Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Highway to God (chapter 2)

Michal sat in the dark of the Hollywood & Vine movie theater in Lancaster City and held Milwaukee’s hand while she ate from the bucket of popcorn that was wedged between them. It was a double feature. The first film was The Witness. She’d already seen the movie twice. It never failed to amaze her that Kelly McGillis didn’t leave the Amish for a life with Harrison Ford. On the other hand, the blonde Amish man that liked her was not bad looking. Of course, Ford’s character wasn’t a Christian and Kelly’s, despite her weaknesses, certainly was. So was her sister Tabitha the Kelly McGillis that fell for a man that was English and left the Amish? If so, who was Michal? The Kelly McGillis that stayed and married the Amish man and put down roots?
“The old man is just like Isaac Beachey,” said Milwaukee out loud. “I swear he talks the same, walks the same, acts the same – ”
“Shh!” went someone behind them.
Michal smiled and patted his hand. “Whisper. You said the same thing the last time we watched the movie.”
“Because its true!”
The second film was called The Dove and that one she had never seen before. It was 30 or 35 years old, but a good copy with good color and sound Milwaukee pointed out, this time using a soft voice she scarcely knew he had.
“Not Blu-Ray though,” Michal whispered.
“Whose house could we use that in?” he whispered back. “Rumspringa or not, my parents won’t let me bring a TV home and neither will yours.”
“Have you ever wondered how long this Rumspringa of ours will go on?”
He shrugged.
The film was about a young man named Robin sailing alone around the world. It had a strange effect on her as the hours slipped past and she almost got up and walked out more than once. Green waves, huge blue skies, tall palms, a white sail filled with wind that pushed the young man from country to country and continent to continent and world to world – her feelings alternated between a strong sense of being trapped in Lancaster County and never seeing the open sea or a palm tree and a sense of excitement and freedom and hope. When they walked out of the cinema into the streetlights and darkness a fine rain had fallen. She could smell the wet pavement and a thrill went through her.
They went for pizza and Coke later at Sally & Bo’s 2 for 1 and sat at a black and yellow booth. She told Milwaukee The Dove had upset her one moment and exhilarated her the next.
“What do you think is going on?” she asked.
Milwaukee bit into his Canadian bacon.
“Please don’t say anything with your mouth full,” she chided as he was about to reply.
He rolled his eyes and kept chewing. When he was finished he sipped some Coke. “Can I talk now?”
She made a face.
He picked up another slice of pizza without thinking about it. “Okay, for you, the movie is a big deal, yes? So maybe you want to travel, you know, see the world of the English. It gets your blood pumping. But then you remember you will take your vows and live by the Susquehanna forever. Not so bad, but maybe not so great. This kid sails around the world and you sit on your porch shelling peas for 60 or 70 years, you know?”
Michal felt the rock sinking in her chest again as she had with her sister that morning.
Milwaukee bit into the pizza, glanced at her dark blue eyes, then kept chewing and did not speak until he had swallowed. “You can be very German, you know that?”
“What a surprise. I’m Amish.”
“No, see that’s what you’re not, you’re not Amish.”
“Really? What am I then?”
“You’re in-between. Here in Sally’s you’re almost English with your Coke and pepperoni pizza – which is getting cold.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’re always hungry.”
“Apparently tonight I’m otherwise.”
“Another thing that’s German – I’ve never seen you with your hair down.”
“The Amish would say you’re not my husband.”
“Well, we’re friends, right?”
“We agreed on that two months ago.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “This ponytail is all you get.”
He laughed. “See? And now you’re flirting like an English girl.”
“I am not flirting. And how would you know what English girls do?”
“Sally’s is full of them every time we come here.”
Michal lifted her eyebrows. “Studying them, are we?”
He shrugged, ate pizza, swallowed. “So what does it matter to you? We’re friends, not lovers.”
Michal felt blood come to her face. “That is so.”
“Anyway, back to the movie. It had some nice scenery and Deb Raffin was cute, but you know, my mind kept wandering back to Marietta and Esau. This farrier business is fascinating. We had a difficult mare yesterday and he showed me how to lock her leg just so and prevent the girl from kicking my head into next Sunday. The more I learn from him the more I want him to let me do everything, take over all of our people’s farrier work. So I’m watching the movie and not watching the movie at the same time. And I start to think maybe I’m ready to be baptized this Communion, maybe I’m finally ready to be Amish.” He pried another piece of pizza from his plate, deliberately stretching the cheese as far as he could. “But, you know, you’re not, Michal, you’re really not.”
