Continued from the previous chapter, here.
Sitting in the passenger seat of his parents’ car, wearing a white button-up that could have used an iron and a pair of khaki slacks that could have, too, Asa Pemewan was deeply aware of being thrown back into an earlier part of his life. I think I wore the same thing the last time I meant to go to church, he thought as he rode along. I was in the back last time, though. So my legs aren’t cramped this time. That’s a plus.
Behind him, Asa’s mother sat and continued to comment on people he vaguely recalled from twenty years earlier. “Are you listening, Asa? I’m telling you about people you might well meet at the church today–well, meet again, since you went to school with a lot of them.”
Asa started. “Sorry, Mom. I was thinking.”
“Thinking’s good, sure, but so’s paying attention.”
“Mom, it’s not like I can go up to, oh, Maria Calcetines and say ‘Hi, Maria!’ She doesn’t know me from Adam, anymore.”
“It’s Zapata, now, and–”
“Not much of a shift there,” Asa interrupted.
“–and, anyway, I think you’ll find that more people here remember you than you might think.”
“Am I some kind of hero, then? ‘Asa Pemewan, returned from glory in the world outside!'” Asa’s tone was suddenly bitter, cutting, and his father snapped at him. “Mind that mouth!”
Asa huffed. “You’re right. Apologies.”
His mother continued. “There might be one or two–other than your parents or your sister–who hold you up. But I think more look back on school with a bit more sympathetic eye than you do.”
“I think some of them didn’t get punched in the face as much as I did, too.”
“That may be. But my point still stands.”
The car turned in to the church parking lot, joining many others and several dozen people dressed in jeans and slacks and polo shirts and suits. Asa and his mother and father joined the dozens as they filtered into the church, and Asa shifted uncomfortably as his parents shook hands with and hugged people they knew and had seen and seen and seen. He flushed bright red each time one of them said the inevitable “And our son, Asa, is back from away. He’ll be staying a while, too,” and although he dutifully shook the offered hands and returned the offered hugs–fewer of the latter than the former–he remained stiff and stood as much away as he could.
The small talk pressed in on him, the cacophony around him drowning out the words directed to him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” “Say again.” “Could you repeat that?”
The muscles of his back grew tighter and tighter, and an ache began to grow between his shoulders. I need to get out. I need to get out. I need to get out. “Please excuse me; I need to get rid of some coffee real quick.”
The bathroom door shut behind him, and Asa leaned over the basin, catching his breath. That was not what I wanted to show. After a few moments, he stood and took care of his stated purpose. Wouldn’t do to have to do this again so soon. But as he stood and sent forth his stream–my contribution to the Danish ale-sharing he thought in another sudden memory of grad school–he flushed red again. Why am I so afraid of these people?
Oh, right, I’m ashamed. He finished, closed his fly, washed his hands. I failed. I was beaten. I came back home with my tail between my legs. Of course I’m ashamed. I should be. And I should accept that everybody will know of it–soon enough, if they don’t already.
Asa rejoined his parents as the prelude began to play and filed into the pews with them. Slowly, the sounds of conversations died down, leaving the music of the organ little contested–there are always some comments being made, the occasional cough of a throat being cleared, harshly whispered admonitions to children too old to be in nursery but too young, really, to be amid the normal service, the shifting of feet, and the suddenly resounding flatulence of one person soon red-faced, indeed, to compete–as it worked through one piece or another. Is that Bach? Asa wondered as the prelude approached and reached its ending. After a moment, the organ struck up what Asa recognized from his youth as a processional hymn, and soon, two boys, clearly brothers, walked up the aisle with candle-lighters in hand. A slim, slight woman, wearing a black doctoral robe and a stole in a red and green tartan, followed, and the congregation stood, pew by pew, as they walked by. She knelt at the steps to the altar while the boys lit the candles upon it. As they retreated, she rose, ascended to the pulpit, and stretched out her arms.
“The Lord be with you!”
Her voice, seemingly unaided by any microphone or speakers, rang throughout the sanctuary. No strain could be heard in it, no shrillness, but only a clear tone and clearer diction as her words filled the room.
The congregation answered in near-unison around Asa.
“And also with you!”
“In the name of Christ the Risen, Son of Mary, be welcome in this place, all who have sought it and all who have come to it unsought!”
“May they be welcome who seek it yet, and who seek the Lord Almighty with word and with deed!”
“And as the Scriptures say, ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make God’s face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and bring you peace.'”
“So may it be with you!”
And as the congregation sat, Asa thought That is…not what I expected for a beginning.
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