Monday, July 2, 2012

City on the hill (Keely and the church)

           They never knew Keely went to church. Her abrupt wanderings were common enough behavior for her that no one took notice that she was gone every Sunday morning. Most of the time everyone was asleep or hungover anyways. She didn't attend any church but frequented a particularly conservative outpost 45 minutes outside of town for which the flock was overwhelmingly those on the tumultuous edge between middle age and elderhood: the women uniformly fat, the men stringy and hard eyed. She was always very quiet, sat in the front yet never took communion. Just watched, basked.  She had never gone as a child, thought of attending rather as a social event she needed to experience similar to the desire of certain well off youth that arises like clockwork around their 20th year that propels them to visit third world countries. She began to go regularly but if asked (and she never was) Keely would have been unable to provide a rational reason for why she went to church. She had no sense of duty, and enjoyment played no part. It was simply a pull, a habit almost. Supernatural. During her first few visits she was eyed menacingly from eyes residing deep within folds of flesh but as the months then years wore on she was tentatively accepted even invited to lunch on an occasion by one of the congregations more timid and lonely widows.
      Sandy drove a late 80's Oldsmobile whose maroon interior provided a nose of stale cigarette smoke with a smooth round finish of canned fish. They drove without speaking for what seemed to Keely like a long time and pulled up to a creaking rambler at the end of a long unpaved driveway.
       -You know I go there because Pastor Roger preaches with such fire in his heart Sandy told Keely, smiling, as she held her Kinkaide mug before her face (tree's crimson spray above a smoking cabin). The mug filled with mass market tea and a haphazard handful of sucralose packets, years old, which Sandy kept stashed to the brim in a large drawer, faux wood peeling. -You truly feel the lord in his presence! Don't you? Keely nodded falsely. Keely drank slowly out of polite necessity. Later a sort of pasta dish mixed with ground meat was served, soiled doilies laid under their bowls. Not having the heart to decline Keely remembered this as the first time in twelve years she had eaten meat and it heartily reinforced her conviction for the remaining portion of her life.
       After eating Keely viewed a large collection of painted collectable plates and porcelain clown figurines her feelings towards which began as a mild trepidation then shifted to a genuine interest then (as the detailed history of the third shelf of figurines was explained) apathy which segued imperceptably to a deep dread for this woman and all of humanity, this being a new dread to which even Keely (dread hardened Keely) was unaccustomed. Finally after two and a half hours had passed (Keely was sure it had been closer to five, at least) the woman drove her back to the church and spent an unusually long time hugging Keely as she departed. Keely sat in her car for a long time after the woman drove away, the vacant church behind her, rubbing her temples. The day had started clear and cold but now a layer of clouds had settled and a low steady wind had picked up causing the swings in the playground to begin to arc on their own rusty chains, rattling with each pass. 
        Keely drove back into town slowly unable to shake from her thoughts the world of the woman: living alone and everything in the house (counters, food, tea, car, art) a pale mockery. Fake. The life the woman spun around herself over so many years without thought imply descending the path of least resistance. Offered her belongings in newspaper pullouts and television commercials, acquiring them slowly at first then with fervor. Dwelling on this Keely began to cry softly, knowing. She wanted to help this woman, give her something real, friendship, love, but she felt hopeless, as if nothing she could do could wrest the woman out of her porcelain pit. Keely arrived home as the sun was setting, the house was empty and a little cold. She hadn't been tired but got into bed and pulled the covers over her head, her imagination of the woman's life swirling in her head darker still: the woman's loneliness her loneliness, the woman's shell her shell, the woman's death her death.

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