Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

In Case You’re Wondering…

I know I haven’t been posting new Maranatha chapters. It’s because I haven’t been writing new Maranatha chapters. And that’s because I don’t have any time.

But it’s also because it’s occurred to me, as I’ve gone back through and re-read a few segments, that Chapters 13 and 14 shouldn’t exist.

I definitely don’t think these two should’ve bedded down as soon as they have. For one, I’m not sure how to play that out. And two, it seems rushed and out of character for them both.

So what you may have, whenever I get the chance to really get back to this, is a reboot that starts with an alternate Chapter 13 and beyond.

… And that’s where I am with that.

Thanks to all who were reading. I hope you’ll join in again, whenever I join in again.

Advertisements
Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 15.

– Chapter 15 –

“Tell me about your wife,” she said in the morning, with her head at the foot of the bed and her toes tapping out a rhythm on the wall above the headboard. Gideon flounced onto his left side and propped himself up on an elbow. Maranatha felt deliriously happy and childlike, and though in the back of her mind she worried that too much silliness would remind him of their age difference and make him recoil or rush her back home, she couldn’t wipe the grin off her face, even when her cheeks began to ache with the effort.

They were up until 4 am. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was after 11. They’d squandered all but an hour before check-out and she knew they should hustling to avoid the late checkout fee, but the thought of leaving this bed was just too maudlin. Tears burbled deep in her stomach. She bit them back, already missing him. She’d have to go home eventually and Anne would need to know where she’d been all night, even if she didn’t ask outright or right away. Maranatha was already concocting her cover, something vague and uninteresting that didn’t reference Gideon at all and wouldn’t require any follow-up.

She covered her eyes with one hand, sobered. It was all too much.

Gideon’s lips landed on hers and she peeked out at him through her fingers.

“What do you want to know about her?”

“I want to know whatever you want to tell me.”

His brow furrowed as she’d watched it do all night and goose bumps rose on her arms. He kissed her forehead. “This isn’t a bed conversation,” he said. “Get up. I’ll take you to breakfast; we’ll talk it out.”

Continue reading

Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 14.

– Chapter 14 –

Maranatha had heard, years ago, that the Agees lived in a mansion. According to the inter-church gossip circuit, it was a gated twelve-acre estate high on a hill and surrounded with flowering trees that made their home invisible from the road. At Christmas, they hosted Gatsbyesque soirees, opening their house to other area pastors and a few select families of their 5,000-member congregation.

Before Gideon came back to Ridgewood to teach, when Maranatha was around thirteen, her mother and stepfather were invited to one of the Agees’ parties. Anne had been invited to preach at a women’s ministry banquet at their church earlier that year. Children weren’t allowed at the party, so Maranatha was forced to stay home with a sitter, dreaming up tables filled with crab puffs and caviar; a twelve-foot tree trimmed in glitter and gold leaf; a live jazz band playing carols as guests tippled sparkling cider; and Gideon home on holiday, regaling guests with stories of post-college life.

She’d never gotten to tell him that she’d thought of him long before he resurfaced, wondering what he might look like or if he had children or whether she’d ever see him again. Maybe he knew. Maybe he figured it, but didn’t quite care.

As it turned out, the house wasn’t quite as palatial as Maranatha had imagined it all these years. It was stone and brick with beautiful bay windows and a sprawling, impeccably manicured lawn, but it wasn’t exactly a compound with a family crest over the threshold and horse stables in the backyard.

That Maranatha was able to pry her hands from her steering wheel, after working up the nerve to park in the Agees’ graveled driveway, was a marvel, but she managed it. She couldn’t tell if anyone was home. There were no silhouettes of movement behind the sheer, silvery curtains on their front windows, and any cars that may’ve been there were probably parked in their double-garage. What would she do if one of his parents answered? Would their eyes still shoot laser-like contempt and disdain? Would they glare at her through the peephole and yell that she should leave before she inflicted any further damage on their family?

She’d always wanted to apologize to them. On occasion, she still strolled down the greeting card aisle at the grocery store, looking for an appropriately remorseful message. But there was just no way Hallmark could help her adequately express the sentiments, I’m sorry I sued your son. I’m sorry for any insomnia my parents might’ve induced by demanding “justice” from the “crime” of an unassuming kiss. I’m sorry jail time was threatened. I hate that your equity in this house was jeopardized. I’m sorry I wasn’t more convincing, defending him, and that my stepfather remembered the Christmas Eve he spent here and saw dollar signs, recalling your plush white carpet, your baby grand piano, the stainless steel appliances in your kitchen, and your imported leather upholstery. I’m sorry if, afterward, you ever resented your son. I’m sorry I thought I could love him.

