Chapter 6: Falling in Love Again
Ted was alone on the topmost floor of a seedy apartment building, busily slipping invitational tracts under the doors of tenants who didn't respond to his knocking. Ted was instructed that morning to merely knock on the door, hand the householder the invitation to the convention, and say, "Hope you can come."
The group had split up to quickly cover the territory, but Ted completed his building in record time. (After knocking once he almost immediately slipped the paper under the door in order to get out of there quickly, and so hadn't seen a single face.) But as he straightened up from depositing the last of the tracts, he was startled to see a black figure descending towards him.
She came from the narrow stairway that led to the roof. Her ebony skin glistened with sweat. "Oh!" she exclaimed as she covered her bikini top with both her arms. "They're not home," she giggled half nervously and half bawdily.
Ted stepped back two full steps so as not to frighten her from entering the dim hall from the stairwell. He gripped his light satchel loaded with tracts tighter and swallowed hard as his eyes automatically pierced through her concealing arms, "That's all right," he swallowed again, "I just left one of these under their door." He held out the limp sheet for her to inspect its innocence. She took it with an arm as stretched to the limit as his own. The other arm felt awkward by itself and fell to her side. He got a full glimpse of her cleavage before he mustered up the control to stare at the plain wooden door beside him as she perused the tract.
"Oh, I see," she said at last and made a move to hand the paper back.
"You may keep it, and I hope you can come and learn about God's Kingdom," Ted said, making an incredible effort to keep his eyes fixed on hers.
She dropped the arm back to her side. "Thanks," she said.
Ted was about to say instinctively "have a nice day," and she was about to step back into the stairwell to let him pass, but they hesitated, their eyes transfixed upon each other. Ted took a deep breath and sighed. This snapped her to attention.
"I was up on the roof catching some rays," she explained, rubbing her hand on her stomach, then quickly around her side to her back where she kept it. Ted watched her whole body move in sympathetic rhythm to this odd movement.
ĎHe can see that I don't know what to do with my hands,í she thought to herself as she wiped the mixture of oil and sweat from her lower back. "You must be hot in that tie and suit and all," she surmised.
"Yes," he agreed, and didn't know what else to say.
"Hot?" she clarified, "Did I say hot? I should've said 'sweltering'! God, you must be in 'the place never mentioned to ears polite'! You want something cool to drink? I mean, that's what the Bible says, doesn't it? We're supposed to give Christ's brothers a glass of water?"
"Something like that, yes. But please don't bother."
"It's no bother. Now don't you deny me my right to do a Christian deed; I took yours, didn't I?" She held up the tract.
Recalling what had happened that time at the door with Paul when he refused to take the womanís donation, he said, "Yes, all right. Thank you."
"C'mon, I just live down here." She led him two doors back, took a little key from her bikini bottom, and took him into air-conditioned comfort. It was a most unusual living room they entered. The walls were covered completely with posters of wildflowers, seascapes, lion cubs, and a blown-up photo of her own face with the caption "KNOW THYSELF" beneath it. She saw his fascination in all this and explained, "The walls were a real ishy color." Her canary began singing a welcome to them, which drew his attention to it. It hopped about in a big cylindrical cage that stood on the floor and reached above eye level.
There were all manner of swings and toys and green vines entwined around the perches and bars. "Hello Emily," she addressed it, pressing her face to the bars while it hopped over to give her nose a playful peck. "I hate to keep her caged up," she said, turnning back to Ted, "I let her out sometimes, but then she gets crap on the rug and table -- I guess that's pretty gross to talk about."
But he was directing his attention towards another cage: a plastic house atop an aquarium with a ladder running up from one to the other and all manner of grooved tubes running every which-way. "What's in this, dare I ask?"
"Oh, just Edgar and Edna, my hamsters. I thought they were both female when I got them -- that's what the clerk told me at the pet store. But I found out different when they had babies a couple weeks ago."
"So now you've got more than you wanted -- more than you bargained for, I should say."
She smiled at this intended witticism for a moment and then looked troubled. "No, you want to know what happened? I mean this is really gross, but they ate them! They ate their babies! I got up one morning and they were gone. It made me really sick. I separated them after that, but that seemed so cruel that I put them back together again."
Along the opposite wall was a love seat; on the adjacent wall, with the birdcage before it, were two bare windows that provided a fair view of the park that began after the vacant lot next to the building.
Before the windows and right beside the cage, was a plain wooden desk cluttered with spiral and three-ring notebooks as well as several opened or book-marked volumes of poetry.
"This is where I write and study poetry. I'm taking a class in creative writing at the university."
Being presented with her life suddenly like this, as if intimate details of her being had pressed themselves against Ted's eyeballs, he was distracted from remembering who he was himself. He made an immediate effort to regain his personality; "This picture of you," he said, pointing to the poster-size photo, "it reminds me of how the Bible says that it is a mirror. Anyone who wishes to know himself --"
"Or herself," she interjected.
"Or herself," he agreed with a smile, "needs to look in the Bible's mirror to discover their real self and see how Jehovah God views them."
"Listen," she began, and he felt as if it were the beginning of a send-off, "I smell like a goat. I'm gonna take a shower and change clothes. I guess I'm sorta indecent right now --"
"I find you very decent," he blushed with embarrassment and looked at her photo, "beauty can never be indecent."
"Oh, thank you. But listen, I'm gonna take a quick shower and then we can talk -- I've got some questions about religion I want to ask. Meanwhile, you can mix us some ice tea. You'll find a pitcher of ice water in the fridge." He followed her into the kitchen where everything was duly pointed out to him before she left him for the bath.
"She's really too trusting to leave a stranger in her apartment unsupervised like this," he thought to himself as he stirred the brown powder. He read the notations on her calendar. Since it was the last day of the month, there was a wealth of information there. Unfortunately, most of it was abbreviated. There was a "PR" written on every Wednesday, and a checkmark on Fridays. Ted deciphered the checkmark to mean she worked and got her paycheck on Fridays. There was a "Call B." crossed out on the second and a "Write M." checked off on the fourteenth. Looking closer he noticed that on the eighteenth beneath "PR" was written and underlined "Read Piano." Wondering if she played the piano or just what it might mean, he carefully carried the glasses into the living-room and set them on the coffee table before the love seat.
He had a strange urge to take a peek in her bedroom. Having seen and learned so much about her (or so it seemed to him) in such a short time, he felt carried away by the momentum to learn still more. A young woman's bedroom, of course, was a place highly charged with eroticism. He pictured how it might look in his mind: a white fluffy bedspread with stuffed animals on it, or perhaps just one huge stuffed animal. A makeup table with a padded chair before it, a lighted mirror, and gobs of hair brushes and tissues and bottles and jars... He stopped his fantasizing since a little more and he'd have no choice but to explore the actual room.
His attention now was drawn to the large, thin books before him on the coffee table. One of them was The Song of Songs, a Biblical book also known as the "Song of Solomon" and "Canticles". He picked this up, anxious to learn what translation it might be. His eyes widened and his pulse quickened as he stopped cold at the first page he opened. Next to the words of Scripture, on the opposing page, was a full-color photograph of a couple copulating in the grass! He shut it and quickly replaced it on the table, taking up the other in its place to wipe the memory of the lurid photo from his mind.
This was a book of the poetry of Sappho, and was entitled, The Art of Loving Women. He figured it was about poetic creations and other works of art by women filled with love. He should've known better. This one was filled with lesbian couples. He leafed through this one for some time since he reasoned that there was no danger of his becoming a lesbian. He knew, naturally, that he should put it down, but the pictures enticed him and excited him. He heard the water running in the bathroom and visualized the stream pouring over the beautiful black body he had seen so much of already. He saw her rubbing herself all over with lather the way she had briefly rubbed her stomach out in the hall. He stared at a black woman in the book whose breasts were in the hands of a white woman, and he ground the hard cover into his groin, mixing pleasure with pain.
