Brother Ben stood at attention in front of the church. It was damp outside. He looked up in the gray leaden heavens and coughed, wanting a cigarette.  "After worship is over I can take a walk," he thought. In the distance he heard the Boom-Boom of a oncoming motorist. And on Sunday morning! he thought. It was getting louder. His heart started to beat a little quicker. Boom-Boom a little louder. He reached down and touched his gun and  held the handle. The booming grew softer. The congregation start to sing “Old Rugged Cross.” His mind settled down and wandered back to shooting range yesterday. Ben was getting used to his new revolver, brushing up on his aim. As he was wheeling in the target, the fellow to his right joked, “You’d probably get a better score if your target was OH-bomber. Looky-here,” the guy chuckled and held up a picture of President Obama with a few holes in it. Then Ben looked suspiciously at him and said, “Maybe next time.” Ben reloaded and studied his face.

  Ben sneezed, covered his nose and mouth and sneezed again. I hope they didn’t hear me in church, he thought. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his nose. The note he had written to himself had fallen out and fluttered to the ground. He picked it up and read his scrawl: Butter, Potatoes and Bacon. His wife was cooking and she would be mad if he didn’t bring these home. Butter, Potatoes and Bacon, he thought again, trying to remember, BPB BPB.

  “To Pardon and Sanctify Me” — the hymn ended. He listened through the doors to the muffled sermon, trying make out the words. He looked out at the street. “Believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not will be condemned.” Butter, Potatoes and Bacon. He concentrated, but Pastor Matt was talking too softly. He couldn’t make out the words but could hear the timbre of his voice. He mind drifted back to the blessing Pastor Matt gave him before worship: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” He felt proud, needed and responsible when the elders asked him to protect the church during 11 a.m.  Sunday worship. It was respect he didn’t feel at home or at his security job at the Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield. Maybe I’ll try Bible study again, he thought.

  “Brother Ben!” His ears perked up hearing his name though the door. He strained to hear. “Prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty,” Pastor Will expounded. Brother Ben looked down at the Buick turning into the Pass ’n Pay cat-a-corner and down the hill from the church. The Buick parked on the side of the store by the dumpster. A man with long hair got out of the passenger side and lit a cigarette. The driver, shorter and with an afro, got out and made a joke to the passenger. They both laughed. The diver spotted Brother Ben, pointed  up to him and said something to the long hair. He replied with a remark, blew smoke and they both laughed again. Probably some punks from Jackson, he thought. They disappeared into the convenience store.

Ben tried to follow the sermon inside.

  Boom-Boom, the car was coming back. He tensed up and put his hand on his gun. Boom-Boom. The congregation loudly burst into song. “Be Present at Our Table, Lord!” Boom Boom. The two punks exited the store as the Boom-Boom Monte Carlo passed. The afro guy made a quick draw motion to the car with his hand, aimed and mimicked a gunshot with his voice. The long hair blew cigarette smoke and waved to the passing car. Boom-Boom. The car drove on. The afro dude looked at Ben, raised his hand to his face and blew over the tips of his two outstretched fingers, then stuck his hand in his pocket with great ceremony. They both laughed. Brother Ben frowned. The long hair put down his Coke on the vinyl top, pointed at Ben and gave him the peace sign with both hands. The pair laughed again, got in the car and drove away. Right then he heard Pastor Will through the door, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord goes with you.”  Ben pondered the verse, but Potatoes, Butter and something kept interrupting his train of thought. He felt in his pocket but couldn’t find the note.

Francis Pavy