First Place | Fiction Writing Contest

56th New Millennium Award for Fiction

Rebecca T. Godwin of St. Pauley’s, South Carolina for “Saved”

Godwin will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.



Rebecca T. Godwin

Standing sideways and looking into the full-length mirror in her bedroom, Rae Ann Masterson ran one hand over herself, starting above the curves of her breasts, high and full and held even higher by the red halter top of her new bathing suit, then trailing down ribcage to belly—nearly flat, just a hint of roundness, like a promise. Below that her pelvic bone arched out a little and her bottom rose to balance the fullness of her bosoms. She sighed. 

Pure vanity this was, one of the seven deadlies. Still, she was thirty-nine today, which she didn’t look at all. She’d most likely get carded at the 7–11 if she tried to buy cigarettes or beer. Not that she ever would. Clean living’s what kept her looking like this—along with God; Trey too, probably.

Lifting her blonde hair up off her neck with both hands, Rae Ann faced the mirror, pouting her lips, a gesture natural as breath. Hourglass, that’s what the pageant people had called her kind of body, the ideal: 36–24–36. She put her legs together, standing tall in her high, straw wedges. Good: a space between the thighs, between calf and knee, between ankles. Just the way Mama’d always said the pageant people looked for, the way God intended. Still, though—at thirty-nine! Into the mirror Rae Ann smiled her realest smile, then collected her beach bag and hat. So maybe it was vanity, she thought, or maybe it was just another way to praise the handiwork of the Lord. She’d figure how to ask Trey about that; it was the kind of philosophical question he liked to sink his teeth into.

Glancing into the hall mirror on her way out, Rae Ann bit her lips to red them up some. The mirror hung low, like most everything else in the house that Trey needed to be able to reach. Her mouth still seemed pale, so she rummaged in the beach bag for her makeup kit and applied creamy red lipstick. Flame it was called, and it matched her suit to a tee. Rae Ann slid her lips against each other—there, much better—and smiled big into the mirror again, checking her large, white teeth for any stray trace of red.


When Rae Ann Grimes first laid eyes on James Middleton Masterson the Third, she was seventeen, he was twenty-four; he stood at the head of the class, she sat quietly in the middle of it, hoping not to be called on. It was English III, and even when she read those poems two and three times, she couldn’t make head nor tails of them. Rae Ann, he would call her name, no matter how small she scrunched in her seat. Mr. Masterson, she would answer, looking him full in those blue eyes of his that all the girls talked about, widening hers up as much as she could, so maybe he could see he needed to quit calling on her: I just don’t understand.

She got by fine in most of her other classes. Everybody in Red Hill knew Rae Ann was destined for something, and it had nothing to do with school anyway. It had to do with being blonde and tall, slim but curvy; with having a beauty queen smile, a beauty queen walk, a beauty queen attitude; with having been in at least one pageant every single year since she was four years old and placing in plenty of them; with having a voice much bigger than a girl her age should have—the voice of an angel, her mama always said. But apparently none of that registered with Mr. Masterson—he just kept calling on her.

One day in the middle of that year, he put his hand on her arm as she started out of the classroom. Stay a minute, he said, and through the fabric of her blouse she could feel the warmth of his fingers. I think I can help you, Rae Ann, he said, if you want to understand. She closed her eyes when he spoke her name so quietly, and it just the two of them. I do, she said. I do want to.

Mr. Masterson tutored her twice a week after school, reading sonnets and odes and sestinas out loud, his voice rising and falling like Reverend Cantrell’s. After a while, he would stop reading and talk about what it meant, what the poet was trying to say. Rae Ann let her attention wander then, she couldn’t help it; she waited again for the music of words, which fell on her like balm, a blessing.