Continue reading

Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 13.

Part II

– Chapter 13 –

Law offices set Gideon’s teeth on edge—and with good reason. He envied the millions of people who got to live their whole lives with little to no contact with the justice system. They were lucky, traipsing joyously about, nursing benign delusions about the effectiveness of Law, and luckier still were those for whom Law was simply an abstraction to bandy about at dinner parties.

They would never know the sting of arrest or accusation. Central booking ink would never blacken their fingers. Their mugshots wouldn’t be Googleable. Their paychecks would never be garnished. They wouldn’t have to explain their complicated history with law enforcement on an additional sheet of a job application.

And above all, they’d never have to suffer a fidgety paralegal repeatedly offering room temperature water from a dusty pitcher in a windowless room like this one.

He’d worked with Cooper, Willis, and Dunn once before. They specialized in discrimination and child advocacy and they’d settled his case with Maranatha’s father. They were a much smaller firm then and what he remembered most about them was that they weren’t hard-nosed about agreeing to settle, even though pushing that case to trial would’ve brought them very high-profile publicity.

They seemed fair and he was appreciative, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be here a minute longer than he needed to be. The stuffiness of the room and his inability to look outside it made him feel like an interrogation was imminent. The overhead light was abrasive. The print on the wall, of a boy at the edge of a pond filled with water lilies, was cloying and, for whatever reason, that made him uncomfortable, too.

Continue reading

Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 12.

catch up with a visit to the archives.

– Chapter 12 –

It was glass, delicately blown from the breath they held, on each other’s approach. A paper-thin pane, their friendship: fragile and crystalline and spotless. But there it was: hanging in those spare, unnoticed moments when they glanced and looked away to grin to themselves before or after class. It was widening, this glass, during those first few months as she wrote elegant op-eds for the school paper, as he gingerly critiqued the poems and photographs she’d submitted to The Manna Quarterly. Every conversation, a vibrant stain. Every smile, a beam of color through the glass.

By late winter, when the worst of the snow had fallen and she knew that more of senior year was behind her than before her, Maranatha began to let slip tiny bursts of excitement every weekday morning. And though she absorbed more than enough customarily sour stares and nose-upturns each day to dampen her high spirits, Gideon was there in the afternoon, waxing practically romantic about Steinbeck and Fitzgerald and her lips couldn’t help but perk up at the corners.

She’d been collecting a sack of happy incidents: that time he’d caught her crying on a side entrance step and dropped his briefcase to sit beside her, silent, till she stopped; the poem he wrote and read during class, about Jesus as a swashbuckler; how close he’d stood so close in the cafeteria line once that their trays almost touched.

He was the kind of teacher she’d never thought she’d encounter till college, the kind she feared might only exist as myth. He was free-thinking. He wasn’t afraid to reference other religions and knew how to cast his lot with one, without disrespecting the others. Though he rarely referenced the bible in lessons, his voice took on equal parts ecstasy and reverence whenever he cited it. She recognized the tone as near identical to her own and knew that the great joy of Gideon’s Christian life had been approaching the bible as poem and story and surprising himself with how easily he accepted all its accounts, however horrifying or fantastical.

Sometimes, in class, Maranatha found herself wanting to run with him, to grab his hand and spirit him away to some reckless space where her crush made sense and she didn’t feel self-doubt singeing its edges.

Continue reading

Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 11.

get caught up with a visit to the archives.

– Chapter 11 –

The Law Offices of Cooper, Willis, and Dunn were in an office park near a shallow manmade lake. Shady elms encircled the lake and ducks flitted back and forth between the brackish water and the long grass. When Maranatha pulled into the labyrinthine parking lot, she angled her car into a spot under one of the trees, even though the building she wanted was much farther back in the complex. She stared out at the water for a while and at a pair of agitated ducks, boxing one another with wildly flapping wings. Then she leaned forward, resting her chin on her steering wheel, and gazed up at the sky.

She couldn’t see the sun, obscured as it was by tufts of cloud, but its beams barreled down in angled rays; and she imagined God holding a scepter refracting the light. Maranatha had always thought of God as air, intangible and shapeless unless He compressed Himself into something small enough for her attempt to fathom—like a white giant in a robe with stone tablets, holding a scepter of sun.

