Monday, May 15, 2017

Assigned Seats


This is my first try at short fiction.  Like always I write in false author voice.  I hope you like it.


                “Hurry up Bailey!”  I yelled just like I do every Sunday morning and Monday morning and Tuesday morning; you get the picture.  “We’re gonna be late!”

I know I shouldn’t yell since we’re on our way to church and I should be more, well, Jesus-like, but I yell all the time.  No need to fake it just because it’s Sunday.    It’s usually Bailey who’s yelling for me, since I’m late for everything and I don’t necessarily feel bad about it but for some reason I feel guilty being late for church. 

I didn’t grow up being late for anything, my Mother made sure we (my brother Spencer and I) were always on time, which to her meant 15 minutes early.  Since my divorce, I’ve had to start a routine of new apartment, new church, new school (I’m a teacher) but the one constant in my life is I’m always running late.

I know you’re thinking Baptists don’t get divorced and that’s usually true.  I didn’t have a choice.  My selfish ex-husband simply walked out after 22 years of marriage because he “didn’t get a chance to enjoy my 20s”.  I guess he didn’t enjoy the time we spent moving around the country while he served in the Navy.  I thought we had a great life; sure, we fought sometimes, but I can’t imagine doing that with anyone else.  Just goes to show you should never marry a pretend Baptist; he never went to church with us, leaving me to be the spiritual leader of our family.  I guess you can pursue a noble profession without being a noble person.  And why would anyone want to re-live their 20s?  No thank you.

I’m not bitter.  I’m just irritated and a little embarrassed.  We just don’t talk about it.

Even though I am late I always have a seat near the back row on the left at the Friendship Baptist Church in Yellow Finch, a small church in a sizeable city in the panhandle of Texas.  Small enough not to make me nervous but big enough to keep most relationships at the surface level.   It’s not that I don’t want new friends, it’s just…well, I guess it is I just don’t want new friends.  New friends want to do stuff and go out and drink and eat and other than Taco Tuesdays at Rosa’s, I just want to go home after work and curl up with a book or an episode of The Bachelor or Pretty Little Liars or something else Spencer judges me for watching.

At Friendship, I can give a quick nod or a ‘Good Morning’ and keep on going; a ‘God Bless You’ if it’s required.  It usually isn’t.  Even though we’ve been going to this church for almost a year, I don’t know very many of our seat-neighbors, at least by name.  Bailey and I refer to them by description.  Sweet Old Couple (SOC) sit to our right. I make sure I sit on the outside edge for escape purposes, bathroom or early exit in equal measure.  Jeanine Leather sits directly in front of us.  It’s an inside joke.  Our first Sunday there, I noticed her name engraved on the cover of her Bible.  When I mentioned it to Bailey after church, she burst out laughing saying, “Mama!  It said, ‘Genuine Leather’.  Oh, my gosh, that’s hilarious!”  She will not let me forget about it, laughing long and deep, pointing at me standing uneasily in her high heels and designer dress her Uncle Spencer sent her from California, where he’s been for the last five years.

Bailey is 5’ 11” at the age of 16 and still getting used to her new form like a more graceful but still stumbly-limbed baby giraffe.  She’s determined to master her long legs quickly and she sometimes trips and stumbles as much as she glides.  She is embarrassed by nothing it seems; I am embarrassed by everything, including my bangs which I can’t stop trimming at home with toenail scissors because they don’t look ‘right’ about a week after each haircut.  I try to explain it to the lady who cuts my hair and she nods and mmm-hmmms me, but it’s the same every time and I just gave up. 

My weight, which I exaggerate, according to Spencer, but I don’t feel emotionally equipped to manage.  I always said I felt fat when I was skinny in high school and college but more out of a sense that I was supposed to say it than actually thinking I was fat.  Now, I just avoid mirrors if possible.

My divorce, which was unplanned and this move to the Panhandle, also unplanned, has left me feeling a little bit lost.  I moved here to be closer to Bailey when she started college and I have no nearby family for the first time since the beginning of my marriage.  Bailey skipped her junior year of high school after her Dad left; it shook both of us to our core, although we haven’t really discussed it much other than to vent when he forgets birthdays or graduations.  He always was selfish, now that I think about it.

The last of our immediate seat-neighbors, The Mayor (he isn’t the mayor but is well-dressed and very polite like politicians used to be) always makes a point to tell Bailey how pretty she is and then tells me he can tell where she gets her beauty, which is a lie but one I always accept because he’s just so nice, like someone’s Grandpa from a Hallmark movie.

