The Christian Experience
The fake snow made me cry – that’s why I had to be Mary Magdalene. I was originally one of Santa’s girls, the head one, the one who walks the kid from the front of the line to Santa’s lap. I don’t like kids much but I made the outfit look sexy as hell – a tight blouse, a red velvet skirt, and a pair of knockoff UGGs. The hat messed up my hair, which I didn’t like, but trust me when I say that when guys look at me they don’t really care if my hair’s a little flat. I took the skirt up a couple inches on my mother’s sewing machine, and then, a week later, after nobody said anything, I took it up a couple more. Not slutty – sexy, sophisticated. Cosmo. I looked so good that looking at me you’d believe it was Christmas in June, that Jesus had risen in my backyard, anything I wanted – all I had to do was smile.
The fake snow would get in my eyes, though, and because David put some chemical in it to make it whiter and fluffier, more real, it hurt. I would start crying and then the kids would start crying and then their mothers would have to stop shopping and come get their kids to stop crying and, of course, being good Christian women, once they saw me crying they’d dig through their purses and give me a wad of Kleenex and a stick of gum and ask me, “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” The line would gunk up like cheap mascara and then more of the kids would start whining because they were tired of waiting for Santa and it would just get to be a mess.
One day, after a little girl in line choked on a candy cane, I got called to David’s office.
“It isn’t my fault she doesn’t know how to swallow,” I said.
He said that effective Monday, I was going to be Mary Magdalene in the new Crucifixion scene and no, it was not a promotion, and no, I would not be getting a raise. He said if I was going to go on crying and looking like a harlot all day, at least I could do it without disturbing the customers.
I asked if Mary Magdalene still got two cigarette breaks a shift.
We didn’t always have a Crucifixion – it used to be just the Nativity and Santa’s village. After The Passion was such a big success, though, the board of directors decided that The Christmas Experience had better get on board and fast, that we could make Easter last three hundred sixty five days a year just as well as we could Christmas. They sent over an “i” and an “n” so we could change our name immediately to The Christian Experience.
David told us all about it at a special meeting in the break room. He said he had prayed on it and God had let him know that this was going to be a great opportunity for all of us to come closer to the Lord, to make a bounty unto Him. After a moment of silent prayer, he peeled the foil off the cross shaped cookies his wife had made like he was unveiling the Mona Lisa or something. I said that they were lop-sided, that some of them weren’t even really crosses and he clapped his hands together like he was singing a hymn and said, “God bless my Jennifer, she’s no Emeril, but they’re each one beautiful in their own way.” On his way out, he passed me and whispered in my ear that I had better watch my A-S-S. He’s that kind of guy, that spells words instead of saying them.
Later that week, the trucks came – big mounds of cellophane grass, plastic eggs, and bunnies of all shapes, sizes, and materials. And the cross, of course. They had a crew to clean up the second floor and set up all the stuff, but David wanted to put the cross together himself. He said it was a real personal thing for him to be able to do. God knows he’s the one jack-ass who couldn’t stick two pieces of wood together without putting a nail through his finger. I bet he did it half on purpose, so he could wave around his little splint and show how he had suffered.
Believe you me, I didn’t want to work at The Christian Experience. I wasn’t doing it out of some devotion to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ like the rest of those idiots. To them, minimum wage was just a bonus to, I don’t know, salvation. But I needed money so that I could get out of my mother’s house and into my own apartment in Atlanta, so I could start my modeling career, and my only other options for a job were Dairy Queen, Outback, and the Cracker Barrel over in Shaw County and I didn’t want to smell like Dairy Queen or Outback or Shaw County all summer. For my interview with David, I borrowed my mother’s suit with the shoulder pads and her disgusting Pepto Bismol lipstick and said yes sir and Oh, God bless you when he sneezed.
I put on a real good show, but I probably didn’t even have to, he was that desperate to fill shifts. The Christian kids always had youth groups and pancake suppers and softball games, praying, all sorts of crap like that. He was so desperate that even after he caught me sleeping buried in Santa’s sleigh, he just pulled the presents off, muttered something about getting right with him (or Him, I couldn’t really tell), and walked me back to the front of the line. He didn’t cut my hours or anything.
