Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
In our absence, Carl and Nina and Louise have been painting the prayer room where Father will stay during his visit. I wish I could have been here to do it. I spent my summer after high school painting houses and I would have done a much better job. These guys just slapped it on, and that pisses me off a little. There’s nothing to be done about it now, though, so I don’t say anything.
Carl is disappointed by our fundraising result, but to my surprise Suzy defends me. She insists we got snookered by MFT, because South Bend had been fundraised just days before our arrival. Carl doesn’t really care. All he wants is the money, which he can’t wait to spend.
He takes me and Suzy and Nina to a furniture store where he shows us an expensive but hideously tacky black-lacquered, gold-trimmed Oriental style headboard with matching night stands and dresser he has picked out, plus a couple framed prints of Chinese cranes. I wonder to myself: Why not throw in a black velvet painting of Jesus with a crown of thorns for good measure?
I’m further dismayed when I learn the furniture will cost almost everything we made on our fundraising trip, with almost nothing left over. But Carl is excited and has his mind made up, so I watch silently as he hands over our hard-earned cash. We arrange to take deliver the following day.
I thought I’d be excited about Father’s visit, but at the moment I’m distraught over all the repairs needed around the center. Now there’s no extra money to do any of that stuff, and time is running out.
I do the best I can over the next several days, but the fixes are merely cosmetic and I feel bad I am not able to do better for Father. I secretly think the bedroom suite looks satanic, but Carl and the sisters love it. I hold my tongue.
Two days before his expected visit, we're told Father won’t be coming after all. He has decided to go deep-sea fishing down in the Florida Keys. I don’t know whether to celebrate or shoot myself.
A funk immediately settles over us and I deeply desire to have my Pink Floyd tape back. Carl tries to put the best face on it, but he’s the most disappointed of all and disappears for hours at a time into his office. Things soon change, however, with the arrival of a Japanese sister.
Sumiko is one of a small cadre of elder Japanese sisters known as itinerant workers, or IWs, who move around among church centers and MFT teams as morale boosters. The presence of an IW always has an immediate uplifting effect, no matter how miserable the members might feel. In addition, Sumiko is very pretty and I fall head over heels in love with her immediately.
Like all American brothers, I hold Japanese sisters on a pedestal. I regard them as mystical, holy beings who can read my thoughts and communicate telepathically with Father. I imagine that Sumiko will divine my situation and report back to Father how unfair it is that I must live under such a poor leader as Carl.
Having Sumiko here momentarily takes my mind off the daily routine of negativity and recrimination I’ve fallen into during the past two years. Instead she makes me think about marriage and a family, especially the possibility of an Oriental wife. That certainly would make all my suffering seem worthwhile.
As much as I enjoy Sumiko’s presence, Suzy does not. Jealousy is etched all over her wrinkled brown face. Sumiko has temporarily replaced her as the spiritual mother of our home, and Suzy doesn’t quite know how to act. She tries to hide it behind a façade of exaggerated support for Sumiko -- publicly testifying to Sumiko’s deep love for Father, her exemplary life of faith, her sacrificial spirit -- even though Suzy has never met Sumiko before now. We all know it’s bullshit. This is the kind of crap people say when they hate somebody’s guts. Seeing Suzy struggle so much gives me a perverse amount of joy.
To get over this emotional hump, Suzy has undertaken one of the most difficult conditions of all, a seven-day fast. Nothing but water for a full week. It’s only Day Two and already she is weak, ill and grumpy -- made all the more painful by the knowledge that it only gets worse. I’ve done several seven-day fasts, and they’re a bitch. But I always managed to keep going, fundraising and whatnot. I’ve never been totally wiped out like Suzy is now. Then again, she’s a lot older than me.
One evening Sumiko gives us her testimony, recounting how she met and joined the church in Japan some 15 years earlier when she was just a school girl. All of us are seated on the floor Oriental style except Suzy, who is stretched out flat on her back on the sofa, arm draped over her eyes. She’s obviously in a lot of discomfort, like a woman in labor. The week of fundraising aggravated the inflamed disk in her lower back, and fasting has magnified the pain. If she has to go to the bathroom, she crawls slowly across the floor on all fours like a crab, which strikes me as oddly befitting her personality.
I am totally enraptured by Sumiko. My depression over Father’s canceled visit completely evaporates in the presence of this Asian angel. She’s only a couple years older than me, and I’m surprised she is not married yet. As she speaks to us in lilting broken English, I can’t resist undressing her with my eyes and making love to her. My God she is gorgeous.
