Drowning Baby Prayer
It rains. Rains and rains and rains. We sit in uncomfortable chairs in a Quaker room walled in Quaker pamphlets. We sit in expectant silence.
Over the rain and the silence comes the sound of construction — a band-saw and an angle grinder. It’s really raining. Things are coming out of the drains. I nearly run over a rat and someone tells me they can’t stop using methamphetamine. I tell them, I think that’s the idea with methamphetamine. It could be a palm sander. I joke about he’s building an ark. I say it a couple of times in my head until it’s good enough to say out loud then I say it out loud and add ‘I hope so,’ because we’re all convinced friends here.
On the way home — before I see the rat, the giant rat, the rat that could have been a cat if it wanted — we talk about Catholicism. How it has everything we’re looking for.
‘When I was young,’ I say, ‘I watched The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn in it.’
Someone says, ‘Wasn’t that Julie Andrews?’ and we all say, ‘Nooo — that’s The Sound of Music.’
‘She got her hair cut,’ I say, ‘It was a great haircut.’
Someone says, ‘She’s wearing nail polish.’
I say, ‘Nuns don’t wear nail polish.’
And they say, ‘I know. But when she’s taking off her wedding ring at the end she’s wearing nail polish.’
We chatter like this after the Quaker meetings, like we’re on fire with making noise. I try to remember the prayer that saves a child from drowning. I was given it on one side of a small piece of cardboard with a prayer for getting people out of purgatory on the other.
I have no idea where the rat thinks it’s going. It just runs out of the drain and onto the street. Then I nearly run it over. Then it runs back toward the drain. When I get home it’s still raining. No more water is going down the drains. Water’s just rushing over the top and trying to force more down them at the same time. Like a metaphor for some sort of Freudian thing that explains why people can’t stop being evil.
The next day it’s still raining. My father rings and says he’s lost a gate and two palings from the fence. I ask him what a band-saw is and he tells me what I probably mean is a bench-saw and I say, ‘No, I think I want a band-saw.’ I find the drowning baby prayer folded to a tiny nub and squashed into a book about the Dalai Lama — like it’s waiting to hatch. Evidence that at one point I believed it would hatch. Some of the hill across the road falls down and a fire engine comes. I watch the light turn, red in all the grey and rain.
Listen to Pip Adam read ‘Drowning Baby Prayer’
I Believe in Jim Jones
It would have been my idea. I would have gone to my husband and my mother and my father and everyone I knew and said, ‘You have to hear this preacher from Lynn.’ I would have said things like, ‘Blacks and whites worship together,’ and ‘No one should be poor,’ and ‘Come to People’s Temple. Come see him. You have to see the Reverend Jim Jones.’ My husband would have come and some of my friends and my mother but my father wouldn’t. My father would never have come to People’s Temple. If my mother told him we were going to Ukiah he would have said, ‘Go,’ and later, ‘I sort of always knew I would never see them again.’
I would have held my hands high and soaked it all up — God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The words Pentecostal and Charismatic spinning in my thoughts, my every conversation and all the deeds I did. The special effects: glossolalia, prophesying, healing. All hail Jesus and the socialism of People’s Temple.
Jim Jones said, ‘I represent divine principle, total equality, a society where people own all things in common. Where there is no rich and poor. Where there are no races. Wherever there is people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am. And there I am involved.’ Jim Jones placed an advertisement in the Indianapolis Star saying he had some monkeys to sell. People came and bought his monkeys and heard about People’s Temple. He said, ‘Jesus Christ had the most revolutionary teachings to be said, in the sense that he said to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the stranger, administer to those who are widows and afflicted in their suffering. And we feel that no one really tried Christianity too effectively in the Judeo-Christian tradition.’ I would have to agree with Jim Jones.
I would’ve liked the promise of a new world and the singing. If I was sick or if my husband was sick or my mother or my child I would have liked the healing. I would’ve liked the healing the best. When we were well I would have baked something for the road the day we left for Redwood Valley. We would have packed our car and locked our door and picked up my mother and we would have left for Redwood Valley. When my father said, ‘Go,’ and I kissed him good bye I would have thought I would see him again — in the new world soon. I would have been hopeful and I would have spread that hope.
Any time my husband was quiet or thoughtful on the trip I would have said, ‘You got nothing to lose. Who else is going to stand and look you in the face and say “Come and I’ll give you a job. Come and I’ll give you a home. Come and I’ll give you a bed?” You say, “But I can’t even get a mortgage for a house,” “Go and leave your inability to enter the housing market behind,” Who else will tell you that? Who’ll tell you, “I’ll put you on that bus tomorrow”?’ My husband would have squeezed my knee as we drove along and said, ‘You’re right. We’re doing the right thing.’ My mother, from the back seat, would say, ‘Amen.’
When our pastor said, ‘Don’t talk,’ I wouldn’t have talked. I wouldn’t have turned anyone else in for talking but I would not have talked myself. I know that about myself. I’m a coward and not a hero but maybe People’s Temple would have healed me of that. I would have gone to Guyana. Even though I don’t know, even now, where Guyana is, I would have gone. Even if I suspected I was being none too bright. I hate admitting I’m wrong. When they started poisoning the babies I would have held my baby and I would have held my dying husband and I would have said something like, ‘I got us into this I’ll get us out of it,’ and then I would have, most likely, laid down and pretended to be dead and not been. When it was quiet I would have stood up and looked around. I would have shaken my head and been alone in the world again — without a family and without a church. I would have tried not to but I would have looked, straight away, for the next thing. I would have thought Jonestown was perfect without Jim Jones. It was heaven on earth. I would wander and stumble in the humid jungle waiting expectantly for the next thing — someone to lead me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pip Adam is a Wellington writer. In 2007 she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. She writes short fiction.