Morning. A thriving village spread over a barren desert. At the outskirts is a weather-beaten billboard: “Welcome to Abeville, Heart of the Holy Land—Celebrating 56 Years of Progress.” Main Street is reminiscent of the Old West: storefronts, wooden sidewalks, hitching posts—everything but horses and buckboards, which have been replaced by camels and a few cars (a Model aFord, a Kaiser, a VWBug).
The signs on the buildings announce:
“Holy Land Post Ofﬁce”
“Abe’s Trading Post—We Specialize in Used Camels”
“Holy Land Federal Courthouse”
“Sears, Abe’s, and Company”
“Abe’s Souvenir Shop—We Cater to the Religious Tourist”
“Holy Land Sheriff”
Behind Main Street are many residential tents. A sizeable percentage of the male citizens are loitering on Main Street, smoking, spitting tobacco, and chatting. They are dressed in traditional Middle Eastern attire, except for the Western holsters and six-shooters that are slung around their hips. They wear cowboy boots, with spurs.
After the menfolk had carried Great-grandma outside in her rocking chair, pall-bearer style, planted her in the shade of the poplar trees, tucked her in with a wool blanket, and then propped her up with half a dozen of Tante Anna’s fancy crocheted pillows, Grandpa Reisender would officially open the reunion. He’d bless the food, making sure to mention every dish the wom- enfolk had prepared. Then he’d go on to recite the list of all the ancestors he could remember, starting with Adam and Eve and half the other Biblical characters, moving on to those Reisenders who were stashed away in safe deposit boxes in some churchyard back in the Old Country, and ending with Great-grandma, even though she didn’t quite qualify as an ancestor, because she was sitting right there with her eyes closed and her head on her shoulder and her mouth wide open, sleeping like a baby. Finally, he’d end up by saying, “Thy Kingdom come, Amen,” which was the signal for Onkel Abe to wave the starting flag by booming out, “Amen, now let’s everybody loosen up and have a good time,” which was the signal for Great-grandma to give a twitch and open her one good eye and say something in German to Onkel Abe, probably advice on being reverent in the Lord’s presence. But as Aunt Lena enjoyed pointing out, that kind of advice had absolutely no effect on the man.
What does Corky Ra allege happened on the day he was relaxing on his girlfriend’s couch? What is he asking us to believe?
Corky’s account of his first and defining revelation appears twice on the labyrinthine summum.us website, once in a written essay, the other in an informal question-and-answer session on the subject of his first encounter with the Summa Individuals.
“References to encounters with Beings not of this planet can be found in all major philosophies and religions dating back to the beginning of recorded history,” Corky’s essay begins, though he gives no examples or arguments for this claim. He then recounts his own encounter, taking care to say that before the event, he had always supposed that those who had reported having had personal revelations were “either lying or mentally ill.” (As a backslidden Mormon, he might have been thinking of Joseph Smith.)
Wielding my cane, I sallied forth into the world beyond my private quarters.
I turned left and proceeded down a long hallway, where I continued my meditation on “Miss April,” pleased that the enigma of my sexual orientation had been resolved.
Narrator’s note to reader:
My pleasure came, not from my discovery that I was heterosexual, but from the fact that I had solved the enigma of my erotic orientation. Had I discovered that I was homosexual, I would have been equally pleased.
Description of hallway:Similar in color to the walls of my apartment. Neither too broad nor too narrow. Concrete floor camouflaged by an industrial-quality rug. Equipped on each side with a hand railing of inferior and delicate construction. Empty, save for a pair of elderly white females, one in a wheelchair, the other pushing her charge along with great difficulty, both of them approaching me.
Limping down the hallway, supported on my right by a hand railing and on my left by my stout cane, I could see from the presence of intermittent doors that my own apartment was part of a larger complex. From this I surmised that I was a resident in some kind of institution, a conjecture consistent with the appearance of the two elderly ladies.