Michal felt her temper rising. “How can you sit there and tell me that? How can you tell me that and – and – ” She stumbled, then suddenly burst out in German, “Zeug Ihr Gesicht mit Pizza!”
“I am stuffing my face with pizza because one of us is hungry.”
“I am as much Amish as you are!”
“No, you’re not. You’re not Amish. And neither am I. This is not a DNA thing. No one is born with an Amish gene. You become Amish, I become Amish, once we take the vows and are baptized. Not before. It’s the heart thing, ja? It’s the soul thing. And judging by your restlessness I am closer to making that commitment than you are.”
Michal curled her hands into fists. “Jericho!” Then she stopped, startled at the word she had just uttered.
He smiled around a mouthful of Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese. “Ah, the forbidden name.”
She dropped her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. Just make the next time you use it you mean it.”
“If there is a next time.”
He nodded. “If there is a next time.”
She stood up. “I will use the restroom. Then I want to walk.”
“All right. Should I get them to box up your pizza?”
“I don’t care. I’ll probably feed it to Old Brownie.”
The restroom was empty and she stared at herself in the mirror. Her mascara was holding up and her eyeliner. But it wouldn’t if she started crying. Call me Milwaukee, he had told her months before. That’s my nickname and it’s where I was born. But if the day ever comes when you are sure – not just think – but are sure you have fallen in love with me. Then. And only then. Please use my Christian name. It was bad enough she had him thinking she was getting more English while he was getting more Amish. Now she had botched the whole name business as well. Where was her head tonight?
He carried the white pizza box with Sally & Bo’s in yellow and black across the lid while they walked up and down the streets of Lancaster. It had begun to rain again, but it was more like a mist and drifted down over the city and the cars and the people. At first they didn’t say much to each other because, Michal knew, it was obvious to Milwaukee that she didn’t want to talk. After five minutes of silence between them, a silence filled by car horns and revving engines and other people’s voices and laughter, she finally reached out her hand and took his. Yes, it was a funny thing, there was not supposed to be a drop of romantic blood in their friendship, yet they had held hands almost from the start and thought nothing of it. Finally she stopped at the Lancaster County Courthouse.
“Let’s sit on the steps under the pillars,” she said quietly.
“Your jeans will get wet.”
“I don’t care.”
“I do.” He peeled off his jean jacket and laid it on the steps.
“Oh, Milwaukee, don’t do that.”
“Sit, please.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Come on. It’s already there waiting for you.”
She sat on the jacket and smiled up at him. “So you’re one of the princes I read about.”
“That’s me.” He sat beside her.
She leaned her head against his shoulder and took his hand again. “Now you’ll be wet.”
“I like the rain.”
“This hardly counts as rain.”
“It’s moisture, isn’t it? That’s enough.”
She sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Mischief – excuse me, Tabitha, who is 16 today and a woman – thinks I need to get out of Lancaster County for a while.”
“All on your own?”
“Oh, no, she thought we might head out together.”
“What about Saint Nick?”
She shrugged in her Lee Stormrider. He reached over and put up the corduroy collar against the mist.
“Well,” he said, “sisters know sisters. And you’re pretty much champing at the bit.”
“You really think so, do you? Just because of the way I reacted to a movie?”
“No, I have seen other things over the past few months.”
She stared up into his face. Small water drops beaded on his smooth white skin. “What things?”
“I don’t know. You seem distracted. At church you don’t sing like you used to.”
“Pardon me?”
“I mean, you are one of the best singers among our people. You’re like a robin or meadowlark. A year ago you used to put everything into your hymn singing. I could pick out your voice even if I couldn’t see your face. Now – the energy isn’t there. It’s like you are just going through the motions.”
She clutched his hand more tightly and felt a coldness in her head and chest. “Not so good.”
“I’m sorry – ”
“Why sorry? It’s true. I know it’s true.”
“I’m sorry that somewhere inside you are not – complete.”
