Hopefully many of you were fortunate enough to attend the recent CUPS sponsored production of Disciples, written by senior English major, Matt Newburg. The play was praised for its talented pair of casts that alternately portrayed an array of powerfully developed characters struggling with Christianity and their transition into adulthood (read the Scarlet’s review of the production here). Before these characters existed in Disciples, they appeared in a short story called “Congregation.” Written while Newburg was abroad in Scotland, he says “the story takes place two years before the events of the play, serving as a weird sort of prologue.” Read his story that inspired the play below.
By Matt Newburg
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
You have excused yourself from her presence and you are right now standing barefoot on the cold black and white tile floor of her bathroom staring down your reflection in the mirror and mentally negotiating the difference between the conversation you’re intending to have and the conversation you are about to have. You are facing the typically sized and typically rectangular shaped mirror hanging above the sink but there is a more decorative circular shaped mirror hanging on direct opposite wall. The second mirror– it’s supposed to look like the sun: metal rays jet out at all angles from the glass center. The two mirrors facing each other create that effect where the reflections reflect off one another so you end up seeing infinite copies of yourself. You stare deeply into your own eyes. Her bathroom is not clean.
The dull gray 6:30 AM light seeps through the tiny semicircular window above the toilet. Bright enough to render the dimming fluorescent lamp on the floor beside the sink irrelevant, but it’s on anyway. You turn on the faucet let the cold water run for a while.
And aside from multiple allegedly unconscious guests passed out on the floor and sofas of the living room—whose mere existence there has stressed her to tears two and a half times since the two of you retreated to her bedroom around three thirty when the last of the cognizant guests left— aside from that and the bright orange pink vomit spewed all over the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, you are fairly satisfied with how last night’s party went down. And even though you didn’t particularly care for these people, (with the exception of the girl draped in white sheets decorated with rainbows anxiously awaiting your return by now), it was amusing to watch them drunk. Among the bodies in the living room are Peter Seltzer, 22, the sexton’s son and Anthony Warner, 24, who just returned to the states less than a month ago after a two year missions trip to Guatemala his tan just beginning to fade into the paleness of the New England winter. And on the couch is Elizabeth Parker snuggled all cozy with Peter’s shitty cousin from Maine. Aside from the shitty cousin, these are people from church.
You ultimately decide you’ve sequestered yourself from her for long enough. You unlock the door and step out into the hallway. Framed family photos and framed stationary with bible verses scribed onto them Joshua 24:15 As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Her bedroom is at the other end of the hallway from the bathroom, the two doors facing each other like the mirrors. You open the door and see that she is face down on her bed, her head pressed into the pillow. You say her name twice, but no answer. You ask if she’s okay. She turns over onto her side. Makeup is smeared down her cheeks:
“I was praying,” she says.
“What were you praying about?” you ask.
Her eyebrows scrunch up as if confused, almost annoyed by the question: “For the people in the living room”
“They’ll be fine,” you say.
She’s wrapped herself in a blanket cocoon two or three layers thick. You lie down beside her and wrap your arms around her, around the cocoon.
“You know Elizabeth’s engaged to that guy from Messiah. He’s driving up tomorrow.” Her voice is drained of almost all emotion.
You speak softly into her shoulder: “Elizabeth Parker can make her own decisions. If she fucks up, God will forgive her.”
You can hear yourself breathe as you gently massage through the cocoon that spot on her back right below her neck where, according to her, all the tension lives. You have other thoughts.
“We need to stop doing this,” she says. “Having these parties. We bring so much sin into this house.”
You’re cold and you try to edge your way into her cocoon but she resists and you’re too tired to put up a fight.
“My stomach still hurts. I threw up again while you were in the bathroom” she says
“Did you make it into the bucket?”
You consider telling her that you think it might be a good idea to switch churches soon. That you’ve already been starting to get dirty looks in the pews again. That she’s starting to show.
You don’t consider telling her you’re not ready to be a father.
You hear a distant muffled high pitched yelp from the living room.
“Probably just the dog,” you lie.