Michiel Considine '13
As they arrived at the serving tables, neat rows of Tupperware plates, steam trays and crock pots all fanned out across the floral cloth surface. Hank had always been delighted with the food at these events, surprised at how gracious the congregation was with the meals. In the past, when the events were winding down and guests began to check their phones with more frequency, they would hand Hank plastic containers and tell him, Take, take, whatever you need, and without question Hank would begin tightly packing mounds of leftover potato salad or lime gelatin into these containers as sustenance, he hoped, that might last through the week.
But while Hank was pondering the shelf life of all the offerings on display, the preacher was getting anxious. Without wasting another moment, Pastor Raymond gestured with his hands for all the women to gather round: something important was about to be said. He then began the preamble, treating the event as if he were revealing Hank from behind a set of silver drapes, until, at last, while enacting up his own drum roll, he announced: Ladies, may I introduce to you, the man of the hour, our own gift from heaven… Hank!
The women, at first, seemed pleased but tried not to act like it. They were unsure how serious the preacher's introduction was meant to be taken. Instead, they restricted themselves to a mild round of applause.
Pleasure to meet you kind folks, Hank said, scooping macaroni salad onto a colorful paper plate. The women blushed. They giggled and played with their rings. It had always amazed Hank, more than usual lately, the power of rock'n'roll to devastate the composure of the opposite sex. As they shuffled down the line, being offered baked beans and chicken salad, Hank smiled at all the servers, repeating their names throughout the introductions. Shelia, Tania, Becky, Diane. All of them swooned, fluttering their lashes before stealing glances at their husbands across the lot.
These were women, Hank had gathered in his time since joining the church, whose last resort in avoiding a lonely life with their men—those glorious brutes of men who sat in the pews beside them each week, moaning incessantly about the chore—was to fall into the arms of another lover, the holy spirit, instead. These were religious women, after all. It seemed the less adulterous thing to do, to pile their devotion into an abstract deity, a concept that could be ravished at a distance. And while their men complained and were keen on escaping their wives' zealous hobby, returning instead to lounging and working and nothing much else, these women, having witnessed the wreckage of ordinary life, went forth with the affair. Every Sunday they covered their imperfections and flaunted the features that still held their shape, the ones that had not yet been pilfered by husband or child, age or genetics, and they would reach out to their Lord through song and prayer and offer him, if not their souls, then at least their bodies, their enthusiasm. And truly they meant it. They worshipped at his feet, felt his spirit all around, those fiery lashes of amorous sparks that crackled across their bodies. They read his gospel and wore his crown, followed scripture as best they could. All in the name of the Lord. For salvation’s sake. For the off chance that there actually was a kingdom waiting for them way up above, in a galaxy far, far away. For the possibility of some heavenly villa hoisted above the earth, with acres of cloud coverage and a sprawling view of the Atlantic—the Mediterranean aglow in periphery. And could they be blamed for this fondness? This hope? Life everlasting tends to ring with great promise when following life itself, which is so often framed in disappointment and rot.
Pastor Raymond had confided in Hank that sometimes these women, in the throes of desperation at their lives and children, at men and their God, would throw their arms around him in the hallway after confession or in his office late at night, and dig their fingers into the softest parts of his kidneys, squeezing his sides with an ardor not only holy, but human as well. Hank recalled this story numerous times and imagined Ray had his pick of the litter, that his direct line to salvation might allow for some fringe benefits or bribes that might quicken these women's climb up the ladder. Ray had always denied such things and Hank never pressed the issue, only hoping, instead, that perhaps a bit of this Sunday school runoff might one day fall gracefully onto his own waiting lap. At least, that was the stuff Hank prayed for during services when the Pastor asked the congregation to bow their heads and the women grew solemn and dim, and the only noise echoing throughout the steeple was the moist breath of children, the faint static of an AM radio.