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The Messiah will only come when he is no longer needed - старонка 5


"Taters are done, I see. Maybe I should call Verlin in. Monday night football, he'll be wanting to eat and scat."

Later in the week, Patsy had telephoned Ellen Cherry in Seattle and catalogued, as faithfully as she dared, Jezebel's vices.

"Neat," Ellen Cherry had said. "I'm delighted to learn that I've been compared to a heathen fornication instructor, a husband corrupter, and a baboon's ass, all in one lump."

Patsy, who had purposely omitted the part about diced babies, cautioned her, "You've got to accept some of Buddy's preaching with a grain of salt. Granted, he's a man of God, but ol' Bud has got . . . ambition."

"Mama, you say it like he's got a disease."

"Well, ambition's not as bad as AIDS, I reckon. But it can be a whole lot worse than the measles."

~

They were making good time. Saying adios to the rock stacks. Boomer hated to leave them behind. He admired the way the paladins of pumice seemed intent to stand on their own wide feet, to stand tall, face their gods, and one day ascend from this chatty planet to a world more worthy of their silence. Look at 'em back there, rugged and unwavering, not a Pouilly-jumé sipper in the lot. No, those rocks were not artists but working stiffs, heroic welders who could mend the hinges of hell, yet if need be, if their loved ones required it, could transform a motor home into a traveling juggernaut entree basted by the butters of the sun.

The rock formations were thinning out, however. The land was starting to jut less and roll more. Rolling toward the Rockies. It was less arid here. In fact, the road was running parallel with a stream, a tributary of the Green River, perhaps. Juniper sprouted from the hillocks, and barely budding aspen huddled along the creek like ghost squaws come to launder their sheets.

There weren't any settlements, not even on the map, but sure enough, around the next bend a billboard stood, quoting, in archaic English, the apocalyptic ran tings of a long-dead Middle Eastern prophet. It made Ellen Cherry shudder, and then it made her mad. "Anybody," she said to herself, "who would erect a garish billboard in a beautiful setting like this would fart in a phone booth, dynamite a hummingbird feeder, use the Mona Lisa for a dartboard, consult a Japanese light meter at the burning of the Hindenburg, or name their firstborn after Richard Milhous Nixon."

On they rolled, turkey and hills. The dire prophesy did not slow them down, nor did it relieve the driver's grip on the passenger's thigh. Suddenly, Ellen Cherry brightened.

"Boomer, you realize you and I can't fornicate anymore?"

He looked astonished. "We can't?"

"Why, no. We're married now. Dictionary says fornication is between unmarried persons. From now on, we've got to call it something else."

"When did we ever call it fornication in the first place? That's a dumb word: fornicate. Sounds like something lawyers do. Government lawyers."

"Well, we've fornicated for the last time, darlin'." She placed her small hand atop his huge one. "So what're we going to do from now on?"

"Same thing but call it something friendly." He was trying to remember if anyone in a spy novel ever spoke of "fornication." Certainly not Bond.

"What would you call it, then? What friendly thing are we going to do from now on?"

"I hadn't thought about it."

"Well, think about it." With her nails, she raked the hair on the back of his hands. "What would you like to call it?"

"1 don't wanna call it anything. I just wanna do it."

"Then let's do it."

In teasing him, she had gotten herself aroused. While she kissed the right corner of his mouth, he pulled the vehicle off the road, concealing it behind the last mesa in the wilderness.

~

"Will the New Jerusalem look like Richmond, the lovely capital of our most lovely state? Nay. Will it look like Washington, D.C., the great capital of this great nation? Nay. Will it look like London or Paris or even—even, what? What's another city that everybody thinks is hot stuff in the beauty department? Uh . . . Venice. Will it look like Venice? Nay. Am I using too many 'nays' here? Oh, no! All these grand cities will shrink beside the New Jerusalem; Rome at the height of its glory will, no, would, be but a slum in comparison to . . . Tallahassee. Tallahassee, you moron!"

Despite the prodding of the Reverend Buddy Winkler, the contestant identified the capital of Florida as Miami Beach—"Miami Beach? The moron must be a Jewish moron."—thereby losing out on a set of fine Wedgwood china and a year's supply of margarine.

"Now, let's see. Where was I? Ever' last city that man has built in this world, including the fabulous showplaces of the Oriental potentates, that's good, 'fabulous showplaces of Oriental potentates,' will pale into ghettos. . . . Hmmm, I guess your ghetto is not exactly, pale, is it? Heh. Will pale beside the transformed Jerusalem that God Almighty will bring down from heaven to serve as the capital of his kingdom on earth, the city where, in which, you and me—you and I—will for all eternity . . . rumba. Come on, stupid. Rumba! Oh? Okay, samba. What's the blessed difference? Nobody dances like that anymore. Let's see. For all eternity dwell. Dwell or live? Ummm ..."