I have to wake up early on Monday for training. That’s hell. If I believe in anything, it’s in the power of beauty sleep – it’s like daily reincarnation.
Even though it’s 82 degrees and sunny outside, it’s so cold when I step inside the Christian Experience that I think my sweat’s going to freeze. The cold is part of the “experience.” The customers are offered coats as soon as they step inside. The women always say well isn’t this fancy and close their eyes, smiling deep while the coat check boys rub their hands slowly over their shoulders, “smoothing out the wrinkles.” The men always refuse the coats. They cross their arms over their plaid chests and walk around gritting their teeth so they won’t get caught chattering. The kids – well, I’m just glad I never had to work coat check because Jesus, the kids’ coats have to be disgusting. We give them candy, but there aren’t any trash cans.
The Christian Experience was one of those old department stores before it was renovated, a Woolworths or something, so it has a second floor. Before the Easter decision, we didn’t use the second floor except for storage. There were chains across the escalators with little signs David had printed up that said “PLEASE DON’T CLIMB OUR STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN – THE MAN UPSTAIRS IS HARD AT WORK.” Each one had a picture of a smiley face with a halo over it.
The center of the second floor is filled with tables housing devotional literature and the fifty-some books that tie into The DaVinci Code. Off to the right is the Easter section. There are stuffed bunnies as big as professional wrestlers, collectible ceramic eggs and figurines, and enough chocolate to fill a swimming pool. To the left is home stuff – those Mexican candles with pictures of saints on them, Psalm a Day calendars, serving dishes shaped like Jesus fish, frankincense and myrrh bath salts. There’s also a lot of regular stuff that looks like what you’d get at Sears or JC Penny, except with crosses or bible quotes on it.
In the back nook, past all the tables, is the cross. It’s plywood and touches almost to the roof, probably nine feet. The three walls around it are painted a sort of brownish red, with an orange sun in the back corner. The floor around the cross is covered with mounds of sand that leak out onto the sales floor.
As I step into the back, David gives me a look and thanks me for gracing everyone with my presence. I do a little curtsy and he shakes his head and looks down at his clipboard.
I’ve worked with almost all of the others before. Sara-Jean is leaned up against the cross, wearing some ugly plaid dress that goes from her neck to her ankles, her hair, as always, in pigtails. She’s busy staring at Mark, who’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt for some Christian rock band. Even though he’s stupid as shit, he’s obviously playing Jesus – he has the long hair. He’s wrestling with John, who might as well be his Siamese twin they spend so much time together. They’re probably gay and don’t know it.
There’s a boy I don’t know, in a State shirt, sleeping curled up in a ball on the floor.
“All right, people,” David says, tapping his pen against his clipboard, “let’s get this thing moving. Time is money, time is souls.”
They form a semi-circle around David, like he’s the star quarterback. I stand on the outskirts, behind the boy in the State shirt. A little bit of his undershirt is hanging out over his jeans, like a tail. He’s wearing 501s – you can tell by the stitching on the back pocket.
“Okay, here’s how it’s going to go,” David says. “We’re going to be doing what’s called a ‘tab-lo vee-vahnt.’ Now, that’s French, but don’t let it scare you off – it just means living picture.”
“I thought we were going to be performing a Passion play,” says Sara-Jean. “Well, Sara-Jean, honey, I’d love to, but this is a store, not a theater. We need to be selling the good news, of course, that’s our ultimate goal, but we also need to be selling what’s on the shelves, understand?”
Sara-Jean shakes her head yes real quick and looks down like he just told her her puppy had gotten run over.
“Great, well then, Mark, or should I say hey-zeus,” he says, chuckling, “why don’t you come on over and get up on to the cross?” He shows us all the little clear plastic shelf about a foot up on the cross. Mark climbs onto it and it looks like he’s floating cause you can’t see the shelf. It’s weird. Mark puts his arms up on the crossbar, lolls his head down and sticks out his tongue. He looks up for a second, catches my eye, and winks. I flip him off behind David’s back
David grabs Sara-Jean by the elbow. “Okay, now, you, Mother Mary, are going to stand right here,” he says, yanking her by her elbow to the left of the cross. “John, now you come stand over there and hold on to her real tight.”
