In which our heroine goes to church.
“Oh, look, Emmie’s here.”
Normally Lorinda said whatever she had to in order to avoid attending Sunday church services with her parents and brother Zeke. She “hadn’t slept last night and was tired.” She “had bookkeeping work for the bar to catch up on.” Whether skeptical or not, her parents gave her a pass. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a believer — or, rather, yes, she wasn’t a believer, but she was a believer in belief. She approved of and respected, and maybe even envied, her parent’s commitment to evangelical Christianity. It was just that the prospect of sitting in the theater-in-the-round pew of the Liberated Independent Church of the Cause, listening to Pastor Doug orate and chant and declaim, while everyone around her nodded and wept and swayed and sang, was usually too much to bear.
Not today, though. For some reason, Lorinda had felt an atypical urge to accompany her family to church. Maybe it was last night’s encounter with Brad, and its weird emotional residue, a combination of thrilling transgression and faintly depressing disappointment. Or maybe it was the slowly-germinating implications of her job promotion and Mrs. Barker’s benediction about its possibilities. Maybe she was looking for some spiritual solace. Or maybe she just didn’t want to stay home alone and brood.
Now, as they pulled into their reserved parking space in the sprawling asphalt lot, she spied Emmie’s car.
“Yeah?” her brother said. “Cool. Emmie’s hot, Lor.”
“Zeke!” Lorinda said, grossed out. “Ew!”
“I’m just sayin’!”
“We’re going to church, Ezekial,” their mother said. “Mind what you say.”
“I’m just sayin’ what I’m sayin’.” He cackled. “I’m sayin’ what I’m sayin’ and I’m playin’ what I’m playin’ and I’m okayin’ what I’m … prayin’.”
Lorinda rolled her eyes. She might have known. Zeke was on manna again. She surreptitiously glanced at his nostrils and was pretty sure she saw a few flecks of green powder he had missed when he cleaned himself up for the ride to church.
Manna was its street name. Lorinda didn’t know the drug’s official chemical name, but she did know — pretty much everybody knew, in spite of its illegality and notorious reputation — that it combined the energizing and attitude uplift effects of cocaine with the euphoria of ecstasy, along with a weird imperviousness to fatigue and physical pain. As a result, most (if not all) of Zeke’s co-workers on the Citizens Construction Corps were fond of it — if not completely addicted to it.
The CCC was the new nation’s employer of last resort — a battalion of men and women ages 20 to 40 who were sent like a SWAT team of manual laborers to farms and factories and construction sites in desperate need of workers. With no minimum wage and no unions (in keeping with the breakaway nation’s proclaimed philosophy of freedom for workers as well as for entrepreneurs), CCC personnel salaries were rock-bottom, but supplemented by the (field-ration-type) food and (tent-based) lodgings provided at each job. How these proud, hard-working citizens were able to obtain, let alone pay for, a drug the manufacture, distribution, and sale of which was against Confederal law, was just one of the many mysteries characterizing life in this Confederation of Conservative States of America.
Lorinda and her family shuffled through the happy throng of congregants milling in the churchly equivalent of pre-game tailgate festivity outside the sanctuary, Bob nodding affably to colleagues from his logistics office at Gotfried Lenz Pharmaceuticals, Rita waving to paralegal colleagues from her law firm. Zeke spied a CCC buddy and the two ran toward each other and commenced a complicated ritual of hand-slaps and finger-wiggles that made Lorinda certain that both were high as drones on manna.
Crowds clustered around the various barbeque and fried chicken and hamburger trucks, while dozens of barely visibly loudspeakers, hidden amidst the immaculate landscaping, enhanced the lively, upbeat mood with the country-and-western stylings of The Saved, the church’s house band. Lorinda spied people she knew from high school and couldn’t decide whether to say hello and be seen. But she didn’t see Emmie.
Finally the melodious (if pre-recorded) voice of Kendra, wife of Pastor Doug, could be heard announcing, “Service time, y’all,” and the crowd made its orderly way through the various entrances, bringing their food and drinks with them. By the time Lorinda, Bob, Rita, and Zeke reached their usual reserved seats, most of the ten-thousand pews (so-called in spite of the fact that they more closely resembled the plush, fake-velvet maroon recliners of a fancy movie theater, complete with cup-holders) were filled.
As she settled in, Lorinda at first wondered if she would, as she often did, end up falling asleep during the sermon. But suddenly her mood brightened. She remembered the promotion, and the career pep talk Mrs. Barker had delivered. What a lovely topic to think about, fantasize about, and use as a distraction from the tedium to come!
The sanctuary was designed more like a regional theater-in-the-round than a traditional church. For this reason, so that the preacher had full 360-degree access to all those seated around him, the band and the choir occupied a raised platform behind one of the sections of ranked seats. Giant video screens hung from the ceiling. Pastor Doug, in chinos, a white linen shirt, and a navy blue blazer, all under an off-white Cattleman cowboy hat, stood at the ready behind his trademark swiveling lectern. The Saved (lead singer, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard) brought their entrance music to a close. Pastor Doug held up a Bible as the chattering crowd quieted down into an expectant silence.
“Question,” he said. “How many words are there in the Bible?” He looked around as though waiting for a reply. “I’ll tell you. Seven-hundred eighty-three thousand, one hundred and thirty-seven.” He gave a wry little smile, knowing it would be visible to all via the mammoth television screens. “I’d like to say I counted them myself, but … well, let’s just say, thank GAH-duh I didn’t have to.”
As the faithful shared an amused chuckle, Lorinda focused on what she’d probably have to learn in order to step into and master the job of Director of Barkeeping Operations: Bookkeeping, probably; despite what she told her parents, she didn’t do any real bookkeeping in her present job. The ordering of — well, everything. Liquor, mixers, glasses, snacks. But she could learn that. She would make it her business to learn that.
“That’s a lot of words,” the preacher continued. “And there’s a lot of good ones in there. Words like ‘righteous.’ And ‘blessed.’ And ‘holy.’ And there’s some not-so-nice ones, too. Like ‘perdition.’ And ‘sin.’ And ‘hypocrites.’ But I’ll tell you what words aren’t in this book.” He suddenly slammed the book down onto the lectern with a bang that brought a surprised jolt to many in their seats. “What you don’t see are words like ‘antibiotic.’ And ‘steroid.’ And ‘beta blocker.’” He slowly turned his head from the far left to the far right of his visual field, taking in about half of the assembled. “And you don’t see the word ‘drug.’ Now —”
“DRUGS!” A young man across the arena from Lorinda had leapt up as though celebrating a sudden home run or touchdown. “YES!”
Others around the church came to their feet, cheering and shouting and waving to each other as their parents or partners tried to shush them and get them back into their seats. Most were men, but there were a few women, too, all in their twenties. Manna-heads, Lorinda thought. She turned and looked at Zeke. He had the same avid, burning-eyed look as the others, but Bob had his forearm in a tight grip, and her brother remained seated. Suddenly, bursting out of him like a reflexive scream, he shouted, “Man-NUH!” A ragged cheer arose from the others.
Pastor Doug, vexed, snapped directly to the camera, “Put ‘em up there.” The image on the screens suddenly lurched away from the pastor and focused on one side of the house. It sought, found, and quickly zoomed in to focus on a pair of the shouters, whose faces appeared up top, magnified and in lurid color. The pair saw themselves and went silent in awe.
Lorinda barely noticed. She was thinking about what could follow once she learned all those bar-management tasks and skills. You could get a bar going from a standing start. You could walk into a PumpJack’s that hadn’t opened yet, where the paint was still wet, and in a week or two have a functioning bar in operation. That would be so cool! But then what?
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