In her senior year, Rae Ann sat in the front row of Mr. Masterson’s English IV class. She raised her hand so much that he sometimes had to ignore it. If I call on you every time, people will wonder, he told her after class, as she leaned against his shiny yellow Camaro in the parking lot. Mr. Masterson’s teeth were so white, she thought, not so much listening as looking, his face so tanned, his hair with that one unruly wave. His stomach was so flat and the hair on the back of his hands gleamed gold in the sun.

At seventeen, Rae Ann knew a thing or two about men—not boys, she’d never even had a date up to then, unless you counted Jeepy Montgomery, her third cousin, who’d taken her to see Bonnie and Clyde the year before and slipped his arm soft around her shoulders, all the while keeping his eyes on the screen until, when everybody laughed at one part, he clapped his hand right onto her bosom and dug in, like maybe he intended to take it off with him somewhere. She threw her popcorn in his face and leaned close to let him know that what he’d tried to do was incest, for his information, a mortal sin. Anyhow, Rae Ann wasn’t about to do that kind of messing around. Her mama’d taught her well: She was saving herself for something big.

Not that she knew yet what that was, just that it didn’t include boys. Nor did it include the pageant men she’d been around for the past fourteen years—mostly judges, but also emcees and setup men and even an occasional father or two. Just a handful of males in that sea of femaleness—girls and mothers and sisters and aunts, hairdressers and girl cousins. Everybody with one idea in her head: winning.

It made for a lot of ugliness—funny if you think about it, Rae Ann always thought, ugliness at a beauty contest—but nobody knew much about that part except the ones in the middle of it. Rayon Grimes: Junior Miss Walterboro had called her that two years before, arching her eyebrows. Isn’t that something like dirty clothes? A few of the other girls laughed, but nobody did a minute later when Rae Ann’s hand left a red print on that hussy’s cheek. She knew for a fact that Miss Bowlegs Walterboro was the dirty one—she’d seen her stumbling out the men’s room the night before, hair mashed flat in the back and makeup all blurry, and right behind her that big-bellied, bald-headed judge from Beaufort, looking pleased as if he’d just eaten an entire pie. There was absolutely no other reason for that girl to have won Junior Miss Congeniality like she did the next night.

That was how things went at some pageants, especially the older you got. In the Little Miss competitions, it was the mamas who played up to the judges, maybe going behind the auditorium with them for a smoke or a sip. Somewhere around the Junior Miss competitions, it started to be the girls themselves laughing and talking low with the judges after an interview session, disappearing every now and again around a corner. Rae Ann herself had been approached she couldn’t tell you how many times; but her mama’d taught her that her body was a holy thing, and pageants were, too. Only the chosen few made it to the pinnacle. 

Along the way, a few little things had happened. The worst was that time she’d let the president of the Sumter County Jaycees guide her hand to the inside of his pants, where she’d felt something lively as a snake move against her skin before she pulled back, turning blindly for the ladies’ room to scrub her palm in water hot as she could take. She did win second runner-up in that pageant, and it bothered her ever after, because she never knew if she might’ve done better because of that episode or in spite of it. Never told her mama, who would have been mortified.


By the time Rae Ann graduated high school that year, her mama was mortified, as it turned out. In April, she succumbed to the sugar diabetes that had plagued her long as anybody could remember. Sugar had killed her grandmama, too, before Rae Ann even got to know her. Her daddy—she’d been named for him, which was about all the evidence of his existence—had run off right after she was born. So twenty-four hours past turning eighteen, one month before graduating from high school, and seventy-five days before she intended to represent Red Hill in the Miss South Carolina pageant, Rae Ann Grimes found herself completely alone in the world.

Except for Mr. Masterson, who, on the night after her graduation when he took her to dinner in Myrtle Beach, told her to call him Trey from now on. Rae Ann had thought she was holding it all together so well, but when he said that, she burst into tears and sobbed for two hours in his car. After that, things fell apart for a while: She couldn’t get herself out of bed in the mornings or practice her song or muster an appetite. But Mr. Masterson—Trey—came to the house most every day, talked her into eating, suggested walks or a ride in the country—anything to take her mind off things. She just needed time, he said.

