Cal makes his way up the slight hill toward the church hoping no one can tell by the look on his face or the way he’s dressed that he’s not a good person. He is a bad person. Well, maybe not an entirely bad person. Actually, more of a good person predominantly? With some bad parts. It’s hard to keep track. But that’s ok? God loves sinners because we’re all sinners, right? Except for Mother Teresa. Maybe Gandhi.
He crests the hill thinking too much about his gait, measuring his steps to make sure they’re not too large (as if to imply he is overly ambitious to get into the church to get his sins forgiven, but not too short to give off a sort of nonchalance that may have onlookers wondering why he was even here, if he doesn’t even respect God?).
The boots he’s wearing are cheap, and he’s concerned they sound too much like a woman’s high heel and that someone like Grant Tripper, who is well-known around church because of his fervor but also because of his quick-wit and toothy smile, might turn around and, when he doesn’t see a woman but a man, say, “Oh-oh, and here I thought I was being followed by a beautiful lady!”
This might cause some of the quieter (but impossibly perceptive) members of the church to wonder why he wears shoes that would even give the impression of being womanly—that old saying that yes, going into a bar is fine, but the act of drinking and drinking to excess and commingling with riffraff? Very wrong. The notion of sin—or, the “implication” of sin must be avoided.
He sees the mass of churchgoers chatting in the foyer, discussing Godly things, no doubt. Cal likes that the church sits up a little higher than the buildings around it. It makes him feel like he’s inching a little closer to heaven every time he’s there. Many panes of stained-glass hang above the doorway and at certain times of the day they make the foyer floor look like water.
Cal wants to be a “good guy” badly and he is, around 64% of the time. Back of the envelope math, etc. There’s just some times where his brain doesn’t go quite right and for one reason or another he’s less “good guy” and more “not-so-good guy,” according to what he understands the parameters of the “good guy”/“not-so-good guy” paradigm to be. Much of it is that he can’t forget about the things he’s done wrong over the years. He’s tried so hard to suppress those memories but sometimes he slips up and remembers and they hit him like a drop of molten metal in the pit of his stomach.
Cal weaves through the crowd of people he knows in the foyer, which at this point in the morning is hot with the breath of people making lunch plans. He knows some of them well (the ones he knows not-so-well make him feel bad because he thinks he ought to know them better and that it’s very selfish of him to not know them). He gives little head nods and smiles and “how are you doing, I’m fine thanks.’” All the while he is thinking about how he needs to start rehearsing his prayer for the Holy Huddles. He feels nervous to pray in front of other people when they all stand around and take turns. He has a boilerplate prayer for these occasions, but he’s worried that some of the more devout congregants might be on to him, saying the same prayer over and over. During Holy Huddles, everyone has to pray. It goes around in a circle, like a lit fuse slowly burning its way toward him.
He sees the Thorsons. They’re deacons. They always try to talk to him. He hates that he hates the part of church where you talk to people. The Thorsons come up on him quickly.
“Hey, yeah Cal. There he is,” Mrs. Thorson says.
“Cal, my man, how’s it going? Is it going good?” Mr. Thorson asks.
“Yeah, for sure. It’s going good. No complaints here,” Cal lies.
“Oh man, yeah. That’s good to hear, brother. Certainly. You still waking up early? Getting a big head start?” Somehow morning routines got brought up in a conversation between them months ago. Now it seems like it’s all they ever want to talk about if they run into Cal.
“Yeah, up at 5, every day. But I haven’t been able to make myself start doing those milkshakes,” Cal says.
“They’re smoothies, Cal. Smoothies. All sorts of protein, vitamins, energy out the wazoo.” Mr. Thorson corrects.
“He doesn’t even drink coffee anymore, right Bart? Which is really rich considering how you’re always hanging out at that coffee shop,” Mrs. Thorson chimes in.
“Ha ha ha, yeah. I didn’t even think of that,” Cal trails off.
