A Friendly Hint of Trouble
Now and then, when I’m feeling particularly villainous, I venture into a local Church where I’m like a driver challenging the local sheriff’s favorite speed trap . The virtuous Morgan Nightwing might have chosen to explain her attendance by discussing her spiritual needs or talking about giving up smoky bars and one night relationships. She might have said that she was troubled by the credibility given to faith and the powerlessness attributed to reason. She might have told the half truth about a lot of things in her life, but the real Morgan would tell you that she’s tired of wearing flannel pajamas and having the only toothbrush in the glass by the basin. Basically, I’m fed up with having all of the men in my life be much older, too sophisticated, or great friends who are out of reach for sex.
So, will I confide in a girl friend? What twenty seven year old, reasonably attractive female would confess to this lonely circumstance unless she is with a group of lonely women who gather to share the same problem? These groups may work well for some, but I’d rather learn from success than failure. I brought the subject up with Sam who certainly qualifies as an experienced loner since his wife died. He recommended this Church in the upper Canal Street area.
I’m not sure I’ve improved my circumstances. Other than the existence of a building with a chapel and lectern, sagging bookshelves collecting old books and dust, an old piano that needs tuning, three meeting rooms and a bathroom carved from the rear of the garage under a back lot apartment, there seems little reason to call this a Church. Are there elders? Who decides if the services are Christian, not Buddhist or Hindu? Who owns the odd pieces of furniture and folding chairs, and what goes on inside the rooms on the floor above the meeting rooms? I’ve been tempted to climb the outside stairs and knock on the door. All are unanswered questions.
An invited minister is supposed to speak to us every Sunday, but quite often the funds fail, so then someone simple gets up and talks about his or her spiritual experiences—we’re a pretty loose group. For unexplained reasons, the membership roll is heavy in disillusioned Presbyterians. Is this their predestination?
Okay, so I’m having fun with this one, but I think that there is a quality about the idea of predestination that translates on some primal level into reincarnation. Another chance at the wheel, however attained, is a direction and seems like a satisfactory way of looking at the rewards of a virtuous life—or the punishment for ill gotten gains.
I don’t discuss these ideas with the women of the congregation, who accept my tomato aspic salad with courteous resignation when I show up at the occasional group activity.
There is a sweet little lady, Mrs. Perkins, who seems to understand my cause and is prepared (bless her) to meddle in my affairs.
She reminds me of my third grade teacher when she reaches up and pulls my ear down to her level. “I’ve got a nice young man who wants to meet you,” she whispers.. “Maybe he’s the male-type creature you’ve been looking for. He’s really quite handsome and he’s right behind you,” Mrs. Perkins communicates furtively while breathing in little gasps. The shamelessness of the proposal leaves her blushing nearly constantly. I wonder what is going through her mind to make those cheeks turn so plum red.
The magic of he moment is somewhat spoiled when I turn around and find Mark Peters with his hand extended in my direction. “Oh, it’s you,” we greet each other simultaneously.
Instead of the stylish British tennis outfit, Mark is wearing expensive looking wool slacks and a light gray button down shirt that is so smooth and soft looking that it has to be silk. From sportsman to boardroom in one easy change of clothes.
I can’t help but notice how his upper body expands the shirt in all of the right places, and how his narrow waist contributes the classic shape of an accomplished body builder. Did I notice this yesterday? We could have been out sailing instead of here at the church. My imagination starts working overtime. There’s that room over the meeting room in the garage—the one with the rickety outside staircase and closed curtains. I think I may know why Mrs. Perkins is blushing.
But, to business, first. For the pre-sermon women’s discussion group, today, Mr. Lehman has slipped out of his mother’s surveillance network and is settled at the folding table in the committee room with myself and four women. Probably, if it weren’t for fear of dire retribution from Chalmer’s mother, he would hang around with us girls more often. (I was hoping for Mark, of course.) Anyway, Chalmer’s mother, Matilda Lehman, is an unlovely woman in her nineties whom I liken to an ancient mother jackal who has adopted Lassie to replace her lost pup. Between the table and our committee there isn’t much room left. I notice that on the wall behind Chalmers some stains from old oil paint have appeared through the coat of fresh white paint applied only last year. I can pick out the outlines of old carpentry tools—a diagram for a hammer, wood saw, possibly a drawknife, and something different that looks like a pickaxe. Funny that a meeting room of a church should have mysterious patterns of wood working tools.