"Be right with you," she called, peeking around the corner as she held a towel around herself. Ted jumped. He hadn't even noticed that the water had stopped running. He looked up in embarrassment. She smiled and disappeared in the direction of the bedroom. He put the book down and took a large gulp of ice tea. He had to get this situation under control. He had to remember who he was. Ted remembered several occasions when householders invited him in, politely brushed aside the Kingdom Message, and proceeded to give lengthy, detailed descriptions of their paltry lives. He had inspected a new shower-stall on one occasion that was the current pride of a certain lonely old man's life. He did such things out of common courtesy and to make the householders feel good, even though it was a waste of preaching time. But this case was very different. He had learned all about this young woman before he had really presented the Kingdom Message. Further, he felt a yearning to learn still more. He was strongly attracted to her physically as well as emotionally.
"Ah, that feels better," she sighed, entering the room once more, but this time in cut-off jeans and a thin, orange tank top. "Are you cooled off yet?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you."
She took a sip of the tea while standing before him and held out her hand saying, "My name's Cyn Rose."
He stood up and took her hand briefly, "Iím Ted Evanston." Then she moved around the table and sat beside him on the love seat. Ted hesitated and then sat too. No matter how hard he pressed himself against the left arm of the love seat, he was still sitting too close to her. "What did you say your name was?" he asked, taking out his "not-at-home" slips to write it down.
"Sin?" he asked in astonishment.
"Yes, it's short for Cynthia."
"Oh, I thought you meant sin, like in evil." She laughed at this and he added, to make her laugh more, "I was about to take to my heels and run out of here!" This had the desired effect; she laughed gaily and without constraint.
"I suppose seeing these books here didn't help much either."
"No," he shook his head with a serious frown, "we don't approve of pornography, of course. If you don't mind my saying --"
"Yes, go ahead."
"Well, it seems out of your character to have such things in your place. You don't seem the type who'd get pleasure from dirty books."
"And what do you know about my character?"
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to talk about that. I just want to talk about God's Kingdom."
"But wait, I want to know why you said that. What type of person do you think I am?"
"I think you're the type of person who loves animals and is careful not to hurt anyone's feelings in any way. I think your character is one that can seek and find great depths of beauty in the world about you and in the hearts of those you love. A sensitive soul who pours through poetry books for the occasional inspiration or pure thought you discover there. You keep your world simple, yet you're painfully aware of the evils in the world and seek for a glimmer of hope. This hope is what I'm bringing to you today: God's Kingdom."
She looked at him strangely, for although all that he said had come from his heart, it sounded like something he'd read and was reciting.
"Well, that's very flattering and somewhat embarrassing," she said at last, "but since you have me pegged down so well, tell me about yourself."
He was going to say that he'd rather talk about the Truth, but then he realized he could do both. And so he told her all about how he had come into the Truth, the change it had made in his life, and the wonderful feeling of being a part of Jehovahís organization. In this conversation, he managed to pretty well cover all the basic truths he had come to accept. Then he began hinting around about starting a Bible study with her so she could experience the same thing.
"The question I was going to ask you about religion," she said after he talked himself out, "is why is there so much suffering in the world if God loves us as children and watches over us. So I guess you'd say it's because Adam followed the Devil's lead and now God's letting Satan rule all mankind just to show us how bad it is to have him for a king instead of God?"
"Yes, that's the gist of it."
"But when Jesus died for all our sins and was crowned king in heaven and all that, shouldn't that have been the end of the suffering? I mean, wasn't that the idea, that Jesus should take on all our sin and suffering on the cross?"
"Well, in the first place it wasn't a cross, but a torture stake," he answered matter-of-factly, "And then we know that God has his own timetable for doing things, and a day to him is as a thousand years to us. We can be thankful for this time period since we have the opportunity to come into the Truth now and survive through Armageddon."
"You mean God's going to kill everyone outside the Truth in Armageddon, and you're thankful for his prolonging the suffering now so more people won't be killed off then?" She gave him an incredulous look, so he agreed, but softened the statement.
"That's a real crude way of putting it, but in essence it's true. We couldn't have an earthly paradise with a lot of murderers and drunkards and thieves running rampant now could we? That's why God will efface them from the earth while allowing those who are meek and submissive to his will to inherit it."
"Okay, but in the meantime, why doesn't God lift a finger to help us. I mean, 'would it spoil some vast eternal plan' if he were to act in little ways to help relieve part of the unnecessary suffering and death? Remember a couple years back when they said on the news --"
"I never listen to the news, it's too depressing. The Awake magazine gives me all the news I need."
"Well, anyway," she continued, "they said a church roof collapsed in Texas while a service was being held and a nine year-old girl was killed. That's when I stopped going to church and stopped praying. If there's a God up there who accepts all our worship and loves for us to glorify him, pray to him, and build million dollar temples to him, why can't he at least delay a roof collapsing for one hour on his worshippers? It would seem in his own best interests to do so. But really, a nine year-old girl -- dead because she had to go and worship a God who didn't care. Don't you feel the sadness of that? Doesn't it hurt your heart? It's so pathetic!"
"Yes, it's sad, of course," he replied, feeling only a faint touch of the emotion she was trying to convey, but hardening himself to defend his God, "but you must remember that God isn't acting towards us in such ways at the present time. Satan is still god of this old world, and it's on him we must cast blame for these things."
"But it seems demonical," she argued, "to allow a devil to rule in your stead."
"It was man's own choice to have it so," he reminded her, "not God's. We have to 'keep our eyes on the prize' as one of our songs says, and look forward to the time when Christ and his l44,000 brothers will abyss Satan and rule over us. Then Jehovah's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and every tear and pain will be done away with through his loving care..."
And so he talked on and on, breaking down her resistance to the Truth little by little as he became ever more excited by his own words (what Christendom might call 'being on fire for the Lord'). She caught up this excitement and sucked in his flame like a pilot light; such was her poetic nature to absorb inspiration and multiply its fire.
"Listen," he said, realizing he had to stop at some point, "I want to start a Bible study with you. And if youíre free tomorrow night I'd like you to come to one of our meetings. Iíll be giving a short talk there, I think, because the one who's scheduled to give it might not be there, he told me. It'll only be the second time I've given a talk, so Iíll need all the moral support I can get. I'd like to look out into the audience and see your beautiful face shining up at me."
"Iíll go on one condition: if you'll come with me Wednesday to my meeting."
"What meeting is that?" he frowned.
"A poetry class connected with the university. We get together every Wednesday night and read poems. The instructor has us read a certain poem and then assigns us to write one on the same theme. And then whoever wants to can read theirs in front of everybody. It's just a summer course for only a quarter credit, but it's free for no credit, so you'd be welcome. I read a poem there for the first time two weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. So I wrote another one to read this week. And I, too, need moral support. Whadda ya say? Is it a deal, pardner?" She held out her hand to shake on it, and he shook on it.
She didn't let go, nor did he. They let their hands lie clasped together between them on the space between the cushions. Ted forgot that he was a shy person and looked deeply into her large brown eyes as she reciprocated. If he had forgotten who he was earlier, it was now no matter; he was no longer the same person. The attachment he had for that former person was now clinging to the one whose hand he held. He had been born yet again, losing his own soul to find it a new creation in two joined hearts.
"I feel what you feel," she breathed, indicating that she'd allowed the same mystical change known as love to overcome her, "but you're not yet fully in tune with my feelings if you can absolve God of all responsibility for that little church-girl's death. Your emotion is held too much in check by your intellect. Let me read you a poem about my feelings of life, and respond to it on an emotional level only." She stood up and walked over to the desk. He followed, unwilling to let go of her hand, for never had he felt like this.
"Here," she said, handing him a typewritten sheet, "you go sit down and read along as I recite it." Reluctantly he released her hand and sat alone. "This is the poem I read to them two weeks ago," she explained, "We were assigned to write a brief autobiographical poem which we could exaggerate or fantasize as much as we wanted. But I kept pretty much to the facts. Anyway, here goes:
"Baby Grand Piano, by Cyn Rose:
My sister died when I was nine.
Her piano standing mutely by
Like an open coffin, a fitting shrine
I'd lie within and daily die,
My little body thumping chords:
I laid in stiffness till they'd fade
And Satan came with all his hordes
To haul me off a simple shade.
But never did I pull it off;
Instead, my uncle plucked me hence.
He killed my mother with a cough
And brought me up in consequence.
Bob, you rescued me from that foul beast,
Enchanting with your eyes my walking trance.
Your love soon stopped, but one thing never ceased;
You always took me for your underpants.
When people stand about unclothed,
My shadow runs the other way.