Despite the ice in her body she could not keep herself from smiling. “You were always clever with the words. That is the way to put it all right. I’m not all there.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“But that is what it is. I look out the window when the pastor is preaching and I am gazing at birds or horses or trees. When we pray my mind wanders. When we sing, oh, I used to like to soar when there was the singing, ja? But now, I know the songs, I have heard them all a million times, I want something different, different tunes, different melodies, different words that go with different notes.” She leaned into Milwaukee with a kind of fierceness. “I need to see God in different places. I need to see God with different words and different songs in different places. I need to see myself in different places. What am I going to do?”
Milwaukee said nothing for a few moments. He could see she was crying quietly. Carefully, afraid she might snap at him, he put his arm around her. To his surprise, she accepted the intimacy and drew against him more closely. He fought an overwhelming urge to kiss the top of her head, all shiny and smooth like a black and chrome motorbike beaded with rain. The perfume coming from her hair seemed stronger and richer in the wet. He knew that if she happened to glance up at him with those incredible blue eyes framed in damp black glistening strands of hair, some stuck to the soft skin of her cheeks, he would not be able to stop himself from kissing her on her perfect mouth. Feeling a bit dizzy – dizzy with hormones his sister Katie would tell him – he breathed in and out deeply and slowly and looked at what traffic he could see beyond the high stone sides of the courthouse steps. Then she actually reached up with her fingers and touched his lips and face. It sent waves of shock and delight through him.
“How does a 250cc handle the Interstate?” she asked in a small voice.
“The Rebel?” Despite the wonderful chaos going on in his head he managed a laugh. “You’d be screaming.”
He risked looking at her and it was what he’d feared – she was smiling up at him with eyes that were large and blue and shimmering.
“Take me away,” she said.
He wasn’t sure what to say. “Now?”
“Sure, now. Tomorrow. Next week.” Then she settled her head into his chest again and he was spared the mascara and eyeliner and the blue midnight of her color. “But you won’t do it, will you? You are a good Amish boy. You will go to the bishop and the pastors in a few days and tell them you want to be baptized and join the church. They will talk with you and pray with you and ask around and find that no one has anything against you. Your baptism will be a sure thing. In three weeks they will pour the water over your head.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Of course it’s that easy.” Her voice was muffled by the heavy cotton of his black Honda tee shirt with the white wing. “For you, anyway. Haven’t you attended those special classes with the bishop and ministers for the past couple of months? Haven’t you learned the 18 articles of the Dordrecht Confession of Faith? Haven’t they asked you not to grow your hair out and to stop drinking alcohol and going to parties?”
Milwaukee did not respond.
“So Rumspringa is winding down for you. Soon there will be no Rumspringa. You will be baptized, you will be Amish, you will become our people’s farrier when Esau finally figures out he is 88 and not 18. You are ready to settle in, get married, and grow a beard. For me, it is just the opposite. I don’t want to settle in. I can’t settle in. You said so yourself. My heart is not in it. Even my singing is not singing anymore. You have to stay. I have to go. Didn’t you remind me tonight we are friends, not lovers? So you marry Becky Miller or Sarah Stoltzfus or Dorcas Smucker. I head out on the Interstate. That’s it, that’s the plan, that’s what God has brought to pass.”
Michal was squeezing Milwaukee’s hand so tightly he thought she would break his fingers. But she had nothing more to say and neither did he so the hiss of tires over wet pavement filled up the quiet between them. He held her a little more closely and she did not resist. Finally he did press his lips briefly against her hair and breathe in her perfume and she did not resist that either. Eventually he was the one to break the silence.
“Dorcas Smucker?” he asked her. “Dorcas Smucker?” he repeated.
“Well – ”
“Dorcas Smucker?”
Michal could keep stop herself from giggling. “Perhaps not.”
“Perhaps?” He risked one more kiss to the top of her head and got away with it. “You make it sound like I only want to get baptized because I will drop dead if I don’t get married to someone as swiftly as possible. Marriage has nothing to do with it. I hardly think about marriage.” He felt her shift positions beside him and added quickly, “I think about you. But I hardly ever think about marriage.”
“Because we are friends.”
