One afternoon a gaggle of kids gathered after school near the church on the corner. Their squeaky voices thundered. There was always a leader.
The church on the corner, though solid, was angular. It gave many locals a fiery feeling. The exterior was made of wood boards painted over. The newest color was peach. The landscape consisted of beds of tiny hydrangeas. The flowers looked too pristine like they were hand painted. The foundation arched and stretched and wooden dowels and post columns were jutted and warped. The design was minimal. Two trees stood side by side on either side of the door. Each was shaved and stripped of branches equal in height from base to middle. They were some kind of pine branch like a salad garnish. There were Asian imitation panels installed by the windows slathered with afterthought tree bark paint.
Neighborhood kids got drawn to the house’s daring mystery. The geometric forms were masterly and forthright and bold compared to most homes. Rumors existed the house was only a figment of imagination. Prim and proper pines always lost needles yet somehow retained them.
The church on the corner looked restless in pale pink light stretching miraculously. The activities inside bustled. The rooster red front door was always partially hidden from the sun. Its top portion had windows that were burning and churning. The bottom became vertical rectangles in direct light.
Albany was used to guarded entrances and white mailboxes. The church had a letterbox nailed crudely beside the front door slathered in tree bark paint. The box up close was horridly jagged riddled in splinters. The door itself looked like dried blood mixed with wet clay. A Chinese paper lamp swayed above with no wind.
On bright days local folks stood on the porch to experience a square block of light running through the pores. They treasured the solitude standing on the safe grid smelling heavy pine—hearing the Chinese lamp creak.
The heavens highlighted the church on the corner. Every street, concrete, home, hill, limb and detail seemed alike. The house was aloof: a hub of magic unknown to many. Its abnormal structure, design and landscape appeared reaching for the sky. It was the great scream house supernatural and wondrous. Laborers got a lift on the peaceful porch and their cramped muscles settled. Some people gossiped about an affable widow ghost.
Mrs. Hiney chuckled at ghost stories. She could be spotted standing before the stoop intersecting the fencelike door. She hated direct sun and preferred admiring the neighborhood half hidden. She beamed like a human healer searching for the mood in a day. She was appropriately pipsqueak hungering to heal. She wanted kids but couldn’t venture further than the porch. She could point out the exact light source. The heart was most likely oblong as the home. She didn’t care for strangers.
Hiney’s church congregation was small and solid like a landmark. The members had quirks for days and Hiney cherished them. She was devoted to strengthening faith and preferred to pray alone. She couldn’t have peace until all members were praying in the living room.
Sunday evenings for Hiney were chain-smoking rituals. Meals were eaten in bed for max comfort.
The colorful churchgoers shared worldly or imagined adventures. Hiney saw photos and etchings from tropical islands. One man boasted seeing Gauguin the painter having drinks. The man wreaked of alcohol and his forehead gleamed sweat pearls. The mustache was overgrown and wizard-like and he boasted Gauguin approved its texture.
Hiney enjoyed greeting her guests but was more interested in stories. She didn’t care to reveal secrets. She felt emptiness in her soul and she prayed that God remold her heart. She made casual conversations with head bobs and chuckles. Hiney seldom spoke. People in church labeled her queen of questions.
Hiney always handed out Chinese church fans. She saw their satin pink wings like miracles. They were peeking out of a throwaway bin in San Francisco. She had seen an Asian grandmother smile and wink later. This woman must have been a spirit.
Hiney looked for God signals. Every soul crossing the house was symbolic. She was a doer and an overachiever and adored watching children behind her half hidden shadow. She could be critical at times, analyzing personal defects. She regarded the musicians in her church as toads and rats. She retreated from her guilt by gazing at single objects. She enjoyed fanning the porch lantern.
Hiney mercilessly hunted insects since church people always left the door open. For comfort she looked at the cuckoo clock in the living room. She felt numb and soft noticing its curves and edges. The clock had a peaceful soul. Hiney was critical of the carved hair on the Bavarian boy. As the figure popped to signal the hour she figured the lad must be gay. She second-guessed her clock. The movements weren’t so peaceful.
Occasionally Hiney extended invitations for tea and treats. She took in groups of schoolchildren. They sat in the living room while she went to swat a fly.
Sunday mornings came quickly. Hiney felt dew and the subtle wet hum of automobiles. A wave of anxiety kept her locked to her bed. She couldn’t budge thinking about possible morning mishaps. A spirit told her rise for the sake of duty. She went through her normal routine: the painful underwear straps snapping, the uncertain lipstick. She was glad the kitchen’s lights were warm.
The prepping started with boiling water. She felt a spirit watching. On the outside the house shifted a bit more vertically. It was screaming but Hiney didn’t notice even though sawdust poured out of warped ceiling planks. She couldn’t blink or breathe thinking of the morning.
Hiney’s God took pity on her determined eyes that were doughy as a cow. Guests would start arriving within the hour. She had the spark of faith moving frantically about.