'Commencing things' I've always loathed:
The pierce, the clash, the bloody frayÖ
The intervening times are best:
Between the strokes, swords poised in air --
To change direction, stop and rest:
Your rhythmic thrusts lie motionless there
Like fingers pressing down the keys
Waiting for the hushed vibrations
Those times my sister spoke with ease
Heart-felt love's communications.
So read between my lines, I pray;
My piano is a typewriter.
I press the keys and try to play
The way she played -- but it was brighter.
And so I teach the little folks
That God was born in Bethlehem,
And other stories, games, and jokes.
They pay me, see, to lie to them
And paint the world all uncle-less
Without a single barb or thistle.
I make it simple, full of bliss:
"It's not hard work if you'll just whistle."
And, "No cow feels the butcher's knife;
Cows are made of leather."
"Youíll have a free and happy life,
All happy together!"
And little can these kids suspect
That there's a sense beyond the six
Which only grown-up intellect
Can hang upon its crucifix
With things so sad they cannot cry
Or spare a tear for anyone.
Where wingless angels go to die
All shivering in the burning sun.
That we're just worms on our Creator's grave
Spending all our days in killing time
Which, deathless, cycles to the final wave
Smudging all our stiffened souls with grime."
He sat there with a forced frown on his face. He couldn't make head or tail out of the poem, but the sound of her voice reciting it was hauntingly beautiful, like a sad, sad wind buffeting and caressing tombstones in the moonlight. It wasn't as sexy as Vonnieís, but had depths of feeling unmatched in hers.
"You didn't like it," she decided, slumping her stance after holding the last gesture she had made of a wave collapsing over a grave.
"I can't like something I don't understand,' he admitted.
"Do you like God?" she asked.
"Now you sound like Brother Olson!" he laughed.
"Who's that?" she asked, wrinkling up her nose in an expression he didn't comprehend.
"A brother I respect and love very much who says that we can't understand God, but that we love him anyway, just like youíre saying."
"Besides," she argued, hands on her hips in mock anger, "you weren't supposed to try to Ďunderstand ití: you were supposed to feel it!"
"Well, I don't understand how to do that," he laughed. She rejoined him on the adjoining cushion, closer this time, so close that their thighs were touching.
"It's not something I can explain to you," she told him, "but give me time and I can help you see what I mean." There passed a long and meaningful look between them before she continued, "In the meantime I can tell you of its intellectual meaning, if you like."
"I like," he echoed, "what confuses me is where fact leaves off and fiction begins. Did you really lie in your sister's piano? Did your uncle really kill your mother? Who's Bob?"
"Yeah, okay. I understand where you're coming from. And, yeah, I did lie inside the piano and imagine I was my poor sister in her grave. She died in a car crash when my mother was driving. She was only thirteen. My mother was in critical condition in the hospital and my uncle came and took me there. He was a smelly old man, always smoking and coughing. We sat there for hours till the doctor called him into another room. When he came back he told me my mother was dead in the midst of one of his coughing fits."
"So he brought you up then?"
"Yeah, you could call it that, I guess. He really only wanted an excuse to get at all my mother's money; she had married well but my father died when I was just a baby."
"So you left as soon as you got old enough with the little inheritance you managed to keep out of his hands?"
"You better believe it. But I never would've had the strength to oppose him if it weren't for my boyfriend, Bob, whom I met at school. He's the one who gave me these books you wondered about. I just broke up with him a month ago, though; all he ever wanted was my body. That sounds almost like a cliché today, but it's true. He never had any time for my mind, much less my heart. All he wanted was my --"
"Yes, I get the idea," Ted interrupted, "that's what you mean by his 'taking you for his underpants'?"
"Yeah," she laughed, "I thought that image fit really well the way he regarded me -- just something to slip over his --"
"Yeah," he broke in again, "I understand all that, but what about this 'people stand about unclothed, my shadow runs the other way'?"
"That's something I saw in a painting once. All these people were standing about, all looking exactly the same except for one of them whose shadow was laying on the ground in the opposite direction of the rest of them. I thought that was a really clever way of showing nonconformity to a group norm. But don't ask me to explain the rest of the poem. It's all on an emotional level. Keep the copy I gave you, and as you come to 'feel me' rather than just 'know me', you'll understand the way the poem feels."
"Can I just ask you one more question?" he pleaded.
"Are you really a school teacher?"
"Now that's an exaggeration," she admitted. "'m just a teacher's helper at Longfellow grade school. I usually work with the kindergarten class. Those little kids are so much fun to be with! But I want to be a real teacher in the future, after college."
"How Old are you?" he asked.
"What a question to ask a woman!" she said in mock indignation. Then she confided real fast, as if it were an anxious secret bursting to be revealed, "I'm 19, 5 foot 6, 115 pounds, 35-24-34. How old are you?"
"Uh, 17, let's see, 5 foot 7, about 135 pounds, and I don't know the rest."
"Hey, listen, are you doing anything tonight?' She asked. He shook his head. "Want to go roller skating -- can you skate?" He nodded, unthinkingly answering both questions when he meant to reply only to the last. "Great," she smiled standing up, "there's a roller disco that just opened up a few blocks from here that we could go to."
"No," he blurted, neatly slicing through her enthusiasm. He had to convey to her that dating was only for people considering marriage, and that since she wasn't baptized, it would be quite impossible for him to marry her. But this suddenly sounded so silly that he couldn't bring himself to tell her that he believed in such an idea. He quickly arrived at a compromise within his own mind: he'd simply make it something other than a date.
"No?" she pouted.
"I can't dance that well, and especially not on skates."
"Oh," she said with manifest disappointment.
"But couldn't we just go skating in the park?"
A smile returned to her face that reminded Ted of a lamp flickering back on after once being extinguished.
"Trees gently swaying, the breeze combing the earth's grassy hair, squirrels chasing each other, lovers on the benches, children on the swingsÖ Isn't it beautiful in my simple world?" she asked, her long legs rhythmically propelling her along with ease while he tagged behind on wobbly legs strapped to her borrowed skates. "You need some help, baby? Come here and hang onto mama," she laughed.
"So youíre my mama now?" he asked teasingly as they each wrapped an arm about the other.
"Unless you've got another," she answered, staring expressionlessly straight ahead and preparing herself for any answer.
"No," he confessed slowly, "there's no one else. But -- well, I, you see, I'm -- we're not allowed to date anyone outside the organization."
"Well guess what," she quickly responded, hugging his body tight to hers, "I just joined your organization. Now don't go getting the idea I'm desperate from that. There's lots of guys --"
"Yeah, at school there's a guy who can't wait to get in my pants, but they ain't got no class like you, babe," she smiled at him and stopped their forward motion to gaze at him squarely. "What I mean is, I like you a lot for doing what you believe in; it's a beautiful thing, and so are you."
Before he had time to think he was kissing her.
It was after seven when he returned home that evening, walking in a stupor through the afterglow of her essence. In his somnambulism he dreamed of her embracing the Truth so readily that she'd be ready for a joint-baptism with him Sunday at the convention, where they'd also be married immediately following.
Bobby stopped him as he began his sprint up the staircase. "Hey, you got some mail today," he called out in a routine matter. Ted turned and began descending. "The new Watchtower, no doubt?" Ted asked.
"No, something else. You go on upstairs and Iíll bring it up!"
With that he ran back inside and Ted went on up. Inside, taped on the refrigerator was a note from Paul:
"Iíll come to the meeting tomorrow night.
Rent is in your hiding place."
Ted dashed over to the cupboard and threw open the door to peer into the beer stein that one of the friends had given him in the grocery-bags that night so long ago. This was where he "hid" his money, though it seemed everyone knew about it. The stein, however, was empty.
"Here you go!" Bobby announced, holding the letter aloft. Ted took it and they sat together in the kitchen as he opened it with a butter knife.
"Who's it from?"
"Don't be so nosey."
It was from Phyllis, and he was soon so wrapped up in it that Bobby skipped into the bedroom to look out the window at the softball game in the street. "Ted," he called, "you wanna go out and play catch or something?" But Ted didn't answer. He frowned hard as he read:
"Iím sorry for not having written you sooner. I should've written right back so as not to 'string you along'. But I already told you once that I didn't want to marry you. So please stop pestering me.