Sumiko enjoys our attention, but she is far too humble to concede she’s any better than the rest of us, which goes to show how superior she truly is. She assures us she struggles with her fallen nature just as much as we do. This is perhaps the most beautifully told lie I have ever heard. Apparently Suzy isn’t buying it either. She lifts her arm just enough to shoot a glance at the heavenly being before us, then lets it fall heavily back across her eyes with a soft groan.
After everyone else has gone to bed, Sumiko and I sit up in the kitchen, drinking ginseng tea she has brought with her. We don’t often have ginseng in the house because it’s so expensive. It tastes like dirt, but I have acquired a taste for it. It is considered a cure-all in the Orient. I started drinking it on MFT for my legs, not that it helped much. But I’m always happy to drink it anyway, especially because it gives me an excuse to spend ten more minutes with this lovely Japanese sister. Alone.
“How come you’re not married yet?” I ask her.
“I have many chance, but not ready yet I think.” She seems embarrassed by the question. “Soon I think.”
“Well, that brother will be very lucky,” I say, trying to put her at ease again.
“Some sister lucky to have you for husband too. You strong handsome brother.” The word “brother” buzzes off her teeth as “bra-zuh.” I think it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. Her flattery sends me soaring.
“You MFT?” she asks, eager to shift the focus off herself.
“Yes. Until recently. A couple months ago. I’m still getting used to the slower pace of the center. I’m accustomed to being on the go all the time.” Lest I create the impression I’m slacking off, I hasten to add: “Of course, we’re always on the go, too. It’s just different, that’s all. Not quite so intense as MFT.”
She makes a sad smile that simply melts my heart. “Always I am center member. Never I fundraise MFT. Father love MFT bra-zuh and shis-tah very much. You very lucky.”
I don’t feel so lucky. Most of the time I’m miserable and depressed. I tell myself it’s indemnity -- reversing the course of my fallen nature. It’s similar to, but not the same as the Eastern concept of karma. I can’t really explain it. But the practically reality is this: All the evil crap I did in my life before joining the church? Well, I can expect to have to undo all of it -- and a whole lot more on behalf of the world and spirit world. If this is luck, it sucks.
“What wrong,” she asks. “You no like ginseng?”
“The tea is great. I was just thinking I don’t feel so lucky. About being on MFT, I mean. I used to. I was a pretty good fundraiser and team captain. But then something bad happened to me in Texas. Something that wasn’t my fault and shouldn’t have happened. No one believed me and that sort of killed my spirit and I had a nervous breakdown. It took me a long time to pull myself back together. I’m better now, but I’m not the same. I’m still very sad. I lost something valuable, something that was important to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get it back, and that’s a pain that won’t go away. You know how if someone loses a child they never get over it? That’s how I feel. Someone inside me died, and I miss him. I want him back but I know he’s gone.”
Sumiko’s face radiates pure love and genuine concern. Deep midnight eyes convey more compassion than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I am dying to spill my guts across the clean kitchen table. But I can’t. It’s not her problem. I would rather kill myself than tell this beautiful creature such an ugly thing.
“Maybe engagement soon,” she says, hoping to cheer me up.
Ah, yes. The matching. It and the blessing hang out there in the indeterminant future like a giant golden carrot, and that keeps me going day after day. Even stupid oafs like Carl get a wife, and middle-aged hags like Suzy get a husband. But along with the carrot comes the stick, which I feel up my ass all the time.
“Yes,” I say. “But I don’t think I’m eligible yet. I’m still too young.”
“You ask for Japanese wife?”
Her question surprises me, as though any American brother in his right mind might give an answer other than an emphatic yes. So much for my theory about her being able to read my mind. Of course I would never say so, not out loud. After all, that decision is not for me to make. It’s up to God to choose my mate, through Father. So I say what I always say when this comes up: “I only want someone who needs a lot of love. I feel I have a lot of love to give, so anyone is okay. Even an ugly sister shaped like a potato.”
Sumiko giggles like delicate tinkling bells. Her tiny porcelain hand covers her mouth, as all Japanese sisters do when they laugh. Her eyes crinkle beneath gently bouncing bangs as she pictures me marrying a potato. I can’t help but laugh too. It makes me feel so good to have made her laugh like this. She is so adorable I can hardly stand it.
“You great bra-zuh,” she says, and then another fit of giggles overtakes her.
Unlike American sisters who chop off their hair, Sumiko’s flows down her back in a shiny raven river. A tiny wall lamp frames her head in a halo. Her elbows rest upon the Formica tabletop, slender forearms and hands entwined in an exquisite ivory helix. She is smiling. I silently pray to God to let me die right now. I want this to be the final thing I see.