By Krista Genevieve Farris
It’s just an old white stucco-covered house on North Loudoun Street, greying and overcrowded. There’s no lawn, just an endless pad of cement from street to a cinderblock porch that’s been painted forest green. I see it every day.That’s my view.
The paint can’t mask the drab. It makes me mad.
When our crepe myrtles bloom, purple blossoms dress the view. And I have to position myself just right to see that ugly porch with the mismatched chairs and random residents chewing their nails and nodding to no one.
In spring, the buds bulge.
I peek my head outside to get the mail. It’s always ads and bank statements
these days—nothing personal. And a man in an alb and a tasseled cincture genuflects, kneels down on that hard porch.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Raises a chalice,
a real churchy chalice.
I duck my head and hold-up two fingers “Peace” then double-lock my door.
Summer comes, a hazy blur obscured by ivies, humidity and pollution. No glorious view of the Blue Ridge. Just days spent on the porch with my son, his lemonade stand, biting insects and the dander of stray cats that makes me itch and sneeze and leaves me cranky.
The priest guy wants a cup of lemonade, opens our iron gate and hands my 6-year-old 10 bucks.
“Keep the change,” he suggests.
I think he can’t or shouldn’t spare the change. I don’t want it.
“No,” I say.
My son takes it.
The man sits down. Dry white flakes fall from the wicker and settle under the chair. He rambles about God and grad school days and then talks incoherently about God some more. He flits and drones and eventually leaves.
I tell my son there are too many mosquitoes on the porch the next time he wants to sell lemonade. We wait out the doldrums indoors. I say I’m scared of West Nile and for some reason he believes me.
Thanksgiving – the leaves rain from the crepe myrtle and cushion our walk. The guy’s cleric robe is grey at the hem from his constant pacing on the treeless sidewalk across the street. Back and forth and back again – barefoot- he sucks an endless cigarette smoking out one last stand of mosquitos. He is bald.
Someone yells something indiscernible from a car window.
He screams, “Don’t fuckin’ talk about Jesus fucking Christ like that.”
I slide on the hem of my yoga pants while racing to my window to see.
A woman walking by on the sidewalk asks him
His face is soft and pink. He smiles a gentle closed-mouth smile,
“Why do you ask?”
He takes a drag off his cigarette nub. Leaves it between his lips, clasps his hands behind his back, bows his head, turns away and paces.
Cigarette smoke hangs over that damn porch across the street like a funky cloud of incense by mid-December. A barefoot woman with a buzz cut chain smokes in union with him. I don’t care for her. I really don’t like her being there adding to the haze.
Each Tuesday afternoon at two, after his social worker leaves and the Christian radio station stops preaching on his old boom box and starts playing music, he starts mass.
Every Tuesday he rises from his chair, takes his chalice and walks a few steps away from the porch. Then he walks back, sits down and lights two cigarettes. He hands one to the woman. The two of them sit and smoke- inhaling and exhaling- synchronized for a couple of hours. This goes on for days – this ritual.
Then, she starts rising with him and holds a cup through each mass, following behind him. She kneels in front of him at the porch and offers the cup.
She trades her jeans for a long dress and the processional lengthens. Her buzz cut hair is now completely shorn. She’s bald like him.
They cross the street toward me.
I wonder if they can feel my eyes through the window pane.
My son asks me what I’m doing. I say I’m just drinking a cup of tea and tell him to go color in a book.
The next week they come even closer to my home during their processional. They cross the street to the sidewalk right in front of my house, then veer north until they land on the porch of the abandoned house next door to mine. They turn east, kneel together to pray.
I’m a little pissed by the audacity- the trespass.
I’m sure they feel me. I’ve been staring too long, frozen in my turret window.
I shouldn’t or should look away? I look down.
I see the frayed hem on his robe. I feel dirty.
My husband asks me what I did today.
Nothing, I say, nothing. Why can’t I say?
It’s a New Year, the beginning of the end of the end of the beginning, and he’s wearing black pants and a black leather jacket and she’s wearing a sweater and a short skirt, her hair is growing, and they’re walking arm-in-arm on the south end of town. I’m in my minivan waiting for them to move it along at a crosswalk- no chalice at that cross. “Move, fucking move,” I mutter.
“What Mommy?” says a little voice behind me.
Oh God, did I say that out loud?
Leap day he sits beside her empty chair.
The plastic seat cracked in the cold.
He’s in jeans
robeless, shoeless, sockless, shirtless
He looks toward my house.
I know he sees me
he feels me
sitting at the windows.
A crisp draft breathes at me from under a sill.
Snow dusts the tops of his feet. He rises,
walks past my house
finally out of my sight.
When I go to meet my son at his bus stop, a neighbor asks if I know anything about a guy dressed like a priest. I shrug. She says the man paused to pace at this school bus stop at the corner of West Avenue and “what’s up with these creeps anyway? Has the whole world lost its mind?” So she called the police, who followed his footprints down the sidewalk to our alley, into a snow-covered shed.
The man sat in the corner
with some feral cats and
rose peacefully when
they said “come.”
The silence he left is mine
to hear, the empty porch,
my desolation –
his footprints – an order
to witness this gentrification
I think- if it has a pretty,
rational name, I will be safe from
this purgatory, predatory,
paranoid neighborhood watch.
Krista Genevieve Farris likes the liminality offered by a prolonged sit at a window. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her husband and three sons. Krista has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Change from Indiana University and a BA in English and Anthropology from Albion College. Her recent writing can be found on the Brain,Mother blog, Gravel, Literary Mama, Cactus Heart, The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, The Literary Bohemian, The Screech Owl and elsewhere. Please visit her writer’s website – https://kristagenevievefarris.wordpress.com/