Since dating is only for those considering marriage, I will not date you. I don't want you to write me any more letters. I wouldn't have honored this one with a reply, but I showed it to Terry and he said I should write and tell you how I feel. Well, this is how I feel: I wouldn't marry you in the coming New Order, much less now. Just think of all the trouble there'd be in such a mixed marriage. I want to emphasize that I'm not playing 'hard to get', but 'impossible for someone like you to get'. If you must get married set your sights on someone of your own kind, as I have done.
What upset him most, oddly enough, was that she cited the prohibition against dating for the non-marriage-minded: As if he didn't know about it and hadn't mentioned it in his letter to her. Yesterday, or even several hours ago, the letter would've brought tears, anger, and dismay. Now he perfunctorily dismissed the matter with a reply to Bobby, "Yeah, let's go out back and play some catch."
Soon they were tossing the ball back and forth together with a few words. "You know," Bobby confided, "Joey and Jeannie are always sneakin' up to your place during the day."
"They are? Doesn't Paul keep the door locked?"
"No, he leaves it wide open all day to get air in there."
"But why do they go up there?"
"I don't knowÖ just for something to do that they're not supposed to."
"That's right," Ted remembered, "I did find them hiding under the bed one day."
At this point Richard yelled out the window for Bobby to come in and study for the Tuesday night meeting.
Ted went to work that Tuesday mostly to use up some of his anxiety about the coming night. He managed to work extraordinarily well, completing an amazing amount of productivity in a minimum of time. He was converting new-love's energy and nervous energy from apprehension over his talk into the menial task of moving sacks of flour. This productivity was duly noticed and reported to the office by his supervisor, but nothing came of it that day.
Immediately upon arriving home Ted sought out Vonnie to ask about room in their car for Cyn. It was Bobby who answered the door. He put his index finger to his lips and motioned for Ted to follow him silently to the corridor just outside Jeannie and Sherri's bedroom. There he listened to the voice of Jeannie telling Joey:
"No, 'cause since there wasn't anymore today, you gotta get something else." The final word was imploring, and Joey replied with a proud tone:
"I got somethin' else. C'mon, Iíll show youÖ see?"
"Where'd you get that?" Jeannie asked in admiration.
"A kid at school takes 'em from the store and gives 'em to all his friends. Me and a couple other guys were over to his house the other day after the baseball game."
"Wow! That's really neat. But what are we gonna do with the money?"
"What's going on here?" Vonnie's voice of sudden authority startled Ted and Bobby to attention. She had a basket full of laundry she had just carried up from the basement.
"Oh, just fooling around," Ted said, brushing the matter aside, "I wanted to ask you: I've got a new Bible study who wants to come to the meeting tonight. But they've got no way of getting there. Do you think there'll be room in your car? Paul's coming too."
"Yeah, you can put them in the trunk," she replied sharply. Bobby, didn't I tell you to mow the lawn? So get out there and do it!"
This was a new Vonnie indeed. No joy over a new Bible study, no effort to accommodate them, a sarcastic and demanding voice; none of it added up to Vonnie. But there she stood, sweating profusely, arms straining to uphold the laundry basket, hair a mess.
"Are you all well enough to come with us tonight?" Ted asked, realizing that if they werenít, there'd be room for Cyn.
Still looking at Bobby, Vonnie threatened, "I told you once, young man, now get yourself out there and cut the grass. Or do I tell your father when he gets home that you want the belt?"
Bobby looked up at Ted and then at the bedroom door they'd been spying at. He shrugged and obediently went out the door.
"Your eye is looking much better," Ted complimented.
"That's why we're going tonight," she dryly noted as she sorted out the clothes on the kitchen table. He began to despair of getting Cyn to the meeting at all with such cooperation when, removing any chance of further conversation, a low rumbling sound started which grew progressively louder until it was intolerably deafening. Ted went to the porch to investigate its source. There he saw a rusted pink car, at least twenty years old, with tail-fins, four massive doors, a missing rear window, and alas, no muffler. The noise reverberated through his skull and prevented his thinking clearly, though he made an effort to wonder why this monstrosity was in front of their place.
The racket ceased and out hopped Paul. "Hey man, how'dya like it?"
"Yours?" Ted asked with an unpleasant expression.
"Yeah; I just got it. Ain't it somethin'? Guess how much it cost?"
"Oh, gee. I'd say about --"
"Can I have a ride?" Bobby called, bursting forth from the back yard where he'd been wrestling with the stubborn starter of a power mower. Ted was glad to be relieved of the task of calculating the worth of the piece of junk in front of him, especially as he foresaw it as the means of getting Cyn to the meeting.
When Paul and Bobby returned from their joy-ride, Ted had words with the former as stern as Vonnie's to the latter.
"C'mon man," Paul replied, "I put it in the beer stein where you keep your rent money. That's where you keep it, isn't it?"
"That's where I keep it when there is any."
"Aw, c'mon, man, I know you're jokin' around with me. You got the money now, don't yuh?"
"You're the one that's kidding, saying you put something there when there's nothing there."
"Man, what a joker," Paul concluded, walking into the bathroom and shutting the door.
It was some stupid joke of his, Ted reasoned, that he didn't care to admit now. Or maybe he left the money in there and then got a sudden urge to buy a car, took the money out, and forgot to take the sign down. Maybe now he even forgot he took the money back again. These rationalizations served another purpose in Ted's mind: he needed to go easy on this matter so that Paul would take him to pick up Cyn, and these excuses for his conduct helped facilitate this needed apathy.
Even if Paul had paid the rent, he was late in doing so, so he readily agreed to pick up Ted's new Bible study. Ted decided it was best not to tell him that his Bible study happened to be a black single female of exquisite beauty; he left this as a pleasant surprise for him.
It was such a pleasant surprise that Paul insisted on Ted climbing in the back and having her sit next to him in the front. Ted acquiesced in this since it was Paul's car.
"So how are you, pretty mama?" Paul asked with his come-on smile.
"I'd be a lot better if you'd watch the road, please."
"Paul's my roommate," Ted quickly explained, "he just began studying, so don't get the idea that he's representative of what most Witnesses are like."
"Thanks a lot, man," Paul was irritated, and now attempted to prove himself, "I know all about this stuff, see; we all gotta get our tails in line or the big guy upstairs'll chop 'em off."
"That's enough, why can't you behave?" Ted was already exasperated.
"No, let him continue," Cyn allowed, "it's instructive."
"Well, see, these Jehovah's got it all figured out. The end's cominí real soon, and if we don't wanna end with it we gotta read the Bible and go to meetings, and live right. Ain't that right, Teddy?"
"No it's not," she contradicted, to the surprise of them both, "haven't you ever looked at your roommate? Haven't you ever listened to him?"
"Sure, but --" Paul began but was cut off.
"Then you should know that that's not it at all. You're missing the whole thing if that's what you think. This religion isn't some ticket to salvation. It's a life force: an energy source that renews and revitalizes life! It's a spiritual paradise where people genuinely love each other for what they are. Haven't you noticed a difference in Ted since he became a part of the New World? He isn't just trying to save his own skin; he's showing his love for everyone by bringing them the Truth. That's what it's about: love and truth. You must never have been to a meeting not to have noticed and felt that spirit all about and in and through you."
She had indeed magnified Ted's spirit though her own poetic talents of inspiration. Having read the magazines and parts of the Truth book he'd left her, she was fully charged with their ideas. She spoke as if she'd been in it for years instead of a day. But in spite of all this, in spite of Ted's elation over her and her defense of the Truth, he felt like replying to her last sentence, "No, Paul has been to a meeting. You haven't, and that's why there's this difference of description."
He took her through the by-now-usual routine of introducing her around and whispering comments about each new acquaintance, which made her smile and sometimes giggle. He sat with her without thinking twice about it, and before he knew it, he was called on as the substitute "number two speaker". As he stood up he glanced over at her as he had once done to Phyllis, and he received the encouragement to "knock Ďem dead"
It was a Bible reading he had to give. He always dreaded these "number two talks" since their whole purpose seemed to be to prove that the brother was capable of reading. He had often mentally moaned in the depths of boredom and embarrassment as very young brothers gave these talks and had to be prompted from the audience (usually by their parents) at every other word. But this reading was an exception. Heíd found an application for it which fit so well he wondered why no one had thought of it before.