Cal hopes they won’t ask more questions because he doesn’t have more answers. He is too fraught with guilty feelings about how he should have—could have done better with his week. He didn’t know how it always fell apart. Sundays to him were usually like Pepto Bismol, quieting the bubbling, acidic guilt that ate up his insides and made him lie awake in bed some nights. Every time he walked out of the service, he thought this is it, I’m going to redouble—no, retriple—my efforts. Going to be a real stickler about myself this week. Saying my prayers. Reading my Scriptures. Meditating on the Word. But the bubbles would always float back up and cloud his mind and burden his chest and make him sick (not actually sick, mind you, but it felt bad enough that he wished he felt sick so he could say that the guilt was so bad that it made him feel sick). Somewhere between Tuesday and Thursday, he’d lose it completely and give in to thinking over the plots of episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond or what kind of snack he would fix himself when he got home from work. Sometimes even worse thoughts would work their way up into his head like a bad gas; thoughts that he hated like what he might like to do with Tami from work or how he could maybe get away with pilfering one of the extra laptops that sat unused in the tech room. It wasn’t until Saturday night/Sunday morning that he would rehash these thoughts, knowing that they’d need to be addressed and taken care of and changed. It all really felt impossible to him.
“The key is vitamins. Better than caffeine, that’s what the doctors say.”
“Hey,” Cal says, “do you know what the best vitamin is for making friends? B1. Ha ha.”
No one says anything. Cal isn’t sure why he said that.
“Read that on a poster in high school.”
“Well, the vitamins really charge you up. That’s what I always tell her: these fruits and greens are like a phone charger for humans!”
“Ha ha. Yeah. For sure.”
Last week, Cal said are you f-ing kidding me. He said it (the real, honest-to-goodness bad word) out loud and meant it. He also said seven shits, 11 hells and too many damns to keep track of. Words are just words for the most part though? He didn’t say it to anyone really. Or about anyone really. So what is the real harm? He said are you f-ing kidding me when he was playing his online Triv-O-Mania game and he knew the answer to the final question that would have netted him over one million jewels and put him in the upper echelon of Triv-O-Mania players worldwide. He knew the answer, didn’t even have to think about it–What is the name of the man-made lake that spans Arizona and Utah–he didn’t even need the multiple choice. Lake Powell. He remembered his father told him he didn’t understand what all those Indians were crying about when they built the Glen Canyon Dam and if they wanted to live out there in Hot-as-Hell Arizona didn’t they need water? Stupid Indians, his Dad said. So he went to press Lake Powell but his hand slipped and he pressed Lake Titicaca on accident. He was mad and said, are you f-ing kidding me? He probably would have just said, are you kidding me? if he had accidentally pressed the other answer (Lake Mead) because that’s a more reasonable answer, with Lake Mead also being a reservoir and also in the desert Southwest. But Lake Titicaca is in South America and it is a naturally occurring lake, not a man-made reservoir. The thought of someone seeing him make such a mistake caused the f-ing to enter the equation. Of course, someone did see his mistake because God is always watching. Omnipresent, remember? Sometimes, to Cal, God was his neighbor who had a just-right angle to see into his house, even through his closed blinds. Like, no matter what, there was always a so-small space between two slats and God saw him do everything he did. So, he compounded his Triv-O-Mania mistake by making a real mistake with the swearing. He wondered, does God keep a log of unsavory stuff? He tried to keep his own mental log, but he could only generally remember the most recent stuff. He was at the scorer’s table trying to mark down all the fouls but the game was moving too fast and his pencil was broken.
Six days ago, he gossiped. He found out from his boss (via the other team’s boss) that one of the sales guys was screwing around with the new Vietnamese maintenance woman, who, his boss said, was definitely married. This nugget he may have been able to keep to himself because it’s kind of just some stuff that happens in life. TV show things. But then? Well, two days later his boss came over to his cubicle and said, “Hey see in there? In the conference room? Those newbies? The one over on the right in the red blouse and the dark hair? Well, remember how I told you about the sales guy that is screwing around with the new Vietnamese maintenance woman? That newbie with the red blouse and dark hair is that guy’s wife. Can you believe that, she went and got a job here? Do you think she knows?”
And so, Cal’s burden got a little heavier. Then later that day he got a company wide email that said
hey folks make sure you lock your cars and are being super-extra careful in the parking garage because we have had a few break-ins down there. Well, for sure just one break-in because one may just be that Jerry thought his tapes were in there, but he wasn’t sure, and he said he’ll check when he gets home and see if they’re actually missing or if he just forgot to put them in his car. The other one was a bonafide break-in. We know because the guy’s car was real torn up. They took his stereo and his cigarettes and even some change out of the ashtray. Well, just the quarters; the perpetrators left the nickels dimes pennies etc.
