by Vern Smith, continued...
A thirtysomething woman in a powder blue dress and matching shoes approached the pulpit, claiming an inoperable tumour festered in her throat. Farrell shook her shoulders, promising the tumour would wash out of her system in a week.
  “Let her be healed,” he shouted with confidence.
  The woman shuddered. She convulsed. Boys from the church stood behind, catching her fall backwards as her big, blond hair drooped.
  “I thank ya’, Lord,” Farrell bellowed.
  One parishioner after another approached Farrell. A woman with an arthritic hip. A secretary with Repetitive Strain Injury. A teen ravaged by cystic acne. A man battling alcoholism. The next cited gambling as his vice. Each physical reaction was like the one before. And with every healing, Farrell thanked the Lord.
  “How many believe in these wondrous miracles of God?” Farrell asked.
  “Amen,” the congregation said in unison, louder still. I watched and listened for Rudie to join in. And he did. He actually said “Amen.”
  “You fill my soul with elixir. Anyone else ailing?” Farrell pumped. “Anyone needin’ the touch of God, the specialist that allows me to see you all tonight?”
  Rudie rose to his feet with stuttered hesitation. Aside from Farrell, he was the only one standing in the church. The congregation looked to Rudie in silence. Their mouths hung open in anticipation of his walk to the preacher. Rudie’s moist, brown eyes called to Farrell, as if he was the hero from some Sunday School story. In return, the huge preacher was shielding his grotesque, pink gash against the shine of spotlights. A delicate sneeze broke the silence three or four rows behind me.
  “Don’t be shy, son,” Farrell chuckled. “The Lord wants your heart and soul, not your Sunday clothes. Come for some healing with me and Dr. J.C.”
  Looking down at his Chuck Taylor All-Stars, Rudie seemed to notice fresh drops of paint against worn navy canvass. His fingers ran across the thighs of Levi’s that hadn’t been snug for months. Past belt loops, and up to his ratty ash sweater, before telling Farrell, “It’s Tuesday.” A titter of laughter ran through the church, and Farrell waved Rudie up with a hearty laugh. Rudie moved to Farrell in a walking sleep. His white skin seemed more like porcelain in the bright stage lights. When he finally stepped in front of Farrell, the preacher’s empty eye socket was almost shut.
  “What are you ailing from, son?”
  More silence. Seconds hung in the air. Silence became impatience. Farrell began repeating the question just as Rudie blurted out the answer. Farrell was silent again, processing information before smiling, as though something occurred to him. I was sure Farrell and I were the only ones to hear Rudie say, “I’ve got AIDS.”
  The swollen preacher grabbed Rudie roughly, his meaty hands enveloping Rudie’s size-40 shoulders. Rudie lightly shut his heavy eyes, submitting himself, emptying his mind. Farrell shook him violently.
  “Let him be healed,” Farrell howled.
  Rudie shuddered. He convulsed. Church boys stood behind, catching Rudie’s fall.
  “I thank ya’, Lord,” Farrell bellowed.
  The church boys led Rudie back to his seat. Farrell removed his crude eye-patch and announced a mass healing. Then a woman wheeled her wheelchair to the far end of our row and rejoiced. Another woman, with rubbery, wobbly legs, struggled to hold her body, staggering on the spot behind me. With a hearty “Hallelujah,” she tossed her hands into the air. But neither of them were invited before Farrell.
  “Lord, touch the ailing people as you have touched me,” Farrell begged, looking to the ceiling. “Heal them for their undying belief, their convictions and their trust.”
  This time, Farrell shuddered and convulsed. Church boys stood behind Farrell, ready to catch his fall. Instead, Farrell caught himself and returned to his chair, awkwardly struggling for position again.
  “I thank ya’, Lord,” Farrell praised once more.
  Then came the pitch. There was always a pitch when Rudie was in the room.
  “I’m about $1,700 behind schedule,” Farrell announced with rehearsed remorse, his good eye darting through the congregation. “Car repairs, gas, hotel. It takes a lot of money when you’re working for God. So please, if you don’t contribute, I can’t carry on. Give what you can, or consider one of my recordings. Say Amen.”
  “Amen,” the congregation answered. Rudie, too.
  Some bought Healing with the Healed, Farrell’s latest cassette of audio offerings for $13.99. Others, including Rudie, opted for CD quality at $19.99. Then the offering plate came, and Rudie dropped another twenty into an assortment of Canadian and American bills.
  “How many need tax-deductible receipts?” Farrell asked.
  The next deadline was almost a year away. But the corners of Rudie’s mouth tugged upwards. He was smiling when he raised his hand, leaning to me and whispering something about feeling more awake. “And like, my sore throat’s gone.”
  I said nothing, doubting Revenue Canada would accept Farrell’s deduction. I watched Rudie rising to his feet again, this time to claim a tax receipt of hope. He’ll walk up to the Hassle Free Clinic and get re-tested tomorrow, I thought. Again.
  Farrell drifted off into the resident preacher’s quarters. Church lackeys frantically wrote tax receipts. Along with Farrell’s other contributors, Rudie was clamouring like a stock broker to claim his receipt. He was too busy to look to the far end of the front row, to that woman still sunk in her wheelchair. She was waiting for her husband to collect a tax receipt, too. I looked away to the back of the church. That other woman was bounding from side to side, staggering out on still-wobbly legs. Then, I turned back to Rudie. He was still too busy jockeying with the rest of them. Still too busy to notice.