Have you decided yet?
By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration
"So who died and made you pope?"
"Lock the door," Big Mary said. "We're running out of time to get this done."
The dining room was just big enough to hold a small circle of chairs. On them sat the remnant that hadn't scattered after the director's death. Little Mary was squeezed in next to her man Tommy, then Randy, Gil, Murray, Summer, fast-talking Ray, Big Jim on his plastic legs, Blind Delia, who had been run over by a trash truck, Julio, Pedro, Tyrone, J-J, Cindy, JoCele and, leaning back in his chair against the wall, brooding Rex.
It was evening, still light, but the blinds were closed and they sat in darkness. The utilities were off, and rumors were flying that the House was going to be demolished. The neighborhood association, with backing from the City, had taken the occasion of the director's sad end to move up the plan to get all the help agencies out of the neighborhoods into a special "compassion zone" near the industrial park.
"Out of sight, out of mind" was the unspoken word at meetings between City officials and the big developers eager to make a killing with a revitalized Midtown. Condos and lofts would replace the subdivided brownstones, Section 8 housing and empty lots; upscale retail would follow. Everyone would profit from rising property values, including the many churches in the old neighborhood.
No more people sleeping in the doorways and parks. No more shopping carts full of salvage junk. No more Crazy Larry hawking $5 umbrellas at the metro stop, accosting people with his trademark pitch: "Got no umbrella? You wet!"
Big Mary took her seat. "One of us got to be the point man, or this is all over," she said, staring into the faces around the room. A pencil-sketch portrait of Dorothy Day watched over the group from the dining room wall.
Rex sneered. "You be the one. You seen the man after he was gone. The rest of us been taking our meds."
"Stop running your mouth," Blind Delia said. "Mary got better eyes than you, Rex. You listen to her."
"Didn't do him no good," Ray said. "I was there. They threw him down on the porch floor like a rag doll, cuffed his hands behind him. When he heaved up to catch his breath, this big guy put a knee in his back, and they all wailed on him."
"You was across the street," J-J said. "Nobody hung around when the cruisers came."
"And everyone know the call come from inside the House," Tyrone said. "One of us done this."
Rex was out of his chair, but Little Mary got in between him and Tyrone. "Nobody's ever going to know what happened! So just stop it! We all let him down. We're all carrying this burden now."
"That's just it," said J-J, "We all did this, and we're doing it again right now by going at each other. What was this house about except being able to come together, welcome each other, no matter what?"
"J-J said it right," Big Mary said. "This what he told me when I saw him, that we could take the House everywhere we went by welcoming everyone. The whole world needs to see this, even the churches, that everyone is welcome."
A loud knock at the door shut them up. Nobody moved. Then a voice. "It's me, Jerome. Open up." Jerome had been gone for two years. His name was over the bookshelf dedicated to his memory.
Big Mary unlocked the door. Jerome was in the room, the same look on his broad face that Big Mary was wearing. "You decide yet?" he asked.
The group pulled back, then, as though some invisible light was opening their eyes, against their wills, they all pulled in closer. Jerome was gone, but in his place stood the director. He smiled all around, then put his arms out to Rex, who shuddered, fell back into his chair, put his face in his hands and began to weep. The burden was on him, he knew it -- they all knew it -- because he was the one who needed it the most. He would tell the story. He would run his mouth. That was his gift. The House would go on.
The next day, the bulldozers came. Everyone was gone, dispersed into the city and beyond, to God only knows where.
Editor's Note: This is only a story, of course, and any resemblance to actual situations or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Pat Marrin's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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