"'The abode of the damned,'" he began, startling everyone to attention. He went on in a sinister voice, "'A place of torment for the wicked which is everlasting. Its torments are unimaginably severe and everlasting: Hell.' So says the Catholic Encyclopedia, and so say the vast majority of churches today.
"But there's a dissenting voice. A voice which says that hell is a place of rest in hope. This voice we value above all the others because it calls out to us from the Holy Bible. It is the voice of the man Job, and if you'll turn with me to the fourteenth chapter of his book, we'll learn the true condition of the dead from him." Here he paused and looked out on the vast field of expectant faces, stopping ever so briefly on the special face of Cynthia Rose.
"And there we read:
"'Man, born of woman, is short-lived and glutted with agitation. Like a blossom he has come forth and is cut off. And he runs away like the shadow and does not keep existing.'"
"Religions of the world teach that man cannot cease to exist since he's immortal, and so can undergo torment after death. But Job says we do not keep existing. And why don't we? Job answers in verses four and five:
"'Who can produce someone clean out of someone unclean? There is not one. If his days are decided, the number of his months is with you; a decree for him you have made that he may not go beyond.'
"Our first parents made themselves unclean and dying by their transgression. This then is all they could produce in their offspring. So, presently the decree from God is that we cannot live forever. He has set our days at a usual 70-80 years.
"In verse six Job asks God to 'Turn your gaze from upon him that he may have rest, until he finds pleasure as a hired laborer does in his day.' According to the Hebrew, this could also read, 'that he may cease.' If God turns his gaze from us, we cease because he's the source of life. But then do we experience the pain of loss and the pain of fire as the religions teach? Job says that we find pleasure just like when we lay down after a hard day's labor.
"But is mankind forever doomed to die? Have we no hope? Job answers in verses seven through twelve;
"'For there exists hope even for a tree. If it gets cut down it will even sprout againÖ'"
As he read these words with all due feeling, Cyn, and to a lesser extent even Paul, felt how much he believed in what he was saying, even though the words were a blatant contradiction of his application.
"'ÖMan also has to lie down and does not get up. Until heaven is no more they will not wake up, nor will they be aroused from their sleep.'
"Our heavenly Father does not love trees more than men. When this old heaven and earth are no more, the dead will be aroused from their sleep. (No, not from their torment, but from their sleep.) These dead ones, including Job himself, will come out of hell, which in Hebrew is 'sheol'. Verses 13 and 14:
"'O that in sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, that you would set a time limit for me and remember me! If an able-bodied man dies can he live again?'
"The Scriptures answer Yes! Throughout the Bible this hope is held out for those who now sleep in death. Job goes on to say in verse 14:
"'All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, until my relief comes.'
"He meant here a relief from his affliction by either being cured or by dying and awaiting a resurrection. Finding relief in 'sheol' or 'hell' may sound foreign to Christendom, but not to those who read the Bible."
Then Ted read the required verses 15-19 which ended:
"'Water certainly rubs away stones; its outpouring washes away earth's dust. So you have destroyed the very hope of mortal man.'
"It had been the hope of many to see the beginning of Christ's millennial reign in their lifetimes. Those who died, however, had their hope destroyed. But notice what kind of men they were, and we are: Ďmortal mení. Not immortal as the majority holds, but mortal as Job contends in God's Word.
"Verses 20-22 conclude the matter, saying:
"'You overpower him forever so that he goes away; you are disfiguring his face so that you send him away. His sons get honored, but he does not know it; and they become insignificant, but he does not consider them. Only his own flesh while upon him will keep aching, and his own soul while within him will keep mourning.'
"The dead have no knowledge of happenings in this world or anywhere. Only while the 'soul' or 'life' is in us can we ache or mourn. When soul or life goes out of us, we go to the grave, or, to use archaic English, we go to 'hell': a place of rest in hope."
When he returned to his seat to hear the praise of the elder in charge of the meeting, Paul slapped him on the shoulder with an "All right, man!" which produced some laughter amongst those seated nearby.
Cyn smiled and clasped his hand, not letting go until he pulled it free to turn the pages of his Bible.
She sneaked off on her own, though, after the meetings, leaving him to discuss the merits of a new presentation with Eric Potter. He watched her out of the corner of his eye until she was lost in the crowd. It appeared she was mingling well.
"Hey, did you hear about what happened to Phyllis and me out in service today?" Eric asked excitedly.
"We were taking some of her return visits in the trailer court. There were about four or five all clustered together, so we were walking to each one, but not finding anyone at home. Well, when we got to the last one I heard their TV on inside and I said, 'at last weíve got a live one.' But Phyllis stops dead in her tracks staring at the trailer.
"'What's the matter?' I asked her. She grabs my arm to stop me from going up there. 'Címon, let's take it,' I said. 'No, not today,' she says, 'let's go back to the car.' I thought that was awful strange, but we walked back and got in the car. Then as we drove by this trailer, the one we didn't take, a guy comes out with a long knife held up like this," he raised his fist to eye-level, "and looks right at us with a demonical expression. Now I would've torn outta there, but Phyllis was driving, and with the same odd expression on her face she drives by the place real slow. It wasn't till we got all the way back to the hall that she broke down and got real scared."
"That's some experience, all right." Ted agreed. "Jehovah really looks after his people, it seems." He was fully impressed with this tale, yet he kept a roving eye out for Cyn. Instead of finding Cyn, though, his eyes stopped at a large group clustered around Phyllis. She was relating the same experience from her own point of view. Ted was getting angry that the girl he'd lost kept interposing herself where the girl he found should be.
"Have you met my new Bible study?" he asked Eric.
"The colored girl? I saw her but I didn't get a chance to talk."
"She's not a girl, she's a woman. And she's not colored, she's black."
"Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it. Hey, speaking of Phyllis, have you heard about her engagement?" Ted bit his lips and shook his head. "Yeah," Eric continued, "she got engaged to Terry Barton last Sunday."
"When's the wedding?" Ted inquired wearily.
"The thirteenth, right here at the hall, a couple hours after the meeting. Everyone's invited."
"I usually go out in service Sunday afternoons, if I'm not visiting Brother Olson, but Iíll see if I can make it. Now if you'll excuse meÖ" Ted walked away as Eric looked after him with a slightly contemptuous smile.
Searching for Cyn, he spotted Paul going out the door with the Salvayez sisters. "Probably going to show them his new car," he said to himself. He turned around and found himself staring into the face of David Nelson.
"Good evening, Brother Evanston, I see you brought a couple new ones to the meeting, that was real nice. I always like to look out and see new faces. Are you studying with them?"
"Yes. Well, I mean I haven't yet, but we're all set up to begin."
"Are they brother and sister?"
"No, they're not related." As Ted said this, Dale Garvias began a conversation with Brother Nelson that commanded all his attention.
Ted slipped away, glad of the rescue, and found Cyn talking with Sandy Wilson and Shirley Garvias. When he got close enough to be considered as inside their circle of conversation, he attempted to find a verbal opening to enter in; but three women were too much for him. It seemed they were discussing makeup and wondering why Cyn didn't wear any. But soon Cyn herself was left out as the two sisters rattled off fancy brand names and prices.
"It costs a little more, but I'm worth it," said Shirley, echoing a commercial slogan.
"It isn't how much you pay, it's how well you wear it, dear," Sandy thrashed out, "there's only so much money can doÖ"
Ted guided Cyn away from the quibbling girls and asked if she was ready to go.
"More than ready, I've had enough disappointment tonight. But how are we getting home? Paul left with those two Spanish girls, you know."
Thrown for a loop, he replied, "I saw him go out with them but I didn't know he was taking them home. He'll be back to pick us up, I'm sure."
"No he won't," she corrected with a stern look, "he asked me if we could get our own ride home. He's gonna go and screw their brains out all night long."
"Keep your voice down. Don't talk like that. We don't know." He was standing on shaky ground, otherwise he would've asked her how she could be disappointed in the spiritual paradise. Her expression told him not to dare ask. "Iíll ask Richard if he can give us a ride."
Richard agreed to drop off his family and return for the stranded couple. Soon they found themselves in Richardís car being driven to Cyn's apartment.
"What really happened to your wife's eye?" Cyn made bold to ask.
"Oh, just a household accident," Richard replied.