John, who had been doing pull-ups on the arm of the cross, jumps down and wraps his arms around her, sloppily, like he’s putting plastic wrap on a casserole dish and it won’t stick. I can’t even tell if they’re actually touching.
“Get closer, y’all,” David says, squeezing them together. Sara-Jean starts to shake like a car with the bass turned all the way up. John pulls out his video game and starts playing it over her shoulder.
“Now Ms. Magdalene,” David says, glancing down at his clipboard, “you’re going to kneel beside Jesus’s feet.”
I go over and get down on my knees beside the cross, facing the back wall.
“No, that’s not right. You need to be looking at his feet, but we also got to be able to see your face.”
I twist around and my knees dig through the sand into the cold tile below it. I have no choice but to look at Mark’s feet. He’s wearing shoes with velcro straps. He’s seventeen years old and he’s wearing velcro shoes. Jesus Christ.
“Okay,” David says, marking off another check. “And you, Luke, our Roman soldier, are going to stand to the right side of the cross.” I can feel the sand press up against my leg as the sweatshirt boy steps through it. It’s cold.
I sit there staring at Mark’s velcro shoes, trying to defocus my eyes. I bet at home he sits on the couch and straps and unstraps them for hours, drooling.
David holds up his clipboard, making sure we’re all in our right places Then he hands me and Sara-Jean big black shopping bags and tells us to go change into our costumes.
“You girls don’t have to do any of the important stuff,” he says. “That’s for my men here. Just wear your costumes, get in your places, and cry like you mean it.”
Sara-Jean and I go into the ladies room to put on our costumes. In the stall, I open the bag and pull out my dress, which is the size of a load of laundry. What self respecting whore would wear something like that? Even if she was reformed, you don’t just go from sinner to saint in the blink of an eye, I don’t think.
I guess I should have paid more attention when I saw The Passion. David had driven us all in his church’s van and put tickets in our hands, but I spent most of it making out with the usher, who had just graduated from Central over in Murfreesboro. I had gone to the concessions counter to get a Diet Coke and he gave me a warm Tootsie Pop out of his back pocket and said, “Hey girl, I wonder how many licks it takes you to get to the center of that?” It was a God-awful line, but he had a nice face and he gave me my Diet Coke free.
I almost throw up when I see myself, or actually, don’t see myself in the mirror. My body isn’t there; it’s like a face and a neck with a whole linen closet hanging off.
I stand in front of the mirror doing my make-up. If the only thing people can see is my face then I’m going to make damn sure they have something to look at. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Sara-Jean’s staring into the mirror, rubbing her forehead. She has a big zit.
“Do you want some cover-up for that?” I ask, holding out my compact without looking at her.
“Oh, um, no thank you. I’m not allowed.”
“That sucks,” I say, pretending to care. “Boys really like it when a girl wears make-up.”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s like, biological, you know? You have biology yet?”
“No, we don’t have that at my school.”
“Oh, well, it’s real simple. Say you and I are standing side by side in front of, I don’t know, John.” I see the blush color her face as I say his name. “Now, say you’re wearing make-up and I’m not. There’s no way John could like me, he’d be so busy looking at you.”
“But…why would he look at me?”
That’s what I love about the evangelicals. They always take the bait, always. They talk a good game about fire and brimstone and all that, but they’re so damn insecure about what they might be missing they’d probably do crack if you talked it up enough.
“Because of the make-up, stupid. Of course I’m prettier than you, so really it would seem like he would like me, but what happens is that the make-up works on the chemicals in his brain and, well, it’s complicated and you don’t really know enough for me to really explain it more, but basically he falls in love with you because of the chemicals. It’s called natural selection.”
“Oh,” she says. She looks down at the sink, scraping her nails against the porcelain. They’re short and plain, like on a little boy.
