Burt Forsyth was ready to rip out the fingernails of the girl sitting in the pew in front of him. That is, after he smashed her iPhone and shoved the plastic down her throat. While the rest of the congregation stood to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the girl sat in her stylishly ripped jeans and scrolled her manicured nails over the phone.
“Sitting!” he whinnied hoarsely to his wife. “Sitting during the hymn. Texting through the prayers. Eating her damned M&Ms during the sermon. I could kill her.” His heartbeat rose and he could feel his body shaking uncontrollably.
“Perhaps it’s her parents’ fault,” Beth whispered. “Not everyone has the upbringing of you and I.”
“Or two hundred other members of our church,” he steamed.
Rev. Abernathy was praying something about “O God, we seek the transformation of the world, but we fear the change it could bring to our own lives,” and Beth shushed him from going on.
Burt had a duty to the parish as one of its deacons. A duty to maintain tradition. Church was a sanctuary to restore reason out of chaos, to sew up the raveled edges of behavior among the easily confused. He was a rational man trained in a rational profession to act in a rational world. If there was no control of the forces that shaped your life, he would often tell Beth, then what point was there to life itself? As a lawyer, he prided himself that the legal profession was the only thread of tradition that prevented Western civilization’s entropy. And the Presbyterian Church. That too. God and the Law.
Beth had volunteered to serve coffee after the service, so Burt stood in the hall off the kitchen nodding to parishioners. He joshed an old-timer about his golf handicap, knowing the man would never play again. The pastor buttonholed him about the Thanksgiving service coming up before being pulled away by an extremely small lady wearing a fur stole. Burt stared at the lady’s dead animals — 50-year-old, moth-eaten minks, he believed — draped over her shoulders on a 65-degree day. The animals’ glass eyes glared balefully back at Burt.
He turned, bumping into the girl with the iPhone and almost spilling his coffee.
“A guy there told me you help run this place.”
Burt managed to choke out a “Yes?”
“I wanted to say I had a good time. I never been to church, but my friend kinda dragged me. So,” she shrugged, “I didn’t understand a lot, but I texted myself about what I thought was important. So I’d remember later.”
Burt stood a head taller than the girl, looking down at her unruly hair and the piece of metal piercing her eyebrow. The sound that came out his mouth could be taken for an affirmative gargle.
“This Matthew,” she said, screwing up her face as though its parts — nose, eyes, cheekbones — had been bought at a discount store and hastily assembled. “He was a saint, right? One of Jesus’ whattyacallits.”
“Disciples,” Burt muttered.
“I’m going to Google him. If it’s okay, I’ll come back next time. Okay? My name’s Tara. Who’re you?”
“Burt Forsyth. We’d love to have you, Tara.” The words came out as a choke.
“Hey, Burt, thanks.” She smiled once, pirouetted scarecrow-like, and walked out the door.
There was a vacuum in the room after she’d left, as though a hole had opened in an airliner that left him gasping at the change in air pressure. The smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls weren’t sufficient to replace the sensations that had left the room with the girl.
“Why are you so silent?” Beth asked in the car, giving him a curious look.
“Just thinking. Maybe we need some more young people to season the gentry. Sort of balance the demographics.”
Walt Giersbach‘s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child.