"No," Cyn replied hotly, "that's what she was telling everyone at the meeting. I want to know what really happened. I mean, you're supposed to be the 'truth people' and all, so tell the truth."
"One doesn't like to speak of another's clumsiness," Richard replied, smiling into the rearview mirror at her.
"And wasn't that your little boy with the cut over his eye?" Cyn demanded.
"He's always falling down playing baseball on the street," Richard explained, his smile quickly fading.
"And the little boy who cried when I touched his back; it was so sore?" she asked, "He's yours too, isn't he?"
He stared at her in disbelief.
"And Sherri: do clumps of her hair 'accidentally' fall out all the time?"
"What's this, the third degree?" Richard shouted, "They get into fights at school and such. I can't keep track of every little scratch." He smiled up at Ted through the rear-view mirror. Ted was quick to respond with a similar smile, though he was deeply troubled: school had let out over a month ago.
"I had an uncle just like you once," she concluded. After that they sat in silence until they reached her apartment building.
"Can you just wait here a couple minutes?" Ted asked, "I want to talk to Cyn."
"Okay, but don't be alone together in her apartment," Richard warned; "that wouldn't look right."
"We'll just stand in the entryway there," Ted promised.
"No, I won't be able to see you there; temptation's too great at your age. Just stand out in the yard where I can keep an eye on you."
"Good night, Cynthia," Richard called as she and Ted left his car.
She didn't respond. She took Ted's hand and led him to the old oak tree in the front yard. There she pressed his back against the bark where Richard couldn't see them.
"I'm sorry you were disappointed tonight," he apologized, "but I can't imagine why. Didn't you feel the love there -- like what you told Paul?"
"A little, here and there. Mostly from you," she put her arms around his neck, "but there weren't more than three or four Iíd care to call my brother or sister."
"Why do you say that? You don't know them yet. You didn't see what they're really like." His voice was pleading. He took her arms down and held both her hands. "I was so happy and proud the way you talked to Paul. It was like you echoed my thoughts and knew how I felt about the Truth. It was almost like me talking: expressing my innermost beliefs in a strange and beautiful language. But now --"
She completed his thought: "Now I'm like a spark that you mistook in my instant for a fire. But that's the way with us poets. We can only feed on what's truly there. When all the fuel's used up, so is our enthusiasm for the whole idea. If it had been like the books and magazines you gave me said, or if I could've seen it the way you see it -- covering up every flaw and making virtues out of shortcomings -- I'd still be aflame."
Richard gave his horn a toot, and Ted rapidly said, "But talk to me in simple English and tell me what bothers you; enough metaphor already!"
She opened her mouth when Richard honked his horn excessively long.
Closing her mouth, she smiled, then said, "Iíll tell you tomorrow. Be here by six and we can talk before we go."
"Why, to the poetry class, of course. Remember our deal?"
"Oh, yes. But I thought that since you weren't interested in the Truth anymore --"
"Who says I'm not--"
"Damn, there he goes again!" Taking the initiative, she suddenly pressed her lips to his, then she ran from his arms and he turned to the car. "Don't forget, six o'clock!" she called after him.
"I won't," he laughed, and hopped in beside a frowning Richard.
"What's six o'clock?" he asked.
"Oh thatís when we're going to meet for our first study: a group study." While this wasn't technically a lie, it was mighty evasive and deceptive. Richard assumed Ted meant a Bible study, as it was fairly inconceivable why he would study anything else in his valuable time, much less poetry.
The next day found Ted too confused to even consider service or work. He feared it might come down to choosing between Cyn and the Truth, and he wasn't strong enough to make the right decision. Suddenly he remembered how he'd been repeatedly told that Satan would try his best to get him out of the Truth before he was baptized and immediately thereafter. "Of course!" he shouted, hitting himself on the forehead in imitation of the gesture Richard had long ago abandoned as unbecoming a future elder. It all fit so well: Cyn was nothing else than sin incarnate that the Devil was using to lure him away the week of his baptism! She was magnifying the brothersí imperfections way out of proportion to purposely mislead him.
It didn't occur to him at this point that Cyn had in fact said little about such imperfections, and that most of these thoughts he attributed to her were actually thoughts in his own mind of things she couldn't possibly know about. But since it was too painful to think of himself as criticizing the brothers, he projected his own thoughts into her mouth.
The best thing, he concluded, would be not to go that night to see her. He had given his word, it's true, but he felt entitled to back out of a pact with the Devil.
Having simplified matters thus and relieved himself of the pangs of confusion, he felt much better. He spent the day underlining in his study books and daydreaming about the rapidly approaching convention.
When Paul came home that forenoon, Ted felt even better -- almost as good as the time that Cyn had kissed him when they were roller-skating. Paul had heard of Phyllis and Eric's experience and was now more determined than ever to become a true-blue Jehovahís Witness. He even started studying with Ted in the Truth book, but being too tired he climbed into bed after the first two pages. It didn't occur to Ted to be angry with Paul about last night; all his anger was taken up with Cyn and her supposed satanic dealings. Nor did it dawn on him to inquire if Paul had played the gentleman with the Salvayez sisters. Ted was practicing the very talent Cyn had told him of last night behind the tree.
He remained in this exaltation of denial until exactly twenty-two minutes after six. It was at that time that a soft rapping was heard on his door followed by Cyn's voice.
"Ted? Are you in there?"
He had the radio on, so there was no pretending not to be home. Besides, he'd been told that pretending not to be home constituted telling a lie to the person at the door. Accordingly, he opened it, and in stepped a concerned-looking Cynthia.
"What's the matter," she asked, "Why didn't you come?"
"I don't know, I thought it best. I mean, well -- how did you know where I lived?"
"I talked to Vonnie last night. But why didn't you come? You promised, and I thought you were honest."
"I am. But I thought you might lead me out of the Truth. I'm getting baptized Sunday, Jehovah willing, and I've got to stay clean for that."
"Well I won't dirty you! That's rather insulting, you know."
"I'm sorry, I just thought it was for the best if I didn't see you again."
"And here I wrote you a poem I was going to surprise you with tonight at the reading. Some surprise!" She sat down on the edge of the sofa with her chin cradled in her palm, pouting like a child. It was, all the same, a very sexy pout that softened the daylong hardening of his heart.
"Did you really write me a poem?" he asked, at last.
"Yeah, but Iíll just throw it away now. Now it doesn't mean anything. Iíll just go there and sit and listen to the others read their life-feelings."
"All right, I did give my word. Iíll go."
"No, I don't want to force you to do anything against your religion -- like feel. You just stay home and underline in your books."
"No, really, I want to go now. I want to be with you. It's like a spell you cast over me whenever I'm near you; I become addicted to you."
"So now I'm a witch, huh?"
"Must you turn my clumsy compliments into left-handed ones?" Ted despaired.
She had to laugh at this, and as soon as she did, she was elevated out of the dumps.
She left her bike on Richardís front porch, and they rode the bus together to the campus. They were late and walked in just as the instructor was finishing explaining what the assignment had been. But from the readings that followed, Ted gathered that it had something to do with periods of time related to cosmic or emotional events. The more lucid lines ran like: "When time has ticked its very last/And all eternity is past/ My puny heart, so weak, yet true/ Will keep on beating love for you."
Most of it went by him without leaving much impression until a familiar looking man walked to the front of the room and began reading a poem about God's beard.
"I think I know him," Ted confided to her, "but I can't place him exactly. Judging from his poem he's not a Witness." He studied the man's features with greater care, catching a few of the lines as he watched his mouth.
"Before all time began, you know,
The future hair slept in the root.
And when it first began to grow
God's beard came black as chimney-soot."
It had to be either a return-visit or someone he knew at work, Ted deduced.
"No peach-fuzzed adolescent stage
But right away a virile God
All filled with manly wrath and rageÖ"
"I know who it is," Ted thought to himself, occupying himself with the man's identity rather than his blasphemy, "it's Bill Jackson, the accountant at work. I only saw him that one time at work, that's why I could hardly remember him."
"It's men what turned God's hair all gray
Put wrinkles on his cherub-face
And made him age and pass away
Into the very ends of space
In search of dye from blackest hole.
The angels took his yanked-out hair
And wove a shroud for God's dead soul
and left him buried everywhere.
They even buried him in hearts
That wait for time that never starts."
