Excerpt from Chapter 3, “City and Suburb”
The Siberian was New Plymouth’s finest downtown hotel. Its Orthodox owners were members of the same family that had long run one of Chumikan’s fish-processing plants. Unlike many business people here, they had no qualms about opening their dining room to both hotel guests and townspeople on the Lord’s Day. But the fine weather had diverted most locals to other pursuits, and the waiting line was short.
“A pricey menu,” commented Aaron as the waiter departed with their order. “No wonder I don’t eat here too often.”
“Beats cooking for yourself,” Eli countered. “Or crashing that goofy party.”
“I guess they wouldn’t mind if I showed up. But I wasn’t exactly invited, and I didn’t want to horn in.”
“So, do you and Martha have special plans for later on? That is, anything you’d care to divulge?” Eli took on his customary impish grin.
“Nothing special.” Aaron was aware that he was concealing the nature of what might turn out to be a weighty conversation with Martha. “We may put on a concert video, or something else.”
Eli had retained the grin. “Aren’t they Reformed? A sacred concert, no doubt, on the Lord’s Day. Psalms. Vocal only, no instruments.”
Aaron chuckled. “It’s Westminster, remember. Three-manual Casavant, just like University Church. I think it was salvaged from some old church in New York that went out of business.”
“So much for the ‘regulative principle,’ I guess. . . . Wish we could afford one of those at Ascension. But the pipes would poke through the roof.”
Aaron decided to change the subject. He hadn’t forgotten his unspoken question of the morning, and felt the need to bring it up without being too obvious. “What did you think of Utaegbulam’s sermon?”
“It was vintage Kyrie Liaison. I love that accent.”
“I’ll have to admit Father Jonathan is one of those people who make Ascension what it is,” Aaron responded. “The church wouldn’t be the same without him. But I wondered what your reaction was to what he said.”
“My reaction to what he sayed? Hmm . . . What did he say? I sleep through sermons.”
Aaron knew better. “Come on, what did you think?”
“You must have some reason for asking.” Eli turned serious. “Was there something that hit home?”
The waiter brought a basket of rolls. Aaron set one on his plate, then continued. “When he was talking about the psalm, and about crying to the Lord when we get into trouble instead of trying to fix it ourselves, it struck me that he wasn’t just thinking about our personal lives. I think he had in mind the whole country and its problems. And maybe the idea of getting into an alliance with the U.S. Obviously he wouldn’t come right out and say so, being a foreign diplomat.”
“Funny, I had the same impression. Great minds.” Eli tapped his rounded, short-haired cranium.
The waiter had returned with their salad. They bowed and Aaron blessed the food.
“Does the whole thing bother you?” Aaron went on. “I mean, the psalm says ‘they had no one to help’ and ‘they cried to the Lord.’ If anybody today has ‘no one to help,’ it’s us. But we’re supposed to be a Christian nation, aren’t we?”
“We must be.” Eli helped himself to the salad. “It says so right in the Constitution.”
“And if anyone should be ‘crying to the Lord in their trouble,’ we should be. But we seem to be trying to fix our own problems, and maybe that says something about us.”
“In other words?”
“I’m not saying I understand everything that’s going on with DeSilva and Tasker and our whole crowd. But I wonder if we aren’t going through some kind of crisis of faith.”
“A crisis of faith. You mean, like we don’t have any?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.” Aaron buttered his roll. “But somehow, it’s like . . . things have changed. Our politicians used to make a big deal about how we’re a special nation because we acknowledge the sovereignty of God and Christ. But now it’s mostly preachers who seem to talk that way. And maybe not all of them.”
The waiter appeared once again with their entrées. With a “Bon appétit, gentlemen,” he was off to other duties.
“So you have doubts about DeSilva?” Lifting himself with his muscular arms, Eli repositioned himself in his chair.
Aaron was still sorting out the pros and cons regarding Tasker’s assignment. But he couldn’t reveal to Eli why resolving his ambiguity was a matter of some urgency.
“I don’t know that I have doubts about DeSilva himself. He looks genuine to me. I like him. He seems to love the country. I think he’d make a good president. But I’m not sure everyone supporting him . . . I mean, I think people are jumping too quickly to certain options, and making him into a symbol of what they want to see happen. I . . . I just don’t know.”
“You may have a point there.” Eli nodded, pursing his lips. “But if you wear a hat, nobody will notice. . . . Seriously, I’ve been thinking a lot of these same things. And that, my friend, brings me to another matter.”
“Yes?” Aaron tried to conceal his apprehension.
The waiter reappeared with the customary solicitous inquiry, “Is everything all right, gentlemen?” The “gentlemen” dismissed him with quick reassurances.
“I probably shouldn’t say anything,” Eli continued. “This is none of my business, but then, fools rush in. Or they roll in. And nobody ever called me Solomon.”
“Martha.” He paused and his expression became serious. “Are you sure?”
“Sure about Martha?” Aaron shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “You know, we’re not really—”
“Come on, Aaron. I may be crippled, but I’m not blind. You wouldn’t be spending so much time with her if you didn’t have something going.”
“So what’s the problem?” Aaron’s friend had unnerved him. Why would Eli want to bring up this subject? “You didn’t seem to have any qualms about it when we talked before church.”
“Timing, my good man. Not the time or the place. But you’re a captive audience now. The problem? Yes, the problem. Well, I see it like this.” He tapped his fork lightly against his plate. “Miss Sorensen is Miss Westminster. Money, class, the élite, the whole 8.226 meters—this is a Russian place. And you, sir—” He jabbed the fork in Aaron’s direction. “You’re a simple country boy. I know, where you come from you’re a sophisticated city boy. But how do you suppose her folks will react if you get too thick with her? They may think of you as a hayseed that just dropped off the turnip wagon.”
I wish I could tell him what Martha’s father seems to think of me. He’s the one who recommended me to Tasker! Aaron held his peace as his friend continued.
“And that ain’t all.” Eli used his fork to push his potatoes into a compact mound. “I’ve got to lay off on these, or I’ll break the suspension on this buggy. . . . I’ve known Martha longer than you. And she’s not the same. You know how it is with some women. When they get into the business world they become all business. They seem driven by something. They used to be—I’ll choose my words carefully—feminine, ladylike, nurturing, whatever.” He glanced quickly at Aaron’s impassive face. “But then they get into a career path, and it all seems to go away. And you add politics to that—thank God we don’t live in the States, they’d give me a free ticket to the euthanasia emporium for saying this,” he finished abruptly.
Aaron grinned. The joke had just enough truth in it to make if frighteningly funny. But he couldn’t admit to Eli that he had noticed the same changes in Martha, and they had bothered him too. His countering question had a defensive edge. “So your point is?”
Eli seemed to weigh his words, then spoke. “Be careful. You’re a good buddy. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”