FIESTA, CALIFORNIA | 1889
“Philomena! Wait for me,” a gangly eleven-year-old girl tagged with the mismatched appellative elegance of Lucette Narcisse ran after her best friend, elbows, knees, and bare feet all akimbo.
“Hey, Lu,” Philomena Gilliam slowed her pace by a fraction but did not stop.
“Why weren’t you at school today?” Lucette huffed, her breath sending out its own secret message in plumes of frost.
“Today’s a holiday,” Philomena stated, signaling that any elaboration was going to have to be pried out of her. Unfortunately for the reserved young girl, her friend was more than up to the task.
“Holiday? Today isn’t any holiday I’ve ever heard of,” Lucette protested. “How come the rest of us had to go, then?”
“It’s a religious holiday, Lu. You wouldn’t know about it unless your folks were GLOWers.” Philomena didn’t even wait for the coming question; the look on Lucette’s face was all the interrogation she needed. “The Golden Light Of Jehovah’s Word; my folks have been followers of the Reverend Fox … well, since before I was born.”
“Wouldn’t that be GLOJWers? I think you forgot the ‘J,’” Lucette quipped.
“Silly, you can’t write down God’s name,” Philomena explained. “It’s bad luck or something. Don’t you know anything? Besides, they do always come back from revival all lit up like a pair of Chinese lanterns.”
The girls walked in silence for no more than ten paces, Philomena mistakenly thinking that she was off the hook.
“Have you ever gone to one of those tent meetings?” Lucette finally asked. “I’ve heard it’s quite a show.”
“No,” Philomena admitted. “My parents always say that I’m too young. I guess there is some pretty intense stuff going on. I heard that Reverend Fox can speak in tongues, and once he cured an old lady’s blindness, clubfoot, and lumbago all at once. Mostly it’s just singing and testifying and things like that. Although, I did hear that there was going to be a snake handler this time … for the Pentecostals.”
“Snake handler, huh? That sounds like it could be fun.”
“How many people go to those things?”
“I don’t know,” Philomena pondered, “there’s people coming from all over the Central Valley. Could be fifty, maybe a hundred. Why?” Philomena finally stopped and gave her friend the full attention that she craved. Looking at her straight, unadorned brown hair, long, plain cotton skirt, and dirt-covered feet, Philomena saw herself reflected in the waif’s countenance except that her own long hair was as black as a raven’s tail feathers.
“Well, since you ask, I was just thinking with that many people in attendance, who is going to notice two more way in the back?”
“Are you crazy?” Philomena shot back. “If my parents caught us … caught me, it would be the last time I ever saw the likes of you!”
“Come on,” Lucette pushed, “what are you, chicken?”
Philomena’s blood rose up her neck and colored her cheeks. Lucette was her best friend, but if there was one thing that got under her skin, it was the way that she could manipulate her into doing exactly what she wanted by merely calling her afraid.
“What time does the revival start?”
“Seven. I don’t know why I’m telling you, though. We are not going.”
“You worry too much, Phil. We’ll sneak in, see what it’s all about, and then beat the crowd home. They won’t know what hit ’em.”
“ … ”
“I’ll see you at six-thirty,” Lucette didn’t wait for an argument and skipped off down the dusty street leaving Philomena to wonder what had just happened.