Maranatha: Chapter 8.

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– Chapter 8 –

This was Maranatha’s summer: sharing a bedroom with Anne at her nana’s apartment in Ridgewood; rabidly scanning the face of the driver in every car she passed, looking for signs of Gideon, on those rare occasions when she left the house; scrambling to write as much as she could before she was due back in Grand Rapids for the start of the fall semester, and preparing for the possibility of testifying in a class action suit against her alma mater.

It started slowly, as Ridgewood summers do, with steamy air clinging to her bare arms like cellophane and, in the wake of her recent breakup with Elias, a torturously silent Blackberry. But there were some perks to her lazy Maryland hometown, like the dollar-sales on plump, tart blueberries at the local produce stand all summer and the endless supply of dark, sweet cherries swollen with juice. There were the cheap matinees at Ridgewood 8 where the air conditioning kicked up to Icelandic and made you forget how sweaty and clammy and gross you’d felt before deciding to catch a movie.

“Look up in that cabinet and get me the vanilla extract.”

She spent most of her time with her mom, their minds elsewhere. It was curious to Maranatha, how painstakingly they avoided talking about the lawsuit or the complicated past that had precipitated it. She shouldn’t have been surprised; there were far more things Maranatha didn’t discuss with Anne these days than things she did. But it was still odd to dance around the details that loomed and the choices that would have to be made concerning them.

The kitchen was long and narrow. Anne sat at the kitchenette hunched over a recipe book and a bowl of butter creamed with sugar. Maranatha placed the extract on the table and sat in the chair opposite Anne.

How could she be so calm in this chaos? Anne had been living with her mother since Maranatha left town four years ago for grad school. Before then, she’d lived with Maranatha. She hadn’t had her own place since her husband left her in the sprawling country house for which he’d ceased to pay the mortgage. Her car was undriveable, parked out front, in need of a transmission she couldn’t afford. She only worked part-time. The spare bedroom, where they slept in parallel twin beds, was piled high with all that was left of her worldly possessions, with barely a clear few feet of walk-space in any direction.

Anne had been this way since her divorce eight years ago, eerily unaffected by the uncertainty of her future.

Maranatha wasn’t living much better in Grand Rapids, folding her 5’10” body onto a two-cushion loveseat in her aunt’s home office every night and trying to save the bulk of her meager adjunct wages until she was able to afford a car of her own. She was friendless there. She felt inadequate as a teacher. And the cold weather, which stretched even into the summer months, left her listless and unhappy all the time.

But here they were, baking cookies, as though nothing at all was wrong, Anne humming “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” and Maranatha trying not to let on her disappointment that she hadn’t happened upon Gideon since she’d been home.

They looked up at the same time and briefly exchanged small smiles. For a split second, it felt like they could understand each other’s worlds.

“Chop those walnuts in the measuring cup there.”

“They’re chopped already.”

“They need to be finely chopped—smaller than they are.”

Maranatha nodded, grounded the chunks into smaller bits, trying to find the right opening for the kind of conversation that would help her make sense of her life. When she pushed the glass cup to her mother, the walnuts inside it practically pureed, she tried, “Do you think the Academy has a chance of winning the case?”

“I’m not a lawyer.” Anne held the cup to eye level. “Go get the bag out the cupboard and shake some more walnuts in here to the half-cup line.”

Maranatha did as she was told, though the order-barking edge in Anne’s voice was grating. She broke the new pieces of walnut with her hands and stole glances at Anne to gauge whether she should try again.

“They say ten women are already testifying.”

“I heard.”

“They got a few guys ready to go, too.”

Anne stopped stirring and leveled a dead stare at her.

Maranatha shrugged. “I don’t really need to get involved, is what I’m saying. They have enough people.”

“Do what you want. You always do.”

Bullshit! she thought to herself, instantly fuming. Until recently, she’d hardly ever made a decision without making sure someone else got what they wanted out of it—and usually, that someone was Anne.

She pushed her chair back from the table. The legs screeched as loudly as she’d hoped, but she hadn’t meant to topple the walnuts. That was a bonus. She started to storm toward their bedroom.

“You get back here and you clean up this mess. Right. Now.”

Anne’s shrill, urgent tone curdled Maranatha’s resolve. She turned, almost timidly, and began brushing the debris off the table with her hands.

“You’ll need the broom.”

Maranatha felt Anne’s eyes trailing her.

“I know they weren’t nice to you there. But you can’t walk in unforgiveness. That only hurts you. Most of these girls have on with their lives, gotten good jobs, found good husbands.”

It was easiest to keep quiet. The methodic sweep of her hand against the surface of the table was soothing. She focused on that.

“I shouldn’t have to explain to you how lawsuits like this are spiteful.”

Maranatha bristled. Bringing up the old settlement with the Agees, just to reinforce her own point, was low.

“Suing a church for money won’t solve anyone’s emotional problems. And you never feel vindicated when you rely on the world’s law for your vengeance. Vengeance is the Lord’s.”

It was nice that she was at least acknowledging that Holy Pentecost had done things that demanded retribution. After she walked to the wastebasket and dumped the nuts, she went to the hallway to grab the broom and began sweeping the residue from the floor.

“And let’s face it. You really don’t need them dredging up all that stuff with that boy.” Anne spooned the dough onto the cookie sheet, each rounded drop landing with a thud.

“I know you’re only entertaining the thought of testifying because you think you might see him again—and that isn’t right, either. It’s a downright foolish reason to go to court.”

Maranatha stopped her sweeping. “Those girls—with the good jobs and good husbands, who got on with their lives so easily… they called me all kinds of whores. For twelve years. And none of the teachers stopped them.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“Gideon wasn’t the one who violated me, Mom. That’s my point.”

“He didn’t have any business messin’ around with you in the first place.”

“Well,” Maranatha huffed. The defensive edge in her voice made her feel betrayed. Her mother heard it too and when Mare said nothing more, Anne’s mouth settled into a satisfied grin. She snatched up the cookie sheet, walked it to the oven, and shoved it inside. She’d said all she wanted to say.

Maranatha hadn’t. But suddenly she realized how long she’d been standing there, clenching the broom so tightly sharp pains had begun shooting up her wrists. She’d already finished sweeping. She felt ineffectual and out of place. Anne brisked by her and trudged out of the kitchen.

Maranatha followed her shortly after, no clearer about what she should do than she’d been before.

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