“Well,” she says, finally, “I guess I could have a little bit of something, just don’t make it show too much,”
“I’ll be very subtle,” I say, dumping out my purse onto the counter. “You won’t even know it’s there.”
I cake on foundation and then I really start in, like a kid with a new box of crayons who wants to use every color, even if they don’t go together. She complains at first, but I tell her it’s like faith – the more you have, the better it works. That shuts her up.
When we get back upstairs, the boys don’t even notice the make-up, even though she looks like a clown on meth. They never notice if you’re wearing make-up, but you wear it anyway, I don’t know why. Maybe someday you just think they’ll see.
Every hour at 4 after, a bell rings and we all get in our places behind the curtain. I sit there smelling Mark’s feet, staring at his big yellow toe-nail, wondering how bad Cracker Barrel could have been. I shift my weight and the sand grinds into my knees like broken glass. Sarah-Jean rests her head on John’s shoulder like it’s the slow song at the eighth grade dance.
Luke stands behind me and I listen to him breathe.
At 5 after, the curtain opens and we perform. Actually we just sit there, pretending to be sad. Mark kind of performs, though to call what he does performance is really a stretch. He says the five lines that Jesus said on the cross, in Aramaic, because that’s how they did it in The Passion. He couldn’t memorize them so they’re written out phonetically on poster boards and pasted on the back wall, near the escalators.
It’s really not that big of a deal. The whole thing takes about a minute, less if Mark gets nervous and fumbles the words. He drops his head, closes his eyes, and that’s it.
The funny thing is at the end. See, after watching a crucifixion, people don’t know how to respond. They just stand there in front of us, silent, their hands together at their waists. Don’t even cough.
Eventually, though, some ass-hole will start clapping and, happy to be given a direction to follow, they all start hooting and hollering like they’re at a monster truck rally. We take our bows and then it’s time to sell.
You can get your picture taken on the cross for five bucks. For ten, they make the picture into a postcard that says “Greetings from the Christian Experience.” For twenty five, a tee-shirt with your picture on the front and your favorite biblical verse on the back (with a word limit, of course). It all sells like crazy.
Mark helps people onto the cross and takes the pictures and sometimes David complains because he gets the fake blood all over the camera or catches the nails taped onto his wrists against the tripod. John prints all the stuff on the computer downstairs. Luke, Sarah-Jean, and I work the floor. None of us change out of our costumes because that’s time we could be selling.
I never have to sell. Nobody wants to approach Mary Magdalene except old married guys whose wives find them quick enough and tow them off by their elbows to look at “Make Your Own Stained Glass Window” sets. To look busy sometimes I’ll sweep the sand back into the nook or wipe down the cross with an old towel, but that’s about it. It’s an easy job.
I hide behind a shelf and watch Luke demonstrate the Cruciform to some middle aged guy with a spare tire. The Cruciform is the Christian exercise machine. It’s a big black metal cross covered with padded cuffs that you strap your arms and legs to and there are pulleys and weights in the back. The box shows a guy with a real hot body strapped to it, flexing, with cartoon flames under his feet. “Feel the burn…and rise above it!” is the slogan.
The old guy is telling Luke the story of some football game he played twenty years ago. Luke nods along, but I know he’s not listening, he doesn’t care. He pumps the cross bars back and forth, the folds of his tunic pushing out as his muscles expand, his plastic sword clattering at his waist. I wish he was Jesus so he could be shirtless all the time; Mark’s chest is like an eight year old girl’s.
A bead of sweat rolls down his neck and I think if I dive fast enough I can catch it.
Business is great for about a month after we become The Christian Experience, but near the beginning of July, it starts slowing down. The store’s not empty by any means, but there’s definitely a drop off. Apparently people will buy ornaments and snow globes all year round, but not chocolate bunnies or malted eggs.
David starts showing up at all our performances, standing in the background like a soccer mom who won’t go home. He makes us stay after work and practice for him and, while we do, he reads us elaborate passages from the Gospels and other books he has in the store. He stops shaving and sometimes he wears the same shirt two days in a row.