As soon as he read Thanks, mgmt. Tami popped her head up over the cubicle next to his and said, “Hey, did you hear that the new sales guy had his car broken into?” So he said maybe it was the new Vietnamese maintenance lady’s husband. Tami said, “What do you mean,” and he realized that he already said too much, but how could he not tell her at this point about the sales guy and the Vietnamese maintenance lady and the sales guy’s wife? So, he did. And it felt good when he said it. Which made it feel that much worse when he was thinking about it later, laying in his bed, his sleep-bleary eyes making God manifest Himself on his textured ceiling. He thought, “Well, it’s actually my boss’s fault for telling me. What does he expect?” Then he felt triple worse because he knew that he was responsible for his own actions and that sometimes he even feels responsible for other peoples’ actions too so he really needs to find the spot in the middle where he can feel the right amount of guilt.
Cal slinks away from the Thorsons into the sanctuary to sit down in his regular pew, the second from the last one on the left. He picked the pew out 11 years ago. Everyone knows it’s his. Well, mostly everyone. Cal sees that some people he’s never seen before have arrived extra early and taken his seat. He smiles and sits a couple feet away, trying to stay close to his usual area. He tries not to be upset about it (and he usually isn’t when this sort of thing happens) but he can’t help but think what if the pastor looks back to my spot and sees these people and doesn’t see me and thinks that I’m off sinning somewhere? He stuffs those thoughts down deep inside where he hides his other very bad thoughts and memories, the ones that he didn’t think God would forgive.
Like when he was thirteen and he was with his friends at the river. He was walking through the thicket of trees and brush and old logs that hugged the beach, looking for frogs or toads. They found out from one of the way-older kids that if you threw toads in the fire they pop like a firecracker, so Hesse thought why don’t we just gather up a bunch of them and toss them in at the same time and see if we get a real big explosion like the kind they have down at horse races every Independence Day? It sounded like a good enough idea to him and all the other boys so they combed the wooded areas for as many as they could find. They all split up and said meet back here in twenty minutes.
The musicians begin meandering on stage which means service is about to start. Trying to distract himself from his memories, Cal stares up at the giant cross that glowers above the stage and wonders what would happen if it fell. He decides if it fell and hit Pastor he’d run up right away and try to help. He’d be the first one up because he was the only one who had thought about what to do in such a scenario. With that settled, Cal looks out over the congregation, scanning each attendee.
He thinks about Trent and Rita, about when they had the whole church over last Memorial Day and they bought something like a billion Costco meatballs and Capri Suns. And ha ha ha, they laughed it up with pastor and slapped him on the back. He thinks that was too much. Calm down and be respectful of pastor. He is pastor for Pete’s sake. He scans the room…Peggy Reese and her son Riggs, they are people who he did not aspire to be. Riggs picks his nose constantly and always pulls it out and investigates his boogers, practically interrogating them, like he’s breaking them down slowly to get them to reveal sensitive information about the inside of his nose. And after they give up the goods, he shows no mercy and eats them. He does this in church every Sunday; very distracting. If that’s not enough, Peggy (who never so much as blinks at Riggs’ incessant gold mining operation) sings way too loud and she is bad at singing. So bad that when she sings the words they sound like different words, not like English words at all. “Eh meaty fur tress ease are God, eh bullswerk nefer failin’.” This is a sure sign of Pride. Humble thyself to know that you are not so high-quality a singer, he thinks. Burt and Brenda: good. Trina and Vern: not-so-bad. Alan, he’s fine except for his Scripture readings, how he never takes the time to figure out how to pronounce the tough words like Sadducees, Miphiboseth, Syntych, Diotrephes. If they ever asked Cal, he would stay up late on Saturday night to make sure he knew how to say things precisely.
Even though service has started and he should be singing, Cal thinks about his pockets loaded with toads, some trying to squeeze themselves out, some burrowing down toward his crotch. Toads in his hands, a couple rolled up in his shirt sleeves and one in his shoe. He figured he had room for one more in his left hand or if not his hand then he could sort of pin one against his chest before he walked back. He heard a creaking sound and thought hey maybe it’s a bullfrog. I bet none of the other boys got one of them. He went over to his right, where the trees get a little thicker, and made a sort of lean-to with branches hanging over. He looked around but there weren’t any bullfrogs that he could see. But he did find two bottles of beer. Four, actually, but two were empty. Under the lean-to branches there were scads of trash: a few socks, cigarette butts, Doritos bag, ants inside Doritos bag, broken headphones, glass, mail, dental floss, more glass, sunglasses, sunflower seeds, paper.
