Tuesday, April 09, 2013

SPE: The Way It Should Be

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Mark G. gave me this prompt: "Show your devotion to me."
I gave Anna this prompt:' "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" -Krishnamurti ']

Marie Gallagher liked her routines. She got up at the same time every morning, she took care of her bathroom needs, she washed and changed, she cooked herself an egg and made toast, and then she neatened and straightened the rest of the morning. There wasn't much to straighten any more. The children were gone now, along with Frank, dear sweet Frank, who looked up at her 14 years ago and complimented her cooking, as he always did, belching as he pushed away from the table, then went into the family room and passed away silently in his recliner, his open eyes staring at "Wheel Of Fortune" while she washed dishes, oblivious, in the next room. Those nice handsome young men from the ambulance told her there was nothing she could have done, and that tiny little Indian doctor said the same thing at County General, her perfect round brown face full of sorrow, but she never believed them.

Marie prayed about it, prayed as she puttered around, cleaning and recleaning. The house didn't get dirty the way it used to, Marie both loving and hating the mess and the chaos and the glorious noise of the toddler grandchildren years ago. Of course, they grew older as time went on, the daughters silent and moody, the sons muted and out of place without Frank to balance the energy in the house. Marie prayed that her Frank had gone to his reward, that he was as decent a man to the Lord as he was to her. She prayed that she had done right by him.

Frank's death felt like it opened a trap door under her feet, suddenly responsible for a world full of things she didn't understand, a world of cable bills and municipal taxes and annuities and wills and probate court. Thank the Lord for the girls and their husbands, Lisa's dark, intense Richard and Wendy's placid, fat Steven, who came in and explained and reexplained how it all worked, where the circuit breakers were and how a cell phone worked and who plowed the driveway and who to hire at tax time. She felt the tide nipping at her ankles, but eventually, with the kids' help, she got it all down pat.

The kids didn't come by the way they used to. Which was fine- it was time for her beautiful daughters to raise their own family units, to become stars in someone else's sky. They had both chosen well, nice respectful husbands with good paying jobs who loved their kids with a depth and intensity that Marie's generation never got from their own fathers. It was time. It was the natural order of things. The grandkids had choir and art and band and football and soccer and the school play and the prom, and that was the way it should be. Marie had her routines, and that was fine by her. That was also the way it should be.

After "The Price Is Right," where that pudgy comic had replaced tall suave Bob Barker, she made herself a tuna sandwich, then ate it in front of the noon news carnival of maladjusted criminals and crooked mayors. Marie cleaned up zealously, then napped in front of the soap operas whose storylines she could never follow anymore, finally waking up with that nice Katie Couric, always talking so gently to those confused looking young starlets with the long beautiful legs who all looked alike.

Then, after the final applause died off on Katie's show, she knew to turn to channel 267, where
she knew Pastor Benny was waiting. They repeated his service at different times during the day, but this was Marie's hour to spend with him. Pastor Benny talked to her the way no one else did, not the nurses at Dr. Burns' office, not that nice round hipped girl at the pharmacy who always remembered her name, not anybody in her life. Nobody answered her concerns, listened to her fears, made her feel wanted and necessary, like Pastor Benny.

When Lisa saw the repeated entries in her checkbook one day, she asked her what "B.H.L.H" stood for, and she made up something about a church appeal for Bosnia, and that seemed to satisfy her younger daughter's curiousity. Marie didn't want anyone else to know about Pastor Benny, because Pastor Benny was hers, and she didn't want anyone interfering with her rhythms. Pastor Benny filled her heart with joy, and that was a feeling she seldom had since Frank died.

She watched intently as the service began, the organ playing, the choir in their identical purple robes making a joyful noise, and then he came out from the side of the stage, the parishioners cheering and crying out, steady clapping suddenly dissolving into a roar. Marie watched the camera focus on one woman, a large Hispanic woman with an enormous bust who was crying big fat tears as Pastor Benny came out, bathing in the love and the devotion of his flock. His church was enormous, every inch luxurious carpet or glittering chandelier, and his crowds filled the room, making Marie swoon with how much power there was coming out of her television.

"My people, my children," Pastor Benny said, his hair slicked back, walking across that huge stage in a gray suit that fit him perfectly. "Welcome. I want you to come together with me today, come together with me and make God's love manifest in the world. Now, my children, my people, I want you to join with me, join together and show your devotion, in Jesus' name, show your devotion to the world, show your devotion to the Lord, and show your devotion, my children, show your devotion to me." An address flashed on the screen, and Marie reached for her glasses so she could write it down, even though she knew Pastor Benny would show it again.