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Their Faces Were Shining

Their Faces Were Shining

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Their Faces Were Shining

Lunghezza:
300 pagine
4 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Dec 1, 2012
ISBN:
9781301119400
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

When Hope Paterson plunges into a construction hole at her local mall and saves a child from drowning, she believes this is a sign from God. Maybe her marriage, her relationship with her daughter – even her diet – will be revitalized. Days later, a car crashes outside Hope’s office. The young passenger is dead but the driver has mysteriously disappeared, leaving just her clothes. Then her daughter calls unexpectedly. She is weeping. Kids floated up through the roof in calculus class, their faces glowing with unearthly light. She sobs: “Mom, it’s the Rapture.”

“The Rapture?” thinks Hope, “on a Monday?”

The world ends; the world carries on. The Dalai Lama is seen floating above a duplex on Fifth Avenue, laughing uproariously. Angry mobs torch churches. Flagellants whip themselves, hoping to earn God’s grace. The hot new reality show is called “Are YOU the Anti-Christ?” The Dow surges. As anarchy descends, Hope must fight for those she has loved so poorly, and then for herself.

Their Faces Were Shining combines profound human insight with a thriller’s narrative drive. Engaging marriage, family and faith, mixing comedy and awe, it is an astonishing literary achievement.

“Left Behind” meets "Gilead'.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Dec 1, 2012
ISBN:
9781301119400
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Ex-foreign correspondent, -taxi driver, -salesman, -English teacher, -smoker. Interested in Endtimes, and beginnings also.

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Anteprima del libro

Their Faces Were Shining - Tim Wilson

Dad

HARVEST

1

Where were you when it happened?

For a long time this was the question of that sacred, cataclysmic day. Everyone asked it: mothers pushing empty strollers, National Guardsmen at checkpoints, unshaven men lounging in their cars outside darkened gas stations. Ash-heads especially, they always wanted to know. The details varied; the answers never did. Here. We were all here. Like a thorn catching your finger, this small fact gave the enquiry a jagged note of confirmation: So you, too, were left.

Never in my life did I expect to be among the discarded.

Where was I when it happened? My reply hardly does me credit. I was running into ReNuLife, the health company where I worked. Running, or trying to. I’m a not-exactly-at-her-goal-weight woman of a certain age, and I was wearing three-inch heels. Put a bunch of cantaloupes in a bag and shake; you get the picture.

But where were you?

Sometimes, from pure exasperation, I’d answer, That depends when ‘it’ really started.

A tactic, yet I was also being candid. For me, The End began on Friday afternoon, nearly three days before the grand hullabaloo. I’d rescheduled firing a salesman who’d made my admin manager cry, and was sneaking out of the office. I thought I’d escaped until Jenny, the Goth-looking girl on our front desk, rattled a contribution box. For AIDS victims.

Maybe she expected an easy donation. Besides being President of Sales and Marketing, I was the Official Office Christian.

We commenced the tennis match of unbeliever and believer: charity versus responsibility, versus free will, versus chastity, versus charity. She implied that since AIDS was no longer a death sentence, it had lost some altruistic cachet. We could help by coughing up. Tossing her jet-black hair (I’ve seen her roots, she’s blonde) Jenny said, What would Jesus do?

He never does the expected, child. He might donate. Or He might say, Do not put your Lord God to the test. Those who enjoy thrilling intimacies with strangers take spiritual as well as physical risks. Sin is a word that believers know to avoid in public, but the facts of existence remain. My husband Wade and I have stayed faithful.

Though I argued strongly, even in the flush of righteousness I felt myself overreaching. My prayer life had become mechanical, and I read my Bible irregularly at best. Throughout my life Christ has walked with me in sunlight and shadows; lately, however . . .

Sunlight, shadows: I’m uncomfortable with such terms, but they contain many days.

Jenny exclaimed, Are you a Christian, or just a b___h?

Personal insults mean the argument is lost. I reminded Jenny of this, and blustered out. Later I sat in Myrtle, our family sedan, chewing on her remark, and one of the baby Butterfinger bars I keep in the glove compartment for emergencies. My daughter Rachel had made a similar accusation that morning. Was I so bad? I’m a reasonable person; I burn dinners, not heretics. I scolded myself: Buck up, Hope!

