Last week brought us to the last first-person short story. Now comes the closing novella, told in third-person, in which everyone comes together. Since a lot of us are still locked up, I think I’m going to share a bit more of this one in a few installments, since this part is 20,000 words or so. You can catch up to last week’s installment here or start at the top here. Here, we continue with the post wedding activities of the main characters.
Cindy and Jackson had glued themselves to each other the second they’d sat down. The connection they had forged was beyond amazing, especially because neither of them ever thought that they could have found true love at their ages, which were well into their 60s. She was 64, he was 67. But they did, and they also found out that they were still interested in and able to have sex, and it was loud, passionate, and crazy, especially because they did not have to worry at all about unwanted pregnancy. Cindy’s eggs had long since fled the coop, and Jackson’s sperm count was lower than the DJIA in the last year of the Trump presidency a decade ago.
And being at such an amazing and festive wedding, and sitting very near the loving… well, Jackson dubbed it the “love cluster” comprising his assistant, his boyfriend, their third, and the other couple they all seemed to be fucking — just put him in a mood to finally ask. He’d bought the ring a couple of weeks earlier, but figured that this would be the perfect event to spring it at, probably during the reception. Once the ceremony actually started, he and Cindy just leaned into each other and held on tight, and found themselves giving each other loving glances at every super romantic moment.
“Yeah,” Jackson thought. “This is definitely the day to pop the question. I just hope I can figure out the perfect time.”
Rafael and Vince certainly noticed, especially because of that whole “Want to get straight married” question in light of the quake, but sitting here now among the contingent that Madame Alice managed to bring in just put them more in mind of it. In fact, during the ceremony, Rafael casually tossed his arm around Vince’s shoulders, and Vince returned the favor, and they shared a bro look at least several times. And then, at the reception after the reception — i.e. the part where the middle class and below were told to go to the better party down the hill, Raf and Vince hit the bottom of Grand Park right before the end of the Maná and Natalia Jiménez show. At the end of it, he grabbed his Bro’s hand and said, “So… I know we joked about that getting married thing earlier, but — ”
“Oh, fuck yes, dude,” Rafael replied before Vince could even finish asking, and so it was going to happen.
Tycho hadn’t noticed because he was too wrapped up in his own group, but his request through the mayor’s office had been accepted, and so Rebekah wheeled Matt in, although they took up a position near the back of the nave, in a spot with a short row of pews meant for the handicapped. If Tycho had looked back, he might have wondered why the House of Jesus wouldn’t have accommodated putting the lame at the front, but since they rolled in just before the flutes started up, he never saw them.
Matt did, though. He spotted Tycho almost immediately, and all he could do was just stare forlornly in his direction, hoping that his wife didn’t notice. Maybe, one day, he’d actually get the chance to tell Tycho how he really felt — although, at the moment, he seemed really happy with at least two of the boys sitting next to him, if not several others.
Hell, maybe one day Matt’s legs and his dick would work again and he could get divorced and play daddy for Tycho and all of his hot little friends. And he had to admit that he was impressed when he realized that Tyty was, in fact, pulling tail with at least four other hot, young guys.
If only he could walk, and not depend on… her. And still have his government job. Fuck the earthquake. Fuck the earth. All that Matt could do was stare at true beauty at the far end of the room and feel the complete sense of loss and regret and anger.
Rebekah had never told Matt that the only reason they were there was because of Tycho’s largesse. She let him think that she’d pulled the strings. She constantly reminded him of how much she loved him, which she did. Every time she did so, he cringed inside.
From his spot house right (stage left) Toby sat and watched, and recognized several familiar and friendly faces he’d met thanks to Adrian’s amazing work. Note to self: Another bonus due, probably in the mid-five figure range. He also noticed that he didn’t see the pain in the ass councilor whom he had sicced his lawyers on the second she tried to take away Edna’s property, not to mention screw with Alice’s easements and permits. Well… good. There had been a reason he’d bought his way into this wedding, and this was that. He’d gotten to know people all around the neighborhood bordered north and south by Wilshire and San Marino, and east and west by Irolo and Western, gotten to like them, and was going to make it rain for them. What else could he do? After all, as Adrian had wisely surmised, the only thing he’d been feeling since the morning before the quake was incredible guilt. And he still hadn’t been able to explain it to anyone. But he was damn well going to do something about it.
