The church was large and modern so there wasn’t much wood besides the pews. All of the windows were right under the roof’s edge, at the base of it’s massive pyramid shape, and a large cross, made of yards of white cloth, ribbons, really, when you considered their height, hung under the peak. Locals of the town who did not attend service called it the Jesus Mall and visitors craned their necks in admiration when they drove by. The church was non-denominational and larger than most college basketball arenas.
Once a year, two thousand people filled the church to see the Redemptionist, an event the AM station 1300 The Bread advertised as the day of the year to witness miracles that renew faith. Many drove from all over the area to come and the side streets and surrounding neighborhoods filled with lines of parked cars once the lot filled. You never really saw people walking into the church or gathered in the lobby. You just imagined the church filled completely otherwise it would not be as big as it was. The event, with all the cars, would also appear to locals and passerby’s to be the church’s most important day of the year even though nothing stirred outside the massive building.
A crowd filled every pew and folding chair in the aisles and many stood in the back of the church waiting on this day. A sibilant reverence went about the heads of the people and the rich green walls. The colors grey, dark green, and maple made up the colors of the interior. The people wore suits and dresses. Someone placed a white sheet over the altar table and a single mic stand stood in the center of the altar at the top of the three long steps. This made the one think the pulpit would not be used at all.
Twelve men in grey and black suits came out first. They walked in a single file line slowly to the front of the altar. The short men puffed their chests out and the taller ones hunched their shoulders in their pointy suit jackets. All of the men with blond hair had short cuts that soaked up the sun coming in from the windows. The men with brown hair combed the top over into a part. Everyone in the pews watched them carefully and waited.
A short, plump man came out of a door on the left side of the church. He wore a pink tie with a matching fluted pocket square. He also wore a small lilac pinned to his lapel. The man walked in quick, sturdy steps and swung his arms freely with closed fists as he climbed the steps up to the altar. He grew taller and taller like he had been crouched and his walk forward straightened his back. His shoes shown a brilliant black, polished like the finish of a piano, and he continued up the steps. The first platform step was large and many strides were taken to reach the second. He kept his chin up and the thick eyebrows matched deep lines in his face, like tributaries running from the pools under his eyes, and the powder make-up made his forward unnaturally diffuse the light filtering in through the windows under the edge of the roof. His socks showed when he lifted his knees to step. Each step became shorter in distance. He was one of the men with dark parted hair but strands of silver could be seen in streaks starting at the widow’s peak. He took the last step and stood before the mic. He was tall, straight and he scanned what was before him with great admiration.
Many of the people in the audience shook their heads in some kind of agreement, perhaps at his presence, and waited for him to speak. The swollen church stared at the man and the air grew thin like hot sea air and the walls stretched.
He spread his arms and embraced the scene.
“Amen,” he said. He scanned.
“Amen, Hallelujah! the audience yelled. Several whooped at the end.
“Amen!” he yelled again.
“Amen!” yelled back the audience and the whoops coupled with chopped hollers and barks.
“AMEN!” he yelled and arched his back with force and snapped back at the mic. The church erupted uncontrollably and the people rocketed to their feet yelling and shaking their fists, leaning into the backs of one another over the pews. The twelve men behind the man speaking clapped and nodded their heads up and down or shook them left to right. “I come here today,” he said, “to show you, each and every one of you, redemption through the Savior Lord Jesus Christ!” The audience responded to everything the man said with even more violent seizures and louder cries. “I come here to you, to you today to show you the divine power of Christ!”
“You come here to witness the terrifying love of God the Father and His Holy Son, Lord Our Shepard, Jesus Christ!”
They cried louder.
“I come here,” he yelled, he had begun to sweat, “to make you all witnesses of saving Grace! I come here to show you how God’s saving Grace blesses the good and destroys the wicked! I come here to show you the sinner saved by a God in tears, by a God with awesome power that strikes the evil dead and sows the seeds of the Good on our scorched earth!” He shook violently.
They cried for his words. He took the mic from the stand. He walked to the left of the altar with his head down and sharply walked back to the center. He looked up and said, “Who will be the first to let God cleanse you of the evil that takes over us, the demons that run our lives, the sins we commit and keep in piles around our hearts? Who will be the first to witness the power of God?” Hands shot up in the audience. The man nodded to the line of men in suits. He looked at the ground and scratched his nose with the back of his hand. Three of them left the line and walked directly to a fragile, old black woman in the front row with her hand raised. She was crying. Her jaw opened and closed like a fish and the tears ran into her mouth. She looked like a greasy old bag in a floral dress. She shook a little when they helped her step away from her chair and she put her hands out in front of her like she was unsure of the footing. They tugged at her and she made it to the stairs. She hunched and became more and more hunched as she climbed the steps one raised foot at a time. The audience behind her cried with praise.
They placed her before the man with the microphone. They were both tall now. He held the mic before her face and she hunched over, as though she fought her purse from pulling her shoulders to the ground. “What’s your name, child?” he said.
“Rosemary,” she said with a worn voice softly into the mic.
“Rosemary, what afflicts you?” he said. He held the mic to her rheumatic jaw.
“All my life, I had never seen clear,” she said. He pulled the mic back to his face.
“Rosemary here is afflicted with sins that have caused her eyes to fog!” he yelled.
“The saving Grace of God will rid her of the sins and out go the demons preventing her from seein’ God’s goodness!” he said.
The man handed one of the men in suits the mic. He turned his back to the crowd and did something with his hands. He turned back to the woman. The other two men held Rosemary by the arms and one of them held her head back by the forehead. Her neck bent violently so that her Adam’s apple stood out further than her chin. She choked and couldn’t cry. “Open your eyes, Rosemary, and know God’s Grace!” Another man in a suit, one with blonde hair, used his thumbs to hold her eye lids back. The man speaking jammed his thumbs into her eyes. He pressed hard and pressed hard again against the eyeballs. Rosemary gagged a little and the men let her head free. She cried and a sincere pain came across her face only for a moment, like a cloud across a slivered moon, but no one saw it. She blinked rapidly and looked at the man. “Tell, me Rosemary, what do you see?” said the man and he grabbed her face with his hands.
“I see your face a' clear!” she said and began crying.
“I said, tell me what you see!”
She was choking on her breathes and looked more in pain than in a state of joy. “I seen God and the clear of His Earth!” she managed and buried her hands in her face. The man turned to the audience with a red face and said, “I give you God and His Grace!”
They cried and cried.
The three men guided the crying woman off the altar to a door to the back left. Other people in suits stood to receive her. She was crying uncontrollably. They closed the door behind her. Another man opened a door in the room to a small parking lot behind the church. “Thank you, Rosemary,” said one of them and they shut the door. The man inside could be heard calling into the mic.
That night Rosemary went home and counted everything for her family. She stood ten feet from the fireplace and counted the number of bricks across the mantel. She counted fifteen peas on her plate at dinner. At bedtime, she counted the beads of the Rosary without touching them. She fell asleep and dreamt of many vivid images. She woke next morning and opened her eyes. They felt like they had glue in them. Her eyes were red and when she rubbed them she felt something shift under her eyelids. The days went on and her eyes hurt more and more. Eventually the world was as blurred just as bad as it had been before. No one told her. She waited for the next year.