The day she picked up the phone and called Mr. Donny Mack Nesmith to say she wasn’t going to be able to compete—nervous breakdown wasn’t the term she used, but it was the one on everybody’s lips within fifteen minutes, like some tasty, secret sin—Mr. Masterson was right there beside her. After hanging up, Rae Ann cried the bitterest tears of her life up to then, picturing that pitiful Carleen Rainey up there in Columbia instead of her, the Miss Red Hill banner resting on her padded chest and her beehive hairdo covering her big, pinned-back ears as she tilted her head up, waiting for that silvery baton to come twisting back down to her. 

Rae Ann collapsed in a helpless heap on the sofa. Mr. Masterson gathered her up to himself and rocked her like a baby, smoothing the hair back from her hot face with his cool fingers. It was what she’d always, always wanted, she cried: her destiny. Things generally happen for a reason, he told her. Maybe your destiny’s something bigger.

What could be bigger than the biggest beauty pageant in the entire state of South Carolina? She started to ask him that, but instead looked into those sky-lit eyes of his: so serious, so kind. It hit her then, like a bolt. What she’d been saving herself for wasn’t some old beauty contest. It was Mr. Masterson. She wouldn’t be Rae Ann Grimes anymore—now that she thought about it, she could hardly wait to get shed of that name, like washing her hands in holy water. Sprung fresh from thin air she’d be, born again as a Masterson—an old name in Red Hill, one that went all the way back.

When they married that fall, Rae Ann gave herself away. And when her new husband took her to Disneyworld for their honeymoon, she was glad for how she’d saved herself: Mr. Masterson didn’t deserve anything less than a hundred-percent pure girl, and now he’d got one.


At the very last walkway on the north end of the beach, Rae Ann parked the yellow Camaro. Twenty-three years old it was—Trey’d had it two years longer than he’d had her, he always used to say—and still as shiny and new as when she’d leaned against it all those years back. Pristine, he called it, and saw to it: fiddled with the engine and oiled the leather, had it waxed regular and painted, too. All that, even though he hadn’t been able to use it for going on eighteen years. Rae Ann only drove it around town—to the beach or the grocery store. They used the van for everything else—all up-to-the-minute outfitted for Trey and paid for with money from the folks who believed in him and what he stood for—just like their house was, and the food on their table, and when you got right down to it, even this new red bathing suit she’d bought herself as an early birthday present. That was why Trey harped on so about decorum. People expected more from the wife of a preacher, whether he was ordained or just handpicked by the Lord. Even more so in that case, he said.

She knew some folks in the congregation whispered about the clothes she wore. But the way Rae Ann saw it, this body was a gift from the Lord, and you’re not supposed to hide your light under a bushel. A precious vessel—she’d read that somewhere—needs tending. Rae Ann took that responsibility to heart: exercise, touchups to keep her blondeness fresh, brow-plucking and face-creaming—whatever it took to keep her, well, pristine.

At the end of the walkway, Rae Ann left her shoes, keys, and hat beside the steps. They’d be safe, she thought, though there had been an article in the paper last week about some craziness on one of the beaches—a man exposing himself to people. Grace Whitmire had called her about it just yesterday. I know you walk on the beach a lot, honey, Grace had said, in that breathless way of hers that got on Rae Ann’s nerves. Maybe you should stick closer to home, at least till Trey gets back or they catch this pervert.

What made a person a pervert, Rae Ann wondered, giving her hamstrings a good stretch as she gazed out towards the green water. Were people born like that, or did whatever happened in their lives warp them? According to Trey, God gave every one of us certain gifts and burdens to bear; what you did once you got hold of them was the test of your nature. If you couldn’t overcome your burdens, your soul might just be damned. Your choice.