When the recessional music started up, he heard the words “I won’t let you down” right after the first twelve bars, and thought, “Wow. That fits perfectly what I want to do for Alice and Edna and everyone. Maybe this is a sign.” He had actually never head of OK Go or heard the song before, but that was probably because since a very early age, he had been a huge Asian language nerd, and so only listened to K-Pop, as well as Cantonese and Mandarin music and podcasts, all in an effort to learn the languages. By the time he was out of college, he was fairly fluent in all three and just starting on Korean, and it had led directly to his success in business. Sure, it did leave him a little lacking in American pop culture, but only slightly, since up until the infamous Chinese lockout that didn’t end until January 21, 2021, he could see his fill of American blockbuster movies dubbed in any of those languages and understand them.
Toby wasn’t the only one moved by the words. Jackson and Cindy gave each other a smile and a hand squeeze, and so did Adam and Tony, Rafael and Vince, and Tycho and Finley. James just settled for trying to give them a smile, not wanting to incur Tycho’s wrath again. But it was that kind of a feel-good song that sent everyone out in a fantastic mood.
On the repeated line, “Lights out in Babylon,” Alice and Edna gave each other a knowing look that said, “Been there, done that, too many times.”
At the back of the room, Rebekah touched Matt’s shoulder, trying to be reassuring, but Matt was just watching as Tycho and company got up and exited the sanctuary via the façade exits into the cathedral proper on the south transept — which was actually pointed east by south east due to a fluke of church terminology. The wall behind the altar was always called the east wall, which in this case was aimed slightly off of north, so that all of the compass directions in the place, if referred to in doctrinal terms, were shifted just under 90º counterclockwise. It was a leftover from the whole looking toward Jerusalem to pray thing, also related to bowing toward Mecca, or finding qibla, the relative direction to Mecca from anywhere on Earth. This had caused much debate over twenty years earlier, right before Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor became the first Muslim astronaut to visit the ISS.
And it was a legitimate question. Properly, a Muslim had to pray five times per day, and bow toward Mecca while doing it, as well as face the ground. Easy to do on Earth. On space, in a machine that orbited sixteen times in a single earth day and without gravity, not so much.
If you measured a day by sunrise and sunset, then it would mean a Muslim astronaut had to pray 80 times per Earth day. At about five minutes per prayer session, that would be six hours and forty minutes per day doing nothing but praying — not something that Roscosmos or NASA would be too happy about. Also, given the speed and altitude of the ISS, the relative position of Mecca could shift by up to 180 degrees in those five minute chunks — that is from looking to the left to looking to the right or vice versa every time.
One early school of thought had dealt with this problem with the advent of trains and then planes, which also moved. Their solution was to determine qibla at the point you were at when you started praying, and then to keep looking that way no matter how much the train or plane moved.
But this brought up another question. The ISS orbited at an altitude of 254 miles, or 408 kilometers, so how to measure the relative distance to Mecca? Straight line down to Earth and go from there, or straight line up from Mecca, and go from there? The big problem with the latter is that it might have someone not face the Earth at all and, in fact, possibly do the worst possible and most blasphemous thing — praying while facing the moon or sun.
Eventually, an 18 page booklet came out that was a guide to how Muslims could follow all of their rules and rituals in space, and it boiled down, basically, to this: “Do the best you can, but Allah isn’t going to judge you if you can’t under the circumstances.”
Most of the Muslim astronauts silently made the same choice: Facing the entire Earth was de facto facing Mecca, and that was where the twenty-four hours counted — not moonrise and moonset. So they followed the clock based on wherever they had launched from and the only thing they had to be careful about was to not be looking in a direction that would put the rising sun or moon in what would be their line of sight if they weren’t looking at the “floor.”
It had turned out to not be as complicated as the scholars had made it out to be. The difficult part was not launching yourself into a back flip if you brought your head down to the prayer mat too hard.
