Sunday. Michael went to church for the first time in his life. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The air was fresh and clean as April’s breath. For once, a natural high; he was intoxicated but not with drugs, alcohol, or happy pills from his doctor.
He entered the sanctuary ten minutes late. The congregation was singing a hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River.” He thought once more of the Delaware Bridge and the murky river below, “. . . where the peaceful waters flow.” An elderly gentleman in a gray suit greeted the uncommonly good-looking boy at the door and shoved a bulletin into his hand. Michael bent down and whispered, “April Showers” into a very visible hearing aid. Mr. Dean, according to the badge on his lapel, and shiny bald as Mr. Clean, pulled the first-time visitor by the elbow down the middle aisle. The lion had been captured.
Everyone recognized him by his walk, his normally easy stride a touch awkward as he submitted to the tight-gripped lead of the eager little fellow. Michael stood extra tall in his boots and jeans. A brown leather belt secured a forest green, form-fitting button down shirt—the best he could manage for this unexpected visit to a house of worship. His long hair, still wet from a hot, soapy bath, was pasted back from his face and tucked behind the ears, more respectable for a Sunday. The usher deposited him four rows from the front and to the right.
The Showers family, surprised more than pleased, stiffened and straightened and shuffled to allow Michael easier access into the pew. Catching them off guard, no one was sure where the sudden guest would sit but assumed it would be next to April; Michael chose instead to sit next to her father. More than one family member was relieved.
Michael had come to say goodbye. He wore the face of an angel, staring earnestly at the pastor while tuning out what seemed like foolish gibberish to his untrained ears. Privately, he soaked up a loving father’s presence, imagined himself to be Mr. Shower’s son for the space of an hour, inhaled the comforting scent of his cologne, remembered how the man had given up the brown bottle for the curvy woman in the brown dress, took his seat in the congregation of the righteous, and commenced raising a family without bruises in a happy pink house. A storybook life.
During the sermon, Michael’s peripheral vision caught April staring at him, four bodies down the blood red bench, and allowed himself a brief look, hoping that feigned penitent eye contact would break the ice. She returned the smile he didn’t know he was wearing. He winked at Conner to disarm the boy’s defensive posture—a manipulative and charming move he had learned and perfected from his terrorizing father. Mrs. Showers didn’t look to the left or right—she just looked good. Unashamed, Michael lusted and was forced to reposition himself several times as he squirmed in his seat.
He slipped out during the closing prayer, when heads were bowed and most eyes were closed. He didn’t want to get manhandled again. Or questioned. Or saved. Or baptized. Or anything. He just wanted out.
A sentence kept repeating itself in his mind as he exited the building. Something the preacher had read from the Bible. The words of Jesus to Judas.
“What you are about to do, do quickly.”