I really don’t know what I look like from the neck down.  I wasn’t kidding when I said I avoid mirrors.  Even in photos I make sure I stand behind Bailey or am only photographed from above.  Bailey picks out my clothes and does my hair and make-up most days.  I trust her and I just don’t care anymore.  She is as stylish and tasteful as Spencer.  I don’t know how I missed that gene from my mother but I did and I’m scared to make a mistake so I don’t try.

Bailey tells me, “You look pretty Mama” and I choose to believe her.  She is stunning, like a model from a magazine.  I don’t know how my husband (I guess I should call him my ex-husband but I don’t like that phrase – it sounds vulgar somehow) and I did it, but we managed to produce a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, all long legs and confidence.  I don’t know where she gets that.  I never had any confidence and Spencer didn’t until he left the South but he and I have told Bailey how amazing she is since she was a baby and she believes it.  She is fearless and sure of herself and I am glad.  Her life will be much different than mine.

We finally squeal into the parking lot and rush toward the door, slowing to the appropriate speed when we get to the front doors, which is one of the reasons we sit so far back.  When we open the door to the sanctuary something feels off.  Something’s not right.  Bailey stops short and then whispers, “Someone’s in our seat!”

“What?” I say, thinking I misunderstood.  I can’t see around her because I’m only 5’ 7”.  Someone in our seats?  How?  It’s our seat.  Didn’t SOC say something when they sat down?  Did Jeanine Leather sit there with her monogrammed Bible and allow them to sit unaware they were in a reserved spot? 

I see it’s a young couple with an almost newborn baby so I’m pretty sure they were so distracted they simply sat in the closest available seat with the clearest exit path.  Why don’t they take the baby to the nursery?  It’s going to start crying as soon as the pastor, Brother Charles, starts his sermon.  Friendship Baptist is one of those fire and brimstone Baptist Churches that I grew up in.  Spencer stopped going to Baptist Churches about 10 years ago.  He says we’re too hateful.  I know people can be mean about gay people but I’m not hateful and I’m Baptist.  But I understand fire and brimstone isn’t for everybody.  I’m used to it and I don’t think I could go to a different church.  I went to Spencer’s church when I was in California last year and it was a nice little church but I just need to be kept on my toes.  I sometimes feel bad about myself when I leave but God wants us to strive for perfection.  Most days I don’t make the cut but I try.

Bailey and I scanned the pews and I try to quickly figure out a new seating plan before the ushers get concerned and we cause a scene.  I mentally ran through everyone I could remember in our section of the church and tried to remember exactly where the habitually late Stressed Out Mom with Cute Teenage Son and Overweight Couple sit so I wouldn’t cause them any issues when they finally arrived after the announcements but before the special music.  

Seat assignment is something dear and true to Southern Baptists.  It’s like the Christian Flag at Vacation Bible School; you don’t really pay much attention to it but you definitely notice it when it’s missing.  

I decide the best place is behind Weird Shoe Guy where no one sits because the sun streaming through the stained-glass window will make you sweat no matter how cold it gets outside.  We made that mistake our first Sunday here.  SOC told us to move behind them that next Sunday, which was sweet and how we got their name.  I call them old not being rude but because they are really, really old.  I don’t know how old, but they are at least in their 80s.  If they’re younger than that then they look terrible for their age.  I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine, I’ll bet.  Everyone knows me as Bailey’s Mom.  Bailey’s hard to miss in any crowd especially a small church with a tiny youth group.  The first Sunday, it was like someone from Hollywood was visiting or someone had a new baby, the way everyone oohed and aahed. 

Once we settled in, I immediately begin to regret my decision as a trickle of sweat ran down my back.  However, right on cue, as soon as Brother Charles stepped to the microphone, he startled the sleeping baby and the wifely member of SOC whispered to the parents of the newborn that we had a nursery and they left following her directions, giving us stress-filled, apologetic smiles.

As soon as they cleared the doorway, the husbandly member of SOC waved us over and Bailey and I moved as quick as a misbehaving child trying to avoid a parental thump to the back of the head to our assigned seats.  Once we got situated, we and our neighbors visibly relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief.  All was right in the world again.

Now to listen to the sermon.  It’s about Moses and Zipporah meeting at a well and then getting married.  Apparently, in Biblical times, a well often served as their version of Starbucks because Isaac and Rebekah and even Jacob and Rachel met at a well when the women were there drawing water.  One more reason to get my water at the Sonic.  I am not about to try and meet some man for a date who is going to start trying to tell me what to do.  I ain't got time for that. 
I almost said Amen out loud.


1 comment:

  1. This was fun to read!! (Especially because I still get tickled when the kids turn around and look at me and whisper incredulously "Mama - someone is IN OUR SEAT".) I have to explain every time that they aren't OUR seats.

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