Sara-Jean and I have lunch together at the picnic table behind the store. It’s strange, I haven’t eaten lunch with anybody since freshman year of high school. That was the year that I really got pretty and all that the rest of them got was jealous and started talking about me behind my back. It wasn’t that they didn’t want me to hear, it was that they did but were too afraid to say it to my face, cause they knew what would happen. Sara-Jean’s ignorant as hell, but at least she doesn’t think she’s anything more than she is, which is nothing.
We sit mostly in silence, watching the two ducks that live in the retention pond behind the store as they skim across the slime. She eats PBJ with the crusts cut off and skim milk. On the days that I eat, I have a cheeseburger and a can of Diet Coke.
Sometimes I share my fries with her. It’s so funny to watch her. She’ll hold one, roll it around for a second in her fingers, examining it like it’s some precious stone, then slip half of it in her mouth and bite, closing her eyes. She chews slow.
“So John was telling me how he likes your new ponytail,” I tell her, even though I haven’t said a word to John for over a week. Today, instead of pigtails, she’s just wearing one pony-tail. I saw her doing it in the parking lot after her mother drove away.
“Really? I kind of did it for…well, I’m glad he likes it.”
“Yeah, well, you should be. The gays really know a lot about style and fashion,” I say, and take a big bite of my cheeseburger, waiting.
Sara-Jean drops her milk carton mid-sip. It bounces off the table and lands facedown on the ground. The milk runs out and pools in the dirt.
“Yeah,” I continue, “I’m gonna ask him for some advice on how I should get mine cut. I’m thinking of doing highlights or something. What do you think?”
I smile at her real sweet and run my hands through my hair like it’s made of gold.
Sara-Jean stares at the pool of milk for a while before looking up at me. When she does, her eyes are wide and her lip is trembling.
“You mean John is,” she whispers, hunching down her shoulders “a homosexual?” She says it like she’s gonna go to Hell just for saying the word.
“Oh yeah, big flamer,” I say. “Mark too, that’s why they’re always wrestling That’s a thing the gays do. I don’t know how much you know about it, you’re pretty sheltered.”
I wait a second, then go in for the kill.
“Oh, you didn’t think that he liked you, did you?”
She stares at the milk and the dirt.
“I mean, I’m sure he likes you, he just doesn’t like you like you, if you know what I mean.”
“John is a good boy,” she says, head on her hand.
“Sure, he’s a good boy. He’s just a good boy who likes other good boys,” I say, and have to stop myself from giggling.
“That’s not John. John is good,” she says, her voice firming, like if she believes it enough it’ll be true. “He’s got a demon inside him making him sin, but he’s not a sinner. He’s good, I know he’s good.”
“Mmmhmmm,” I say, and offer her a fry, which she bats away.
“He’s got a demon inside him and I’ve got to get it out of him,” she whispers, more to herself than me. She grips her plastic fork like it’s a sword.
Later, I see her and Luke talking after a performance.
“Hey, Sara-Jean, did Luke say anything about me?” I ask.
“No,” she says, and she stands there for a second, so I think she’s about to say something else, to spare my feelings, but she just walks off looking distracted.
David corners me one night when I’m clocking out. I turn around and there he is, his beard so close it almost scratches my forehead. He smells like a gym locker.
“You’re not crying, Mary,” he says finally. “I need you to cry.”
“My name’s not Mary, you idiot,” I say. “And I can’t always cry. I can’t just turn it on, just cause you ask me to.”
I try to sidle out of the way, but he moves along the wall with me, like a shadow.
“You cried before,” he says, “and you can cry again. And you will.”
“Or what?” I ask. He puts his arms against the wall on either side of me. I push against his chest, but I’m not strong enough. “You’ll fire me?” I hiss, pressing myself against the wall, as far away from him as I can get. “Go ahead, I don’t need this.”
“You have to cry. Or else,” he says. His breath hits my nose, sour and hot. I keep waiting for him to make some dumb joke like he always does, but nothing. He just looks at me with his dead, tired eyes.