"That was terrible," Ted whispered to Cyn, "Everybody writes about God being dead. If he were, we'd all be dead too. I hope yours isn't like that."
"Mine's worse:" she smiled, standing up with her eyes focused on the podium, "in mine he's still alive."
She cut a very pleasing figure standing before the small group. She showed no sign of apprehension, but took command of all ears, and through them, all minds at once.
"This poem," she began, "is entitled 'Weather-Beaten and Truth-Seasoned' and it's dedicated to Ted Evanston:"
Out of a winter's death we rise
To new life in spring.
In sudden surprise
The thrill in our souls,
The ecstasy, the height,
Of reaching new goals
In warmth of new light!
In the blazing summer heat
The light grows brighter still.
We put away milk for meat
And seek to do His will.
This heart of mine
In summer's youth
Feels the sun shine
And loves the truth.
But should autumn ever come
And the light grow dim;
Should we lose the sun,
And should we lose Him:
Our hearts would sink
And cease to soar.
We'd stand on the brink
And seek no more.
When frozen truth-bells
Crack, and cease to Chime,
Our heavens turn to hells,
And truth's a dozen for a dimeÖ
Then autumn falls to winter's death.
The pearly gates are frozen shut.
Our prayers are stuck in frozen breath,
Answered only by His 'So what?'"
Before she sat down another had taken her place and was reciting, but Ted only heard her sour words repeating in his mind. Had he so utterly failed to prove to her that God cares? He now felt as cold towards her as the imaginary winter of her discontented poem.
Following the last reading the instructor read a few "professional"
poems as an example of what to do for next week. The class being over, Ted quickly made his way over to Bill Jackson in order to get away from Cyn and having to comment on her poem. It didn't work too well, however, as she followed right behind him.
"Hi, remember me?" Ted began.
"Sure, you're the Jehovah's Witness from work," Bill replied, 'I'm surprised to see you here. So you like poetry as well as religion I take it?"
"Not as well, no. Not hardly. This is Cynthia Rose," he introduced, touching her shoulder, "she's the poet. I just tagged along tonight."
Bill's knowing smile caused Ted to recall that he naturally knew all this from having just heard her read her poem. He felt he'd better try to get mastery of the situation and returned to his own ground; "In regards to your poem, Mr. Jackson, would you tell me how we could be alive if God were dead?"
Not wishing to debate the matter fully, Bill imitated Paul before the divided Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-8) and said, "I will, if you will first tell me what difference it makes if he is dead or if he answers all our needs with a 'so what?'" This of course meant discussing and disagreeing with Cyn's poem, the very thing he set out to avoid by talking with Bill in the first place. He looked at Cyn and then at Bill and shrugged.
"Well then, let's drop the subject, shall we?" Bill suggested. "I've had some interesting reports on your work lately."
"Oh really? Good or bad?"
"I don't know. To quote my source, you're 'one hell of a worker' Maybe you can tell me, what exactly does the adjective 'hell' here mean? I'm confused in this matter because this same gentleman (and I use the term loosely) often says 'hot' or 'cold' as 'hell', or that someone's work is like 'hell', or he'll reply to some request of mine with 'Hell, what do you expect me to do?' So what do you suppose he meant by saying that you were a 'hell of a worker'?"
Those standing about had interrupted their own chitchat to pay heed to Bill's speech. Several of them smiled at his feigned ignorance. But Ted answered him fearlessly: "Hell is an Old English word meaning covered or hidden. They used to say, for instance, that they were 'helling potatoes', which meant they were storing them away in the root cellar till next year. In the Bible it is used synonymously with the common grave of mankind."
"Ted just gave a wonderful talk about hell last night at his church," Cyn noted, "you should've hear him, it was great!"
"I see," Bill continued with an odd look, "so what he meant was that your work was hidden. But then how could he have seen it and reported it to me? You really shouldn't hide your work, you know; you're supposed to warehouse everything where we can find it."
This last remark brought some chuckles from the surrounding audience. "Well, what he had in mind and what the Bible means by the word are two different things," Ted explained, "You see, if you analyze all the Biblical usages of the word --"
"Oh please don't mention the Bible again," Bill implored, holding his fingertips to his temple as if suffering from a headache, "you'll bring on an attack of my homilophobia."
At this there was a burst of laughter from two or three who were instantly asked by the others to define homilophobia. But as this was taking place, Cyn took Ted by the arm and tugged, saying, "Let's go, Ted, he's just showing off." As they slipped out of the room they heard one of the men translate; "It means a morbid dread of sermons."
On the way back they had occasion to talk on the bus about everything. She realized that he wasn't as disappointed in her meeting as she had been in his. Nonetheless, she knew he hadn't liked any of it.
Since this was so obvious, he directed their talk to last night's meeting. In answer to his query, he got far more than he bargained for: "Okay, first of all," she began, "the guy you raved so much about as being the world's most eloquent speaker of truth beats his kids and his wife!
"Then, all that the girls talk about is makeup. And they're in competition with each other to see who wears the best clothes." She paused after this initial burst of anger to catch her breath, then continued, "And who was that guy who gave a talk -- I don't remember what it was about, something to do with time-slips -- the one with the pencil-thin mustache?"
"Brother Nelson. David Nelson," Ted explained, "he's an elder."
"He might be old," she replied, "but I wouldn't accord him any honors for that."
"What have you got against him?"
"It's hard to define exactly, but the man has no love in his heart. He reminds me of a stern taskmaster always ready with a coiled whip behind his back. He never smiles! There's so much hostility inside him that I was afraid it might burst forth at any moment. He's inwardly frustrated, you can tell that as soon as you meet his wife: I spoke with her and she was so cold I swear the hairs on the back of my neck stood up! "
"We try to avoid concentrating on personalities," Ted informed her.
"Well I don't. I need to look at people for what they are, not just what group they belong to. And they do that too, with that George Butler."
"Now you're going to say something against him too, I suppose?" Ted sighed.
"No, I'm going to say something good about him and about the Witnesses, but you might take it differently. You told me that they sort of ignore him because he's black and that you're the only one who really talks to him. But that's just where personality comes in; if he's just one of the group, he should be treated like everyone else. They treat him differently because he personally views the religion differently from everyone else there."
"How's that?" he asked.
"You see? You never bothered to find out. He never used to go to the meetings till his wife died. She was in it for years, and her dying request was to have him start going to meetings. So he does, but his heart isnít in it. In fact, he still goes to the Baptist church every Sunday. But heís one of the few coming to the Kingdom Hall out of love: love for his dead wife.
"Want to hear more?" she asked.
"I suppose you ought to let it all out," he said, sighing again.
"Well then, if you can take it, Iíll tell you exactly why you are in it."
"Iím in it because itís the truth," he insisted.
"From what youíve told me," she continued, "itís obvious that you got into It as a defiance and rebellion against your mother. Everybody rebels against their parents at your age, just like I did against my uncle. It was only when you heard Richard win an argument with your mother that you got involved with the Witnesses. When you saw them openly laughing at your parents, you naturally joined in."
"Thatís what you think?" he asked, trying to sound shocked. He took a deep breath and continued, "I canít deny that thereís some truth to what you say, at least in the beginning. But now Iím only in it because itís the truth. Thatís the only reason I stayed, regardless of why I first came in."
"You really believe that, and thatís why I love you," she said. She took his hand in hers once more and stared deep into his eyes. "I love you," she repeated.
Seeing that no response, other than a nervous perspiration was forthcoming, she concluded, "And that feeling is so deep that I could believe too. You can be my Major Barbara, and Iíll be your Adolphus Cusins."
"What in the world does that mean?" he asked.
"Haven't you ever read or seen Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw?" she asked in surprise. Ted shook his head, so she explained: "Well, she's a Major in the Salvation Army whom this Greek scholar, Adolphus Cusins falls in love with. Although he's much too educated to believe in the doctrines of the Salvation Army, he joins in with a gusto out of love for her."
"It shouldn't be like that," he frowned, shaking his head thoughtfully, "you have to come into the Truth because it's the truth, not out of love for me (though I'm grateful for it) but out of love for God."
"That's funny. Here you just admitted your motive for coming in was defiance of your mother, and now you say I can only come in because it's the truth. Let me join in for my own reason, like you and everyone else, and then in time I too can make Ďtruthí the reason for staying."
