Cozy was his name and women were his game and the pelts of many ladies hung from rafters of his mind. He loved them all for the hour or so he’d spend with them and many ladies never tired of this country boy who could talk beautifully while their husbands were away hunting or fishing.
Cozy never came a-calling while a husband was around although husbands in the rural countryside and town had heard of Cozy's reputation but they never thought of him consorting with their wives. Not their wives. And there were many women thereabouts who would never look or talk to Cozy. But other ladies kept him busy talking which Cozy loved to do before it was time to get down to business.
The odd thing is, Cozy was a religious man, went to church every Sunday, met some lovely ladies there, prime prospects for later in the week. He was "born again,” in a spiritual sense, in his late teens and believed that when he died he was going to Heaven. His wife married him right out of high school, had no idea he was the philanderer he had turned out to be and loved him dearly. She was proud that Cozy, like everyone else in their church, was "born again."
“Once saved, always saved,” Cozy would often say at the local diner without any prompting. And many in the town and countryside agreed with him. But not everyone.
There was another church in town where congregants were also "born again" but the belief at that church was one could lose one’s soul if one lived in sin despite one’s faith and failed to repent before one died. Cozy and his wife never went to that church. When they died, they were going to Heaven. They were “born again” and that settled it for them.
One husband of a lady Cozy used to call on regularly became suspicious when he had come home earlier than expected from a hunting trip and found his wife singing “Amazing Grace" and dressed the way she had never dressed for him. She wasn’t expecting him until deer season ended the following day. But in the ashtray was a dead cigarillo, or small cigar, and no one the husband knew smoked cigarillos except Cozy, who always seemed to have one in his hand or jutting from his mouth. A small liquor store just outside of town stocked this particular brand just for Cozy. No one else bought them.
The husband didn’t say anything about the cigarillo, just went about his business farming and tending to the family garden as time went by as it does when one makes one’s living from the land. He loved to garden, was always weeding, and used to tell his wife that a garden was like a soul.
“You have to keep a garden free of weeds just as you have to keep a soul free of sin,” the husband would say at times when his wife was sitting around drinking coffee and working crossword puzzles. “Weeds come up every day,” he’d say. “And sins are just as plentiful. They can kill you.”
The husband was "born again" as was Cozy but he and his wife attended the other church, the one that didn’t hold to the belief that “once saved, always saved.” Their pastor taught that a believer steeped in sin without repentance would go to Hell, no questions asked. Christ died for everyone, the pastor preached, but He didn’t suffer hypocrites gladly.
“Break the commandments and die without repenting and you will wake up in Hell,” the preacher often said, pounding the pulpit, especially if some congregant in the pews had been rumored to be up to no good recently. This pastor's congregation was not as large as the one at Cozy’s church. “Once saved, always saved,” without restriction, had greater appeal for many of the families who farmed the area.
Not too long after finding the cigarillo in the ash tray, the suspicious husband arranged another hunting trip out of state, this time for pheasant, and told his wife he would be gone a week and hoped to come home with a mess of good meat for the freezer. She wished him good luck, but shortly after he left the house with all his hunting gear, she gave Cozy a call.
“I’ll be over in an hour,” Cozy said. "Can’t wait to see you.”
Cozy arrived on time, swathed in Mennen After-Shave lotion, but was unaware the husband, instead of going on his hunting trip, was hiding behind one of the outbuildings, rifle in hand. He let Cozy go in the house, then went up on the front porch and waited for the lights to go out, quietly entered the house and put two bullets in Cozy’s buttocks, the first thing he saw. Then he stood over Cozy and called the sheriff. No one can remember what the charges were but Cozy got two years. He served them quietly and was paroled early for good behavior, albeit once again during deer season.
Cozy really liked the wife of the man who had shot him, perhaps even loved her, so as soon as he had packed away a big breakfast of biscuits and gravy at the local diner he gave her a call. She was glad to hear from him and said her husband would be gone for another three days and he was welcome to come over.
“Can’t wait to see you, Cozy. I bet you have a lot to say,” she said.
The problem is, her husband had heard about Cozy’s early parole in town two weeks earlier. Once again he was hiding behind the same outbuilding, rifle in hand, when Cozy, swathed in Mennen After-Shave lotion, arrived. This time he shot Cozy between the eyes and Cozy never took another breath.
The funeral at Cozy’s church was not that well attended. A few older women who always prepared food for post-funeral services were there with their fried chicken and apple pies as were their husbands if they were still alive. But nowhere in the pews were any of the ladies who had been regular consorts of the dead man.
The pastor explained that Cozy, "born again" long ago, was in Heaven now. He said nothing about the man who had shot him. The shooter had not been charged with murder since Cozy had been caught violating another man’s property, namely the man’s wife. No one disagreed with that principle in this farm area. Property there, especially a man’s wife, was not to be violated.
The big argument in town, however, was whether Cozy, "born again" but a lifelong adulterer, was in Heaven or in Hell. It’s an argument that still goes on today between congregants at the same two churches who gather at the diner in town after services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. But they are not alone. Essentially the same argument—“once saved, always saved”--resounds among millions of believers throughout the United States and perhaps the world at other churches, large and small, as well.
Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune and Commonweal. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs=