“For the love of all that is fuck, this girl has an ass like ‘yes, please,’” Shadow said.
Arthur smiled and nodded. He looked me up and down, then back into my eyes with interest.
“Long hair, about to the breasts. Very straight. She tucks it behind her ears. Face of an angel. Smile of purity, with a hint of sex. She has these fingers that I want on me, and eyes that I want begging. We played chess at the coffee house last night. I beat her all three times.” Lie. “Could have ended the games pretty fucking fast, too, but I wanted to hang out with her a little.” Another lie, but I had a reputation to keep up. “This chick deep-throated a spoon right in front of me. God damn, I can’t even imagine what she could do with a cock.”
“She sounds lovely. What’s her name?” Arthur said.
“Bekah Lynch,” Shadow said. “I need about three hours with her.” In truth, I needed about three minutes. I was not that impressive back then.
“Are you going to see her again?”
“Man, I wish, but she is dating this fucking douche, and she is really into him, to hear tell.” Shadow grabbed the wet dough out of the mixer and flopped it on the table like a forty-pound piece of flab. He grabbed a fistful and cut it with a dull knife, dropped it on the weight just to check, but it was right. It was always right.
See, I’m at Mumble’s Pizza Hut Delivery store. I had accidentally found myself as an assistant manager. I’m trying hard to get out of it, but I’m pretty stuck. But you know that story.
“Her boyfriend is Brett. I think I have talked about him before. The twat,” Shadow said.
“You have mentioned him in passing.”
“Well, I would rip his dick off with my bare hands and chuck it on Interstate 44 if it meant I could see that spoon trick again. But what am I going to do? The chick has terrible taste in men.” Shadow laughed. “She might like me actually.”
Arthur’s name was called and he smiled. “I’ll be back. The road calls.” He grabbed an insulated bag and out the door he went to his tiny car and whatever bad tip he was going to earn.
When he comes back, I’m neck deep in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Momma, just killed a man.” I’m lost in the song. It reminds me of Aimes and a few bad nights we had after her and D’s break up. “Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he’s dead.”
Arthur leans against the dough proofer staring at me.
“Momma, life has just begun. And now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.” But I’m barely aware of him. I’m in the song and shifting fast.
Servant and Guardian.
All of us love to sing, and this song always runs off with us to magical, heartbreaking and twisted places where time makes as much sense as a Dali painting. The song loses its mind and we are lost in it. Mumble is making fun of us, but he is so far away right now. Only Queen, Mercury, and drama exist, and when the song ends, I am breathless.
“You should come to my church on Sunday,” Arthur said.
I look at him and smile. See, Shadow has given up on church. It doesn’t make sense in the embrace of the Degenerates. It doesn’t make sense in the thrashing of Mary and Precious.
“Your church?” Shadow says. He thinks of the tirade he just dismounted from about Bekah’s ass and he laughs. This has to be a joke.
“I’m the pastor of a church out in Dixon. I would love to have you,” Arthur said.
“Fuck,” Shadow said.
Arthur smiled. “I don’t judge. You’re a passionate man. I think I see God in you. I want to get a better look. I’ll swing by your place at eight on Sunday. If you are out front, we go. If not, then I keep driving. No pressure.” He patted me on the back. “I like you.”
Seven-fifty on Sunday morning, and I have no idea what time I got to bed the night before. Seven-fifty on Sunday morning, and I am lost as to why I am standing here, because I am not a man of God anymore. God and I are not talking. We both walked away, threw our hands in the air, and scoffed.
It’s over. Wrap it up.
But the way Arthur looked at me made me feel better than how I was living. He gave a bit of light in a world of debauchery. So, I guess I was out front when he pulled up, and I jumped in.
Bigger car and his three kids and wife are in the back seat. They are all blonde boys; she is a blonde woman with a beautiful face and a great smile.
“This is Guinevere, my wife,” Arthur says.
I stick my hand in the backseat awkwardly and shake hers.
“These are my boys.” He gives me their names.
“I’m so excited to meet you, Jesse,” Guinevere says.
Should have walked away. Here in this moment, I lose what was left of my faith. I begin to resent God and call on Him no more. But I got in because they were wholesome, and I was dark and broken. I got in because I wanted something pure.
Maybe it was Shadow and the wild way he walked and talked. Maybe it was Servant and his humility. It might have been Guardian and his valor. Whatever it was would poison everything in this car.
The church was small.
No, really. Not how you think. You are thinking about chapels in small towns with standing room only, clapboards, no air conditioning and women in stuffy dresses fanning themselves with the program. No, it was not like that.
This church was small.
The chapel was half the size of the church you are picturing. It had four rows of pews with PLENTY of seating for the present crowd. It had a piano stuffed in the corner, a large wooden cross that looked homemade, and a congregation of about thirteen devout Christians.
But it was beautiful. Stained glass windows. Royal blue pews. Dark red carpet. And a smack of faith that could not be denied.
I walked in and the entire church stood. Every man shook my hand. Every woman hugged me. A little sheltered, homeschool girl in a handmade dress embraced me, pressing her cheek against my chest and thanking me for coming.
This church was love.
This church was instantly home.
When the service started, a large man in a nice dark suit stood to lead the congregation and he began to sing. To put it kindly, it was a fucking tragedy. He had no control of his pitch. A voice that grunted more than rang. He sweated and stammered through the song. It was obvious he did not want to be up there and he looked at me with an odd expression on his face. An odd, pleading look.
I, of course, sat with Guinevere and her sons, and we sang as well as we could. The couple in front of me turned to glance at me. The boys I sat with grinned up at me. Everyone in the church looked at me with hope, and I looked back at them with love.
Arthur gave a sermon. He was calm but commanding. He had a soft way about him when he spoke about God as if they had just talked, and he was trying to let us all know what God had said to him. The congregation listened to him with respect, and a tad bit of awe, and I learned.
He was infused with wisdom. Guided by the Word. He had the room under control and we all felt safe. We felt cared for.
When we got in the car to head back to my house, I was dizzy. I had never had that sort of experience in a church. I had felt God before. I had even had a conversation with him a few times, but this atmosphere was new to me. I had no word for what I was feeling but contentment, as if I had just eaten a meal to satisfaction, not excess. As if I had just woken up from a restful sleep.
“Your church is amazing,” Shadow said. It was the first time he sat through a sermon. He had shifted out as soon as the sermon began so he could scope out the young ladies in the room, but Arthur’s voice had kept him there.
“Our church needs to grow,” Arthur said. “Our church has one flaw.”
Shadow instantly knew what he was talking about. “That guy needs to step down.” He was saying it as nicely as he was capable of.
“Law is a good man. When we looked around and had no music director, he stepped in, knowing he was a terrible singer but unwilling to let the church go without,” Arthur said. “He corners me every Sunday asking when he can be replaced. He wants out from under a job he can’t do. And now he can retire from leading us in song.”
“Yeah,” Shadow said. Then he snapped out of it. “What? What do you mean?”
“Be ready next Sunday. We are Southern Baptist, so you know the hymnal. We expect nothing but a good voice from you. And you have the charisma. You are a leader. You are meant to be in front of people. You’re my guy. See you next Sunday.”
We had a long ride back to my place and the car was silent the whole way. Guinevere, the kids, and Arthur sat in reverent respect for the things happening within me.
I saw him at work all that week. We never talked about it. We hand-washed dishes side-by-side. Made pizza and dough. He stood laughing as Shadow told stories riddled with profanity and no one said a word. We let it go.
But at seven fifteen on Sunday, I was out in front of my house. I had not slept the night before. I was forty-five minutes early, and when he came to pick me up with his family in the back seat, I looked at him.
“Okay,” Shadow said.
Shadow was the new music director of a Southern Baptist Church. The violent, foul-mouthed criminal, Billy’s Boy, X’s packmate, found himself standing before the devout thirty minutes later.
“Open your fucking hymnals to Old Rugged Cross,” Shadow said. He instantly slapped his hand over his mouth and looked at Arthur. The church was silent, save the gasps. Everyone had pulled back as if slapped.
“We will have to train the street out of him, won’t we?” Arthur said.
The congregation laughed.
We sang and Shadow lost himself in all of it, all the people, all the joy, all the hope and love that God had filled him with. Shadow was carried away. His voice seemed the thing that was missing from that church, and Shadow was home.
When Arthur dropped me off, he got out of the car and hugged me. His kids hugged me. Guinevere hugged me. And smelled my hair.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.