Spring had sprung, yet the day was overcast. During winter, I like to imagine Jesus behind the clouds, a house-proud Christ with dowdy curtains that he can’t wait to fling open. Isn’t God a kind of celestial housewife; aren’t we just one of his chores?

Myrtle was sick, and kept stalling. I drove determinedly. Wade had organized a mechanic for her that afternoon, and in the inefficient division of labor that I guess characterizes most marriages, I’d taken her to my office. The garage was in an out-of-the-way part of town; Wade insists I’m navigationally-challenged so the plan was for me to collect him first.

Crystal Lakes Mall came up on the left. Crystal Lakes is Fairfield’s wealthiest area, hardly a regular haunt of mine, but it was my night to cook. And they were excavating a drain in the parking lot, which made the place seem less forbidding.

Something chickeny, I thought, locking Myrtle; Wade liked chicken. A pretty, youngish mom was skirting the plastic cones and yellow tape they’d set around the abyss. She had a look that many men and some women think is attractive: tight clothes, scarlet lips, swollen inconvenient hair. Her little girl sat in the cart, sweet-faced, maybe a year old and rugged up in a matching red sweater and cap. The mom eyed my suede jacket (an early birthday present, To Hope, with Love and Martyrdom, xxx Hope). Her lips pursed disapprovingly. I disapproved back then resumed thinking deeply about chicken. And apples for Wade. Granny Smiths, not Galas.

I groped for the notepad I use for lists—damn, left it at home; someone screamed. The rear door of the mom’s vehicle was swinging open and her shopping cart was sliding halfway down the slope, revolving as the weight of the groceries competed with the little girl’s. The mom took a step forward, her heel snapped, she fell.

The cart veered sideways, heading toward the cones and yellow tape. My heart thumped. Oh no. Oh. No. Cart and child breached the tape, toppling in.

The mom wailed; a construction-worker guy was extracting himself from his truck. But they moved as if caught in glue.

Me, not them, standing at the hole’s edge. Ten feet below, the cart lay in brown water, partially submerged. Enough to drown a little one, that much I knew. Was that a red cuff protruding from the muck?

Oh Lord, I prayed, make me brave.

Another voice murmured, Who are you trying to be here, Super-Christian-woman?

Gravel bit into my knees as I bent down. My jacket had cost $300: I couldn’t get it off quickly. I unclipped my watch, set it on the ground, then placed my phone down too. Again I prayed, Oh Lord, please . . .

Please what? I wriggled over the edge, shoes skidding against the muddy walls. I grasped the asphalt, fingers splayed. So far, so good.

I fell.

Landing hard. Oh, Lord! Had I crushed her? My hands plunged into the frigid water. Swishing around, I located a tiny wrist. Yes! I yanked it: I had a pumpkin by the stem. The barcode sticker seemed particularly mocking.

Time, I had no time.

Lord, I prayed, you’ve put me here.

Again into the vile slop: a package of Dolce Vita pasta. No! A squashy pipe-shape this time. Groping along its length, I felt something stubby . . . wait, an ankle, caught in the cart’s latticework. Reaching down, my face almost in the water, I twisted the foot and pulled.

She surfaced; mouth open, eyes glazed.

Cradling the girl, I pushed on her stomach. Nothing. Then her chest. Tipping her upside down, I shook her like you do a handbag when you’ve lost your wallet. She burped loudly. Water sluiced out. She gasped, squealed, then cried. My goodness, how she roared! I patted her back. There-there, darling, there-there!

A circle of faces above us, cramming around the hole’s rim. Hands waving, skittish birds, Here! Up here! As I grinned at them, my tongue brushed jagged space at the back of my mouth. Had I lost a tooth? Our dental plan expired last month. The toddler’s hair was so soft. She was shivering, scared maybe by my pounding heart. I don’t blame her, I was scaring me. You’re okay now, sweetie, I said, you’re okay.

The child’s screams were Christ calling out, Behold I stand at the door and knock. His fist rapping on my heart! I know what Jesus would do, Jenny! And I had done it! I had been washed clean in the filthy water, pocked knees and all!

