Where I live now the churches rival shopping malls in square-footage and parking. The pastor’s are all shellac and glean, with wives made-up as if ready for burial. They don’t speak much of hell or Satan anymore, not even the Baptists. There’s no money in it. I can watch them on TV, a serious hangover forcing me to mute the volume and stare at the preachers’ faces, creased at the points where Botox has yet to be injected. Usually I don’t watch them at all.
Late one afternoon I watched a woman get whipped. My balcony overlooks the community pool, and I was out there feeling sorry for myself and watching her, this woman, argue with her boyfriend. I couldn’t hear them at first. Then the belt came off. He folded it in half. The belt was the color of the pool. His boots were the color of the belt and the pool was the color of the sky, and it was-all of it-breathtaking. I probably could’ve stayed there, taking it in. But I could hear the strike of leather against skin-the whap whap it made. And I could hear the man’s voice. You cunt. You little bitch. Whap.
I am not religious. I have a friend who says we’re the result of synaptein firings within the brain. Chemicals. I like this notion: our minds as tiny universes, our passions like wee gaseous explosions-comets moving forever and forever, amen, through a celestial miasma.
I went to her, this stranger, this lady, in her time of need. Once the boyfriend had fled to his Camaro, I went to her and put my arm around her and comforted her, there on a rotting chaise lounge.
I feel it’s important to mention that I wasn’t attracted to this woman. I wanted nothing from her.
She told me she had nowhere to stay. I offered my sofa. I told her it was hers for as long as she needed.
Her name was Joyce. She stayed for three and a half days.
Does it surprise you that she stole from me? Some expensive stereo equipment and a Folger’s can I kept on the counter as a cussing jar. It held at least eight dollars in dimes and quarters.
What does that say of me? What does it say that I spent nearly six weeks angry with her? Murderously enraged.
Why do I picture her now living in Duluth?
Often I think of Saint Peter. I heard somewhere-perhaps from one of the high-gloss pastors-that he was crucified upside down at the infield of a chariot racetrack, a kind of Punt, Pass & Kick contest for ancient Rome.
That isn’t true: I almost never think of Saint Peter.
But sometimes I do think of John the Baptist.
Would she have gone down to the river? Would he have cleansed her of her sins?
What is Duluth like, exactly, in the spring?