“Because we are friends and because I want to be Amish and because I want to follow Christ and because I want to be a farrier. That is what my head is filled up with. Not a wedding ceremony. And not Dorcas Smucker.”
“You are going to talk to the bishop soon, aren’t you?”
“And you are so sure you’ve had enough Rumspringa?”
“I guess.”
“No more movies. No more motorbikes.” She suddenly flashed him a grin that reminded him of her sister Tabitha. “No more fooling around with the top of my head.”
He felt his face fill with blood. “That I don’t feel so sure about stopping just when I’ve got started.”
“No?” She reached with her hand and tugged his head down. “If you are going to be Amish soon and I am not we had better find out how we feel about each other before we miss our chance.” Her lips came against his and the warmth and softness made him dizzy again. “How’s that?” she asked.
“Pretty great.”
“Pretty great? Not totally great?” She kissed him again and this time held it longer.
“You’re right,” he said. “Totally great.”
She smiled. “So now I’m hungry. Where is my pizza?”
Milwaukee gave her the soggy box. “The cardboard has had it, but I’m sure the pizza will be okay.”
She lifted the lid and pulled out a piece, then held the box toward him. “Do you want some?”
He shook his head. “I’m the one who’s not hungry now.”
“You? Since when?”
“Since you fooled around with my lips.”
They both laughed.
“Is that all it takes?” she asked, chewing and swallowing.
“You are all it takes.”
“So if I head out on the Interstate, if I really do that, you would miss me?”
“But you still think I should go?”
“Why is that?”
“Because if you stayed here it wouldn’t be the Michal I kissed tonight.”
“Well, it will never be. I change a little every day and so do you.”
“I mean it wouldn’t be you at all. Just like it isn’t you singing anymore or you praying anymore. I’d have lost you just because I talked you into staying here.”
Michal stopped eating her third piece of pepperoni pizza. “So where am I now?”
“Here for a while. But if you stay too long, nowhere.”
“Where do I need to be?”
“Out there.” He waved his hand at the street. “Out there among the English.”
“Where out there?”
“Anywhere. Everywhere.” He kissed her forehead. “Just not here anymore.”
“Never here anymore?”
He kissed her damp black hair two or three times. “Not never. Just not now. You have to go and come back and then it’s you.”
“You sound like my sister.”
“No one ever said Tabitha was stupid. Crazy. Wild. Unpredictable. But lacking in love or passion? Lacking in loyalty? Lacking in brains?” He shook his head as he kissed her hair again.
She smiled. “Are you fooling around with the top of my head?”
“Yeah – baby.”
She grinned and punched his shoulder. “Take the baby home. It’s after one. Sure you don’t want any pizza?”
“How can you ask a man that? My heart is too full to even consider my stomach.”
“Oh, yes?” She got to her feet holding the pizza box. “Maybe you really will miss me.” She bent and picked up his jean jacket and handed it to him. “I told you it would get wet.”
“Everything’s wet. Your lips are wet.”
“And you like them that way?”
“I love them that way.”
Michal gave Milwaukee the box so she could hug his arm with both of hers while they walked back to the movie theater. There was still a fair amount of traffic on the street and headlights constantly flashed over them. Both felt there wasn’t anything else to say so no one made an effort to load the dead space with chatter. When they reached the blue Honda Rebel it glittered under the streetlamps as if it had been washed and waxed.
“Will you miss this?” she asked.
“My bike? Where’s it going?”
“I mean when you become Amish.”
“Oh.” He grinned. “I thought you meant the Interstate.” He hesitated. “Why should I lie to you? I’m not so spiritual that I won’t miss riding.”
“Lots of men and women who are spiritual still ride. Tabitha has told me about all the Christian bike clubs.”
“Amish bike clubs?”
“No. Just plain old garden variety Christian bike clubs – Baptist, Methodist, Four Square, Pentecostal, Alliance, Vineyard, yes, even Mennonite – ”
“All right, all right, don’t make it harder than it already is.” He unlocked one of his saddlebags and gave her a dark blue rain shell with the North Face logo on it. “I’ve only got one of these. Please put it on.”
“What about you?”
“I told you. I like wet.”
She pulled the jacket over her Stormrider while he packed away the pizza box. “The sleeves are too long.”
“Roll them up.”
“And the hood is meant for a giant.”
