As Daddy came down from the pulpit, the organist led Love's Angels into song and they followed as one, in high, soulful church voices.
"Ain't no way . . .
for me to love you . . .
if you won't let me!
It ain't no way
for me to give you all you need,
If you won't
let me give all of me!"
One sister stepped forward and took the lead: "I know that a woman's duty . . . is to haaave and love a man . . ."
"Looovve . . ." the other Angels backed her up.
". . . But how can I, how can I, how can I . . ." she sang with her hands windmilling furiously, "give ya all the things I can . . . if you're tying both of my hands?"
"Tie me . . ." the Angels sang.
"It ain't no way . . . !" the leader sang, then opened her eyes and saw Daddy standing by her side, his massive body filled with the spirit, his shoulders trembling.
". . . For me to lovvve you," she sang into Daddy's eyes. "If you won't . . . let me." Daddy then began rocking from heel to toe, heel to toe, gaining momentum like a child on a swing, then he bent low and leapt a full foot into the air.
With his prodigious size no one expected to see Daddy Love hold even that much sway over gravity, so none was prepared for what came next. Daddy Love, empowered by momentum, bent again, deeper this time, and leapt into the air. First he was a foot off the ground, then two, then four, then six, the titanic Daddy Love, robe still fastened tightly round his ginormous body, floating up and up, ten feet, twenty, his eyes closed, his hands outstretched, his face as peaceful as a just-fed baby. The music had stopped, the Angels were silent, and the church was filled with statues, mouths agape at their gargantuan leader hanging placidly, fifty feet in the air, almost close enough to touch the ceiling.
A woman, her mouth still open, touched her husband gently, as if full consciousness of the moment might end it. "It's a miracle," she whispered.
Then, someone stirred. Lily Backjack. Even hanging fifty feet in the air, with his eyes closed, Daddy Love could feel her stare, so cold ain't nothin in hell could burn you worse.
As Lily walked up the aisle toward the stage, her white ribbon floating and her belly protruding, everyone scrambled out her way. Daddy just hung there, high above them, frozen. All you could hear was the hard, steady clack, clack of her tall black vinyl boots. When Lily reached the stage she grabbed hold of one of the thick wooden boards and gave it a malevolent jerk to make a sliver of space. It was all she needed. She reached into her pocket, pulled out a single match, looked up at Daddy Love, and forced a smile his way. "Now, alla thems will know," she said, "whether or not I loveded you." She lifted up the sole of her right boot and in one fluid arc lit the match against her heel and dropped it into the small void. Pools of old, nasty chicken grease waited to suck it in. Lily turned with a flip of her curly hair and began walking back down the aisle. For three seconds, that clack, clack of her boots was the only sound. Then, an evil boom. As Lily, pushing a tortured smile through a river of tears, continued walking down the aisle and out of the building, the entire stage turned suddenly into a giant pool of tall, magenta flames.
Through the four seconds it took to clear the church, Daddy Love stayed calm. And during the following four seconds, as the stage grew and grew into a vast barbeque pit over which he hung like a giant, meaty, hi-yalla, free-range, Perdue chicken, Daddy refused to panic. But when he saw three men--who had disappeared just before he began to fly--burst from behind the curtain at the back of the stage, sprint through tall waves of fire, and race out the door trailing bright yellow, only then did Daddy Love lose his cool. He began to shake and wriggle, but he could only twist and turn and help himself be cooked more evenly. He could not loosen the wires that held him up. He could not lose altitude, could not free himself from the invisible cross he'd put himself on. An edge of robe drooped down and a flaming tongue leapt up, a hungry shark, and bit into it. He reached down and snuffed out that small blaze, but the fire was growing fast, climbing the walls and scrambling round the floor, dancing, wild and free, broiling the aisles and wrecking the tables, appearing to be flapping its hands madly in the air without a care in the world.
Daddy Love looked out over our burning church and saw that in the corner there was someone left, a boy lying on the floor, clutching his ankle, cringing in pain, the joint spilling blood that was a red much fuller and blacker than that of the yellowish red of the fire racing toward him from all sides.
"Daddy! Fly down! Save me!" the boy screamed out.
Daddy struggled again to free himself and succeeded only in making his robe fall full open so the boy could see he had on a cheap pair of white cotton briefs.
"Daddy!" the boy bawled like a babe. "Save me, Daddy! Aaahh!"
Then Daddy Love stopped squriming, wiped his sweaty face, closed his eyes, and bowed his giant head in prayer. He felt not the fire leaping and licking from all sides at his toes and neck and ass, but only the need to call on the Lord. "Father!" he screamed out above the deafening cackles of the burning building. "Have I strayed? Have I gone wrong in trying to give my flock the sunshine they need to get through, to get through the days, to get through the jungles keeping them from happiness? Hath I erred in trying to use your name and your teachings to show my flock how to be happier and freer and more loving? Have I not employed your name to make lives brighter? Lord, any mortal can see a man's fall, but only you know his internal struggling, the tears shed in the midnight of his soul. Please Lord, don't take the boy. Reach down and touch us now!"
Daddy looked into the corner, but a blindingly yellow patch of flames had taken it over. Inside his giant chest, hot tears began shaking loose. Then he looked up. The boy was floating slowly and calmly in the air, ten feet, twenty, forty, up toward the ceiling, out of the reach of the fire on each wall, snatching out at him and missing. Soon he reached the ceiling. Fire had chomped at almost every inch of wall and crevice of floor and the boy floated through a fire-eaten hole in the ceiling and landed on a part of the roof. He looked back through the hole at Daddy Love, fire from everywhere closing in on him as he dangled helplessly in midair. Daddy looked at the boy and mouthed, Don't linger now. The boy leapt from the roof half a moment before it caved in and landed squarely on the KFC sign. As they crowded in the parking lot around Kentucky Fried Souls and watched the walls of the church crash in on one another, leaving the immense palace a huge pile of blackened rubble, a rumor began slithering through the crowd--Girrrl, Daddy ain't gilded lil Lily . . . was that no-good Bishop! Meanwhile, the boy sat safely, waving gleefully, sixty feet up, atop the portrait of that good ol neo-massa Colonel Sanders, as a fractured but breathing memory of Daddy Love began its ascent into rare air.
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