A blurb nested between the horoscopes and a crossword puzzle was enough to ignite something in their collective imagination.
My sister had survived her cancer. The doctors were sure her case was terminal, but she survived it. The gene therapy, the relentless attention from vigilant nurses, the diligence and professionalism from the doctors, and the spontaneous remission of cancer known to happen in some patients, were apparently not the causes. According to Father Morgan, I was. Now I’m called the Miracle Child.
A mysterious rash had spread across my legs and arms during the time my sister was running out of options. When the rash dissipated, her cancer was in full remission. I was a suffering soul – a messenger of a god who decided to work through me.
This was a god who saw fit to save my sister from her cancer but not my mother from hers; a god who decided to reward Earl Wallington with a record harvest and cast my father’s farm into record debt; a god who decided to make the figurines in our home bleed while allowing four women and three doctors to be incinerated inside the abortion clinic on Main Street.
My palms are sweating but I’m hesitant to wipe them dry for fear that it’s a part of the process. The last time I wiped them dry Terry Halligan didn’t stand from his wheelchair.
My father told me that it was Terry’s faith and not my ability. He told me not to lose faith in myself. He told me that I had to be strong for all the others that came to our door. But as I watch the headlights bounce towards the house, I wonder if it’s faith that brings these people.
I make my way downstairs and enter the barn my father has converted into a makeshift chapel. I take my place in front of the pulpit and place the large collection bowl on my lap. I can hear the engines shutting down and the sound of doors opening and closing. My father smiles at me before opening the doors and welcoming the throng.
Terry Halligan has decided to make the trip again. He has a new chair – an aluminum frame decorated with racing stripes. It puts a smile on my face. I wonder if I could get a chair like that, but we need every penny to pay back the bank.
My father takes the collection bowl and asks everyone to pray with him for a moment.
After a moment, the people rise from their seats and lineup in the center isle. They walk up one by one so that I can lay my sweaty palm on their foreheads. Some of them shake violently as if gripped by a seizure.
Each episode begins with an explanation of what needs to be cured. Some are suffering from cancer, spinal injuries, genetic mutation, impotence. I touch them and wonder if I’m having any genuine effect. Then Samuel Tate from Norfolk, Virginia asks if I can cure his son of homosexuality. I bow my head and scream inside. I feign exhaustion and slump in my chair. My father asks them to wait a moment so I can gather my strength.
I turn and face the pulpit. People are growing restless but I don’t care. I place my hand on my own forehead and wait for a convulsion to take hold of my body and wrench me from my wheelchair. I want to run from this place. The image of my father, broken and penniless, keeps me.
Father Morgan had told me that I was chosen the moment the carbine ran across my legs. I was chosen by a god who trades miracles for loyalty, by a god who creates all within our domain, then leaves it to us to decide what he doesn’t want.
I wonder what sort of god creates choice as a test. I wonder what sort of god allows me to charge people money to end their suffering. I turn and look at Terry Halligan waiting on line, and I wonder if I should get malpractice insurance.
They come from all over the world and ask for miracles. They come from all over the world and test their faith. I lay my hand upon them and take away their ills. I wonder what sorts of private bargains they strike.
My father waves to the visitors as they drive off toward the horizon. I wonder if Terry Halligan will be back next year. I wonder if he blames himself. My father turns the lights off in the barn, as my sister rings the dinner bell.
We sit at the table and my father leads us in a short prayer. I’m hungry and the smell of the roasted chicken blending with the milky trail of mashed potatoes bastes my throat with anticipation. I wonder what we would be eating if I was not the Miracle Child. If I did have faith.