Friday, April 27, 2018

Satan's Circus


The deck stood about twelve feet over the deep green, freshly mowed lawn.  White plastic furniture was tied to rails in anticipation of the coming storm.  Blake Robbins and his Weather Team 10,  had forecast the eye of the storm to blast right up the bay.  Hurricane Dawn was coming to town, and wiser men had fled to higher inland refuge.
     The sky overhead was split into two dramatic hues, one light cerulean summer, the other deep violet and foreboding.  Bobby wondered if maybe he should have gone upstream as well.  Hell, even the seagulls were gone.  The blinking lights at twin points of the bridge superstructure seemed overly bright.  The air felt heavy and wet.  While the true deluge was still south of Long Island Sound, there had been some portentous sprinkles.  The Weather Channel maps tracked the eye up the east coast and it was looking as thought good ol’ Blake was right, the joined mass of water known as Narragansett Bay and its sister Mount Hope would be hosting the first really powerful hurricane in over fifty years, and every one else had left, except for the two people standing on the unpainted deck at the very head of Mount Hope Bay.  The slider opened with a soft whoosh, and closed thudding against the frame.  Marian stepped beside her husband.
She looked into his worried gaze and he pulled her into a gentle, loving kiss.
"Think it’ll really come?”  Her voice was sweet, soft and only her husband could detect the sound of her concern.
"Startin’ to think so.”  Bobby answered with all sincerity.  “Old Poppy used to call these storms Satan’s Circus.  He’d say when Satan’s Circus comes to town, only the foolish pay for admission.”
"Poppy ever have a son die?”
"No.”
"Then he would never understand.”  She laced her fingers into his and squeezed.
         Bobby and Marian stood shoulder to shoulder as the purple clouds over ran the azure sky.  The power of the early afternoon sun became insignificant as the sky began to boil.  One last seagull, looking stark white, like a candle at midnight, flew toward the beaches up river as the first wave of large smacking raindrops began to fall.   Bobby just stood with his face into the breeze, allowing the raindrops to mix with the tears on his face.  Two days was just not enough time.
      "How high will the water rise?” she asked.
      "They say there’s a fifteen foot tidal surge.  We’re at seventeen feet here.  If it hits with the highest tide, this deck could be just above the waves.”  He thought it might even be just a bit under the waves.
        Over their heads the early flashes of lightning began to dance across the deepening colors of the stormy sky.  The roll of deep thunder began to echo along the shoreline.  Bobby felt that rumble vibrate his fractured heart.  He thought of the soft dirt above Robert’s grave, and wondered if the splintered remnants of his heart would completely shatter in the rumbling thunder.
         "Marian, I’m staying here until I can’t.  I’m facing this storm down.”  He looked into the eyes of his wife.  He could not see the tears on her face any better than she saw his.  Both were soaked in the infant rains of Hurricane Dawn.  He kissed her again, longer and deeper than last time.  “I can’t keep running.  I need to feel like I can do something.  I hate this helpless felling.”
          "There was a time I would have fought you, but I have only enough fight left to stand by you.  I know it was not your fault.”
           "Easy to say.  He was just a kid, my kid, and he needed me.”  The sound of the downpour should have drowned his words, but Marian’s heart heard every breath.
        They both had their hands on the rail of the deck and were leaning into the wind as it began gusting to near twenty-five knots.  The rain was warm and like his own shed tears, had a salty flavor to it.  The sky, nearly dark, still grew deeper.  The high grass and cattails along the shoreline began to bow down to the north.  Waves crashed into the old remnants of the pier Ol’ Pappy had built.  The sea spray drove nearly horizontally.
       The rain simply stopped.
       "Is there a switch somewhere?” Marian joked.
       "Ahh, just the first band.  The rain will come and go a few times, getting stronger with the winds.  The breaks will become shorter and before long everything around here will be zipping by.”
       "Are we doing the right thing?”
        "Who ever knows.  Last week we thought diving in the bay for quahogs was harmless enough.  All I know is that it’s right for me.  I need to do this.  I need to look right into Satan’s Circus and God help me for what I might see.”
From the street a police siren warbled intermittently.  Between the high-pitched electronic scream, an officer’s voice could be discerned,  “For your safety a mandatory evacuation has been ordered.  A shelter has been set up…”
        "That’s the fifth time they’ve been by.”
        "And they’ll continue to come by until the trees start falling or the street floods.”
