From The Snakebite Survivors' Club. In this extract the author is making his way to attend a church service north of Atlanta in rural Georgia.
A thicket of signs selling fireworks, the result of some bizarre state ordinance, announced Georgia, afloat with pink cherry blossom. Prosperous Baptist churches had neo-classical porticos and a nice line in motoring metaphor. 'Make the Lord your steering wheel, not your spare tire,' exhorted one. 'There are two finishes for cars; lacquer and liquor,' warned another.
Then the road ducked deep into the woods, where Kingston lay in a somnolent hollow. The nearby highway had leached the life from the township, leaving empty rooms behind handsome red-brick facades, cardboard panes where the glass had gone, and the passing of an occasional freight train that might once have halted here. The businesses had long since closed, or relocated to the strip at nearby Cartersville. Neglect had settled in, running licks of rust down the clapboard of Kingston's bungalows and gradually breaking up the picket fences that enclosed the gardens. Even the plastic flamingoes had fallen over , or been repeatedly hit and run by kids' bikes.
Only the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, perched on a green knoll outside of town, was neat - strikingly so. Church members were gathering for the evening service. In the basement of the church the women had laid out a pig roast, dishes of beans and salad and bottles of cola. More of the men had finished eating, and were gathered deep in talk around their parked pick-ups. They wore slacks and shirts but mostly no ties; the collar button was undone to reveal a white 'v' of working man's vest. Cuffs were ironed. Their shoes were polished. Their hair was cut short and kept tidy. They dressed with a scrubbed respectability that at once suggested decency , informality and modesty, and so placed them in another time.
Mostly, the women did not join them. When they had finished clearing away, they emerged, blinking against the light and palming away the gnats, to mix with the other women and their children. They were dressed in long, plain skirts, wore their hair straight and uncut, and did not wear make-up. Like their menfolk, they were gaunt people. Sallow skin stretched over angular jawlines, suggesting adversity, poverty and lingering illness. In many cases, their teeth were poor. They looked like austered innocents, subjects in grainy photographs: they looked like history.
It was the men who carried the boxes. The boxes were shallow, the size of briefcases. But they had been designed to be carried flat; neat handles protruded from the lids inf the manner of tool boxes. The cheap ply or pine cut-offs from which they were made did not conceal the quality of workmanship that was almost devotional . The boxes were varnished, and encrusted with decorative metal studs to form crosses. On some of them, the words 'Lord Jesus' had been stencilled in black. Gauze-covered squares had been cut into the lids like windows. They had heavy hasps, from which padlocks hung.
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