“I love that,” he said. “They met in a bar. We met in a bar. And it’s funny.”
“We did not meet in a bar,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess you’re right. Our last date though was in a bar.”
She looked at him, annoyed yet comforted by his presence.
“And yours,” she said. “How’d they meet?”
“Not in a bar,” he said. “They met in church.”
The boy played his guitar like he prayed, with all his heart. The hymns captivated him. His right hand strummed again and again like the words he heard over and over.
“A dónde van tu alma y tu espíritu después de la muerte?”
He wondered, and the more he wondered the harder he prayed. His mother directed hymns at the church. She wouldn’t answer his questions about death or God or Jesus. Questions, she said, indicated a lack of faith.
As the hymn they played finished she moved into the next one. He knew by now where she was going, so he started to play a little riff on his guitar, the first few notes.
“Hoy le cantamos y adoramos el señor!” she shouted. She walked back and forth across the stage and then picked up a hymnal.
“Roca de la eternidad, porque se fuiste abierta para mí y para tu,” she said loudly, “no te preocupes por el mañana porque el futuro esta en la manos de nuestra senor.” The crowd responded with an amen.
“A lindo numero dos quince, Roca de la Eternidad!” and she held up the hymnal. People shuffled pages in the pews.
He leaned into Rock of Ages. As he did, he saw a girl in a blue dress looking at him. He kept playing, but shifted his focus to her. She was beautiful, and he was feeling something he shouldn’t feel, especially in church. This made him play his guitar louder and sing louder. But it was like he was singing to her.
Aunque yo aparezca fiel,
Y aunque llore sin cesar,
Del pecado no podré
Sólo en Ti, teniendo fe,
Puedo mi perdón hallar.
Afterwards, as the congregation filtered out, the girl in the blue dress waited in the pew and watched him pack his guitar. Her brother was his friend, so she’d seen him before. After he’d finished, he noticed she was still there and walked off the stage to her.
“You play the guitar so well,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said nervously.
“You know my brother,” she said. “And we – I – was wondering if you wanted to come to the revival in Santa Fe tonight.”
“The one with Hermano Roman?”
“That’s my dad.”
Now he remembered where he’d seen her face before. His friend, her brother, was someone he played guitar with often. Her brother was often in trouble, he even offered him a drink out of a flask one time. Hermano Roman was well known, maybe even infamous.
“I’d have to ask my mom,” he said.
“Would you?” she asked.
“I will,” he said. “Watch my guitar.”
His mother was a small woman, not much taller than him, but she towered over him in his mind. He was not happy about having to ask her permission for a departure from their church routine, but maybe since this was a revival, she’d react differently than he expected.
“Mama,” he said as she was stacking hymnals on a cart. She wheeled around and looked down at the boy. He built up his nerve. “I want to go to the revival meeting tonight in Santa Fe. Maybe they can use another player there.”
“And how are you going to get to Santa Fe?” she asked with her hands on her hips and her forehead furrowed. “Did you learn how to drive when I wasn’t looking?”
“I’ll get a ride with Hermano Roman,” he said. “His daughter invited me to go.”
At the mention of the name, the furrows on her forehead became flat as a windswept plain and she let out a laugh.
“Hermano Roman?” she said derisively. “Que tienes?”
Whatever plan he had in his mind ended here. He just knew he wanted to be close to the girl. He stammered a bit but couldn’t get out an answer.
“You know he’s a bad man,” she said. “The way he treats that wife of his. And I told you not to hang around his kids. They’re nothing but trouble. Dios mio! What will God do with them?”
“She said they need another player – “
“Now that’s a lie,” she said looking into his eyes. “This is how it starts. Hanging around girls and driving with drunk preachers in their fancy new cars. I can see it already. Trouble!”
His heart sank. He’d be stuck in Espanola at the evening service again. He was missing his chance. Yet he felt guilty for even trying. Maybe she was right. The girl was a fast path to hell.
She stood and sized up her youngest son.
“Se perteneces a dios,” she said. “You don’t belong to me. If you think God is telling you go to Santa Fe maybe there is a purpose.”
She raised the bet as she always would. Now he stood on the precipice of damnation. Did he hear God telling him to go with the girl to Santa Fe, or was it something else, lust, pushing him? He knew the answer. So did she. So did God.
“Yes,” he said with a firmness he never had with his mother. “Yes, God wants me to go.”
He walked back to the girl with confidence. He felt since he was going to hell anyway, he had nothing else to worry about. He picked up his guitar and walked outside with her walking just behind him. When they reached the doorway, he stopped.
“When do we leave?”
“We would have to leave now,” she said. “The car is down the road. They’re wondering where I am.”
When they arrived, they found Hermano Roman leaning against a car that looked like it was driven straight there from the dealership. He wore a fedora, snow grey with a black band. His face was hidden behind sunglasses, a dark mustache, and a grimace. He was annoyed by the wait. He walked around wordlessly and opened the huge trunk of the car and reached for his guitar.
“You’re going to play tonight?” he asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I told my mom I would.”
As the instrument disappeared into the trunk, he noticed the words and numbers on the side of the car, Electra 225. He and the girl climbed into the back seat and he saw her mother who looked back at him with bright green eyes, her hair in a tight bun on her head. She stared at him, not sizing him up or judging him or even wondering who he was.
The woman in the passenger seat seemed to see something familiar, like she’d watched this scene before. He’d heard stories about how she’d gone crazy, but she didn’t look crazy at all. She looked like a woman in a painting that hung on the wall at his school with the words, “De español e india, mestiza,” written under it.
The front door slammed and Hermano Roman shifted the car into drive and steered onto the dirt road, slowly maneuvering toward the highway. Once he turned on to the main road, he hit the gas hard. The boy and the girl in the back seat could see the speedometer over the low-slung front seats as the pointer rocketed from the left to the right.
“Que chingadera!” the driver exclaimed looking in the rear-view mirror. The car slowed down just as rapidly as it had taken off and veered to the shoulder of the road. At first the boy panicked a bit. Was he looking at him? But everyone in the car looked back and saw the pages of the bible the man had forgotten to take off the roof of the car. The thin onion skin like leaves were being carried here and there by the wind all over the roadway.
They all jumped out of the car, except the woman who sat in the front seat with a smile growing like a sunrise on her face. The boy ran down the shoulder trying to retrieve as many pages as he could. But there were too many. He managed to gather up a handful of Deuteronomy and a handful of Exodus while the man watched with his hands in his pockets as cars raced by. Then he slapped his hand on the back of his head and said, “Jesus Christ!”
The boy rushed back with two handfuls of pages.
“Let them go,” he said. “I don’t need that fucking thing anyway. My sermon and the book are all up here,” and he pointed his fingers to his temples. “Vamenos.”
The boy reluctantly let the pages slip from his fingers, and they fluttered here and there, a few ran over by cars passing, lifted up high into the air above the road where they danced in the sunlight.
They climbed back into the car, and he watched the speedometer again as the pointer reached 60, then 70, then 80, then 90 as the car moved onto the highway gathering more and more speed. The man hummed and sang,
Roca de la eternidad,
Fuiste abierta para mí;
Sé mo escondedero fiel;
Sólo encuentro paz en Ti:
Eres puro manantial
En el cual lavado fui
“You played that well today, hijo,” he said looking back in the rear-view mirror.
“Thank you,” He said thank you to the shaded eyes in the mirror.
He looked at the girl. And then he looked at the speedometer as it hit 100. Then he looked back at her and their eyes met. He reached across the seat and took her hand in his.