     "What time did they come by here?”
     "Two-thirty.”
     "Was that the same guy?”
     "Yeah, that’s the fat bastard that kept glaring at me while my boy was wrapped up in a white sheet, and taken away.  The questions later nearly put me over the edge.”
Marian began to cry again.  Her tears were plain and unmasked.
     "Honey, it will be alright.”
     "I know, I trust you and love you.  I could never have gotten through this without you.”
     Bobby nearly choked on the irony.  Had he not turned his back on Robert, the boy would not have drowned, and she would not have had to go through any of this shit at all.  Payment was being made and soon the pain would stop.  Satan’s Circus was at hand, and he had bought tickets for the center ring.
     "There is hope, right? After, I mean.”
     "Marian, there is always hope.  I would not be standing here if I didn’t have hope.”
      Another spiraling band of rain led a stronger windstorm.  Gusts were now nearly fifty knots.  Smaller dry branches had begun to fly.  Loose lawn decorations tumbled along the beach.  The snapping of branches rivaled the rolling thunder and flashing lightning.  It would not be long before the power and phone was lost.  Bobby had charged up both cell phones, but doubted he would really use either one.
      He put his arm across Marian’s shoulder and leaned into the wind.  The push of the wind told him for sure, the power of this storm was heading up the twin bays.  He would not guess where the eye would fall, but doubted it was necessary to have a direct hit, although it did seem likely.  It might hurt a bit, in the beginning, but facing this storm was right for them both.  After, hopefully, the pain and the guilt would be gone and they could be happier, never happy.  Not without Robert, that had changed everything.
      Bobby looked into the house.  All of the lights were unplugged.  The television and appliances were pulled away from the walls and valuables had been boxed and stored in the center of the house and in the trunk of the car.  He knew he should have boarded up the sliders, but he knew in the end, it did not really matter.  The circus would play out in whatever randomness drove such things.  Bring it all on.  Gusts answered his silent call, nearly pushing him off his feet.  He held one hand more tightly to the rail.  The Eye of Dawn was now over Block Island with one hundred and fifteen knot winds.  The tropical rains were dumping four and three-quarter inches in just over an hour.  The tidal surge was riding the high tide at twenty feet above normal.  The Twin Bays were beginning to swell with a churning rolling current of five to nine foot rolling seas.  The sound of the increasing wind sounded like a dying man’s groan.
      Standing in the path of the eye of Hurricane Dawn, Bobby and Marian held fast to each other, the memory of their deceased fifteen year-old son and hoped for redemption.
      Two days were just not enough time to heal.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ghosts of the Great White Church

     The Great White Church was neither great nor white, not anymore.
     You could find it simply enough if you wanted to, though no one really wanted to, no one except Stevie Rego.  He had his reasons and they were good ones, but he was the only one to make the long trek down Blossom Road to the old church yard.
     The sun was bright in the clear blue spring sky.  It was one of those days when the sky truly felt endless.  There were no clouds, no entrails, no marks at all on the pristine blue.  The steeple of the church reached higher than the tree tops and power poles.  The poles themselves were bare.  No electrical wires, no phone or cable television wires either.  They stood in a stoic line, like sentries on guard duty.  What they were guarding against was the source of no minor speculation to the children in the city. 
     At the very top of the tall steeple, at the very tip of the point was a weathervane, not a cross as one would expect, but a fine black iron weather vane in the shape of a Rhode Island Red Rooster.  While the rooster no longer spun or pointed toward the wind, it grasped at the folded axis that once had reached into the sky.  The rooster, now lied on its side, as if dead, like the church itself, plainly wrecked by some violent act.  Stevie stood under the giant maple tree at the end of the main walkway.  He did as he always did, beginning with the rooster, he would gaze upon every inch of the steeple and work his way down toward the front entrance looking for a sign of any kind from her.
      Back in the 1920’s, the Great White Church was home to a healthy Catholic congregation.  Saint Marc of the Sea Church remained a committed member of the north eastern community.  Weddings, baptisms, funerals and sixty-five years of Sunday services, until Father Gomes was accused of fiddling the alter boys.  Some of the New England churches survived that scandal, but Saint Marc’s sank.  The hard core working class boys and men of the city wanted no part of that building after that.  Given the changes in the Church overall, the congregation moved on and the Catholics moved out.  The Great White Church was renamed just that by the artist who bought the building.