Plastic ropes descended, and a bucket improvising as a cradle. They hoisted her back into the world. You forget how piercing a little child’s cry can be. More waiting, many more ropes, then it was my turn. Inching upwards, I breathed the musky smell of broken earth, and looked around. The hole’s walls reminded me of nougat. We’d been down very far.

Above ground, through a spangled haze, I saw firemen, a truck, and two ambulances. A crowd had gathered, exclaiming and waving, immediately recognizable. They were the women who crisscrossed the city at 3 p.m., toting circuses of children. My best friend Alice and I had nicknamed them the Afternoon Migration. Shoot me if I get like that, we’d say, the joke being that we already were. They reached for my hands. I beamed, and wished Alice and I had been less satirical.

The throng ejected the mom, hobbling and holding her shoe in one hand. She embraced me, weeping. I haven’t been held like that in a long time. I tried to pull in my stomach. Her hair brushed against my face. It smelled like ginger, or maybe root beer. Foolishly, I said, I’m getting you wet, then—I couldn’t help it—I was crying too.

Paramedics shouted questions at us. Kelli, said the mother, Kelli, with an ‘i’. She said her little girl’s name, which was Kerri, or maybe also Kelli. Cute. I pointed into my mouth while a paramedic took my pulse. His head was shaved; downy black hair covered his ears. He shrugged, I’m not a dentist.

After some minor hysteria, we located my watch and phone. I had a message from Andrew Klopper, the salesman I’d put off firing. He sounded gruff. I dialed Wade. Voice mail. I strained to catch the beep on his message. Everyone was cheering.

I thought, This must be how Oprah feels every day.

The crowd surged, we were bundled into an ambulance, though I can’t say which happened first. I’m great, I told the paramedic, I have to go. I’ve got a meeting. I might as well have been talking to a stone. As we zigged and zagged through the streets, I struggled to keep my seat. The ambulance windows were frosted, so I couldn’t anticipate which way we were turning. Kerri continued to squall, poor thing, her cries amplified in that cramped swaying space. My soaked jacket felt tight around my shoulders; was it shrinking already?

At Fairfield General Hospital, I inhaled antiseptic and felt nausea, telling myself—without conviction—that I was probably motion-sick. A nurse ushered Kelli and her little one away. Someone ordered me to a side room.

I’d been in shock, I suppose, because I began shivering then. Really shaking. I struggled to bounce my jaws around my broken molar. Ooooh, this place! A nurse said, Let’s get you into something warm. With hospital fatigues, thankfully one size fits all. Kerri was still squawking and I could hear Kelli cursing out the doctors. Draped over a chair, my suede coat resembled something from an animal rights poster.

I checked my phone. Nothing. Why hadn’t Wade called back? You’ll be late for your own funeral, my very practical mother would say, a refrain that my less-practical husband repeats. The bed-sheet crinkled; it wasn’t cotton, it was paper. This place!

Yo! My hero. Kelli was holding Kerri, who seemed calmer. They’d bandaged her little head and she looked even more adorable. Kelli sat opposite me. Just put them there, she commanded the nurse trailing her. Two coffees were set down on a bedside table.

Kelli seemed accustomed to having that effect on people. Her waist was slim, her legs long. I wouldn’t have used the make-up she wore, in fact most women wouldn’t have, but the colors worked for her. Without trying, she made me feel like a drab, aging man. Her phone buzzed. She eyed the caller display, winked and said, Let’s make him wait.

Kelli placed her heel-less shoe on the bed. "Four hundred bucks, and the . . . (I’ll spare you the foul adjective she used) . . . thing nearly kills me . . . She smiled winningly. But we don’t do it for our health, right? We do it to look good. To Kelli, the word good seemed rich with comic potential. Did you try your husband again?"

I blushed. He’s . . . He doesn’t usually pick up right now.

Kelli brushed a little hair out of her daughter’s eyes. Try him again.

I told Wade’s voice mail that even though I was at Fairfield General, I was fine. Then I left a message with Alice: I’m the Queen of the Afternoon Migration! Kind of glib, I know, but I didn’t feel glib; I was bursting to tell someone what I’d done. Rachel probably wouldn’t answer, not after this morning. I dialed another number. Mom answered at once. Hope, what’s wrong?

