Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 6

(Continued from part five)

As our dinner was pleasantly reaching its conclusion, the telephone rang (it was an old, rotary dial phone) and Dorthea answered it. I didn’t hear much of the conversation, but it sounded like she was talking to an old friend. Micah and I continued talking about the various jobs we had held.

Five or ten minutes later, Dorthea reappeared. She waited until she had Micah’s attention and then addressed him as if what she was saying was of monumental importance.

That was Walter,” she said. “He was led to call a meeting for tomorrow… he said doesn’t know why, but he knows he should do it. I told him we would be there.”

Then she turned directly to me. “We’d like you to come with us. I’m certain that you are the reason.”

The meeting, as it turned out, was at a storefront church called Hosanna Tabernacle. It was on Pulaski just south of Irving Park, next to a tavern. I’d driven past it a hundred times. But if they wanted me to go to this meeting, they obviously expected me to show their friends that I was sent by God. I couldn’t help wondering if I should have left Micah behind on the bus. But either way, here I was, and I’d have to play holy man.

Do they have a decent guitar?” I asked Dorthea almost as fast as the epiphany struck me.

No,” she said, “they have a piano.”

Then I’ll have to buy a guitar tomorrow, before we go.”

They looked confused.

I have songs you really should hear.”

My epiphany was that by singing Bible songs – and I knew a lot of good ones that they couldn’t possibly know – I could eat up the time without having to prove myself doctrinally. So long as I sang the songs reasonably well, I could continue at length. “Singing unto the Lord” was not something they could casually interrupt.

Fortunately, they agreed that this was a fine idea. Shortly after, I started washing the dishes and suggested that we all go to bed. Dorthea ejected me from her sink and set me up in the guest room (like the rest of the apartment it was nearly ancient but pleasant enough), and I was finally by myself.

* * * * *

I tried to keep my mind on the issues at hand and to be calm about it all, because as soon as I was alone, I started to feel excitement. I was back in 1978, in the same time and place where my adult life really began.

I placed my things in the dresser drawers, toddled to the hallway bathroom to floss and brush my teeth, wash my face, and so on. My excitement was still there as as I got back to my room and closed the door behind myself, but something else was rising in me, and that was a need to sleep. I had slept less than half a night in 2018 (which seemed to transfer), followed by an intense day. I was beat.

Still, I lay in bed for some time, my thoughts drifting to the things – the somewhat uncomfortable things – I had just agreed to, especially that I had signed on to play holy man at a storefront church. This was not something I would pick, but it was all but imperative; if I didn’t do it I’d be crushing, maybe killing, two kind and desperate ninety year-olds. And that I could not do.

I comforted myself by acknowledging that playing holy man really wouldn’t require me to be terribly false. I’ve always had a strong spiritual bent, and letting go with that, singing songs that I rather liked, would be quite enough for these people. They’d interpret it wrongly from my perspective, but so what? It wasn’t my job to be some kind of doctrinal policeman. It was my job to impart something to them, and I was pretty sure I could do that.

* * * * *

I woke to the sound of a percolator, something I hadn’t heard for a long time. I lay there soaking in the feel of 1978. And there was a specific feel to it… it was mixed with my memories of 1978 of course, but it was a separate entity of itself. I lay there, feeling it, until the percolator stopped. Then I crawled out of bed.

I cleaned up, shared a cup of coffee with Dorthea, then a piece of coffee cake and another coffee with Micah. We agreed that I’d take the day to myself, then go with them to Hosanna Tabernacle (Hosanna Tab was what they called it) in the evening. My thought was to take a taxi to Evanston, sit in a diner I knew, read my letter, start formulating my plan, then buy a good used guitar. I’d easily be back in time.

Dorthea and Micah would putter around the house all day, which seemed fitting, given their ages.

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Paul Rosenberg