But Rae Ann didn’t know. She’d studied the newspaper photographs of that nice-looking Ted Bundy, for instance, trying to see could she tell something from his eyes—maybe glimpse his damned soul in there. But the Bundy boy just looked handsome and sweet. How could he be a cold-blooded killer, what everybody called a monster? She couldn’t say why she’d spent so much time reading those stories, thinking about such dark things. Trey wouldn’t like it one bit. You got to aim for the light was one of the things he preached over and over. Which he certainly was living, breathing proof of. He’d taken his gifts and burdens—especially the burdens—and aimed straight at the light.

That’s what she needed to focus on, instead of this dark stuff. Things like what songs to have ready for next Sunday’s all-day service under the big tent. People were coming from all over, driving a half-day, some of them, to hear Trey preach for eight hours on the rewards of a life given over to God. That was Rae Ann’s job: standing next to her husband’s wheelchair to represent the human embodiment of reward. Then she’d belt out “Love Lifted Me” or “How Great Thou Art,” gazing out at the crowd or down at her heroic and long-suffering husband, dressed in his Army uniform, his medals pinned on it. People probably reckoned he was in the wheelchair on account of Vietnam, but of course Trey never said so; he never would. Her husband’s face, she often thought, looked a good bit like the handsomest pictures of the Savior himself. He always kept his eyes focused steadily outward, just above the faces of the crowd.

Her years of pageant work had groomed Rae Ann for this work. Every eye upon her and then, when she’d lift her voice, she’d fill up with joy, lose herself in song. That was the best of it, exalted with the power of music, like liquor in her throat, moving listeners to tears and generosity. A few years ago, a man who’d just written them a big check told Trey he had himself a siren for a wife. But instead of luring men to their deaths on the rocky shoals, the man said, she sang them to salvation. He laughed when he said it, like he’d embarrassed himself in the telling. Later, when she asked Trey about the sirens, he said they were evil dressed up in a mirage of beauty; they appealed to all that was base in men, to lust instead of love, which led to destruction. As she surely knew.

Rae Ann headed towards the water, looking for just the right firmness of sand against her bare feet. She began to walk, heading north. The sun sparkled on the near greenness of ocean and, farther out, on the dark blue. On that line of demarcation the dolphins would sometimes gather this time of day, arching their dark backs in a morning dance. Some days they seemed to follow along as she walked. Rae Ann thought of that as a kind of grace, meant for her alone, keeping her safe from whatever harm might be out there.


If you could wish for one thing in your life to have been different, what would it be, and why? That was Rae Ann’s favorite interview question, even though she’d never got asked it herself. She’d worked out an answer, though, that went something like: I don’t think it’s so much wishing for something to have been different, as it is finding the strength to accept things as they come. I personally get that strength from my family, from my God, and from this great, great country of ours. Rae Ann thought it was the perfect answer—Miss America-worthy. It had all the elements and sounded sincere, too, and even wise. So that was one thing she might’ve wished for: the chance to say it, just once.

After she and Trey married, Rae Ann figured she’d never need to wish much anymore. He taught at the high school; she was learning to keep house and cook and iron—keeping herself busy till babies came along. If she wished for anything then, it was to know more about how to please her new husband—in bed, for instance, where things happened so fast she didn’t have time to sort out what went on before it went off. But he seemed happy enough. And maybe one of those nights would end up in a baby, which was the point, she reckoned.

But nine months to the day after their wedding, Trey got called to active service. After he went off to basic training and then Vietnam, Rae Ann spent all her wishes on his coming home whole and happy. Which two years later he did—come home, that is. He was whole, but not happy—skinny and tired and sad instead. He didn’t want to teach anymore, he said; he didn’t know what he wanted. Not her, it seemed. He lay on the sofa a lot, watching tv; he smoked cigarettes and drank beer at night till he fell asleep. Wouldn’t talk to her about what-all had happened over there, but spent hours talking to Eddie Cathou, who’d got back around the same time. The two of them would go off a few nights a week, staying gone till all hours. 