     Gary Kent, known to most as Grizzly Bear or simply Griz, turned the building into an artist cooperative gallery.  Fifteen artists showed their work, held openings, classes, and music events.  It was during this time that the rooster replaced the cross.  Despite being somewhat off any beaten path, the Great White Church Gallery was successful for over twenty-five years.  Griz passed away the summer he turned seventy-eight years old.  The cooperative sold the church to a fundamentalist Christian congregation.  They renamed the building, and their group to the Great White Church of our Lord Jesus.  They were an evangelical group dedicated as much to spreading good will as much as the good word.  Both the church and the congregation remained that way until two years ago.
     At the time, Stevie Rego was just thirteen, and desperately wrapped up in the throes of his first real love, that first love against all others would be measured.  Shawna Peters was a member of the Church.  Stevie had been considering joining the Church to spend more time with Shawna.  The way it turned out, he was lucky he had not yet decided, but he lost something he desperately wanted back.
Stevie had lost hope, and thirteen was way to young to lose hope.
     The boy, now fifteen stood quietly performing his ritualistic exam.  The stories all said the Great White Church was haunted with the spirits of those children taken to soon.  Stevie really wanted that to be so.  For two years, he came every Sunday, at the time of the fire to watch, to look and to search.  He needed to see her one more time.  He never got to tell her he loved her and that need hurt.
     The scorched paint above the windows was more gray than black, and the remaining white, in general, was a pale gray.  The church appeared as if in a fog, even on this clear spring morning.  Stevie took a long hard breath.  On the far side of the Great White Church, standing in a shadow that should not have been, was Big Jim.  He was known as Big Jim Meaner or Jim the Devil Man, and many others.  He watched Stevie, reveling in the boy’s loss and pain.  Big Jim was a legend in the city, a legend that was as old as the city itself.  Those who had seen Big Jim never lived much longer.  On this day, however, he simply watched as this tale unfolded, and a boy with a broken heart searched for a way to heal.  Big Jim had a hand in the fire that destroyed the Church and took those innocent lives.  Thirteen children and two adults.  He ended those stories before they had time to even begin. Big Jim’s tale however, is one for another day.
Stevie would not see Big Jim, not today, likely not ever if his luck prevailed.  He would, however, see the devil man’s work several times in his lifetime.  Big Jim was like that, never far from those in heartfelt pain.  He enjoyed their suffering.  
Stevie took three steps toward the blackened door to the church.  He could feel the energy exuding from within as if it were a very low bass vibration.  His heart sped up.  His eyes dried out and stung.  He rubbed at them.
     Shawna had been inside with her mom, her aunt and twelve small children learning Sunday School prayers.  Shawna wanted to help.  She thought she’d like being a teacher.  Mom thought this could be an internship of sorts.  There were all in the basement classroom.  This was the room that once held a kiln and shelves filled with cups, pots, bowls, and an assortment of imaginative vessels.  The cause of the fire remains undetermined.  But not to Big Jim.  He had made a deal.
     As he had with the Catholic priest and so many others, there was a deal to be had with the Evangelical Pastor with a fondness for very young ladies.  That fellows eyes had graced Shawna graceful beauty more than once, a lot more than once.  Her long jet black hair, the eyes like a Disney princess, those same eyes that had sparked Stevie’s imagination and heart, had lit a dark spot in the pastors secret desires.  It was all the opening Big Jim needed.
     Stevie took a few more steps.  It had to be this time, this day, right now.  Demolition had finally been scheduled.  The Great White Church was coming down for good.  If there were ghosts, he would never have another chance.  He used his imagination to see her.  The deep dark eyes, the long almost silver hair framing her face, the neat, precise smile and the laughter that accompanied that smile.  He closed in on the door.  The steeple towering over his head.  He thought it might be leaning to the left quite sharply.  He had never noticed that, but then this was the closest he had ever dared get.  His heart pounded. He stepped closer.  He said her name aloud.  He felt a rogue tear fall along his cheek.  His foot reached the bottom step.  
     His mind replayed the sounds of the firetrucks and ambulances racing toward the church.  Stevie thought he could hear their screams, their cries.  He could hear Shawna calling for her mom.
     Another step.
     The devil man tittered softly from his ambiguous shadow.
Stevie reached the burned door.  He raised his hand.  It felt warm.  He pushed it.
     Stevie, the boy with the broken heart, stepped into the darkness of the Great White Church for the first and last time.