“If you don’t cry, it’s not real,” he says. “It has to be real. That’s what the people want to see. They’ll come if you cry.”
I start out using the fake snow. Every hour, I tiptoe down the escalator, past the sleigh and the elves and all the presents, past the horse-faced girl who does my old job, and I catch the fake snow right out of the machine. I get a handful of it, like I’m going to pack a snowball, then press it right into my eyes. It’s so cold that at first it doesn’t even hurt. I blink a couple times until I can feel it start to burn and then wipe my hands on my dress and run back upstairs, push past the few people waiting for the show and get behind the curtain.
The others look at me like I’m crazy, because that’s how you look at someone when you see them crying for no reason. I drop down on my knees hard, so I feel it. I close my eyes and start trying to think of sad things, like when my dog got ran over except I never had a dog, dogs don’t like me, so I think about a movie I saw once where a dog got ran over and that’s good enough.
The curtain squeak open and I lift my eyelids and it all comes out.
After I take my bow, women come up and hug me, say, “Darlin, that was beautiful, just beautiful.” And I nod like I give a shit and show them some nice silverware and hand towels.
Luke smokes behind the store, so that’s where I go when I can’t take it anymore.
“Hey,” I say. “Could I have a drag off of that?”
He’s leaned against the building, silent except for the occasional exhale. He never says anything, not least to me. He raises his eyes and hands me the cigarette, like saying yes would be too much effort. I take it in slow, eyes closed, arch my back and press out my chest like my tits are filling up with smoke and it’s making me float.
“Thanks,” I breathe, and pass it back. He nods.
“So,” I say.
He’s staring off at the ducks.
“So, do you think you could do me a favor?” I ask.
He shrugs without looking at me. I get up close to him, lean against the wall, put my lips right up near his ear and I want to just lick it but I don’t.
“Could you blow some smoke in my eyes?” I whisper. “So I can cry? For the scene.”
He doesn’t move at first, just sits there looking off into the distance, considering it. Then he turns around so he’s facing me. He’s taller, but because he’s leaning, his eyes are right in line with mine. I see him take a great big drag and then he gets closer to me and he was close already, and he’s holding it and holding it and then he blows it all right into my eyes and his lips are right there and the smoke breaks on my pupils like a wave and ripples up and down my face.
He smokes the whole thing like that, slow, and the cloud of smoke is like some sort of cobweb we’re both stuck in and a spider’s going to come kill us and we’re just waiting there for it, spending our last seconds alive, together.
Then he finishes the cigarette, tosses the butt, and walks off like nothing happened. He leaves me there against the wall, crying, alone.
And soon I’m crying all the time, for no reason. No snow, no smoke, I don’t even have to try, it just comes out. At home, while I’m watching TV, I hold Kleenex against my cheeks to soak it all up. I feel like if I carried a Big Gulp cup around with me, I could fill it by the end of the day, and then drink the tears, which I probably should do, because I’m so dehydrated I don’t even sweat. At the Wendy’s drive-thru, the cashier looks at me, nervous, and asks if there’s something wrong with my order and I sob “No, it’s fine,” and drive off.
And the funny thing is I’ve never been the kind of person who cried.
My last day at The Christian Experience, I’m late because I get stopped by a cop for running a red light. The officer says, “M’am, I was right behind you and that was just blatant,” and I say, “Well, I really didn’t mean to run it, I guess I just didn’t see it right,” which is actually true, it was kind of blurry, and I’m crying so he says, “There’s no need to get all emotional, miss, I’ll let you off with a warning this time,” and walks away.
I have to walk through the first floor to clock in. The coat check girl waves hello, but no one else really notices.
After I clock in, I walk by David’s office. The door’s open, so I step inside a little. The overhead light’s off, but the lamp on his desk is on and through my tears, everything looks wavy and shadowed. David’s passed out in his chair, his head face down on the desk. His walls are covered with taped-up pictures of the crucifixion scene: paintings, photographs of sculptures, stills from movies. On the desk, by his head, is a framed picture of all of us, of our scene.