Nothing. Why would anything be wrong?

You never call in the afternoon.

True. Mom and Dad lived in Bryant, a little town five hours’ drive away. We usually spoke after 7 p.m., when long-distance rates were cheaper.

How could I say I’d just risked my life? Mom would be noisily distraught; Dad would worry quietly; they’d discuss nothing else for a week. In a cubicle nearby, a nurse shouted, Either you behave right now, or I’m gonna get the doc.

I lied, I was just thinking about Dad’s birthday present. I’ll call back later.

Kelli had produced a chocolate chunk cookie from her bag. She broke it, offering me some. I ate greedily. Owww! My tooth, or what was left of it. I rinsed with coffee, as Kelli fed chunks to Kerri and explained what had happened.

. . . the wind caught it . . . and my heel . . . couldn’t believe . . .

She yammered on a bit; I don’t blame her. I’m sure that ever since Kelli turned thirteen, men had been begging her to start, please, at the absolute beginning.

May I say how I felt? Alive. I felt energized, aware of the smallest details: how Kelli spoke, how the hospital windows scattered the sunlight, how comfortable Kerri looked, cradled in her mom’s arms. Bliss. Nothing, and everything, mattered.

Kelli continued. She upbraided her phone for distracting her, and cussed the wind for taking the shopping cart. I wanted to cover Kerri’s ears. Mama! wouldn’t be her first four-letter word. Kelli’s phone was purple and encrusted with rhinestones; maybe you’re not surprised. She flicked it over to camera mode and demanded we pose together. I smiled shyly. One more, for luck, she said.

Little Kerri had been folded into a hospital blanket; swaddled, just like baby Jesus. Swaddled. I remember that lovely word from the King James Version. In the New Interna-tional translation, the baby Jesus is wrapped, like a burrito.

Kelli, may I . . . ? I extended my arms. Just for a second.

First, I felt awkward. Performance anxiety, maybe; then something clicked. She fitted so snugly. Despite the chocolate and the hospital noise, she seemed very placid. What a beautiful girl! I said.

Boy, said Kelli, boy, his name is Kerry. With a ‘y’.

A boy?

I was falling. The ER noise, the bleach smell, the clean dirty corridors became an aperture. Down I plunged. From far away, Kelli’s phone rang. I’m okay, Vincent, she answered. Kerry’s fine. He’s a fighter just like his papa.

A boy, and about the same age. Down, down, down.

She closed her phone. Vincent just wants the facts . . . and some, you know, pumping up.

Yes, I said. Yes.

Please believe that what followed was an expression of love.

Kelli, I said, do you know Jesus Christ died for your sins?

In prayer, the words Jesus Christ sound musical. Spoken aloud inopportunely, they grate like fingernails on chalkboard. I scraped on. I told Kelli about the Lord, about salvation. I counseled her to try God, as if He were an eau de toilette. Sorry, but that was the tone.

I made patronizing assumptions about her husband Vincent. Revisiting her dissection of the cookie, I diagnosed an eating disorder. Dr. Hope. Women my size view skinny girls the way I think skinny girls view us: as having food problems. I kept saying, I don’t know you, but . . .

But I believed I did. So I told her about the Cross, and the Resurrection, the Way, the Truth and the Life; it just sort of all fell out and lay there slithering on the floor.

Kelli grabbed for her son. I sidestepped. Once she had him, she’d stop listening.

Did you save him, she shouted, so you could do this?

I was on my feet then, walking backwards, holding him correctly, I promise.

Okay. On reflection I may not have been totally cognizant that I still had him in my arms.

She’s stealing my baby!

I just wanted to finish my story, to tell out the Good News. I backed into the ER. Nurses were making a circle around me, onlookers clustering, patients leaning forward on their paper beds. A security guard materialized, looking about fourteen years old. He brandished a small canister. Pepper spray, y’all! I saw a mother grope for and take her child’s tiny hand. Someone shouted, Shoot her!

Kerry was screaming louder than he had in the hole, or in the ambulance. I just wanted to finish my story; I swaddled the boy with my love. I shouted, I’m not going to hurt him!