The Reverend Buddy Winkler was experiencing some difficulty with his powers of concentration. The game show was not to blame. He always watched television game shows while working on a sermon. As a rule, they proved more inspirational than distracting. All that energetic yearning. Each contestant standing at the gate of wealth, hoping to be judged worthy of admission. No, it wasn't "Wheel of Fortune" that was slowing his pen, it was the good news from the Baptist network. Only that morning, he had learned that two stations in California and one in Oregon had agreed to air his weekly broadcasts. California, yet! Talk about your going forth among your whores, publicans, and sinners. At the rate that his radio exposure was expanding, could a TV contract be long in coming? He couldn't afford to keep postponing a dental overhaul. On the tube, your smile was your mustard-cutter and not a penny less. "Right, Bob?" He grinned at the game show host. And then, the merry saliva turning to roach powder in his cheeks, he drew a despairing hand over his candy jar of boils. "Heal!" he almost shouted, but he was not that kind of preacher.

Buddy's mind wandered to the house call he must make the following day. A member of his local congregation had recently, at the age of eighty-two, undergone surgery to restore her sight. She had been blind since four. The operation was an unqualified success, yet when she looked in a mirror for the first time and observed her corduroy complexion, observed the fissures and puckers that caused her countenance to resemble a close-up photograph of a Laplander's scrotum, she ignored the miracle of vision and flew into a fury. Having never seen an old person's face, she thought the doctors had done it to her, that the epidermal wasteland was an unnatural consequence of the surgery, and she was intent upon filing a malpractice suit. Neither her family nor her attorney could dissuade her, so it fell to Buddy, as her minister, to explain how and why God routinely made prunes out of his little sugarplums.

"For seventy-eight years, that woman sat in the dark, unaware that the cream was curdling. At least I wasn't ambushed." He let his fingers glide over the pustules again, then it was back to the sermon.

Of the New Jerusalem, the Lord revealed to John that its gates were pearls; its foundations garnished with precious stones. Buddy underlined the Bible verse: "The city was pure gold, like unto clear glass."

He supposed that he was obliged to defend that description. There would be debunkers out in California who would object that pure gold wouldn't stand up as construction material. Even in Colonial Pines, the unrighteous, the troublemakers might raise issues of practicality. Patsy might, for example.

Well, he'd be ready, he'd head them off at the pass. "If I was one of these so-called modern preachers, I might say to you, don't get literal on me. John's vision of the New Jerusalem is not meant to be taken at face value. We're dealin' with your symbolism here. John was shown a city that was so beautiful, so glorious, so overwhelmin' to his senses that he compared it to jewels and gold because he lacked the language to describe its reality. John just helped hisself to the most high-sounding metaphors he could come up with. Well, if you wanna believe that the saints and prophets of biblical times went around talkin' like English professors, you're welcome to it. I believe the Holy Bible means exactly what it says. True, you or me couldn't build a house outta pure gold and have it hold up. Donald Trump couldn't build a skyscraper outta gold and have it last. But, brothers and sisters, God can do anything he wants! It was God that made gold in the first place. God could build a city outta ..." Buddy was about to say "grits" until it occurred to him that there were folks listening nowadays who probably were unfamiliar with grits. He surely wasn't going to substitute tofu, California or no California. The idea of a tofu city was both sacrilegious and repulsive. "God could build a city outta . . . cobwebs if he took a notion to, and it would outlast Pittsburgh." Yes, indeed, the Reverend Buddy Winkler would stand tall and say to the doubters and modernizers, "Pancreas! Sweetbreads are your gourmet term for your cow pancreas. Come on, Bob, out with it. That sturdy plastic lawn furniture by Bessie of Beverly Hills is mine!"

Alas, Buddy Winkler never learned for certain if "pancreas" was the correct answer, for at that instant the game show was interrupted by a news bulletin. Another bomb had exploded on a crowded bus in Jerusalem, killing nineteen and wounding fifty-four.

~

Boomer thought that they would simply make love in the turkey, back in the rear of the bird on the corner double bed in "blush" color scheme with deep innerspring mattress and color-coordinated quilted bedspread (ample storage tucked away beneath the bed with "pack-at-home" removable trays). Ellen Cherry had other ideas. The sun was shining, it was the first week of spring, there was little traffic and no inhabitants—she wanted to do their friendly thing outdoors in the open air, in the zone of vegetation beneath a gulping sky.