Confused and hurt, Rae Ann just kept going about her business, working part-time in the records department down at City Hall and helping out with pageants, prepping the up-and-comers. She wasn’t close to anybody; people had always kept a distance from her. Mama said that’s what happened when somebody was singled out, how Rae Ann had been. It made other folks uncomfortable. If she had had somebody close, Rae Ann might’ve asked them what it was about going to war caused a man not to want to make love to his wife anymore. She knew terrible things had happened over there—she’d seen it on tv and in the papers. But now he was here—and she was here—and what about that, their lives? 

Remembering how good Trey had been to her in her desperate time, she tried to figure ways to cheer him: cooking special meals, suggesting walks or a swim. One day she dressed in her sexiest black nightgown and sneaked up to where he lay napping on the couch, the tv blaring out game-show talk. She went to lay herself full out on top of him, but a silky ribbon from her gown brushed his face as she leaned forward. He jerked awake, one arm coming up straight from the elbow, smacking her across the chest and knocking her backwards. The table turned over and he was on her then, his twisted face a stranger’s, breath brassy. Afterwards, he broke down and sobbed in her lap; he’d do better, he promised. Give him time.

Rae Ann had time. She was only twenty-one; a lot could still happen.


A lot did, in no time flat. A few days later, Trey told her that Eddie and Rhonda Cathou had invited them to the inlet for the day—they’d take a picnic, swim, water ski. How about it? Right that minute, he looked something like his old self. His hair was still cut army-short and bristly, but gazing at him, Rae Ann could imagine that old, unruly wave near his temple.

After that day, whenever she thought about the one-wish question, Rae Ann couldn’t pinpoint her answer anymore. Maybe it was something big as wishing Trey had never gone to Vietnam and changed into the kind of man who would drink too much beer and then do something crazy out there on the water. Or that she’d gotten pregnant right off, which might’ve kept him home, too. And sometimes it was small, like she wished she’d had one of her sick headaches that day, and had just said no, let’s stay home. But mostly, since then, she’d let go of that old wishing game. Especially the and why part. Who could ever get that right?

Everything started out fine—a gorgeous August morning promising to be hot as the hinges by afternoon. Eddie’s sixteen-foot bowrider with twin Johnsons sliced like a knife through the calm blue of bay and into the windy curve of creek, marsh grass swaying green on either side of them. Oyster beds lay just below the surface all along their way—mostly on the sides, but sometimes right in the middle of the narrow creek. But Eddie’d been coming out here since he was a kid with his daddy, who kept crab traps. If a person didn’t know what he was doing, Eddie said, he could get himself killed—plenty had, hitting one of those banks at full tilt. Why do you think they call it dead man’s curve? He grinned back at the two women, guiding the wheel into intricate esses. He’d hardly been able to take his eyes off her, Rae Ann saw; she hoped it made Trey proud, that another man would want her.

The beer drinking started the minute they hit the beach, even though it wasn’t but ten in the morning, both men diving for the cooler and popping a brew. Rae Ann didn’t like it, but seeing them grin at each other made her happy enough not to care. After setting up beach chairs and taking a quick dip, the guys decided to check out a few traps—they could steam crabs over a fire for lunch, they said. Taking the cooler full of beer, they gunned across the water, smiling at the women and waving.

The beach was deserted still—too early for the big crowd. Rhonda and Rae Ann swam and then went behind the dunes to collect driftwood for a campfire. Rae Ann hardly knew Rhonda—she wasn’t from Red Hill; Eddie’d met her at boot camp. She seemed nice enough; quiet. Does Eddie make love to you, Rae Ann wanted to ask her. Does he cry out in his sleep? Does his face close down till he looks like somebody you never knew? But she’d never talked about things that really mattered with anybody, and she didn’t know how to start.