"It's probably a better reason than Paul's, I guess. He's just coming in out of fear and hope of protection. He heard about Phyllis' experience, and that, combined with a dream he had, is his sole motivation."
"You see!" she exclaimed, "now you're beginning to look at people just the way I do! I'm already rubbing off on you; we two are becoming one! But now that I've told you my reactions to your meeting, Ted, it's your turn to tell me what you thought of mine."
"I can't say that I cared for it much. All those poems seemed to have some anti-religious meaning in them somewhere. And then afterwards everyone just milled about looking for clever conversation or put-downs."
"Yes," she agreed, "that Bill Jackson's always showing off like that, displaying his intelligence to everyone with obscure words. Some of his observations on common speech are enlightening, though. Iíll bet you were surprised to meet someone you knew from work. But what did you think of my poem?"
Ted had to make a hasty decision between two evils: should he lie and spare Cyn's feelings or be honest and hurt her? He made the wrong decision. "I really didn't like it at all," he blurted out. And then, as if to apologize for being so blunt, "Well, really, I did like the first part about coming into the Truth, but the last half seemed out of place."
"Maybe you'll be able to place it in the future," she replied.
At this point they reached their stop. They got off the bus and walked to Ted's. There she picked up her bike, and after arranging for the big convention the next day she rode off.
Of the four exciting but drawn-out convention days in the huge, overflowing auditorium, Sunday, the last, was the greatest for them.
For Cyn the convention consisted of sitting next to Ted through tedious talks, standing and singing unfamiliar songs, volunteering with him for work in the cafeteria, forgetting the names of hundreds of new acquaintances as quickly as she heard them, and carefully reading each and every Scripture Ted looked up and pointed to in his Bible. When Sunday finally arrived, however, it was exhilarating for Cyn to stand with the crowd near the hotel's swimming pool (rented specifically for the occasion) and watch the lines of young men and women wade in and be dipped under in baptism.
Ted couldn't locate Cyn in the mass of relatives shooting off their cameras. He was shaking slightly and praying fervently. Vaguely aware of the brothers conversing behind him and the ones laughing in front of him, he stared at the lapping water to keep his eyes off the adjacent line of sisters attired in one-piece swimsuits.
At last he was there, waiting for a brother just baptized to climb up the ladder so he could descend. He said congratulations to him as he passed by. Turning his back to the water Ted placed his right foot on the top rung and saw a view of several hundred legs. Now would be the time to spring up to freedom, now would be that most excellent time to chuck it all and run for a life of pleasure rather than abstinence. It would be so easy to do -- legs in the right position, back to the water -- just run and never look back. Cyn didn't believe in it, and she wanted him. He could have her if it wasn't for all this nonsense. What good is holding your nose and being bent backwards into icy water by some perfect stranger? It's stupid! Childish! Idiotic!
But Ted ignored Satan's cries. They were recognized by him as Satanís last-ditch attempt to keep him from symbolizing his dedication to Jehovah. He jumped off the ladder, walked over to the waiting arms of a brother, and, at the same moment that a sister was emerging and another brother was plunging into the water, Ted was baptized.
He felt for one moment the cool waters swallow him up, the strong confident arms of this unknown brother hold him under, his own legs raising out of the water in compensation, and another brother pushing them back down. And then, there was a feeling divine. At first he felt like he'd reentered his mother's womb: that most perfect abode with the liquid walls and constant nourishment, where everything was beautiful, every want instantly seen to, every care immediately abolished.
Then he recognized it for what it was: Jehovah God in heaven was in spiritual contact with him. The heavens were opened up and a bright light filled every corner of his mind with the Divine Essence. A special kind of love filled his heart and made it leap for joy. Christ touched his head and called him brother; Jehovah touched his heart and called him son. The waters parted and he ascended.
"Congratulations, brother," smiled the one who'd just baptized him.
"Thank you," Ted replied, stunned by the experience. After walking past the remainder of the line and being congratulated by each one waiting his turn, he made it to the locker room, dried off, and dressed.
Cyn was waiting for him in the hall and hugged him the moment he was near enough. "Oh, I'm so happy for you!"
As they were hugging he saw Richard approaching. "Sorry I missed it," Richard apologized, "but they only allow relatives in to see the baptisms."
Cyn chuckled at this; she hadn't known until then that Ted broke a rule to let her see his big moment.
Richard offered his congratulations and, after making sure that all hugging had ceased, went on his way.
Ted almost called him back; instead, he took Cyn's hand and led her out of the hotel onto the street. They walked quickly to the park-like surroundings of the auditorium a few blocks away and sat down on a bench.
"It happened!" he began, "I never dreamed it would happen to me, but it did!"
"What? What is it?" she inquired excitedly.
"I was born again! Anointed! I'm one of the anointed! Do you know what that means?" She was shaking her head and saying no, but he just continued with more questions and exclamations: "Do you know how long it's been since Jehovah's anointed someone with his holy spirit? Why should he do so now? Why pick me? Boy am I unworthy of this!"
"Slow down," she cautioned, "don't get so worked up. I'm really happy for you, but tell me just what it means, please."
"It means that God has picked me for heavenly life as one of the 144,000 joint heirs or Ďbrothersí of Christ to rule in heaven over the earth in the millennium! The only way this could've happened is if some anointed brother fell away recently and I was needed to take his place in order to fill up the number to 144,000. I can hardly believe it!"
"How do you know he chose you?" she asked without sounding too skeptical.
"I felt it. It's hard to explain in words, but I felt him choosing me. It wasn't a vision or anything, just a feeling, but I'm sure of it!"
"You're in touch with your feelings now!" she smiled, "I'm glad. I can readily understand how you can feel sure from an emotional feeling. I think it's beautiful."
At the next Tuesday night meeting, Ted finished relating his experience of baptism with the words: "And I was born again!"
David Nelson raised his left eyebrow which made Cyn, who was hanging on Ted's right arm, giggle.
"You weren't born again," Richard contradicted with a condescending smile.
"I know, I can hardly believe it myself," Ted replied excitedly.
"You think you were born again," David emphasized, "but after we do some soul-searching in the Scriptures, you'll get a proper view of the matter. Come with me." And with that he led Ted out to the van.
"Can you imagine that?" Elvira Nelson exclaimed, "I wonder how he ever got such a crazy notion!"
"I know, " Cyn volunteered with the little group still in formation about her, "he listened to his feelings. Of course for someone without feelings, that's inconceivable." She looked straight at Elvira, smiled mockingly, and nodded in her direction as she said this so that there was no doubt as to whom she was referring to.
"Well!" Elvira responded and walked away in a huff.
"We don't want to say that the door to the heavenly calling is absolutely closed," David patiently explained to Ted, "but we know that Jehovah called his little flock first and now the call is generally going out to the other sheep. The vast majority of Jehovah's people today are of the earthly other sheep since 1935. And if any brother of the heavenly calling had proved himself unfaithful, God would've chosen someone in his place long before nowÖ" And so he talked on and on, breaking down Ted's firm belief in his higher calling.
"Besides," David continued, "it doesn't just happen all of a sudden at baptism that one knows he's of the --"
"Are you going to be in there all night?" Elvira interrupted as she suddenly flung the van's door wide open. "Come on, I want to get home."
With that she walked over to their car leaving the van door open.
David obediently left the van without a word and hurried to his car, leaving Ted to shut the van door after him.
Cyn was standing outside the Hall door. "Well, did he talk you out of it?" she asked.
Ted looked perplexed for a moment, and then, brightening, said: "No. He made me think, which is something Iíve been neglecting ever since it happened, but he didnít talk me out of it. How can you talk someone out of a feeling?"
That Sunday after the meeting, they attended Phyllisí and Terryís wedding. Ted didnít tell Cyn what Phyllis once meant, or what he thought she once meant to him; that seemed ancient history now. He concentrated on the emotion-packed wedding talk that the brother presiding over the wedding gave. The brother described how woman was designed as a helpmate to man and a complement to him. How the roles of marriage were defined: partners, yet with the woman subject to her husband who is the head of the house and her superior. How the man was to make allowances for the "weaker vessel", and how the Bible should always be their guiding light.
At the end of the talk, Cyn leaned over to Ted and whispered, "Want to be next?"