"We'll have a picnic, too," she announced, and she swept into a paper bag a box of crackers, a tin of sardines, a can of pork and beans, a jar of dill pickles, cheeses of both the cheddar and jack varieties, a can opener, a knife, and a spoon. Boomer added four frosted beers.

Hand in hand, she short, he tall, she bouncy, he lame, they walked along the stream. The bank was shaded and many degrees cooler than it had appeared from inside the motor home, so they left the creek and set out across a sun-sprayed hill. Releasing her hand, Boomer walked a few paces ahead of her, meaning that Ellen Cherry, the brisker walker, was forced to throttle her gait. He meant to protect her from any venomous reptile awakened from hibernation by the bells of spring. To that end, he brandished a hefty stick, with which he swatted the bushes and clumps of grass that they passed. From time to time, as they searched for an ideal spot to spread their blanket, he glanced over his shoulder at her, regarding her, as he often did before they made love, as if she were a lost continent about to be rediscovered.

It was sweet of him, she thought, to be protective; sweet and typically southern. In her experience, southern men tended to be charming that way. Protective as Brink's, polite as tea, respectful as a job applicant during a recession. Yet, just beneath the surface of that inviting lagoon, fierce green lobsters clanged brutal claws. Possessive and pugilistic, even the most educated and aristocratic of them—lawyers, psychologists, investment bankers—engaged in fisticuffs with some regularity, usually at swell parties where ponds of bourbon were drained, and frequently over a harmless flirtation. Southern men were trapped in a backwater of masculine ethics, a classical male image that the rest of the population had largely outgrown. To be sure, their code of honor precipitated their chivalrous charm, but it also fostered the primate-band competitiveness that prevented them from relaxing unless dead drunk. Their strength was a facade, for it emanated from rules and protocol rather than from self-knowledge or inner resources. They were paper tigers, these Dixie white boys, though Ellen Cherry would ever prefer them to Latino males: those guys—Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, some Italians, even—had absolutely no sense of humor about themselves and got angry over offenses so small a woman required a microscope to identify them.

As for Greek men, she was on the verge of tarring them with the Latino brush when her southern Anglo-Saxon groom, who, she was concluding, was preferable to many Mediterraneans, most South Americans, and all art critics, interrupted with a wave of his club. "Look there," he called, pointing toward a cavity in the hillside just below a rocky overhang. "A cave."

Indeed, it was. Due to the manner in which Ellen Cherry automatically looked at landscapes, squinting and widening, focusing and fuzzing, employing her eye game to drag God's patio furniture from one retinal lanai to another, she probably would have missed it. For that matter, a conventional hiker might have passed it by, as well, since the cave was small and its opening partially obscured by juniper bushes and fallen shale.

As they climbed the slope to its entrance, they entertained similar ideas. The afternoon breeze had stiffened, and spring or no spring, it was chilly enough to pave their backsides with goose bumps at the very thought of undressing. Perhaps the cave would shelter them, provide a warm, cozy haven where they might launch their carnal canoe. They would still be out in nature, but as snug as if swallowed up by the turkey.

Naturally, Boomer insisted on scouting it first. Because the hillside was steep, a fair amount of light angled into the cave's opening. "It's shallow and right dusty, but it looks okay," he reported when he was positive there were no rattlesnakes or bears lying in wait for his tasty bride. She dropped to her hands and knees and followed him inside.

Once in the chamber, they could have stood upright, but standing upright was not what they were there for.

"Have you ever done any spelunking?" Ellen Cherry inquired as she arranged the picnic.

Boomer knew perfectly well what speleology was, since Trevanian's Shibumi, with its cave-exploring protagonist, was his favorite spy novel, but he replied, "Is that a fancy form of fornicatin'—or is it something married people can do?"

Ellen Cherry set down the pickles and regarded him drolly. For all of his rowdy bluster, she knew him to be actually rather shy in the trenches. "Oh," she said finally, "some married men are expert spelunkers." She took his left hand and, lubricating his ring finger by licking it, removed his wedding band. His protests dwindled into grunts when she gave the finger a bonus suck.

Hiking her skirt up to her waist and pulling her panties down a few tantalizing inches, she slipped the wedding ring into her vagina. She gave it a poke to, well, ascertain that it was securely hidden; then, with a kind of reverse flourish, like a magician who has pulled a rabbit into a hat, she snapped her elastic and announced that he could try his luck at spelunking whenever he felt fit.

The urn, the oh, the ah; the rubbery slap slap of bare bellies, damp as cavern walls; the clink of gold against tooth enamel as they passed the salty wedding ring from mouth to mouth; the almost audible vibration of her tiny stalactite.
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