Flower in the Wind
Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
You can't learn everything about a place, not even a small town, in just a few days. Marlow was a small town, and all we had was a few days, for we had to consider traveling time too. But we enjoyed our time there. We stayed in a motel, which was considerably nicer than those Al had known on Central – and nowhere we walked or drove in town did we see a single prostitute. Perhaps there weren't any. I didn't know, and I didn't really care, just so long as they weren't around reminding Al of her past.
We arrived late Saturday night and checked in, and slept late. When we got up I looked in the phone book, and found there were several churches in town. Not knowing much about them, I decided to visit First Baptist. Even if it wasn't exactly what I wanted, it couldn't, I thought, be too far off. The display ad gave the time of the evening service, and I noted it.
Al surprised me when I started getting ready. I'd told her I'd be going, and made sure she had money if she wanted to go out and eat something while I was at church. But she decided – at the last minute, apparently – to go with me, for when she saw me getting into my suit she rummaged in her suitcase and found a dress she'd bought a while back but never worn.
I looked at her, trying not to be too surprised. I hoped that what showed on my face was love, or at least mostly love. And perhaps it was, for when she caught me gazing at her she smiled. "Maybe it's just that we're away from home, but I feel more comfortable here than in Albuquerque."
"As long as you're going willingly, Al, and not because you think you have to, or just to please me..."
"I want to, Alan. I don't know if I'll like it, or if I'll understand it, or even if I'll be able to stand it. But I want to at least try it."
"I think perhaps that it's because we're away from home. No one here knows anything about you."
She nodded, buttoning the front of her dress. It was a light fabric, white, with big cloth-covered buttons from waist to neck, and sleeves to her elbows. The hem hit her right at her kneecaps, and I said what I thought. "You look wonderful, Al."
"This will be all right for church, won't it?" She sounded suddenly apprehensive.
And it was. She'd chosen a dress that flattered her without being provocative. Somewhere in her childhood, or in her observations since, she'd learned something about clothing. She certainly knew how to dress to inflame, but I knew now, if I hadn't known before, that she also knew how to dress well.
We drove over to the church, which was on Broadway north of Main. Every small town has a Main Street, and few if any cities have one. I don't know why that is, since every city began as a small settlement. But I've never lived in a city where one street was named Main.
We parked in back of the building and walked around to the front steps, which were right on the street. Inside we found a pew, Al clinging to my arm. As far as I knew it was her first time in church, and after we sat down I asked her.
"I think my parents baptized me when I was a baby, but I'm not sure, and if they did I don't know what church it might have been. I do know that as far back as I can remember I never went to church."
That much I understood, for I hadn't become a Christian till I was 20, and my parents, while not malicious about it, were thoroughly irreligious. I remembered the first time I'd been in church, and I allowed Al to sit right next to me, holding onto my arm or clinging to my hand. I knew that nothing was going to happen to her, and probably she did too, but emotional reactions aren't always in line with reason or reality.
The service wasn't, in fact, what I was used to. Southern Baptists – for this was a Southern Baptist church, no surprise in Oklahoma – aren't very liturgical, but the bigger, older churches tend to become rather formal. And so it was here. MJT Christian Fellowship was an informal church – we had an order of service, and Tyrone didn't stand for disruptions, but there was room for everyone to participate in some way, and if something required changing the order of service on the fly, we could do it without trouble. Here it was pretty much a platform affair, and our part was to sing and to pray and to listen.
Still, the Word of God is the Word of God, and I paid it close heed, and if the sermon wasn't inspired, neither was it useless. I derived some benefit from it.
And the sedate proceedings seemed to soothe Al. She never quite let go of me, but she did relax as the service proceeded. When we stood for the invitation hymn she merely held my hand, rather than grasping it like it was her last connection to life. And as we made our way outside, she responded almost happily to the greetings of others.
As we strolled back to the car, she said, "That wasn't so bad."
"No, it wasn't." I didn't think it was the time or place for a comparison of this service with what I was used to and preferred.
"I thought maybe the roof would fall in or something."
I looked over at her and saw a faint smile. "No, roofs only fall in when ax murderers walk in blood-spattered. For you, it's merely a slight flexing of the stained glass."
Now she laughed. "Alan, you're going to turn me into a normal girl yet."
"A normal woman, Al. You were a girl in Seattle. You're all grown up now."
"I'm used to how we talked on the street. 'Working girl, ' you know, not 'working woman.'"
"A lot of people say 'girl' even when they're talking about a woman. I've done it myself. But the older I get the more I realize that if I'm not a boy, then you're not a girl."
"I don't suppose I look like a girl, do I?"