From behind the dunes the women heard the boat motors. By the time they crested the hill, more than a dozen people had gathered, with more boats headed in. Everybody was in a party mood on this end-of-summer Sunday, and before long the two women were, too. Rae Ann took the beer Rhonda held out for her, and liked the icy froth of it, going down.

Lunchtime came and went; the women ate the sandwiches Rae Ann had made. The beach grew crowded; three houseboats showed up; people skied and slept and ate and drank too much and yelled at their kids and grew red in the sun. By four, boats were beginning to leave. Maybe they’d met up with Eddie’s daddy, Rhonda suggested, got sidetracked; nothing to worry about. Her smile was wrong, pasted-on. Rae Ann had seen enough of that to recognize panic.

When the boat emerged from one of the side creeks, Rae Ann’s heart yammered: She’d been wishing so hard she’d made herself dizzy. The boat zigged and zagged its way towards them, churning up water. As it neared the beach, she saw Trey standing at the wheel, Eddie sprawled in the seat next to him, head back, eyes closed. 

Too much of a good thing, her husband slurred and grinned, after he pulled the boat up and sank the anchor in the sand. Rhonda helped Eddie out; limp as seaweed, he staggered up the beach a few steps and then bent to vomit. Shoulda had lunch, Trey said, shaking his head at his friend, then looking over at Rae Ann. Any food left?

The wind had shifted in the past thirty minutes. Clouds had moved in and the air cooled quickly, like a storm might be brewing. Rae Ann shivered, then pointed to the food cooler and sat on her blanket without saying a word. Down the beach, Rhonda bent over Eddie. At the cooler, Trey stuffed a half sandwich down his gullet. Rae Ann watched her husband’s jaws open and close, open and close; eyes empty, he filled his belly. She pulled her legs up and laid her head on her knees, making her mind a blank.

He’d have to drive the boat, Trey announced; Eddie was in no condition. Neither woman commented, just started packing up. Trey and Rhonda got Eddie back into the boat, where he stretched out, groaning, in the bow. Rae Ann wanted to ask her husband if he knew how to get them home, but her voice froze in her throat. She didn’t want to look at him, even when they got into the boat; she could feel his eyes on her. Touching her chin, Trey turned her face to his. Rae Ann was right that minute too tired to put anything into her eyes beyond what was just plain there. Looking at her, his face grew dark and hard. He let her go and opened the throttle.


When she thought of it, afterwards, Rae Ann didn’t remember hearing the first sound, though there must have been the grind of fiberglass slamming into oyster shell, ripping; screaming, too. All she could call back was this: forward motion, so slow; she towards the windshield, turning her face to look not at where she was headed but at Trey. From the back she sensed movement—Rhonda, lifting—and over the bow some flit that must’ve been Eddie. But all she really saw was her husband, staring straight ahead, taking his hands off the wheel and opening his arms wide, mouth agape, too, then turning his head towards her, eyes ablaze with something she still couldn’t come up with any word for but joy. And before blackness came, this: his body catapulted end over end, hitting the water like a stone, skipping, like he could walk on it. Then nothing.

The rest of it was told to her: that Rhonda was gone the second her head connected with the razor edge of oyster, cleaving her skull near in half; that Eddie would’ve been okay—he was thrown clear to the pluff mud the boat eventually ran up on, drunken muscles limber as a stuntman’s—but he landed face down in a handful of brackish water, just enough to fill his lungs with; that after her husband walked on water he ran plumb out of miracles, hit the ground with sufficient impact and at exactly the right angle to all but sever his spinal cord. Rae Ann was the only one who stayed with the boat; the edge of the walk-through windshield had stopped her forward motion, dug itself in deep right between her breastbone, and held. She could remember bits and pieces of the rescue effort—boat motors, cries and shouts, a soft pressure of hand and murmured words—nothing more.