I coast up the escalator, into the warmth upstairs. I expect to see the cross, it’s so tall it’s usually the first thing you see, but the curtain’s closed, even though it’s not show time. I walk down the center aisle, running my fingers along the books.
I pull open the curtain and, at first, it’s dark, and then I see the back of Sara-Jean’s dress and her sitting there, bent over writhing in front of the cross. I start to worry, to think that she’s having a seizure because the evangelicals probably don’t go to the doctor and do I remember any CPR and it’s when I get closer and put my hand on her shoulder that I see John is under her, his shirt off, breathing hard, and as her body moves, I can hear her saying, in sharp, desperate little breaths, “Out, out, out, get out,” gripping his chest like she’s going to pull out his heart.
I stumble back through the curtain and I feel dizzy so I hold onto a table full of books. And the tears are really streaming down my face now, more than ever, and as I look around everything is glimmering, shining, and it all looks like it’s made of gold and silver and jewels, all the riches of the world before me. And I close my eyes for a second to make sure it’s real, like pinching yourself in a dream, and when I open them again, it’s all gone.
I hate when someone’s telling you a story and they get to the end and say “and so I learned that blah blah blah.” It’s such shit, like we all live on Sesame Street or something. Nobody ever learns anything. All I learned from this whole mess is that if something makes your eyes hurt, don’t stick it in your eyes, for God’s sake.
In the trial, David said that he didn’t make me blind, that it was my own choice what I did or did not put in my eyes and he shouldn’t be blamed for it. I kinda agreed with him, but I didn’t tell anybody that, I just sat on the stand and cried. I’m pretty good at it by now. And after they showed the security tape of him and me in the break room and it came out that he’d been paying all the evangelicals half minimum wage, the jury wasn’t so inclined to take his side.
With the money I got in the trial, I bought my own place, just outside town, with a car service and an attendant who comes in the afternoons and does what I need done. I picked him by running my hands over his face like you’re supposed to, then down his neck and over his chest. I pay him extra for some things.
Every Sunday, John and Sara-Jean come pick me up for church. I’m always ready, waiting for them on the divan in the living room, in a thin little sundress and heels, my legs crossed, purse in my lap. Sara-Jean drops some baked good on the table and then they each take one of my hands and walk me out to the car.
I think they believe somehow they’re going to convert me, that one morning I’m going to wake up and say Hallelujah, Lord Jesus, I can feel the Spirit running through me, I can see the light!
I think it’s cute how they believe in things.
We drive to church in John’s convertible; well, actually it’s mine, I keep it for my driver, but I let John drive it when we go to church. He says it’s his convertible on Sundays just like I’m the Lord’s on Sundays. It’s a nice little lie, a comfortable joke that we tell each other every week.
“If the Lord wants me to be his,” I’ll say, “he has to buy me dinner first.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t care much about the service itself. The preacher’s full of shit, but the words aren’t important. I tune them out and just listen to the sound of his voice, the pitch rising and rising and then cracking like a rifle just before he runs out of breath.
After the sermon, the organist starts vamping and the preacher calls for anybody who wants to receive the Spirit to come forward.
I’m already up on my feet, pulling my way along the pews as fast as I can. I don’t have to rush, I always get to go first – they feel bad for me, that poor, pretty blind girl. They’re all idiots, but I mean that in the nicest possible way.
I can tell I’m there when I feel the preacher’s hand on my shoulder. I stop. He puts his other hand on my forehead. It’s hot, but everything’s hot, so it just is. He starts chanting and going on about I don’t know what, I don’t really listen, I just push my head against his hand so that he has to push back, hard, his arm shaking. We’re both pushing so hard that something has to happen.
So I stick out my arms and start speaking in tongues.
Here’s the thing – I’m pretending. It’s just a bunch of gibberish, like a song you make up when you’re a kid. It doesn’t mean shit.
But then the hands come. They touch my own hands first, tugging at my fingers, pulling me apart almost. Then they’re on my arms, my shoulders, the small of my back, they’re all over me, all their fingers covering my body, like water holds you, and we’re rocking back and forth and the organist is holding a chord it feels like forever and all of us there, sweating.