Jesus, on the other hand, was always very human to her. She had no doubt that, if she shuttled back in time two millennia, he’d be there. He’d have rebel eyes and a wry grin and she’d be madly in love with him, so in love that when he died, she’d cut her own wrists and hope to die along with him. But then, as she awaited her end, the gashes she’d opened would seal and her life, so amazingly spared, would be listed among the last of the pre-resurrection miracles.

The Holy Spirit seemed something else entirely. It was what she felt when she made bad decisions, constantly, impartially observing. It was what the “something” whenever she heard the words, “Something told me to…” It was the complicated scriptures that still floated up to her, all these years after she’d memorized them. The Holy Spirit hovered and always felt really close by, too close sometimes, like a person whose slightly stale breath you felt clinging to your barely conscious face, as he checked your vitals.

Maranatha liked the way she imagined the Trinity. It helped her to conceive of each branch in a very personal way. She’d never told anyone of the grand tales she’d spun, dating back to early girlhood, of God as avenger and Jesus as rescuer and Holy Spirit as conscience and key. She feared accusations of blasphemy from people who were part of her old life—Anne and all the old church folks she might meet during the course of the trial. And she feared skepticism and ridicule from the people who were part of her life now—the academics at the colleges where she taught, the few acquaintances she still knew from college, her Tuesday Night Writers Circle.

It was a part of herself she’d learned to fiercely guard. Holy Pentecost Academy had been cruel. Sometimes, it was even vicious. But she’d stopped believing that anyone there represented the God she knew by the time she was ten years old. After that, their behavior stood on its own, apart from what she thought Christianity was or what she hoped it could be.

Holy Pentecost was just a nightmarish Evangelical factory where she’d been trapped until she turned eighteen. She’d been reminding herself of that her whole adult life. The Academy was just something to get over; it didn’t hold the truths of her faith and she shouldn’t allow it to shape her future.

Of course, that was nearly impossible to accept, no matter how many mantras and positive confessions and “forgetting those things which are behind” sermons she heard. This was why she needed to sue the school. She needed sit among people who knew, and talk about how deeply this place scarred its students’ souls.

Continue reading

Standard
Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 10.

turn to your neighbor and say, “visit the archives.”

– Chapter 10 –

In his dream, he was dead and meandering through an emptiness he assumed was heaven, in the absence of flame-melted flesh and the gnashing of teeth. Every minute, his chest swelled with a tidal wave of relief and gratitude. Every minute, that wave receded into a chasm of loneliness too certain and unchangeable to bear.

He woke, back home, gutted and hungry. The sunlight in his old room seemed dingy. The sounds he heard, his parents milling about, already hours into their day, were tinny and muffled but swift and efficient.

Being here reminded him of how he used to feel on Saturday mornings, when he’d wake to find the massive house creepily still and his heartbeat would quicken as he threw back his bedsheets and rushed through the halls. The longer it took him to find one of his parents, the more sure he became that the rapture had taken place in the middle of the night and he’d been left behind.

He’d check the bathrooms first, looking as much for his parents as for their pajamas in a pile on the floor. Then he’d run down the winding staircase and head to the kitchen. Then his father’s study. Then the sunken family room.

All the while, he’d hearken back to the movies he’d watched when he was little, with the bloodcurdling screams of a wife upon finding her husband missing and the multi-car highway pileups that began with the disappearance of one driver. He’d think of the scriptures that’d been drilled into him: Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

He’d freak out about the candy he stole at Giant and the lie he told about being sick in the men’s room, when he’d really ditched Sunday school for an Egg McMuffin from the McDonald’s up the street of the church. He’d mutter to himself, “Lord, I’m sorry! I repent! Please forgive me!” even though it was becoming increasingly clear that his pleas were too little, too late.

Then he would shudder at the thought of a microchip under his skin or a barcode branded on his forehead or the back of his hand or his neck: the Mark of the Beast. He’d imagine scorpions with the heads of women and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And what about when things became so bad that he tried to kill himself—again and again and again—only to find that he couldn’t, that he was doomed to remain alive until Armageddon? And what if his head was shoved into a guillotine and he was asked to deny Christ to spare himself? Would he do it?

And then he’d double back to the kitchen, his shoulders slumped as he resigned himself to his fate as a kid left behind to manage post-apocalyptic life all alone.  He might as well toast himself some Eggos before food became unattainable, without the Mark of the Beast.

Continue reading

Standard