Friday, November 01, 2013

Church Trips

What follows is another excerpt of a short story I'm working on at the moment. In a day and age with too much worthwhile content to read in one short day, I write using as many words as needed, but as few as necessary. I know my audience is often pressed for time, just as I am myself.

I entered the church around noon, as the blazing summer sun was at its highest point. My final destination was the heartland of America, a place without mountains, 45 degree angles, and uphill climbs. Where I'm from, one learns the value of the parking brake. Without it, cars would eventually slide haphazardly downward, ending up God knows where by the end of it. This place was flat and uninterrupted. One could see for miles in every direction, though there wasn't much else worth viewing.

My arrival on Saturday afternoon coincided about the same time as the locals were finishing up mowing their lawns. I could tell because of the grass clippings that coated every gutter and driveway. Having taken part in the longest car trip I had ever experienced, I was feeling slightly dazed and eager to stretch my legs. Twenty-two consecutive hours in one go is not something, I thought to myself, that I would ever want to do again. Pushing hard, balanced somehow by wobbly legs, I sought to open the heavy door to the sanctuary. I entered. Following that, I blinked uncomfortably. Adjusting as best I could to the far more subdued lighting inside and away from summer heat. I had not walked twenty paces before a young woman approached me with a flirtatious grin on her face.

We were not alone. Observers instantly flashed concerned and worried looks. Her preacher father arrived, johnny-on-the-spot, purposefully steering her away from me. I had seen this before a time or two. Even the minister's daughter could be guilty of being a little boy crazy. Though I was several years older than her, she honed right in on me. I later learned she had a reputation for serial monogamy, but I wasn't aware of it then. The attention was flattering, but it wasn't too long before she'd been funneled off elsewhere. No one faulted me and I saw no one really coming down harshly on her, either.

Fathers have been known to take similar actions with their daughters from time to time. I'm starting to go seriously grey at the temples, which you think would be a prominent signal that I'm not as young as I once was. Older women who once passed me over as too young have now begun to show interest. Examining churches and Meetinghouses with a careful eye has been a passion of mine for the last several years. Often, I'm the visitor from the mythical East Coast, the source of all authority, news, and events of significance. To small-town residents, there's something a bit reverent in how they introduce and respond to someone from the big city.

A few minutes later, father not to be found, she made second introductions. I mentioned offhandedly that I was a smoker when I was her age, and she noted that yes, she has dated boys who smoke. I add that I drank to excess during the same period in my life and she confirmed that she, too, has dated boys who drink. Preacher's kids are good about outward appearances and even better at the secret life conducted underneath it. I'm feeling thoroughly old by now, but I keep it up, to see if I can still be interesting, even for a moment. The conversation eventually goes nowhere and I begin to think about how to make a polite departure.

Everyone finds me slightly mystifying, wondering why an imposing, important person like me would want to visit their neck of the woods. I'm really not that much different than they are, but my name tag stating place of origin makes an impact. In search of a conversation, I find a native Swede who moved here in pursuit of a boyfriend, now a husband. She assumed he intended to leave eventually for more interesting destinations, but instead has put down roots in his hometown. Her frustration is plainly evident and I know the marriage has suffered because of it.

My official capacity here has been to take part in a conference. Like the Quaker ministers of the past, I satisfy my wanderlust by traveling frequently. In some gatherings, I'm viewed as an equal. In others, I'm the expert who comes from more than fifty miles away and carries a briefcase. At the moment, I am finding my bearings, though everyone is exceeding polite. Now comes the real detective work, wherein I get a greater view of the participants, to cut right to the quick. Sometimes being an expert has its perks.

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