The damage to Trey’s nervous system was what the doctors called complete. Over the next few weeks, Rae Ann learned what that meant: no movement or feeling below the area of injury, which was about mid-back; loss of control over bladder, bowels, and sexual function; a tendency towards urinary tract infections and bedsores. It meant no babies ever, of course; they told her that right off. All of which might have been more than a person could bear, except for one thing: When Trey came to, three days after the accident and on the very morning that Eddie and Rhonda Cathou were laid side-by-side into their All Saint’s cemetery plots, he woke a changed man.

Those three dark days he’d been on a journey, Trey told Rae Ann, to the heights of heaven and the depths of hell. God had shown him all the good that was possible in the universe and all the evil, too. The Lord had saved him, but for one reason alone: to show folks the road to perfect goodness, many as he could. This was her destiny, too—what she’d been seeking all along, didn’t she see? To be steadfast helpmeet and handmaid to the glory of this work.

Kneel down by the bed, he told her, eyes shining, face aglow. She got to her knees; he lay his hand upon her head and said: You are saved, too, Rae Ann Masterson, anointed the first congregant of this newborn church.

Oh, she had been so long hungry for touch. As his hand lay upon her head, it radiated a warmth that moved through Rae Ann’s entire being, from the top down, tuning her insides till she shook with it, a fine vibration, light as instants. She closed her eyes to welcome it, filling with the joy only singing had ever brought before. 


Up ahead, she spotted the small sign in the dune grasses that marked the beginning of state park land. Her usual turnaround spot: exactly two miles. She could see people on the far curve of strand above, not but stick figures from here. Turning, she scanned the wide expanse of beach before her, the distant walkway her final goal. By this time in her daily walk, she always felt the beginning of the happiness exertion brought. Mind afloat; muscle, sinew, bone, and nerve in use and motion; heart pumping blood: It was this she came for. She held her heel against her rear end, balancing and looking out at the water. Not a dolphin in sight.

Moving again: feeling grit against toes, salt on the skin of her thighs; feeling alive. Feeling all the things her husband couldn’t; Rae Ann thought about that a lot. His withered legs that hadn’t felt her touch for eighteen years, though she’d touched them almost every day. His sex—the flower of him—that was how she thought of it: the bud nestled down into the outside petals, like the center of the palest rose. His useless feet she bathed and smoothed lotion onto. He was in Columbia now with a couple other men, for a three-day conference of Veterans for Christ. Who took care of those things when she wasn’t there? Did he miss her? She had no idea.

A paraplegic could still experience intimacy, the physical therapist had told them all those years ago. In private, she’d asked the therapist for specifics, turning her face from his kind look. Manual manipulation could bring one partner to satisfaction, he said; often, that was satisfying to both. Also, injections and implants sometimes worked. But when she tried to talk to Trey about these ideas, as they lay together one night before sleep, he interrupted her, his voice flat: This is God’s will, Rae Ann; the test of our natures. He didn’t expect to discuss it further.

In the years since, despite her prayers and best efforts, Rae Ann regularly failed that test; when she could no longer stand it, she would satisfy herself, defying the will of both God and her husband. She hoped the Lord wouldn’t hold it against Trey in the final reckoning. But she didn’t know, and she couldn’t seem to help herself anyhow.


Rae Ann was moving fast now, her body deep in the rhythm of walk. Smack in the middle of which the skin on the back of her neck went to tingling and the hair on her arms goosebumped. She hadn’t seen nor heard a thing, but the feeling was so fierce that she stopped short and pivoted, fast enough that the boy loping behind her had to backpedal, eyes wide, arms wheeling out to his sides. Then he dropped them and stood still, staring at her from the five or six feet of sand that separated them.

Her heart thrummed in her ears as she looked at him, breathing hard. Taller than she was and built solid—bare but for a pair of red swim trunks, so she could plainly see it was a man’s body he had. But with his dark hair, uncombed and waving past his ears, and his clear blue eyes, still startled wide, he seemed more like a boy, a child roused from sleep.

