They meet at dusk behind the red brick building that resembles a shed more than a house. Yes, it has been made of stone; but it carries its age on its surface. Like a canvas stretched too thin and now wrinkled and worn out, a number of bricks have come loose, have fallen out, have cracked. The door hangs crooked on its hinges. This is where the pastor used to take them to feed them on Jesus Christ and Mrs. Jennings’ homemade biscuits. The gray church building next to the garden home, that villa of grand disappointments. Or how else could you characterize the building in which Mrs. Jennings broke first the pastor’s heart and then his resolve? In 200 years of history not one of god’s professional servants had left the parish in a hurry, except in 1983. In the church annals, reports of far more than one pastor describe them dying from tuberculosis, from influenza, more than one probably deceased with syphilis, but at least they all had tried. Mrs. Jennings remained where she was, married Doctor Caine, and then the 90s happened.
Raised on PopTarts, soy milk (from before there was Whole Foods!) and the burden of having to succeed at something, the parish’s youths rebel in the ways they have at their disposal: drugs, rock’n’roll, class dropping and illegitimate relations with neighboring daughters or sons. More than one dream of inappropriate behavior involving the High School teacher Mrs. Langley, more than one joint shared together with bacteria on the paper and clamoring for excitement. A spatter of religious folks remained under the auspices of Mrs. Caine (née Jennings) and her weekly Bible club, but being agnostic had long lost its promise of novelty. The church building had started losing it as well: flowers, hymn books, seat cushions slowly disappeared and might now be seen in the river or at Marcus Foster’ slumber parties (infamous for their rounds of spin the bottle after tequila shots).
So they meet in the garden and maybe Carl starts throwing pebbles at the church window. Possibly Marcus scratches his ears for too long. Nina draws a human in the mud with her sneakers. Gus is the one they are waiting for, with the rackets and a ball and the plan. He waves from across the road and throws one ball at Carl who is a slow catch. “You suck at this,” Nina tells him, and his ears turn crimson. Marcus snatches a racket from Gus’ arms and tests its tension. “Ready?” Gus inquires. Nina stomps ahead without replying.
The church door is still heavy, maybe even more so with less use. No candles. Nobody praying for health, a raise, a wife, a kid. Nobody asking for world peace, or the ability to defend himself against all those intruders of the modern world. Nina’s steps are loud in the nave. She turns around. “I am so fucking ready, Gus.” He points towards the left wing, towards the wall with an inscription right next to the confession boxes. Lord have mercy on us. The four stand in line, looking towards the words. Rackets. Balls. Space. Time. “Let’s play squash,” Carl says and the ball hits “mercy” right in the typeface.