols not worth the time. Delivering her husband to their grinning altars. The brick scatters the dark chime and thunder of the glass, maybe a shout, bark of a startled and angry dog, and she wonders for a moment where it will land, who will be struck, what they do next.


Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Blue Fifth Review, Wigleaf and elsewhere. He resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

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