I am visiting the house of a stranger. The couch and chairs in the living room are covered with plastic made to fit their yellow contours. Doilies and coasters cover each little table where family photos stand at attention in their upright frames.
A purple and black portrait of Jesus over the fireplace shows him hanging from the cross in a drawing that could be taken from a graphic novel, so lurid are the colors. The only cabinet holds china dishes and a collection of girl dolls, their little bow mouths bright red against their white faces. They are dressed in long gowns of another century. The legs of the furniture stand in little cups on the pale carpet.
I press my knees, clad in blue pants, together. My ankle bones touch. Then I notice: There are no books. Not one. No, there is one. A large Bible with a white leather cover, sits on a round table by itself on top of a lace runner. I smile at my hostess, the mother of my college roommate who is rebelling against everything. I have been listening to her for a year, and I see, in this, my first visit to her house, that with all her opinions and philosophical rants, she has told me nothing about her family.
``I don’t usually invite people,’’ she had said in our dorm room, pulling on her (illegal) cigarette.
``Thank you, Mrs. Whickett, for having me,’’ I say.
``We’re glad to have you, dear,’’ she says. ``We’re so curious about Mary’s friends from college. So you’re from Massachusetts?’’
``Yes, ma’am. The Boston area.’’
``What church do you go to there?’’ She looks excited and a flush comes across her pale cheeks.
``The Unitarian Church. I helped run the Sunday School in high school.’’
``Sunday School!’’ She looks pleased and glances at Mary who lounges (or slips off the plastic?) on an armchair. ``Do you read Scripture with the children?’’
``Well,’’ I shift on my own plastic, ``we make sure they know the Bible stories.’’
``The New Testament?’’
``Both,’’ I say. ``We study all religions.’’
``Unity Church, did you say?’’
``No, Unitarian. We believe in one Creator. That’s why that name.’’ She sits up straighter. I think she’s actually wearing a corset under her flowered dress. It’s hard to believe she’s the mother of my casual roommate or that my intellectually voracious friend came from this house.
``Do you take Jesus for your Savior?’’ she asks sternly, suspecting the worst. She’s right.
``Well, not exactly,’’ I say, realizing I’m about to go over the edge. ``We believe he was a great teacher and historical figure.’’
``Oh my dear,’’ she says, ``let me help you understand the truth.’’ She reaches for the Bible and opens it. Mary sits up quickly.
``Mother,’’ she says, ``we have to go out. We’ll be back for dinner.’’ She stands and signals me.
``Uh – thank you, Mrs. Whickett. See you later.’’ As we go out the front door, I go limp with relief .
``Did I do all right?’’ I ask.
``Great,’’ she says and grins at me. I can see we are not going to talk about this, and that we never will. ``Let’s go to the movies.’’
She puts her arm through mine, and we swing into the freedom of the fresh winter air.