If Ella and Dave rock in the borrowed chairs for another hour, together, in those sixty minutes, they will raise thirteen dollars and fifty cents, enough pledge money to satisfy one faraway stomach for one day or help fund the well diggings in Haiti. The short-term missionaries are there now, putting in a good word for Christ. But the two teenagers are sick of the Sunday school room. Between the door and the ping pong table, half of the rockers, even Pastor Kevin, fell asleep by two AM, and Ella and Dave have already seen the Disney movies being played, one after the other on the ancient television that is as fat as a fridge.
They shrug off their blankets then peer over their shoulders at the Bible-versed whiteboard waveringly lit by the television’s blue glow, at the drowsy and slumbering faces of the Youth for God. With a glance at each other, they ease out of their seats, and the chairs surrender their furtive bodies, rocking back with two moans. Staying low, they sidle along the wall and find the door. The hallway and stairwell are dark, except for the place under the exit sign. Ella thinks Dave looks hellish in the small explosion of red.
They tread softly down the stairs and through the foyer. At their touch, the sanctuary doors open, heavy and easy at once. They wonder at the shakiness of their hands, their giddiness, the sickness of their stomachs. In five years, they will liken the sensation of sleep deprivation to a hangover. If they were not Ella and Dave of the Free Methodist Church, they would make that comparison now.
In the sanctuary, however, they do not feel like themselves. This is because the sanctuary, unoccupied, unlit, is not itself. Nighttime steals most of the pews and the piano. But the long windows, plainly frosted and faintly illuminated with streetlights, guide them down the aisle. The cross on the wall behind the altar hangs only in their minds. Their footsteps sound loud.
In the middle of the cavernous room, they step sideways into a pew. They sit beside each other in the slippery wooden seat that cups them backward, just like it does on Sundays. They barely talk, and in the quiet, they discern a muffled rain against the windows and, they think, the distant creak and groan of the rockers.
Ella and Dave feel a little guilty. But they feel even sleepier than guilty and manage to stretch out on the pew, a head-to-head, single-file arrangement that permits a falsely casual touching, an awareness of the other’s proximity. It also allows them to whisper and hear.
Delicately, Dave takes some of Ella’s dark hair in his hand, holds it to his cheek and smells it. He is her friend here. In school, they don’t talk much. He takes the better classes, smart especially in science.
She listens to him describe a new video game. Then she listens to him breathe. And while she pretends she does not know he is touching her hair, she also listens to the rain and the rocking, the same sounds Noah would have heard if his story were true: the storm and the swaying of his boat with its sleeping menagerie, such a peaceful cradle for a world welling with rain and so thoroughly and savagely uncreating itself.
Melissa Ostrom lives in rural western New York with her husband and children. She serves as a public school curriculum consultant, teaches English at Genesee Community College, and writes whenever and however much her four-year-old and six-year-old let her. Her fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, decomP, Oblong, Crack the Spine, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere.