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Chapter 34 In what seemed like just a few days the summer was over.

Nixon had resigned, tears in his eyes, and flown off to San Clemente. Gerald Ford, about whom most of us knew only that he had an interesting wife, a pretty daughter, and a hound of a son, became president. The summers mathematics, like its politics, had gotten less and less rooted in reality, but the math was a lot of fun. Then all of a sudden the summer was over and we were loading up Stoneys car. Like everything else that feels like it should last forever, it didnt. Oddly, there was lots less stuff to put in the car on the way back than there had been on the way down. Partly this was because Stoney had given his piranha and both aquaria to Clarence, a gift that did not seem to please Clarences mother, and partly because, being sober, or at least not stoned, Stoney had managed to organize his clothes into two suitcases and a box. Why this should take up less space than the other configuration was not immediately obvious to me. Clarence was watching glumly as we packed the car and Stoney was promising to visit and write letters. I dont get it, I said. What dont you get, Henry? asked Mrs. W. Why Stoneys stuff takes up so much less space than it did three months ago. Because its organized, she said, lighting a Benson & Hedges. So? I said. Its the same mass. Yes, but its organized, she said. I made him wash it all, and because hes got a pretty buttoned-down brain, he folded it all so it wouldnt wrinkle and put it away. Its all in neat stacks. A lesson you could pick up, a little, she said. I keep my stuff clean and neat, I said, surprised and a little defensive. Yes, you do but you dont really own much stuff, so you dont need to organize it particularly well to fit it in a suitcase. This is, well, partly, anyway, because your wardrobe may be just a little bit limited. Really? How so? Well, you really dont own much that you couldnt wear to change the oil in your car. Eventually youre going to need slacks and blazers and real shirts and ties and stuff, but you dont really need it now because of the way you kids are dressing. Stoney has

some of that kind of stuff, although he generally wears it in non-traditional ways. He also folds his tee shirts and jeans in a pleasingly ordered way. Lets get back to the other issue, I said. She cocked an eyebrow at me but smiled. Why is it that a mass thats organized occupies less space than a mass thats less organized? Im not sure I even know what organized means in this context. In my defense, I was aware that, outside of Mrs. Ws presence, Stoney was an unpredictable if engaging hellion who might do anything at any moment and so I was having trouble with her characterization of his brain as buttoned down, but I still think I had a point. Okay, she said. Imagine the Sunday paper. Got it, I said. Will it fit into that box next to the car? There was a smallish box next to the left rear wheel of Stoneys car. It had an image of a moving van in orange and book box in black letters. Sure, I said. How much of the volume of the box would you say would be occupied by the Sunday paper? I dunno. Less than ten percent. Maybe less than five. Youre imagining the paper flat, as its delivered, as youd find it in the driveway if you were ever up early enough to go get it, she said, taking a drag and tapping her cigarette ash into the azaleas. Yes, maam, I said, with a quizzical expression. Imagine yourself sitting in a chair with that box at your feet, taking every sheet of that Sunday paper, wadding it up into a ball and tossing it into that box. Would the entire paper fit into the box, my sweet brilliant chump? No, maam, I guess not. Youre going to run into this over and over again. Disorganized things take up more space than organized things, and make it harder to tell whats going on. You can wad up paper to cushion your glassware when you move but it makes it harder to see whats in the box. The same principle applies to Stoneys tee shirts, to transport of crops and fuel by rail, to legal briefs, to politicians speeches and to your money. Which is doing fine, buy the way. But somebody who doesnt know what he thinks will take twice as long to express himself as someone who does. Free molecules bouncing around as a gas take up many orders of magnitude more volume than those same molecules bound

into a liquid or a solid. The atoms in a diamond take up less volume than the same atoms lying around as soot. Okay. If you organize yourself, you will occupy much less time and space. Youll waste less. Okay, I said. I had no idea what she meant, but she was almost always right. You have no idea what Im talking about, do you? she asked. Stoney was handing Clarence a card with his college address and phone number written on it. No, maam. She lit a new cigarette and watched Stoney take down Clarences address, on a dollar bill, which he folded and placed in his billfold somewhere other than the bill compartment. You find Clarence irritating, she said. Yes, maam. Doesnt everyone? No. Stoney doesnt, at all. I do, but not like you do. What youre reacting to is the fact that he just gloms on to the last thing he heard as the best thing the world has ever come up with. I thought about that for a few seconds. Well, he does that, for sure, I said. Thats the adolescent intellectual version of the Sunday paper fitting into the cardboard box, she said. All those ideas rattling around like that with no intellect sorting through them they take up so much space. But hell settle down. Stoney sees that and connects to it. Youre out there on your own. I wasnt sure what to make of this. Im sorry, I began. Oh, heavens, nothing for you to apologize for, she said. I was just trying to give you a frame of reference. I like you, so I guess I I talk to you like I talk to myself. But did you notice that when Stoney organized Clarences thoughts for him, when he told Clarence he was playing with puzzles he was doing math at four to five years above grade level? And the last few crosswords were mostly in German. I wondered what they were talking about, I said. Stoneys brain is organized like a mathematicians but he still has something big to work out, I think. But inside here she tapped her temple, hes sorted through a lot already.

And you dont think I have? I didnt say that, exactly, but I think you changed from being a hustler to being a student in a very short period of time, and youre trying to deal with school like it was a series of pool sharksyoure sizing things up all the time. It works, but I dont think you think much about what you feel. Thats where most people start in this day and age, and if it feels good they give themselves permission to go ahead. On the one hand, I find your resistance to the hedonism of the day refreshing, on the other hand, you may be missing something. I was a little taken aback. Oh, dont worry about it. I just like you, so I worry about you. Thanks, I said. Stoney and Clarence returned to the front porch. From somewhere in Stoneys possessions hed produced two martial arts-style belts. Stoney was wearing a red one and Clarence was wearing a black one, both neatly tied. Well, chief, I think its time to hit the dusty trail, said Stoney, probably to me, but he was wearing his dark aviator shades and I couldnt see where he was looking. You boys come back any time. Together or as unbonded ions, said Mrs.W. Stoney gave her a hug. Both of them had cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, but somehow nothing caught fire. She held out her arms to hug me, something wed never done before, but it would have been more awkward not to than to do so, so I hugged her back. I will admit I was worried about the cigarette close to my ear. Stoney and Clarence were involved in a lengthy, multi-step handshake. See ya, little buddy, he said. Later, Clarence, I said. He waved to us, but seemed too choked up to talk. We walked to the car without saying much. I had the keys. It looked like we were going to get to Nashville by lunchtime. Ill drive, said Stoney. How much have you had to drink? I asked. Nothing, said Stoney, a little indignantly. I gave him a few seconds to think. Well, I sweetened my coffee with a little brandy. Each cup, I said. Well, yeah, but thats not much. And then I guess when I was packing there was so little Cuervo in the bottle it seemed dumb to pack it so I drained that and threw the bottle away. Just to save space. And arent you going to want to have a drink on the way? I asked. He looked at his wristwatch.

Yeah, I guess so, he said. He shrugged and got into the passenger seat. We waved and pulled out of the driveway. Mrs. W looked proud but sad, Clarence looked heartbroken. Clarence really likes you, I said, as we pulled away. Yeah, well, hes smart, but the other kids dont like him and he hasnt connected with his teachers. They think hes a problem and he doesnt get any of the gifted kid attention. Hell settle down this year and get better grades in a few subjects and teachers will start to notice how smart he is. In math? I asked. Math may be kind of dull for him for a few years. Hes good with literature, too. He reads faster than you think. I told him how to game literature classes. His teachers are going to love it. How do you game a literature class? I asked. You look for a symbolic subtext in everything you read, from the stupidest, which I would say is Shirley Jackson, based on my high school literature reading, to the most sophisticated, which is Shakespeare. If an author force-feeds the symbolism, like maybe T.S. Eliot, you just make like you think hes a genius and not plodding and pedantic and over-wrought. Gack. Literatures easy. You just have to know what the teachers looking for. We were about to pull onto the freeway. There was a long acceleration ramp. There, about halfway up, was Ed Bork, with his right thumb out in the recognized gesture, a miniature American flag stapled to a quarter-inch dowel in his left hand, and a large aluminumframed Boy Scout backpack at his feet. Of course I stopped. Stoney rolled down his window. Howdy stranger, he said. Want a drink? Ed smiled in a tolerantly Christian way. Hello, Stoney. Hello Henry, he waved at me. No, but if youre heading north, Id like a ride, if its not too much trouble. We are. No trouble, I called out to be heard over a truck passing us. Hop in. He picked up his backpack, which seemed to be heavy, Stoney opened his door and folded down his seat to let Ed in, and Ed wrestled his pack into place on the back seat then climbed in and sat next to it. Stoney returned to his seat, closed his door, then scooted his seat up a few inches to give Ed more room. Thanks guys, I really appreciate this, Ed said.

Where you headed? asked Stoney. I presumed he was not asking me. He lit a Winston.1 Not sure. North, though, said Ed. I merged onto I-24 and nobody said anything for a while. So are you on a sabbatical? Stoney asked. There was a pause. I couldnt quite see Ed in the rear view mirror. Whats a sabbatical, exactly? Ed asked. A hiatus? Stoney suggested. Sorry. Dont know hiatus, either, Ed said. He shifted slightly in his seat and I could see most of his face in the rear view mirror some of the time. He had a kind of glum expression. He hadnt shaved for a week or so and had a kind of flamenco goatee growing in, with very sparse whiskering on the rest of his cheeks and jaw. A vacation? asked Stoney, tapping his cigarette ash into the Volvos front seat ashtray. Im sorry, said Ed. Are you asking me if Im on vacation? he asked Stoney. He was confused, not irritated. Well, sorta, said Stoney. You were all strong on the Vine Road Jesus Community last time I talked to you, he said. Yeah, sure, said Ed. And so are you still? There was a really long pause. More than a minute. No, Ive left the Vine Street Christian Community. For now. I couldnt see him in the rear view mirror. The seconds ticked by. I dont think I fit in there, he said. Another long pause. We were well past Moccasin Bend before he said anything more. Stoney had turned sideways in the passenger seat so he could look at Ed, and was tapping his cigarette ashes into the Volvos ashtray. I really liked all the positive energy. All the teamwork, Ed said, eventually. There was another long pause. We were almost into Georgia. I was raised by my grandmother. Shes Catholic. They were always telling me what to do. I didnt like it. Gramma could get me to school and church and all, but I was a lot of trouble. I got into witchcraft mainly to piss her off, I think. It was mean. I shouldnt have done it. But once you get into it, witchcraft actually makes a lot of sense. There arent many other witches in Chattanooga, so its not like we were going to start a

In 1972 people thought it was okay to light up a smoke in a confined space when non-smokers were present. Of course, smokers were a higher percentage of the population then, and it was Stoneys car, but still.

revolution or something. Most of the people wholl tell you theyre witches are big girls who like wearing capes. But Gramma made me go through parochial school and put me in Notre Dame High and I was going to church and all but then one of the nuns heard I was doing witchcraft and they threw me out. So I showed up at City High in the middle of junior year. Not a good way to start. I wondered about that, I said. Jack and Joe showed up from Baylor, and some other guys from McCallie, and the rumor was they all got thrown out for drugs. Sorry, but I assumed that was your story too. Oh no need for an apology. I did do a lot of drugs. Especially after Gramma died. She died? Oh, jeez, thats awful, said Stoney. What happened? She pissed me off so I cast a spell on her, said Ed. What? She really was a pain in the as, said Ed. Wait. So you killed her? asked Stoney. Depends on who you believe, Ed said. Ill confess, and have confessed to Jesus and anybody else who will listen that I cast a spell on her and meant to do her harm. I feel kind of bad about that now, but a man can only take so much nagging. I cant fucking believe you killed your grandmother! said Stoney. So you believe in witchcraft? asked Ed. No. Not at all, said Stoney. All I did was cast a spell on her. She had a heart attack all by herself. I was off with a girl in Mentone at the time. But to believe I killed her you have to believe in witchcraft and you just said you didnt. I need drugs for this, Stoney said. There was another long pause. Minutes. Whyd you leave Vine Street? I asked. You know, when I first started talking to them they were all so full of good will and cheerfulness. They were all working so hard. They all had this message about how I needed to open myself to the Gospel. When I was growing up there was this deal where the church hierarchy told you what to believe and how to experience your religion through all these different rituals and things you were supposed to do. But here were

these people who were telling me to interact directly with the Word of God. It was exhilarating. Exciting. No barrier between me and God. A religion based on personal experience. My conversion. Personal revelation. If God is revealing Himself to each of us through His gospel, then I am partaking of God directly from God. What could be better than that? he said. So you cast a spell asking demons to kill your grandmother? asked Stoney. Something like that, Ed answered. But the idea of directly connecting to the living God was almost, like, intoxicating. You cant imagine what its like to feel directly tapped into the omnipotent force at the center of the universe. I feel that all the time, said Stoney. Im usually pretty fucked up at the time, of course. So what happened? I asked. Didnt anyone ever tell you its impolite to quiz people about their religion? Stoney asked. Hed reached around to rummage through a box in the back seat and returned with a quart bottle of Jack Daniels. Any coffee? he asked. Theres a Thermos in the back seat, I said. Ed handed it up. Stoney uncapped the Jack Daniels and was about to pour some straight into the Thermos. Wait, I said. I want a cup. Stoney shrugged and was about to pour me a cup into the cup-shaped plastic cap when Ed leaned forward with a larger yellow enameled cup. Wow, said Stoney. Whered you find this? It was on the seat, Ed said. It was my great-grandmothers, Stoney said. Theres some kind of pioneer story that goes with it. Not a Conestoga wagon but that same kind of shit. My mom was mad as hell when I lost it. He peered at it like a pawnbroker looking at a gold-plated wedding band. Looks pretty clean, Henry. Okay? I handed him my handkerchief. Wipe it out for me if you dont mind, I said. He sighed deeply. Talk about a fussy asshole, said Stoney, but he polished it up. How do we know this handkerchief is any cleaner than my great-grandmothers cup? That handkerchief has been riding around in those jeans right next to your ass for God knows how long. Im just gambling that its cleaner than the shoes of everyone whos sat in the back seat of your car since you lost it, I said. He poured me a cup of gratifyingly hot

coffee and topped off the Thermos with whiskey. He replaced the stopper briefly to shake the jug, then proceeded to sip straight from the jug. So where were we? Stoney asked. I think you were telling Henry that it was impolite to ask me about my religion, said Ed. Oh, right. What were you thinking? Stoney said to me, crossly. Were you raised in a barn? What did you ask, anyway? asked Stoney after a pause. I have no idea, I said. We were passing the exit where the Highway Patrol office was, where I got my first drivers license. I took a sip of coffee. It was cooling fast in the metal cup. What did he ask? Stoney asked Ed. I think the question was So what happened? which I think was his way of asking me why Id left the Vine Street Christian Community. Oh, okay, said Stoney, taking a slurp from his Thermos. He thought for a minute. Okay, so what happened? I guess the problem is that I thought I was getting into this because of the personal revelation thing. If you think about it, what Jesus tells us to do is to buy into the whole Christian trip personally. We have to personally accept Jesus Christ as our lord and savior. I really like the personal revelation deal. I found the whole idea that God had chosen to reveal Himself to me personally very appealing. Okay said Stoney. I know it seems funny, but when I was a little kid my mother sang this song to me and here he sang: Jesus loves the little children All the little children of the world Red and yellow, black and white Theyre all equal in His sight Jesus loves the little children of the world. Stoney looked at me quizzically. People sang this song in your youth? he asked me. Yeah, sure, I said. In Tennessee?

All over. Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida. I dont remember California well enough to say. Sorry for interrupting, said Stoney. So as a kid you liked the idea that Jesus loved you. Yes, very much. I also liked the idea that Jesus was nice. Makes sense. But what started to worry me abut Vine Street Christian Community was that they didnt seem to want me to be personally experiencing Jesus at all. Usually when I did they told me I was going off in the wrong direction. It was like they wanted me to have this personal conversion experience, but they wanted me to have it in the way they wanted me to have it. It was weird. There was this thing we did like every week, or maybe it was every few days. It was hard to tell. I was working like eighty hours a week at the Yellow Deli and then when I was back at the house I wanted to sleep a lot, but generally we had a lot of Community stuff to do, and one of those was this thing called Critical Mass. Theyd get us all in this room and wed talk about how we thought the others in the group were performing. When they explained it to me they said the idea was to encourage each other to be good Christians, but really what they were talking about was whether you were a good member of their particular little group. Whether you were working hard enough at the deli, putting enough hours in. One girl got in trouble because she didnt move all of her inheritance into the Communitys hands. It was weird, some of the time. You didnt like it that they were grasping? Stoney asked. Grasping? asked Ed. Trying to take away your possessions, he said, taking a gulp from his Thermos. Oh, no. I had nothing. What did I care? What I didnt like was that I wasnt supposed to be asking questions. I was just supposed to accept the Word of God as they delivered it to me. See, what Id liked was that God was showing Himself to me, this whole one-on-one trip, but what they were telling me was that I shouldnt rely on the personal part of it so much once Id connected with them, that it was far more important that I do what they told me to do than to think for myself. Or even to point out problems. Once in Critical Mass they were explaining where the name had come from and they said theyd borrowed the term mass from the Catholics, which they said was a ceremony where the participants did a soul-searching examination of themselves, or something like that. I raised my hand and said thats not exactly what mass was and I didnt even get to say why before I wash shushed and told that it was unseemly for me to be questioning Community teachings that way. So far as I can tell, they dont have a lot of Catholics in the Community. I may have been the first. I seemed to be the only one around that day.


To be stifled that way must be very frustrating, Stoney said. My grandmother was lots worse. But the deal was that they didnt want me to think much. Which seemed to me to mess with the whole personal revelation thing. Once in one of those meetings somebody asked me why I was so worried about being taught, rather than just figuring it out for myself. They were saying that the Bible was all perfect and everything. And the only thing I could think of to say was that when I was in high school everybodyd told me Shakespeare was this genius good writer, and Mrs. McCrary and Mrs. Johnson made us memorize all these verses and stuff. But I bet if you sat down and you tried you could pick and choose lines from Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth2 and then stitch them together to tell a completely different story that didnt have anything to do with any of those plays. Sure, said Stoney. Add Othello, too. Whats Othello? asked Ed. The Moor of Venice, said Stoney. Whats that? asked Ed. Never mind. So you think you could put lines from Shakespeare together to make a different play? asked Stoney. Sure. Anybody could, if he had some time. But the Community people didnt like me saying that. They said that I didnt have to worry about somebody stitching together Bible verses into a different story than Jesus meant because our leaders were so tight with Jesus that there was no way theyd make that kind of mistake. I had to trust them, to have faith that we were on the right path. Ed didnt say anything for the next few minutes. I finished my coffee and placed Stoneys great-grandmothers cup on the console between the two front seats. Stoney drank down some more of his coffee. Judging from the angle of the Thermos as he drank, he was getting towards halfway through with the jug. Isnt that what everybody thinks? asked Ed. Whats that? asked Stoney. That you should trust their particular leaders, their particular interpretation of the scriptures. Dont all religions think theyve come up with the One True Way? Pretty much, I said. Maybe except for the Unitarians, Stoney said. They seem to think that even they are wrong.

Why isnt it MacBeth, anyway? Ive got some cousins named McBeth, for that matter.


Yeah, so, I was looking for personal revelation, and I got shoe-horned into being told what to do and what to think. It was my grandmother and her priest with no costume. I have to take my personal conversion experience the way some other guy tells me to. And he seems to be a guy that doesnt show up for Critical Mass that much. Im taking somebody elses word for the fact that he really knows what hes talking about and God has chosen him as His messenger. Thats the Pope. That wasnt what I was going for. Once youve done nine hits of Purple Haze and fucked a majorette youre looking for an intense kind of religious experiencegoing straight for the mind of God. I understand completely. I think. Majorette? asked Stoney. Being fed Jesus in spoonfuls and told to toe the line isnt the kind of personal experience I was looking for, anyway, said Ed. I still want to find a group that lets me personally experience Jesus. Thats what Paul talked about. Not in the pastoral letters, I said. Stoney looked at me in frustration. Henry, what in the fuck are you talking about? Hes right, said Ed. What? asked Stoney. St. Paul has a lot of letters that go in a different direction. Its almost as though somebody else wrote Timothy. And Second Thessalonians. They just dont tell the same story as most of the books, Ed said. And whats up with Hebrews? I asked. Shut the fuck up, Henry. What were you saying, Ed? And dont forget to explain about the majorette. I was getting to what I liked about St. Paul was that hed been one kind of person then he had this conversion experience on the road to somewhere Damascus, I said. Stoney frowned at me. I aimed the car at a mile marker and he made an apologetic gesture. Damascus, right. So what I wanted was to have the scales fall from my eyes and then have this intense personal relationship with Jesus. One on one. Personal conversion. But instead, I had this extreme born-again experience then all these people started telling me what to do. Not Jesus. All these other people. And if I read the Bible and had questions, they all told me to shut up and listen. Not what I was looking for. What was the deal with the majorette? asked Stoney.


Jessica. Long blonde hair. She was very sweet, Ed said. Youre saying you had sex with Jessica Chester? I asked. On acid. Yeah. It was intense, said Ed. Wow. So about the witchcraft deal, said Stoney. Howd that work? Its hard, Ed said. There arent many practitioners in Chattanooga. Or even in Tennessee, so far as I could tell. I bought some books, and there were some books on Magick in the library, but it was hard to put together. A lot of the popular books are pretty stupid, and Aleister Crowley is all about himself. One of the problems with Magick is that theres not really a Bible. Im not sure it really matters, though, because the Bible is all about Jesus and Paul, and in Magick theres not really a Jesus or a Paul. Theres not a story about people that led to this strange ritual that we do every Sunday, like there is with Christianity. Anyway, the big weakness with Magick and witchcraft is that theres all this elaborate ritual, but no real explanation of why it works. Spirits? asked Stoney. Yeah, maybe, said Ed. Nobody really talks about what a spirit might be, though, or why it is that a high school kid and some naked cheerleaders might be able to make it want to do something. Say I chant something in a language I dont understand. Is there some reason that would make a spirit wake up and do what I wanted it to do? At the end of the day, it didnt make a lot of sense. Did you say naked cheerleaders? asked Stoney. Its not like you understand what youre doing with witchcraft. Even if you find a really thorough book, alls it tells you is what incantation to say and what youre supposed to do in the ritual. It doesnt explain why any of this stuff works. Crowley is big on adding sex to everything, and thats always fun, but why should getting laid make your spell more likely to come true? He says it releases some kind of energy that you can learn to harness, but it doesnt really make much sense. So what kind of spells did you cast? Stoney asked. Oh, all kinds of stuff. To pass my history test. To fix the radiator on Grammas car. I told you about Grammas heart attack. To have some money in time for my date wit Allison. To have Abbie fall in love with me. You know, just stuff. Abbie who? I asked. Stoney frowned at me but drained his Thermos. Abbie Norman, he said. Abbie Norman the cheerleader? I asked.


Yeah, sure. Shes very sweet. Cheerleaders seemed to be very susceptible to the dark arts. Christ on a crutch, said Stoney. Dont take the Lords name in vain, please, said Ed. I dont remember hearing anybody talk about you dating Abbie Norman, I said. We had to hide it from her parents, Ed said. Because you were a witch? asked Stoney. No Ed answered. Because you killed your grandmother? asked Stoney. No, Ed said. Why, then? asked Stoney. Because I was a Catholic, Ed said. Oh, for Christs sake, said Stoney. Did you cast a spell on Mrs. Wertheimer? I asked. No. You know, I meant to, but before I got to it Abbie took me to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting and I got saved. Besides, isnt Mrs. Wertheimer still up and around? Waitwhy did you get saved? You were a witch, I said. He thought for a minute before answering. Honestly? he asked. Sure, said Stoney. Abbie got saved first and told me she was going to cut me off if I didnt accept Jesus as my personal savior. I was kind of going through the motions that first few days, then I met somebody from Vine Street. Once school ended I wasnt sure where I was going to live. They sold Grammas house. The Vine Street guys took me in. And like I said, they just had this happy enthusiasm about the whole Jesus deal. Plus, Abbie got all worried about not repenting the lusts of the flesh, so I got cut off anyway.


Is it more comfortable being a Christian than a Satanist? Stoney asked. I was never a Satanist. Anton LaVey is a gibbering idiot and incapable of telling the truth. Stoney and I looked at each other and shrugged. Besides, nobody would worship Satan. Thats just dumb. But what I like about Christianity, or what I thought I liked about it, seems a little harder to find than I thought. But all that casting spells and incantations and stuff, you were okay with all of that black cat kind of stuff? Stoney asked. I dont know why people get so hung up on that. I would get together with some friends and cast a spell that would help a girl do good on her SATs. Or to make it rain the night of the Hi-Y Clubs outdoor party. Or to make it snow in April when I didnt have my term paper ready. Catholics are always praying for specific things. If Im not mistaken, the Vine Street guys were praying for something bad to happen to Pastor Ben Hayden because he was preaching against them. I dont understand how it is that Christians praying for God to intervene in current events in some really, really specific way is any different than me asking some different kind of spirit to do the same thing after a different kind of ritual. Did all that stuff happen? Stoney asked me. I remember it snowed in April one year, I said. I dont know about the rest of it. Why the Hi-Ys? I asked. They were a bunch of jocks. All jerks. Plus Abbie used to date the president and he was mean to her. Ed, I said, How do we know youre not making this all up? Is there any way to objectively verify any of what youre telling us? Have I ever lied to you Henry? How would I know? Its not nice to accuse someone of dishonesty, Henry. Especially when you have no reason to believe hes not telling the truth. I could see his face in the mirror again and he looked hurt. I mean no offense, I said. But some of this is pretty wild. Kids talk about whos dating who all the time and I never heard anybody say you were going out with Abbie or Jessica. I didnt really date Jessie, he said. That was kind of a one-weekend fling. But I never heard about any of this, I said.


Henry, you werent really the most socially connected guy, he said. Plus I found Jesus and everything. Renounced my sinful ways. So? Lying would be sinful. Ive moved on from Vine Street, but that doesnt mean Im a sinner like you and Stoney. Yeah, right. Still, I dont have a lot of ways to connect any of what youre saying with things Ive seen with my own eyes. Well, if youre ever close to Abbie, she has a little birth mark in the small of her back shaped like a little mitten, he said. He seemed to sigh wistfully. Ah, shit, said Stoney. Like Michigan? No, the other way, he answered. Thumb on the left. We got off the freeway at the Nashville exit. We left Ed there to thumb further north. He strapped on his backpack and took out his little American flag. He waved and smiled. Thanks again, guys, he said, and walked for the light. No, I have no idea how much of what he said was true. When Stoney got out of the car to let Ed out, I noticed that he was still wearing his red martial arts belt.