get caught up. visit the archives.
– Chapter 6 –
Gideon found himself zoning out quite often: in the morning, as he waited on a slice of bread to leap up from the toaster; at stop signs on near-empty residential streets; in showers, where he stood under the steaming deluge until he exhausted his hot water; in roundtables at the agency, while his colleagues cooked up copy for new ad campaigns; in restaurant booths sitting across from lovely women he’d rather drop off than dine with.
But it was particularly bad in churches, where the entire setup—half-hour of praise and worship, twenty-minute pre-offering sermonette, forty-five-minute sermon—seemed designed as a license to let his mind wander.
This was why he still went.
He’d chosen a place that didn’t remind him of home, an emerging church with all-White members, lax interpretations of biblical edicts, and a name ambiguous enough to belong to any number of businesses. It was the kind of place where you’d attend men’s bible study and, afterward, meet back up at bar for beers. Sometimes, rather than preaching, the pastor would screen a short film, shot by his Visual Arts Ministry, and the congregation would laugh and gasp and lift its hands, as actors played out some hardship on a scripture could fix. Once there was even popcorn.
They liked Gideon at The Lighthouse. When he wasn’t there, a twenty-year-old hipster whose actual birth name was Megatron shot him the occasional “Where ya been, bro?” text. When he was there, they worked hard to include him, asking him to offer his opinion on the design of their promotional material or trying to convince him to create an oversee a “Marketing Ministry.”
Gideon assumed the attention had to do with him being Black. This had happened to him a few times since he’d moved to Bellevue. He’d enter an all-white setting and either people were overly enthusiastic about his presence or they averted their eyes when he entered. The Lighthouse seemed really eager to have him there. Sometimes, if he stuck around long enough to have a conversation, he’d zone out while the person was talking, imagining himself grinning on their next brochure, standing between Tron and some bright-eyed girl with pink lip gloss and long blonde hair.
It’d been at least two months since he’d last attended. But he decided it was time to go after his last “date” ended with the burgundy-brown weave woman (whose name, as it turned out, wasn’t Naomi at all but Regina) refusing to leave his house after he fed her and asked politely.
“Hey, man.” A lanky guy with long, dark hair greeted, as Gideon walked in. They clasped hands and bumped shoulders. Maybe his name was Kyle; Gideon wasn’t sure. He’d forgotten how old he felt here. Everyone seemed fresh out of college—even the pastor. Kyle was wearing a sleeveless tee, cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Meanwhile, Gideon would be 40 in a year. It was easy to not to think about that everywhere else but The Lighthouse.
“Haven’t seen you in like… weeks.” Kyle had the mellow, unsurprised voice of a stoner.
“Yeah, I’ve been… out.”
“Good to have you back.”
Gideon nodded and found a seat in the sanctuary. The building used to be a playhouse. Theatre seats arced in a half moon around the wood-floored stage, which they’d left in tact. The place held 400 people and it was always packed.
He’d gotten there just as the service was starting. After an opening prayer, three women and three men walked up to six microphones and began to belt out their song selections. They sang tracks by Selah and Third Day and Mercy Me. Every time Gideon was there, they made a point of throwing in an Israel Houghton cut. As absurd and unfair as it was, Gideon couldn’t help but wonder if they bothered to sing “You Are Good” or “Not Forgotten” in his absence.
He knew the songs well enough to mouth the words while his mind was elsewhere. First, he thought of the envelopes on his kitchen table and his continued cowardice in refusing to open them. But he didn’t linger there long. Those worries gave way to a string of words—hyacinth, inculcate, mollywop, enhalo—and he spent a while trying in vain to string them this way and that till they formed a functional line of poetry. But then worship ended and before he was even fully seated, he began to consider Maranatha.
Gauzy paranoia overlaid Gideon’s life. He couldn’t think of that long ago time, when he’d followed his ideals to Holy Pentecost where he thought it’d be revolutionary to return as a teacher, without wondering if the people around him knew by a smile or a gesture or the weariness in his eyes that he was thinking of her.
But here, it was easy to recall the strange relief he felt when he saw his name on her class roster or the odd curiosity that attended the moments before she showed up on their first day of class. He couldn’t understand his interest in seeing her. Had he expected her arm to be as distended as it was when he’d carried her to the school nurse? Would her face still be tiny and heart-shaped? Maybe a part of him thought she’d see him and break into the hateful tears she’d held in all those years back.
He hadn’t even apologized.
Instead, he remembered her standing there a moment, just outside the frame of the door. He only recognized her by her sadness. But if he’d had any clear expectation of her appearance, it wouldn’t have been adequate. She was lithe and almond-eyed, with her skin the color of vintage pennies and barely discernible freckles kissing the bridge of her nose. She was tall—almost as tall as he was—with practically limitless legs. Her hair looked sun-gilt, the messy tendril piled at the top of her head. When she rushed toward a seat in the back, her clothes smelled of mint leaves and hemp.
Offering passed. The tithe envelope absented his hand without his notice. When Pastor Django asked the all to open their bibles, Gideon did, but rather than listening for the scripture reference, he flipped distractedly to passages he’d underlined over the years. He’d had the same bible since high school, a slim leather snap-front King James Version his mother had given him for graduation. It was in remarkable shape, to be just over twenty years old; he could still see traces of the gold fill where his name was engraved.
He read Amos 5:8. Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.
He read Titus 1:15-16. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
He read Ecclesiastes 10:1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
Gideon rarely read his bible outside of church services, and even then, he hardly ever read the ones the preacher suggested. He favored obscure verses, ones he hadn’t learned during his entire education at Holy Pentecost. He usually underlined for tiny poetic flourishes or moments of evocative imagery. But on occasion, there were verses that jolted him. The ones in Titus and Ecclesiastes were the latter.
When he got home that afternoon, he was still thinking about those verses, as he walked up to his kitchen counter and grabbed all four of his unopened envelopes. He turned them over in his hands, then put them back where he’d found them while he went to cupboards and pulled down four shot glasses. The glasses clinked melodically when he pushed them together and tipped the Patron bottle over the mouths of each.
A letter for every shot, a decision for every letter.