Oddly enough, Jews and Catholics had come up with similar workarounds themselves many times before. In fact, it was a long-standing rule even among the most Orthodox of Jews that if it were a choice between following the Kosher laws and sacrificing a life, then life won out. That vital drug that will save our child’s life is haram because it only comes in gel-caps made out of pig’s hooves? God says “Okay.”
For some reason, in the west, only certain Protestant cults hadn’t figured this out, in particular a lot of evangelical sects, but especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Well, at least their leadership, who still wouldn’t even allow a blood transfusion to save a life because… reasons only they understood. A lot of their members didn’t, though, and since accepting a transfusion was seen officially as them renouncing the church and responded to via shunning, membership had been declining rapidly, especially since the leaders decided that vaccines, and stem-cell and DNA treatments were also sinful. There were fewer than twenty-thousand official members left — definitely far shy of the 144,000 who would be the only saved ones.
Nobody outside of that group cared. Especially not when, hell, even the Mormons finally relented and decided via a “special revelation” that the gay thing was okay because of David and Jonathan, and even started doing marriages and sealing same-sex couples in the temple. Real reason: they were seeing their membership numbers decline as well, and got pragmatic. And what better way to recruit missionaries than to give young male couples the chance to get away from their parents, who might not be approving, and spend a year living and working together? The church even got rid of the whole idea of missionary housing not having any bedroom or bathroom doors to prevent any personal “soiling” of the soul. And yes, that’s a euphemism for exactly what it sounds like.
Tycho was always fascinated to see that the religions that happened to accept that evolution was a thing also actually evolved. The ones that didn’t died out in exactly the way that Darwin’s theory predicted. But he had always known that the Church accepted scientific advancements and did so by racking them up as parts of “god’s mysterious ways.” Hell, it was a Jesuit priest who came up with the Big Bang Theory.
And the whole Galileo thing had been misinterpreted for centuries, with people still somehow believing that he was executed for believing that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Far from it. He basically received the equivalent of mild house arrest and supervised probation and, although the heliocentric theory is clearly the right one now, at the time it wasn’t so clear-cut given the evidence at hand, and the Church doubted Galileo’s scientific methods. He did write a dialogue debating the two theories; Earth-centered and Sun-centered; although he did stack the deck in favor of the former.
The Church’s execution of Giordano Bruno had been a travesty of justice but, to be fair, that happened a generation before Galileo’s trial and while Bruno did put forth the hypothesis that the universe was infinite, without a boundary and with the center basically everywhere, it was more his open dabbling in the occult, denials of various strictly held Church beliefs (read: The Trinity, Transubstantiation, and Mary’s virginity), and belief in reincarnation that transcended species that really irked the church and got him burnt at the stake.
But Darwinism pretty much indicated that modern Jews and Catholics would survive, and modern Muslims could be added to the list. Fundamentalist Muslims — or fundamentalist anyone — not so much. They were on the way out, too, along with all of the other inflexible, hardcore religious nuts.
And Tycho knew about all of this because he’d grown up “sort of ” Catholic, then learned about the whole ISS questioning thing once he’d taken over Rebekah’s position with the county. That and forty million other stupid religious rules and customs, and he sometimes wondered why the modern world bothered trying to accommodate them all when there were so many religious folk who did know how to make exceptions and not bend the world to their own rules. Of course, he was an even bigger atheist than Rebekah, salthough when he looked at his paycheck, he’d realize that he worshipped a god, too, but it was called money. Well, okay. He had two gods. Money and sex. But that was totally fine with him.
Neither Matt nor Rebekah knew anything about the naming of walls, although Rebekah really should have learned it when she had had Tycho’s job. And all that Matt knew was that he watched as Tycho and company quickly walked out of the church to his right and through a door far enough away that there would be no chance for them to catch up and make casual conversation at the reception. They were also apparently in the VIP section, while he and Rebekah probably were not, so they would be halfway through dinner before he and his wife even got in the door.
As she turned him around to wheel him out, the full force of his depression hit him and he told her, “Honey, I’m really tired now and not up to this. Do you mind if we skip the reception?”
“Not at all,” she said, way too cheerfully, and her loving attitude just made him resent her even more.
Image “Grand Park at Night,” © 2018 Jon Bastian, all rights reserved
To be continued…
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