8/5/10

Annie DeWitt

Congregation

“A man like that’ll take you straight to the junction,” my brother, Mathew, said the first time he met Tommy.

Tonight, Tommy calls me from a phone booth somewhere outside of Taos. He says he’s been hitching the Enchanted Circle for the last several days. He camped with a couple in Red River who gave him a tent and a canteen of water in exchange for his last bottle of Beam.

“Last time, Vision,” he says. “Can you drive out overnight?”

I borrow my mother’s old Pacer and drive straight through from Dallas. On the radio there is a man who says he knows Jesus. Jesus is going to descend on Dallas, in a float, overnight. Each time the man says float, people cheer. He calls these people his congregation. Sometimes I cheer with them, just to see what it is like to talk back to a man who knows Jesus’ vehicle.

At a gas station near Santa Fe, I pull over for coffee and put a five worth of gas into the tank.

“Float me a fiver,” I yell to the man inside the station and wave my bill so that he starts the pump.

After I pay the man, he lends me a pack of matches. We go outside to have a smoke by the Air. Behind us, the mountains are dappled and heavy.

“Speak easy,” the man says nodding to the noises coming from the bar two doors down. Inside a band is playing something loud and electric.

“A rescuing,” I say.

In the car, I find a cassette tape in the glove compartment next to a bottle of my mother’s White Musk. I prop open the door of the car and start the engine. Before going back to the air pump, I lift the neck of my shirt, spray two squirts under the collar and pop in the tape.

Together, the man and I listen to the tape, both sides, twice over, until I figure out how to put “Operator” on repeat–-a Jim Croce mix my father had made for my mother. By the time the tape ejects, I should be halfway to Tommy. Really, I’m asleep in my car at the garage and the sun’s coming in through the windows.

“They’re just heating up,” the man next to me says when I turn on the radio to wake him.

That afternoon, I pull into the spot farthest from the station where Tommy said he’d be waiting. He’s standing alone in the parking lot, leaning up against a red phone booth that looks like it was made in the 50’s. A sign in the gas station window says there’s a special on liter bottles of Tab.

He is wearing the old Aerosmith sweatshirt that he lifted from Mathew that summer when we crashed at Mathew’s place in South Padre. “Time suck,” Mathew said that first night on the porch when I’d introduced him to Tommy. That night Tommy and I made love in the plastic float by the ocean until Mathew’s dog started barking and we had to go in.

“Last time, Vision,” Tommy calls to me now from across the lot. He calls me this each time we come to the junction, which, as the years go by, is more often than not. The closer Tommy comes to the bottle, the more spectacular looking I become.

“You here for me?” he jokes as I roll down the window and pull up next to him.

“Nah,” I say. “I’m here for Mary.”

He throws the pamphlets in the back of the car and slides into the worn, blue fabric seat.

“Any takers?” he asks as we pull out of the station.

When Tommy left two moths ago, I said, “Bring me back something.” (When I was little, my father had business in Chicago. Each time he came back, he brought us all presents. Once, he brought me back a plastic pepper mill.)

“Bring me back something, Tom,” I said as he walked out the door. I wanted Tommy to know that I understood business. I understood what it is to be gone and come back.
Once, he brought me back a Mary.

“I wanted a Marta,” I said to the girl as she carried Tommy into the house, both of them too drunk to walk.

Now, I drive to a place I know in Chimayo. We order Chiles Rellenos and drink a pitcher of Margaritas before we get into it heavy. When we get into it, we say things that make it hard to come back.

In the end, Tommy says, “We’ve been cheated.”

“Cheated, Vision. You and Me. Can you believe?”
Too tired to drive, we get a room in a hotel. The sign out front says, The Big Sleep.

I call my brother that night from a payphone. He says cheated doesn’t hold water. We get into it and I tell my brother he works for the man.

The business we are in, Tommy and I, is part of a system. It was as simple as signing our names and getting several of our closest friends to sign up. Each time someone joined, we’d receive a check in the mail. So the man said.

When the salesman came to the door with the pamphlet, he said to Tommy and me, “When was the last time you heard of a pyramid falling?” Tommy and I thought back. We couldn’t remember.

With the system, we could work from the home.

Two months later I called about our first bill.

“Remember the first principle of the pyramid,” said the same salesman. “One loose cannon and you’re standing in a pile of bricks.”

On our way back to Dallas the next morning, Tommy and I drive by an old casino. In the parking lot, there’s a faded blue ferris wheel and some venders sitting in front of their stands.

“Reservation,” Tommy says.

From above, the town below looks small and quiet, not much more than a couple of houses and highways with a few roads in between them.

At the end of the street sits a small adobe cathedral, the walls are blanched a bone colored white. In front of the cathedral, a man sells dried chilies, bags of ground cumin and roasted pistachios.

As we pull into the parking lot, the congregation is just letting out.

Annie DeWitt is a writer and text based creator interested in
the implications and applications of visual language. She has been a
guest writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLog. She is also a Founding
Editor of Gigantic, a new magazine of short prose and art. Her short
story “Influence” was featured in Esquire Magazine’s Napkin Fiction
Project. Her work has appeared on Esquire.com, art+culture.com,
BOMB.com. and elimae. Ann is currently at work on her first novel.

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