“Will you heal me?” asked a parishioner.
“I will… pray,” the reverend said and prayed a prayer about solidarity with the sufferings of Christ.
“You know,” Maya said to the reverend, Lee coughing between breaths behind her, “I heard the Methodist cross has flames because of passion, right? Like Wesley? What happened to all of your healers?”
The Reverend said, “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction. Not always healing.”
“Bull,” Maya said.
“You know where the name ‘Joplin’ comes from?” The Reverend asked.
“Harris G. Joplin,” Maya said “Another preacher.” She spat the last word.
“Oh he founded this church, sure,” The Reverend said, “and the town named after it.”
“He did?” Lee asked.
“Sure, sure,” The Reverend said. “Most everyone’s heard that story: Methodist circuit rider named Joplin gets to the edge of Missouri. Finds a creek. Plants a church with a guy had the last name Langston. Langston’d heard about these healing waters, told Harris, but they couldn’t find it. Many in this church’s post have searched over the last century – even me. So yeah, the town’s named after him. But his name Joplin. Where’d it come from?”
All three were silent.
“Jop-lin. Job-lin. Job,” the Reverend said. “Job thirty-six: He delivers the afflicted by their affliction. Sounds like Joplin to me.” The Reverend coughed.
“So?” Maya asked. “That doesn’t help us.”
The Reverend laughed. “Unless you know that some say in that verse where God asks Job ‘Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Do you know where the gates of death are located?’ is where the name comes from. Job’s Leuknaiad, Jobleun, Joplin – Job’s White Water Spirit, the spirit of healing. Read the book: Job’s healed and gets his fortune restored not too long after two chapters full of verses pointing to the exact same spirit, but he went through a book full of pain and his friend’s bad answers first.”
The Reverend paced off and prayed for another nearby with a mask.
When he returned he said, “Sorry I don’t have the cure.”
“’Sorry’ doesn’t help,” Lee said. “I need an answer for my mom. She’s got the same thing everyone else has.”
“Same thing they have,” he pointed to the congregants, “same things I have and same thing you have, it looks like. In time, you’ll see it, son. We afflicted know some things the healthy never know. We know that waiting pays off. We know that healing can be abused, hoarded, others can refuse to share it. We know that those with the power to do so could bring new, better life if they chose. If Harris Joplin’d have known what Carver knew about the loam soil, he might have found it himself, but the main shaft had shifted by the time I made the connection.” The minster laughed and shook his head. “Peanuts. I should have followed the peanuts and I would have found the source.”
“What are you talking about? Do you even care?” Lee asked.
His tone became harsh, defensive. “Of course I care!”
“But without supernatural intervention, there’s not much I can do but to pray and feed the sheep and bind up their wounds, can I? I can’t much find the source without a map or trail that hasn’t run cold.”
Maya said, “You’re useless.” She shook her head and said, “Let’s get out of here before I melt.”
The minister sighed. “Thanks for stopping by. Godspeed on your search.”
“Forgive the rudeness of my friends,” Thulani said.
“They are forgiven.”
“We know the pilgrimage is not so long with good company, yes my brother?” Thulani asked.
“Why did you apologize to that schmuck?” Maya asked.
Thulani said, “He’s only a man. He’s not God. And he knows that – he’s not claiming to be God. He’s trying his best, as a man, and you must see that.”
Lee picked up his phone and called his mother again.
“Mom?” Lee asked. “Call me, please. I have to see you.”
“You okay?” Maya asked.
“Fine, yeah, fine.”
Maya said, “You care too much.”
“About my own mother?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “It’s sweet but…”
Lee coughed hard.
His mother texted back I’m fine. Getting some tests done. Can’t see you till tomorrow.
Lee called back to Thulani, “You’re supposed to… hold on.” And texted back When tomorrow? Give me a time and give it to Uncle Monroe. To Thulani, he said, “You’re doing it wrong.”
“That’s what they said to G-dub-C,” Thulani said.
“Did you seriously just say G-dub-C?” Lee asked.
Thulani said, “Just between us, I think when I say G-dub-C, you know exactly what I am meaning. I figure if we join forces, our powers combined make an African American.”
Maya said, “I was born in Africa on a peace corps voyage. I’m an African American. The black guys born here are American Africans.”
“I’m not. I’m a Zulu African. Africa’s a continent, love.”
“So’s America,” Maya said and added, “mate.”
“Well of course I knew that.”
As they moved outside, Thulani went back to the exhibits. The Audubon caretaker met up with him and said, “Since you brought it up, I don’t know about all this soil and stuff, but if you want some rich African American history, you should get ahold of Joplin’s last mayor. Melodee. She owns a soul food kitchen on Langston Hughes.”
“Alright,” Thulani said. “Thanks.”
Meanwhile, the sun was setting over the balcony. Lee was growing curious about how all of the soil sampling would work.
“I have a contact at the Audubon we could try for the soil samples,” Maya said.
“Audubon?” Lee asked.
“John James. The ornithologist.”
“Guy studied Christmas Ornaments?” Lee asked.
“Oh. What do we need him for?”
“Audubons — they’re named after him. We’re going to an audubon, one that preserves some chert. There’s a hollow in the chert, some sort of crevasse.”
“No, a crevasse. A crevice is child’s play This is one of the places that might have been the waterfall behind Thulani’s Indian Brave.”
He coughed harder.
She waited for him to finish. Then she asked, “Why are you so attached to your mom?”
He cleared his throat and said, “The day Dad left Mom, I wasn’t home.”
“I was out with college buddies. Came home and they were having their last fight – first one I’d ever seen, though.”
“She was asking me, ‘Where were you? Where were you?’ and I was standing there wondering the same thing, wondering why I hadn’t been there.”
“Oh,” she said, “oh.”
“Good Lord,” Maya said, “did you find enough peanuts?”
Thulani said through a mouthfull, “Huh-uh.”
“Everything important’s just outside of town,” Lee said. “The Audubon. The Falls. This. Everything you guys care about. Why?”
“I will show you,” Thulani said. He took them into the mock-up one-room schoolhouse. “I came here to buy some of their older maps. The manager didn’t seem to need them anymore…”
“Okay, you see this?” Thulani asked.
“Because Joplin was the base between the mines,” Thulani said. “And we need a central focus point from which you can draw concentric circles of mines, springs, and rivers outwards.”
“Joplin,” he said. “And the four states mines.”
“The springs and rivers that rose up because of it.”
“The bend in your Mr. Twain’s Mississippi.”
“The cluster of your Great Lakes and bays.”
“The curvature of your continent. The locations are a radius for us from the center. So yes, just outside of town. Specifically, all of the outside points of town in an organic circle like the rings of a tree. The World Tree, some might call it, and we’re hunting for her sap.”
“Now I have a headache,” Lee said. “I don’t—”
“You see the little circle?” Maya said.
“Yes,” Lee said.
“That’s us. You see the big circle?”
“Yes,” Lee said.
“That’s every part of history that revolves around us. All comes back to this source.”
“Gottit. Where to next? The John James place?”
“The John James place.”
“We give thanks to you, oh great scholar of ornaments.”
brought to you by the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau
written & directed by Lance Schaubert
produced by Carrie Puffinbarger