Cal set down the toads, grabbed a beer bottle and twisted the top off and sniffed it. It smelled bad but he never had smelled beer before, so he thought that was how it was supposed to smell. He sipped it and grimaced. He held his nose and sipped some more. He knew that beer makes you funny because that’s what it always did to people on TV. He thought the guys would like it if he was funny. So, he sat down and committed himself to getting funny. He held his nose and drank in quick sips. While he sat, he inspected the trash. This must be where the way-older kids hang out, he thought. He kicked the Doritos bag and ants sprayed everywhere like ink splatter. He looked at the mail, but it was boring. He saw a piece of paper under a rock next to the sunglasses. He picked it up and read it.
Helo my name is Reaghan I am 7 years old please help he sad he was taken me to grammas house but he got mad and we didnt go he said I better shut up or I will get it. He left to get some thing I am scarred help
That made him feel funny. But not in the way he thought the beer would make him feel based on his TV watching. He didn’t know what to do. He had finished drinking the beer and his tummy felt big and his head felt furry. The toads twisted and writhed under his shirt and in his pockets, making rippling damp spots.
He would tell Dad about the paper. That would be what is good to do. Dad would say, “Wow little man, great job. Seriously, great job sport. We oughta throw a party for you for helping out like you did. You’re a hero. Well, maybe not a hero because the girl is still missing and all but something up there with hero, like Good Samaritan or a helluva guy. But just one thing skip, where’d you find this? How’d you find this?”
Then he’d have to come clean about the toads and the hot beer and even the fact that he was down by the riverside when it was that time of year when the river swells up like his ankle did last year after he fell off his bike and hit a fire hydrant. That made his stomach hurt. Maybe he could tell the police? But then they might think he had something to do with it. Or that he at least maybe knew who did it. They’d grill him under a hot light until he cried and said he didn’t know jack about it and then they’d say yeah we know but we’ve been filming you this whole time and you just cried like a little baby who pooped his diapey and they’d show the video to the whole school and he’d be the Crying Poopy Baby for at least the rest of the year or maybe the rest of his life.
So, he did the most sensible thing he could think of at the time. He ate it. It was very hard to eat. He grabbed the other beer and poured some in his mouth to wet the paper. It became gooey and clumpy while he swallowed chunks and chewed and chewed. It tasted much worse than he thought it would. Like dirt and tar and rotted eggs and like he imagined the inside of Percy’s cast tasted or like the smell from when mom forgot about the lasagna in the oven because she was very busy crying. Most of the toads had now worked their way out of his clothes and were now crawling down his legs creating a chorus of squeaks and squeals as they hopped toward freedom. Cal was crying a little, but he didn’t know what part was making him do it. His face felt hot. He had almost swallowed the whole thing when the bad taste or maybe the thoughts of all the bad tasting things made him hurl. He hurled all over and it was foamy and looked like the stuff the river’s waves make when they hit the shoreline over and over and over and over again. Those tufts of cloudlike lumps with bits of trash and sediment nestled in them and every time you’d try to kick one, they’d just smear all over your foot and make it stink.
He shuffled back to the beachside area where the rest of the boys had started a fire out of leaves and scraps of scattered wood. The sun was descending in that hopeless way it does sometimes, where it looks like it’s being kidnapped by the clouds and stuffed under the horizon. The fire was already casting long shadows of the boys on the dead and dying trees that surrounded the clearing.
The boys were whooping around the blaze, pushing one another, jumping up and down, spitting and cursing when Cal returned.
“Hey, Cal doesn’t have no toads.”
“What the hell, Cal?”
“What happened, where’d you go? We been waiting.”
“Hey, yeah, sorry guys,” Cal said.
He felt sick and couldn’t tell if it was from the beer and the paper or the note. He kept wiping his hands on his shirt, but they still looked dirty.
“I caught a big one, so big that I had to put all the other ones down. So I put ’em down and I chased the big guy and boy, was he screaming at me. It sounded like a little girl, ha ha ha. I had to laugh at it because it was just that funny. So I stopped and chased him more and saw he was heading toward the river but I didn’t want to lose him so I ran around and got in front of him and he stopped and just sat there. So I tried to pick him up but he was too big; I couldn’t even get my arms all the way around him. When I grabbed him, he screamed again and I started laughing because of how it sounded and by the time I stopped laughing, he hopped off.”
“Bull shit, Cal.”
“Ha ha, no way.”
“Are you serious?”
“Just say that you were too sicked out to touch ‘em Cal. Scared cuz of their poop.”
“Yeah, Cal’s scared of toads’ poop.”