Mommy’s here, baby! Mommy’s here!

I looked into Kerry’s eyes, and quite suddenly felt afraid of myself. I made to set him on a bed, only I didn’t want him to roll off. So I laid him on the floor and stepped away.

The security guard dive-tackled me, shoving my face onto the ground. My wounded mouth throbbed even worse. Dragging me to my feet, he frog-marched me out as the ghouls cheered. I was Jonah in Nineveh. Boooo! I was John the Baptist. Booooo! John the Baptist’s head, on a golden platter!!

This way, lady, this way, said the guard-boy, hauling me along.

In the watchhouse, a man about my age sat staring at a bank of black and white TVs. Quite a brouhaha, Nate, he said.

She was loco, man, Nate said, pushing me in.

Kelli was rapping on the window, and shouting for the police. Nate seemed to be agreeing.

I thought, Maybe a nap will stop my mouth hurting.

Nuh-uh, said the older guard, not on the floor. No!

I lay down. My hips spread. I shut my eyes. Brightness, still; I rolled over, shielding my face with my hand. Darkness rushed in. That was the moment. The elevator door had closed, the soufflé was out of the oven: descent.

2

Been swimming?

Wade’s business suit was crumpled around his habitual slouch, but he stood so erect and stern that he appeared to be still arguing with himself about how to handle this predicament. Over decades, some married couples come to resemble one another physically; not us. You know the nursery rhyme, Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean . . .? I used to call Wade Mr. Sprat until he told me it wasn’t funny.

We should bust a move, Wade said, rattling his keys in his pocket. The Egyptians.

Our plan had been to deliver Myrtle to a garage run by mercurial but cheap Egyptian-immigrant mechanics. If we didn’t fix Myrtle, Wade’s business trip to Centerville and several big deals would be jeopardized.

I scrambled to my feet. My cheek, corrugated by guardhouse carpet, felt numb.

How long was I . . . ?

About a half an hour, said the older guard. Nate had gone.

Forty winks, said Wade.

In the Fairfield General car park, my husband walked ahead of me. It’s both useful and redundant to note that Wade and I were once young. We danced to songs. Not the hits either, but the interesting almost-hits. One favorite was a gladsome dirge called Cold War, sung by three whey-faced nihilists from Manchester, England. It was Wade’s choice, really. My preferences then were more along the lines of Hold on to Love. But at nineteen I was happy, even eager, for peers to make certain decisions on my behalf.

We’d evolved signature dance moves to Cold War which in retrospect suggested two lobsters fighting. We weren’t being serious! I did my thing, Wade did his back, and it was like communicating in code: We’re here, but not totally. It’s cool. I wasn’t beautiful, but youth is a kind of prettiness. And I was a size 8.

Hey! I said. Wade slowed, I caught up.

Here’s Myrtle, said Wade.

I’d named our vehicle; I actually told people this! Can’t we just . . .

Nope, said Wade. If we don’t fix Myrtle . . .

I know, you’ll have to hitch-hike to Centerville in your new pinstriped suit.

Wade doesn’t own a new pinstriped suit.

He smiled naturally, and looked so handsome. It’s not the dopiest idea you’ve had. We got in. He gunned the engine.

One Sunday morning about four years ago, Wade read me something from the Fairfield Sentinel about guys in India who did his job for one tenth of his paycheck. What we didn’t know was that his story would end with a pink slip and a party in the UniSoft company lunchroom. There were streamers, some expensive cake; those who still had jobs kept checking their wristwatches. Men generally recognize the constraints of their lives far later than women do, so the moment, when it arrives, is carnage.

After a few blocks, Wade asked, Weird being back at the hospital?

My ringing phone saved me. You’re a star! Alice exclaimed. They were talking about you on the local news.

I recounted the hole’s edge, my dilemma (heroism versus jacket) and Kelli’s joy. Alice was kind enough to tell a white lie about some super new reviving spray that would save my jacket. She giggled when I described the paramedic’s hairy ears. Conversing with my best friend was like making music; I played the melody, she harmonized. I didn’t mention the missing tooth. I hadn’t told Wade about that yet.

A

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