“Pull on the drawstrings.” He handed her a blue helmet and tugged one down over his own head. “Get on. Let’s go.”
Michal gripped the handles on each side of her seat as they rode out of the city onto the highway. The small drops of rain stung her hands like tiny pebbles. At Roy’s she went into the restroom and wiped off her makeup. She pulled her Amish dress out of the pack she’d stuffed into one of Milwaukee’s saddlebags and crammed her jeans and tee shirt inside instead. Then she did up her hair and put the rain shell and helmet back on.
“My wild Amish girl,” teased Milwaukee when she came back out to the parking lot.
“I’m not Amish, remember?”
“You have fooled everyone.”
“Yes, well, apparently even myself.”
They sped into Marietta and three or four hundred yards from Michal’s home Milwaukee turned off the engine and let the Honda coast. Then he walked it up the road to their lane while she walked beside him. At the turnoff she patted him on the cheek.
“I’m all right. You don’t have to accompany me up to the house.”
“I have done it every other night.”
“But it’s raining more now.”
“I don’t care. I’d rather have the extra five minutes with you.”
At the back door that led to her room she took her pack out of its saddlebag and peeled off the North Face jacket. Then she kissed Milwaukee quickly on the cheek. “Will you stop by tomorrow? I think mama would like you for Saturday supper.”
“Yes. I’ll try.”
“Try? When do you ever say no to one of my mother’s feasts?”
“It wouldn’t be for the food.”
“No?” Her eyes flashed in the rainfall. “I let you fool around with my lips and the top of my head and this is what happens?”
He pulled her into his arms. “Would you feel better if nothing happened?”
She smiled and put her fingers on his mouth. “Shh. Of course not. But perhaps we had better slow down.”
“Slow down? I thought we had to speed up. In a few weeks I’ll be Amish and then we’ll be stuck with a horse and buggy and kissing behind barns and bushes.”
“As opposed to kissing behind my parents’ house or at the Lancaster County Courthouse? Anyway, you are right. We’re running out of time.” She stood on the toes of her boots and kissed him on the mouth with a burst of strength that knocked him backward. She laughed, putting her hand over her mouth. “I don’t think you are ready for me yet. You are right. I need to get on the Interstate. And you need to stay here and pack away more oats.”
“You talk as if I should eat like a horse.”
“Exactly like a horse.”
Michal kissed him briefly on the mouth and then opened the door to her room. She did not expect to see Tabitha in her bed though it would have been a pleasant surprise. They could have talked about their day and their men.
Her head whirled as she dropped it back on the pillow. What had she been thinking? Why had she let Milwaukee kiss her so much? Why had she kissed him so much? She lay on her right side and then on her left. She had been a little reckless. They were friend, they were friends, they were only friends.
I kissed him because I wanted to kiss him. I let him kiss me because I wanted him to kiss me. Yes, he is a friend. But I love it when he is close to me and tender to me. I feel safe. I don’t feel so confused anymore.
She forced herself to stay awake, expecting her sister to arrive. At four she gave up and slept and immediately began to dream. The images were draped in white and peaceful, but later she could not remember a thing she had seen. Before she knew it a hand was shaking her shoulder roughly. She opened her eyes to a room flooded with sunlight and her mother’s white face.
“Oh, mama,” she said, squinting and sitting up, “I’m sorry. I meant to help you with the breakfast – ”
“Never mind that,” her mother said in a harsh voice. “Your father has gone to see the sheriff and I need you up now to take care of the boys.”
A sharp feeling cut through Michal’s body. “What? Papa has gone to the sheriff? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Her mother shook her head. “Nick’s parents drove to our house a half hour ago and asked if he was here. They are worried sick.”
Michal’s head was whirling from lack of sleep and her mother’s news. “Where is he? What did Tabitha say?”
Her mother’s eyes were large and dark. She pointed at Tabitha’s empty bed, neatly made up just as it had been the day before. “Your sister did not come home. Neither of them came home. None of their friends know where they are. No one knows a thing.” Then her mother put her hand over her mouth and her face broke up as she began to cry. “It’s as if Tabitha and her boyfriend have vanished from the face of the earth.”

1 comment:

EMP said...

Two chapters and already I love both girls. More, please...?