“Whatever, guys. Let’s do this,” Hesse said.
The fire was really going now, spastically flicking its tips in the fresh darkness.
“Hey Cal, grab some of mine. Hurry up.”
Some of the boys had brought buckets and one had a backpack so there were enough toads to go around. There must have been about a hundred. They loaded up, grabbing as many of the slimy animals as their small boy-hands could hold. They began to approach the fire from all sides. It felt like those videos they watched in school of the naked people from an island somewhere, trying to heal something that was hurt or asking for protection from a spirit.
They formed in a tight circle around the fire, and for a moment they stood staring blankly at it. Cal squinted to keep the smoke out of his eyes. Then Gord shouted, “One, two, three,” and they all whooped and chucked their frogs and toads at the blaze.
There was no explosion. The moisture of the toads was enough to almost extinguish the fire entirely. With the light from the fire gone, the boys began to panic. They started yelling and looking around for someone to take charge. The coals still glowed but smoke now billowed out of the black and red circle. It smelled like poison. Once their eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, they examined the fire once more. It looked like it was alive, shifting and squirming around, trying to sprout legs. That’s when the hissing and screeching began. Since the toads did not explode, they also did not die quickly. They were making ungodly noises, a sort of harmony with the hissing noise of their flesh reacting with the fire. Slowly, the toads emerged from the where the fire had been and started disjointedly hopping out toward the boys.
The boys were still too stunned to react, most of them watched and slowly retreated. Until Hesse finally decided enough was enough and kicked one. And another. Pretty soon all the boys were kicking and stomping on toads. They were kicks of mercy, kicks to end the screeching, kicks to end the ordeal. After what felt like an unending stretch, the last of the burnt toads were squashed and the boys’ shins and shoes and shorts were coated in blackened ooze. They all grabbed their bikes and skateboards or walked off and left.
Almost suddenly, the music is concluding. Cal is startled as pastor announces it’s time for Holy Huddles. Groups are forming for their huddles, which is mostly just meeting up with the few folks around you and saying hello and what’s your name or if you already know the person/people you say something like how about that game last night. Then they pray together. He’s nervous. Just like always. And now, on top of everything else, he has to contend with the new people who took his spot.
More congregants form a little cluster in anticipation of prayer. The new couple stands to Cal’s left.
“Hey, uh, my name’s Cal.”
“Dan.” He sticks out his hand to shake Cal’s. “This is my wife, Maddie. I saw you lookin’ at us when you came in. We didn’t take your spot, did we?”
“What? Oh, ha! No. Nope. It’s fine.” Cal sputters.
“See, told you honey,” Dan says to his wife.
The circle is closing as people around them pack in.
“First timers?” Cal asks.
“Yeah,” they say and both nod.
“Everyone ready?” Terry interrupts.
Everyone joins hands. Typical Terry, Cal thinks. Not even a deacon or anything but acting like he runs the show. Terry starts speaking to God. But Cal is thinking about his prayer and thinking about what everyone else is going to pray, and thinking about those missteps that grip him still, and not listening to what Terry is saying.
“I need to focus,” Cal thinks. He needs to come up with a prayer that will really knock ’em dead to get the weight off his back. To show them how good he is.
Our God. No…Our Heavenly Father? Our Father. No. Lord, just Lord…Thou hast—absolutely not. No King James.
“Help us—” Terry finishes, and Terry’s wife Teri starts on hers.
Now the clock is really ticking. He needs to get a good first line to kick off a real memorable prayer that might rouse the group or at least make them think that wow he really knows how to do it, yeah? Maybe begin with a quote from Scripture? Hm…
“For God so loved the word, that”—that who cares, everyone knows that one. More obscure.
“For who knows the plans I have?” Too Hobby Lobby-y…Teri’s started wrapping up. Now it’s just Gary between him and God. Thinking, searching.
“Jesus wept.” Too short.
“In the beginning”…too far away.
“Ox and ass before him bow.” Christmas? No, no.
Fully unable to think of a verse, he starts sweating a little under the arms.