While she watched, those eyes narrowed and his face changed, grew harder and darker. I could run, Rae Ann thought, among a jumble of other ideas scrambling through her head, things like: The bluest eyes I almost ever and What does he? and Is he the one? But her feet stayed planted, knees flexed, arms easy at her sides: facing off.

Never taking his eyes from hers, the boy flashed a crooked smile and swept one arm down in a sudden sideways movement. Rae Ann still stared into those blues like she was tranced, until they told her, ordered her: Look down. Which she did, of course, to find his swim trunks pulled low enough in front to cradle the forward-thrusting sex of him, all pink and rose, smooth and full and eager. Innocent, somehow. And her heart leapt not with fear but with something else, like gladness. This boy was not afraid to open himself to her, a total stranger, to expose his most secret self. Wasn’t that the truest giving? 

Rae Ann felt a very large smile begin to spread upon her face; looking up, she saw the boy’s hard stare shift to something less certain. Truly, she didn’t know what she would say until she said it, but out it came, like the Lord himself was in charge, not her. 

“Are you saved?” she asked the boy. And while he stared wide-eyed, she reached behind herself, unhooked her halter top in one smooth motion, and let it fall to the sand between them. Humming with power she was, nipples erect, face ablaze: showing this strange boy her deepest secret: the red, raised scar between her breasts no one had laid eyes on since the day eighteen years before when the doctor had taken the bandage off. 

“God loves you,” she told him, near singing it, the words pouring forth like nectar. She felt herself grow taller and stronger and younger—radiant—while his eyes took in the whole of her, widening up till she could see the entire whites of them. Into her ears came music, celestial and majestic: Here she is—here you are. It was as if all the events of her life had converged to make this one moment happen; this was the destiny she’d been born to. By exposing the mark of her sin and shortcoming, full and without shame, Rae Ann could save this one boy from himself; the glory of her gift would burn that hardness right out of his soul. Warrior she was meant to be, she saw that in a flash: warrior, not handmaid.

A moment more the boy gazed, transfixed, until she asked it again, her voice a silken, fiery prod: “Are you saved?” Then he hitched up his trunks, turned on his heel, and set to a full-out run. 

Rae Ann hardly hesitated before she lit out after him. To his back she hollered, chanted, sang out: God loves you, God loves you. Her legs pumped, strong and powerful. She looked ahead at his young thighs and calves, long and sinewy. Her mouth watered; she pushed harder. 


How long did they run? She couldn’t afterwards imagine; days, it felt like, lifetimes. But even filled with the wind of righteousness, the fact was Rae Ann had turned thirty-nine that very day, whereas he was still a boy she had just put the fear of God into. 

Sometime in their running he turned sharply right and scrambled over a steep, grassy dune. Climbing to the top, she bent to catch her breath before scanning the hummocks for a flash of red, or flesh. But the boy had disappeared as if she’d only conjured him. 

Surveying the empty dunes, Rae Ann turned her face to the sun and lifted her arms towards the sea before walking back to where they’d stood together. She found her top and hooked it on. This time, walking south, she didn’t scan the ocean for dolphins—didn’t need to. Maybe that misbegotten boy had got away, huddled right now in the underside of a beach house, shivering and afraid. And maybe, just maybe, he was pondering salvation. 




Rebecca T. Godwin has published two novels, Keeper of the House and Private Parts. Her work has appeared in Paris Review, Oxford American, The Sun, and elsewhere. Early on, she received MacDowell and NEA fellowships, then taught for 13 years at Bennington College. In “retirement,” she has turned again to writing, completing a story collection and revising a novel. Named SC Arts Commission’s 2023 Prose Fellow, Godwin also won Broad River Review’s 2023 RASH Fiction Award.

Saved © 2024 Rebecca T. Godwin 
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  1. Neither sex nor baptism saved him. Both or either may offer a fresh start, a new beginning, redemption. Enjoyed this story very much! Well deserved honor. This story was well told and will stay with me. Congratulations! KW Mooradian , Nashville,TN

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