As I advanced, I involuntarily compared the Miss April of my recent meditations with the approaching pair of Miss Decembers. This comparison elicited in me an audible chuckle, which grew by degrees into a mammoth guffaw, which, in turn, caused the two ladies, now but fifteen feet away, to look up.
Imagine my bafflement when, after the briefest of glances at my person, these same ladies emitted a pair of long, concerted shrieks. These shrieks were attended by a sudden change in their itinerary, from a slow but steady advance toward me to a rapid flight in the opposite direction.
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CURIOUS BY NATURE, Benny Good was always intrigued by new ideas. The idea of salvation was not of course new to him; he had run across it from his years with the Amish and his months with Reverend Barnabas. Neither was the idea of sex new to him. But the idea of combining sex with salvation—this was what caught his attention and kept him in the questionnaire room with Arielle past ten-thirty, discussing the possibility of joining her new cell group devoted to the teachings of Christian Tantrism.
“Early retirement is now the buzzard word.”
Mildred and Thelma Blossum stopped to catch their breath in front of Le Wanderlust, a travel agency in Kirklande Centre. It was early Thursday morning before work, and the two women were doing one of their occasional puffarounds, dressed in faded joggers and worn Keds and clutching tiny barbells to their chests.
“You know what Ithink about that subject,” replied Thelma.
Yes, she knew Thelma’s thoughts on the topic of early retirement. Letting a man stay home day in and day out was about the same as putting arsenic in his chicken noodle soup, in terms of effectiveness. If he was fooling around and had good coverage the arsenic might not be a bad idea, but otherwise it wasn’t recommended, unless of course you happened to enjoy working your fingers to the bone in the checkout stand at Safeway. Those were Thelma Blossum’s thoughts on the subject, always followed by “take it from somebody who knows.”
MISS HOLY LAND
The sun beats downon a vast desert. A range of mountains is visible on the horizon. In the distance a car moves slowly over the sand dunes, left to right, followed closely by a camel.
Narrator’s Voice:(Solemnly; offscreen) And there was a famine in the Holy Land. And Abram took his wife Sara and went down into Egypt to sojourn there.
Driving the car, a battered Yugo, is Abram, a twenty-nine-year-old schlemiel dressed in the traditional desert garb of the Middle East. On the seat next to him rests a leather saddlebag. Seated atop the two-humped camel, sidesaddle, is Sara, a voluptuous young woman of nineteen, also dressed in a traditional desert robe. The camel is burdened with her extensive trousseau—suitcases, hat boxes, etc.
Last night, after putting the finishing touches on that twelfth and final story, I couldn’t sleep.And it wasn’t because of the fact that I’d remembered, with the help of what Mom used to call my “overactive imagination,” that things had turned out badly. It was because the whole thing still didn’t hang together. Months ago, when I’d sat on that Gomorrah motel bed, surrounded by the ghosts from my old attic—the books, the family history, and the photographs—I figured I’d be able to find the pattern. But as I lay there awake with my wife sleeping happily at my side, I was just as puzzled as I’d been when I came up with the idea of writing a dozen stories about my Inverness life.What was the point of it all? Or as Uncle Edgar would’ve put it, what had been God’s plan for my life?
Once settled in, I emailed the headquarters of Summum, asking a few innocuous questions about their organization. Who was in charge? What was their current membership? How often did they meet, and on which days? I told them I was working on an article about their founder, Corky Ra. I received a reply from the outfit, wanting to know for what publisher I was doing the article. I immediately wrote back saying I was a freelance writer with an interest in comparative religion and that I’d send the finished piece to whoever was most likely to publish it. They again responded, saying Summum would gladly answer my questions, with the proviso that I sign a copy of their enclosed media agreement. After reading the agreement and noting that it stipulated that I agree not to provide the content of the article to anyone without the “expressed” written consent of Summum, I politely wrote back that I wouldn’t sign it because I couldn’t agree to this condition, while thinking that neither could I bear the shoddy, unlawyerly wording.