What he really wants to do is to be able to pray without the rules. What he wants to say is Dear God please, I know you said you know the sparrows and the hairs on everyone’s head but please do not forget about the toads of the world, or the really small stuff like paramecium and amoebas that everyone always forgets about. And I am sorry about saying things like shit crap etc., but do you really care about this? Is this important? I know, it’s probably not good but where does it rank on the scale of things? And Dear God I hope you have a good memory, but I also hope you have a bad one in regards to me because I can’t remember everything I did that was sin/sin-adjacent. To be perfectly honest, I want to forget those things more than anything else but when I close my eyes, they replay on my eyelids over and over and I read the note I found that day over and over and I also see myself from the ceiling looking at those, uh, unsavory images on the computer and see when I called my brother a fatass, and when I kicked the cat because he was really pissing- ticking me off, and when I didn’t say I love you when I should have and I how can’t think about you or anyone else but me for that matter. I know you said that thing about where even if you are mad at someone that you may as well have killed them but what about when they found the girl three weeks after I saw the note and she was very dead, and didn’t look much like a girl anymore? What about how the police said she had rope marks on her little wrists and her little feet and that her face was swelled up like it was stung by a million bees? What about how her family wept on TV and said why did this happen and surely someone could have done something to stop their little girl from dying and that they prayed that there would be justice, but no one ever found out who did it and everyone forgot about it except the newspaper once every few years? What about that? Is that the same as if I killed her? Because it sometimes feels as bad as if I did it when I forget to not remember it and my throat gets tight. Dear God, I want to start over without the bad stuff. Is it possible to clear it off, start over, turn it off and then on again, or something like this?
Gary concludes his prayer and there’s heavy silence. Cal peeks out of the corner of his eye at Dan. Dan is looking around the circle like he doesn’t know what to do.
“I, uh…sorry everyone. I’ve never really prayed before. Never been to church before neither.”
“Ah, not to worry friend.” Terry is really laying it on thick, Cal thinks. “When you pray, you’re just talking to God. All you gotta do is tell him how you feel and what you need. There’s not really a wrong way to do it.”
“Well, ok then. Here goes.”
Dan closes his eyes again but instead of bowing his head he sort of tilts it back, like he’s in pain.
“God, uh…I feel like I’ve been hiding too much bad stuff I’ve done from everyone.”
Cal is really sweating now. Dan continues.
“There’s just this feeling I don’t like inside of me and I want it to go away. I keep thinking about it, my regrets or whatever, and the bad things that happened because of things I did or things I should have done. Uh…yeah. Amen.”
Cal can’t believe that’s it. What kind of prayer is that? Didn’t Dan Google church or anything before he just decided to waltz on in? What does Dan have to feel bad about, drinking too much beer? Who cares.
Cal is suddenly aware of the space between the end of Dan’s prayer and the beginning of his. He clears his throat reverently.
“Dear Father…I think what brother Dan here is trying to say is that, uh, maybe some people here have done some pretty foul things. But, I think he’s feeling much too sorry because what’s he got to feel so bad about? He doesn’t even know that some of us here, certain people among us maybe, might have some serious weight on us. Of course you’ll forgive him for drinking a little too much beer or maybe saying something nasty here and there. He’s a newbie so you’re not even expecting too much. The green ones are supposed to be bad so that way they can get saved. But with us who already know you, we maybe feel a little worse for even the minor stuff because we ought to know better. And we have those expectations, you know. Dan doesn’t know any better because he’s unfamiliar with the rules.”
Cal was speaking louder than he knew. He was gripping Dan’s hand like a child at the zoo.
“So we’re welcoming him onto the team, as it were. Those of us who know the rules, well… I can’t help but say that it really mucks things up because we know what we should be doing. And maybe that makes it a little harder to forgive—not meaning to imply that You can’t take care of it all, but simply that You might get a little sick of having to do it. None of us here have necessarily killed anyone, per se, but, if we had, you know, secretly killed someone, or something similar to that, well, You would know where the body is hidden. No one else might have that info. It’s a little…frustrating, because I try to keep track but I know I can’t keep track as good as you. What I’m trying to say is that the Dan’s of the world don’t need to be let off the hook like I do. Because I have to be good. It is imperative for me to be good. But I can’t be good because I have blood on my hands and it’s getting on everything I touch. I can’t do it—”
Feedback from pastor’s microphone interrupts Cal’s prayer. Pastor starts singing “Amazing Grace.” The prayer circles slowly dissolve as the congregants turn to face the stage and join in song. Cal is out of breath and dazed, like when he wakes up from those bad dreams he has when he sleeps on his back. He looks around the room forebodingly. Terry is belting out the tenor part with his eyes closed. The Thorsons are holding hands and swaying across the sanctuary. Even Dan the new guy’s lips are moving, though it looks like he’s missing a few phrases here and there. Strangely, no one is looking at him. They’re all facing the stage, the giant cross, singing those old familiar verses.