Monday, September 5, 2011

"Least of My Brothers" by Zachary Moll

There was a sway to his step, and when not a sway, a lean, tottering forward on the balls of his feet, causing a continuous, though mild, vertigo that kept him propelled head-long as the crow flies. His brown Scout’s uniform bulged strange and stout around a midsection too big for its frame. His mother locked the car door with a beep, his father straightened his jaw proudly, and Jeremy Dean scuffed and skidded along the damp asphalt to the Lutheran church for his Wednesday night Cub Scout meeting.

The church’s basement was a cold, empty mess hall. There were rows of tables and folding chairs leaning on the far wall by the stage and collapsible curtains that could divide the large room into several sections. There were thirty or more people, parents and their teens, gathered in rows at the center before Pastor Fred, an open Bible on his knee. He spoke in summary of the past two years of catechism, what the kids had learned and were soon to pledge devotion to, quizzing students at random to ensure they were listening. Most of them tried.

“…whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me…”

“Didn’t Jose Conseco say that?” Dennis whispered to Drake, tight-lipped like a ventriloquist.

“I think so. It was after he stole his 200th base, he said ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what—

“Yes Drake, you know the answer?”

He looked around the room at the expecting faces of his classmates. Rosy cheeks perched to soar.
“Jose Conseco?”

The belch of laughter was clipped by the presence of the parents, who sat across the aisle pleased to show the shame their children lacked. The Pastor dismissed the answer.

“No, I’m not sure the significance of the golden rule is Jose Conseco.” A few more laughs bleated from the girls up front. Drake drank them in, his cheeks flushed in the spotlight.

“…He gathered his disciples for a Passover feast, knowing he wasn’t long for this world, and that at any moment Pilot’s men would.—”

The double metal doors cracked open with a jolt, straightening a few slouching spines with a start and sending every eye to the Dean family at the door. They paused there, the dignified couple in their imitation leather jackets and their son with his sash and merit badges. Mr. Dean spoke first, “Oh, we’re sorry, was the Scouts meeting cancelled?”

“No, no we just moved it upstairs for the night; you’ll be meeting in the chapel.”

Mr. Dean thanked him and they began to turn back out the doors, Jeremy turning himself awkwardly on the balls of his feet like a beauty contestant in heels. His mother raised her hand to steady him, but thought better of it.

“There’s an elevator around the corner if you want. It’ll take you straight to the chapel; no need to go back outside,” Pastor Fred added warmly, motioning to the far corner of the room past the assembled righteous. Jeremy’s parents paused, eying the distance to the corner mentioned, something holding them back. The communion of saints sat waiting. Jeremy was the first to move.

He turned himself back around in four unsteady steps, leaning forward under the weight of his sagging torso and gaining momentum. Pastor Fred began again, but every eye under fifteen followed the movements of this odd, hobbling creature. Drake nudged Dennis, looking ready to burst, but neither spoke. The joke was passing on tip toes to their left.

“…It was his duty in life to spread the word of God, and for it he knew his punishment would be persecution, slander and eventually death at the hands of those his teachings threatened—”

“Th-ank you!” Jeremy interjected as he exited the room, flopping up a hand briefly toward the pastor and letting it fall back to regain his balance.

Drake and Dennis broke first, silencing their laughs poorly and sending several others over the edge, chuckling and whispering quips.

“My God!” Dennis hissed quietly.

“If he were a horse, he’d be—”

But a mighty thud silenced the room. Wide eyes searched one another before settling on the Pastor storming toward and out the double metal doors. His Bible came to a rest looking like a still and lifeless bird in the aisle between the parents and their children. Each looked at the other as if they somehow failed them.

The Dean family entered the elevator. Mr. Dean straightened his jaw proudly, resting a hand on his son’s shoulder quietly. The doors closed and the elevator began to move. His mother blinked frequently to dam the tears, eyeing the uncombed red hair spilling over the back of Jeremy’s neck. She straightened it softly with her fingers, letting each follicle fall back one by one. “I’m so sorry, honey.”  She said softly, lips curling.

“About what?” Jeremy asked sincerely, “Pl-playing with my h-hair? It’s ok, I know you like to d-do that.”

She closed her eyes, but the levies broke. Mr. Dean stopped the elevator.

There was no sway to his step, not even a pause. His black dress shoes slapped heel to toe on the damp asphalt. His heart was in a boil, his breath—wasted for two years of Wednesdays. He thought back to composing sermons by lamplight for hours of the night and what he found there in the search for words. He thought of how bare and lacking they had felt every time he’d delivered them, like he were describing someone he met once to someone else uninterested. He thought of that family and how this couldn’t have been new for them. He thought about the Bible he received in the seminary, lying there between the parents and their children, wondering if anyone would bother to pick it up.

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