Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 5

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– Chapter 5 –

The summer between junior and senior year had been serene and inspiring. Maranatha spent it visiting her great-grandparents in Michigan. They lived in a sleepy town called Jackson, best known as the birthplace of the Republican Party and home of the nation’s first penitentiary. But despite those morose distinguishers, Jackson had always been a haven for Maranatha. She spent countless afternoons curled on the swing on Grandma and Grandpa’s enclosed porch, reading a small stack of novels and, at night, she’d walk to her cousins’ houses, the harmless streets lit with yellow lamps, to catch a Mason jar full of fireflies. Sometimes, the air was so thick with them they felt like pelting rain. In Jackson, the sky was a colander, crowded with tiny spots of light. It was nothing like the near-black nights back home in Ridgewood, where the air was too polluted to see the constellations.

There were no chores, no snaps of parental complaint, no sudden yells. She wasn’t dogged by complicated rumors here or due in the house at exactly 3 pm. In Jackson, she was free. She could wander off to cookouts or the county fair that featured a double Ferris wheel and deep-fried Oreos.

She could do anything.

Despite her own diminutive frame, Grandma constantly clucked her concerns about Maranatha’s weight (“Girl, you bout thin as a sheet!”) and pushed chicken and cornbread and pound cake and pie at her all summer. She seemed pleased, as Maranatha had rolled her suitcase to the door to se that the girl had gained at least ten pounds. You could stand a few more, Grandma chided, as she shoved a fold of money into Maranatha’s palm when they hugged goodbye.

She’d been in no rush to come home. Relief washed over her, when she left baggage claim for the pick-up curb and realized her mom and stepdad weren’t there yet. One final, perfect hour passed before they pulled up to the curb. She spent it listening to her discman and pretending she was waiting on a car service that would take her to the home of the foreign diplomats who’d be sponsoring her education abroad through the rest of high school, college, and grad school. Straightening her spine, she folded her hands in her lap and turned her face to the sun, pretending to be a royal awaiting tea service. But her good posture and temperament were fleeting, as within minutes, she saw her stepfather’s old, diesel Mercedes hugging a curve and careening toward her.

Nothing of consequence happened in the week between her arrival from Jackson and her first day of school. She and her stepfather had one of their customary arguments in her mother’s absence, the kind where he could accuse Maranatha of “insolence” and Maranatha could insist that she’d done but defend herself and her mother would throw up her hands and walk off, calling them both childish, the kind where later in the evening, Anne would crack open her daughter’s bedroom door and softly insist that she work harder at keeping the peace when she wasn’t home to play moderator: “It’s his house, after all….”

She’d gone to church, of course, and watched as her stepfather danced his praise jig on the front row, while her mother offered slightly more reserved applause or swaying hands beside him.

Her nana bought her new school clothes: itchy cardigans and plaid pleated skirts, a heavy, turquoise ankle-length sweater dress, and blessedly, one pair of Gap jeans. She also stocked up on purple ballpoint pens and Mead Five-Star notebooks, determined to be a better student this year than she had been in years past. A passing student, at least.

On her first morning as a high school senior, she hiked the straps of her lavender Jansport further on her shoulders as she took the front steps two at a time. Septembers weren’t that bad. She was always still coasting on the placidity of summer when school started. It was the other eight months that proved problematic. But this was senior year. There was an end and it was near. College was on the horizon—secular liberal arts college, prayerfully in a city far, far away. Not only that, she could say with absolute confidence that she wouldn’t be darkening the doors of Holy Pentecost Academy after they awarded her diploma. The resolute comfort of that was all the motivation she needed to barrel through to graduation.

The front hall hummed with electric chatter. There was an excitement far more palpable than there’d been in years before. Several of the familiar faces she saw positively shone with the radiance of imminent liberation. This, Maranatha thought to herself, was the only thing that linked her to them; even the students who didn’t mind the school were eager to leave it.

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