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A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Flannery O’Connor

Harvest, 1955

The world is a crooked place. Blackness at the edge of the forest. Darkness on the river. Misfits just around every corner. A cracked smile could mean a thousand poisoned arrows. Serpents who twist and slither. There’s hot breath on your collar. A bad whisper in your ear. Fangs lift high like diamond record needles. Sharp and wet and ready to bite.

“I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,” he said. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t really my name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long. And I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga,” he said, using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!”

Flannery O’Connor’s stories are twisted. Grotesque. Her characters odd and out of place. People disfigured and alone. Maladjusted. Malformed. Fallen angels and shifty demons. All broken and lost like rusted trucks on the side of the road. Redemption might come soon but the devil will sure get you first. Strangers take their hats off when they greet you. They call you “Mam” and stay for dinner. They fix your shed and fence. They sweet-talk your shy daughter then burn your house down in the middle of the night. Don’t say hello. Don’t ask them in. Just take your bibles and go, please. Much like the sweet stench of the Fuller Brush man. You invite him in and he’ll never leave. He’ll drink all your booze and rape your children. Better not answer the doorbell. Better not answer at all.

Mr. Shiftlet felt that the rottenness of the world was about to engulf him. He raised his arm and let it fall again to his breast. “Oh Lord!” he prayed. “Break forth and wash the slime from the earth.”

Something is calling from the river. It is alive and moving beneath the cities. Beneath the sewers and toilet flushings. It’s inside the wind pipes and roof drains. It’s in the cold drippings of a thousand household faucets. It’s time itself moving darkly beneath the ground. Circling the earth in a darkness never known before. It’s black. It’s baptismal. It’s brackish water at night. Cold drops to the forehead. Latin words to the soul. Words that echo cold and damp down peeling church walls. Life is sacrifice. Life is pain. Life is birth and death but never salvation. We will never know each other. We are strangers.

Then Mr. Head explained the sewer system, how the entire city was underlined with it, how it contained all the drainage and was full of rats and how a man could slide into it and be sucked along down endless pitchblack tunnels. At any minute any man in the city might be sucked into the sewer and never heard from again. He described it so well that Nelson was for some seconds shaken. He connected the sewer passages with the entrance to hell and understood for the first time how the world was put together in its lower parts.

Odd that Flannery was such a staunch Catholic. Stranger still, her connection with otherness, with darkness. How it crept around almost everything in her life. Our life. It was under the porch. Under the bed. Under the arms and nails. It was everywhere, even In the hollow hole where your voice came out. Your parents were gone. Your husband disappeared. You were a drifter and alone. You had an artificial leg. An artificial house. There was an artificial nigger in your garden. wasn’t everything artificial? Everything nothing but darkness?

“I’m lost!” he called. “I’m lost and can’t find my way and me and this boy have got to catch this train and I can’t find the station. Oh Gawd I’m lost! Oh hep me Gawd I’m lost!”

Go to the river. Wade in deep. The river is a dark stream. She bears you up. She carries you away. The sun is a sad disk floating through a hard water of darkness. She will burn on forever (So you think). There are a billion of her out there alone in the universe. Sad bobbing lamps drifting in the dark. Poor globes moving onward. Alone.

His coat floated to the surface and surrounded him like a strange gay lily pad and he stood grinning in the sun. He intended not to fool with preachers any more but to Baptize himself and to keep on going this time until he found the Kingdom of Christ in the river. He didn’t mean to waste any more time. He put his head under the water at once and pushed forward.