Mr. Lehman (Chalmers) has neatly avoided any appearance of competition by selecting his position along the length of the table rather than at either end. He stands behind his chair waiting politely until we are all seated, and we women wonder if anyone will have the nerve to tell him that his blue slacks look positively awful with the pink shirt and black tie. He has added a maroon and gold LSU blazer for that dressy touch.
I, on the other hand, am turned out in a retro outfit consisting of tan polyester slacks topped in a vanilla blouse—a sugar cone with one scoop of ice cream.
I settle into the position at the end of the table nearest to the outside door where the air is less polluted with the smells of heavy perfume. Some no doubt interpret this as staking a claim to leadership—arrogance in one so young. But who is to say whether I am at the head or the foot of the table? Besides, the antique grease stains in the concrete floor are worse at the other end.
The other four women range in age from mid-forties to a lady in her eighties who is snoring not so quietly at the end of the table opposite to me. Her head is rolled to one side and attached to an accordion-like neck that springs from the pleated collar of a stiffly starched blouse. She must be our leader. In the absence of her opening remarks, I remind everyone that Chalmers has recently turned seventy. There is applause.
We females and our one clandestine man are tasked with reporting on the dangers pornography represents to the young persons in our community. The older women don’t actually want to talk about the subject, Chalmers is afraid he’ll offend the tender sensibilities of us ladies, and I’m caught up in the middle of a fantasy in which I happily act out a porn scene with Mark. All this squirming around. At least the folding chairs have more padding than the work-hardened pews in the church.
After the committee meeting comes the feast. Today we are served a cut of meat carved from the Book of Job that has gone-off—the meat, that is, not Job. The message is so depressing that I can hardly wait to get to the after-sermon announcements.
Luther Bast, the Assistant Pasture as we jokingly refer to him behind his back, is a man who radiates great self importance. At the moment he is droning through one of his interminable announcements in which he managed to sermonize on some trivial subject he has picked at random from the morning news.
In the end I decide that a walk on the levee would be much more refreshing than further damage to my backside. Also, I should be there just in case Mark comes out for an early breath of fresh air. We must make new visitor feel welcome.
However, the man who follows me out the door is our venerable Chalmers Lehman, sans momma. Big fat raindrops begin spattering in dark spots across the pavement while the tops of the palms at the end of the block sway in my direction.
Mr. Lemans’ black eyes are twinkling under the aggressive thrust of his white bushy eyebrows as he corners me with the offer of shelter under his umbrella. Too late to make a dash for the parking lot; we are caught in a typical New Orleans cloudbursts. This one arrives unexpectedly, howling down from an innocent fluff of cotton suddenly turned dark and ominous over our heads. We flinch as lightening strikes the cross on top of the Catholic Church across the street. A cascade of sparks is extinguished against the wet slate roof tiles; the crack of thunder is followed by a boom echoing off of the apartment buildings in the shopping center over on Robert E. Lee. Otherwise, the sound rolls away from us into an expanding ring; I count seconds and estimate when the ripple passes over the Mississippi River. At the pilot’s station on Algiers Point, a river pilot will be muttering “better there than here.”
“A sign, perhaps?” Chalmers chuckles, a little breathless as he adjusts our hemispherical shelter against a strong gust.
Three others of our flock, also punished for leaving early, are left unprotected as their private shelter blows into an inverted column of tattered rags whipping in the wind.
Mr. Lehman and I retreat behind the insubstantial protection of an ivy covered screen that is stretched between the vestibule support on the main building and an iron lamp post next to the sidewalk. I become acutely aware of two things: first, my Birkenstocks are soaked with water splashing out of the downspout; second, my vanilla blouse is wet.
Mr. Lehman, ever the gentleman, averts his eyes from a view I am certain he would appreciate. “So, Ms. Nightwing, how’s Mary doing?” he says loudly enough to be heard over the thrumming of the downspout.
The context spins like a roulette wheel in my brain and comes up on the house zero. Meanwhile, the edge of the rain shower passes and a band of brilliant sunlight sweeps in from lakeside. The atmosphere changes from ozone fresh to the density of lead as I bend down to remove my squishy shoes. I wriggled my toes in a puddle of water and try to think who this “Mary” might be.
“Mary Mouton, your engineer,” Chalmers prompts. “I knew her mother extremely well. A girl with social pretensions, you know. Flavor of the month, years ago. The only one of three Boudreaux daughters supposed to have married well.”
Chalmers purses his lips. “You might say that Hamilton Mouton had a little money and plenty of pretensions.”