Page 36 - WTP Vol. XI #3
P. 36

Every Faith (continued from preceding page)
 He felt he would sob, or yell out with this feeling. He wanted only to commune with what was out there in the sky, and in an instant he was crying at the thought of this communion, its nearness and its distance, the holy promise of atonement. Silently, in secret, the tears tracked down his cheeks.
He didn’t notice them at first. It was only when Spen- cer had played his guitar, disrupting the spell with a strumming of chords, that Mark had felt the wetness on his face. He wiped it with his shirt as Spencer sang, the lift and swoon of earnest melody arresting all his yearning, mirroring and taunting it and bringing him back to that same harried shame he had felt once, as
a child, when his mother had entered his room unan- nounced and had found him encloaked in a yellowing dress shirt, an Oxford his dad had deserted, unpacked. He was crying then too. He had thought he was alone.
Amber was a smudge, she was no clearer than before, but Mark could feel her watching as he wiped away his tears. Neither of them sang. They settled, instead, into a state of icy waiting. The service would end soon, they would join the larger group, the buses would be boarded, and at last they would go to their disparate rooms, there to attend to a dull, shameful loneliness, the same vague tug of discomfiture and fear that had haunted every pilgrim since the birth of every faith.
That night he slept badly. He hardly drifted off until the awkwardness of dawn, the paling dark toward the east, his last surrender to exhaustion. When he woke, much too soon, the roommate assigned to him—a burly kid he barely knew who’d slept the whole night and produced, that whole time, the low phlegmy crank of a snore—had sneaked off. The clock read 8:20. Breakfast was at 8. He threw off the covers and lurched to the bathroom.
He would hurry, he decided, but he wouldn’t break his neck. A long day ahead of singing and small groups, field games, confessional prayers. They weren’t going anywhere. He would not be left behind.
A pattern of chintzy pink shells on the walls. A sliver of soap by the faucet, already slick with the other kid’s use. He inspected himself in the mirror. His pillow-creased face. Hair all mussed and greasy, like the rough mane of a vagrant, of an older, wilder man.
He dressed in his shorts and his checkered blue shirt and then surveyed the room and then left. His room was the last on its floor, and he stepped into the long
beige chamber of the hallway, not yet used to his sur- roundings, the time-stained arabesques of the factory carpets, the grit of the flesh-colored walls, so like goosebumps. Maybe they’d left after all. Maybe they’d left him for good, the whole world. Passed up by the Rapture, here in this hotel. The tackiest, loneliest doom of all time.
Behind him, at hallway’s end, a window looked down on the beach. He turned and peered out before taking the stairs. The vast and yearning canvas of the night had burned away, replaced by the violence of sun against sand. He pushed himself back and then crossed to the stairwell, greeted by a different light entirely. The scared white lamps of an evacuation corridor. Odd spots of damp on the landings. Cold railings. He took the four flights to the ground floor, alone.
At the entrance to the dining room he stopped. Be- yond the masses of his peers, the bright-eyed, uncom- plaining horde who seemed not to believe or even doubt, he saw his friend. She was sitting at the end
of a long open table. Spencer was standing behind her. He was telling her something, leaning in close to confer or instruct.
He watched as Spencer hovered, as he placed a slow hand on the tabletop. He was embracing her, almost, like some shimmying golf coach correcting her swing. It was impossible to hear what he was saying, though she was scowling, looking down. There was no sign of defiance, no attempt at any comeback. He was whis- pering in her ear. His lips all but touched her.
A sharp and sudden jealousy, a momentary fear. He corrected himself just as quickly, or tried to. There would be an explanation. All their closeness would make sense.
He crossed the bright dining room, bumping past benches and clusters of kids. When he reached Am- ber’s table, Spencer looked up at him, smiled, then stood tall.
“He’s alive,” Spencer said.
His hands were now perched on the back of her chair. “I overslept,” Mark said.
“Big night last night.”
“I feel like we were really breaking through to some- thing special.”

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