Mrs. Hiney stood in the small hallway fixing her eyes on a cobweb tucked in the door crack. She felt peace. The web never altered its shape like a crystal. Her underarms were sweating but she didn’t worry. The climate would change soon.
Hiney envisioned the front door bursting with locals like a parade. They smelled of the world. There was a Chinese fellow holding a jade box carved in strange characters.
The cobweb twitched. Hiney thought how her sanctuary should touch the world. The arms caressed the thighs; hands clasped the belly, feet shifted. A strand of hair pinned up like a shell lost its hold falling across the forehead. In a moment a jolly man could appear at the door expecting a greeting.
Supernatural dreams were necessary before a church service. Outside, the world squealed horrendous noises. Hiney couldn’t break the stillness whispering gasps of prayer. She thought the house could shatter and turned for the kitchen. It must have been ninety degrees.
Hiney’s mind was spinning and her hands were frantic: teakettle whistling.
“Where are my cups?” she yelled.
She was dancing around the room like a squirrel. The wind whipped outside and the branches propelled urgency.
Hiney thought she saw a large Chinese man step inside the house. He was grinning in a triple piece. Surely his presence would impress Vasvallo the shrink. Vasvallo had a quality of cool drawing large crowds. Hiney saw him grow his office from living room to guesthouse office with a hydrangea pond. He was in the know on the newest head shrinking techniques. Hiney approached him to hear the latest happenings in town. She remembered him saying a patient mistook her husband for an elephant and fed him peanuts at meals.
Vasvallo shrunk heads by snapping fingers. Well-to-do gentlemen adored him. Hiney prayed heavily to release jealousy and hatred. She could be swept up in Vasvallo’s colorful chaos. He was ungodly strutting about sweet-talking. He always stood at the sofa head extending arms. During sleepless nights Hiney whispered God save his soul. Most of the locals were humble, well off and gossipy but sympathetic. They all flocked whining like sheep to peachy Vasvallo. Hiney prayed to get some time to talk. Her gift was mild prophecy. She figured Vasvallo would shrivel and wrap his arms like a pretzel in intimacy.
The chaotic kitchen tumult needed attending. Hiney refocused desiring a grace filled service. She easily got swept in panic and anxiety. God told her overachieving wasn’t Godly. Yet Hiney created idols. Now her mind was on tea.
Her enormous tea set was handed down.
The church on the corner was a generational place with abundant amenities. Hiney whined there wasn’t enough variation in the parlor. She instructed guests to not bring refreshments, content on letting God and sheer fortitude provide atmosphere. She was convinced burning tea leaves added fragrance. Locals commented on the pleasant charm. Curtains were drawn revealing natural light. They were intoxicating velvet.
The businessman Brodsky draped curtains over his shoulders. Hiney knew he was a drunk. Strange behavior never affected worship. It invited supernatural spirits relieving exhaustion.
During the service Hiney retreated to the kitchen to stare at a painted farmhouse. The prep and business was over. Hiney was detached staring at swells of paint. Her mania subdued. Her limbs and body were feather light. The worship staff was busy. Hiney scarcely remembered names. She was always putting herself through agony.
The same glow in the kitchen was in the living room.
Hiney’s chair was a crucifix. Wooden dowels pierced her back and she didn’t care. She was strong enough to mingle with pain. The kitchen was graced. Hiney toiled to make things perfect.
The refreshments never got finished and the excess tea and crumpets went to the cat.
Hiney favored the saddest strays in the neighborhood. Every day Irma the one legged tabby would skulk by the trash and pace. She had her fill of leftovers.
Hiney’s manic tendencies suited her. A widow’s threshold was boundless entertainment. She had a system for catching mice with peanut butter. She dished them out to Irma.
The church on the corner was like a palace for stray cats.
Hiney froze during the forty-five minute worship service staring at the farmhouse in the kitchen. She worshipped silently meditating in California rays by the window with her messy locks wrapping around the light.
The parlor door contained coffee, tea and wafers in a picnic basket.
High faith prodded and jabbed that house.
During kitchen meditations Hiney daydreamed about street performers from Coney Island and Santa Monica musicians tan as raisins—the gold man in Times Square, carnival underwater boxers. She welcomed all types of people to church with her loving delusions. She wanted her home to be a worship sanctuary with all the comforts of a southern bed and breakfast. Her guests worshipped with merry singing, mingling and reading bible verses. She was the nucleus servant hostess content on sitting in her kitchen.
As a widow she scrutinized the smallest problems. She despised unruly pieces of hair sticking out on the sofa. Maybe it was all drunken Brodsky’s fault. He sometimes would strip all his clothes off standing on the sofa with arms raised.
He adored pestering Prince the parrot.
Prince’s cage was crafted from a custom Brazilian coat hanger. He was an exotic creature ruffling, huddling and scrunching. He looked like Hiney bent over in the kitchen.
Local catholic and Lutheran congregations criticized Hiney. Critics said quit singing secular songs. On a particular Sunday the Hot Cakes Baptist service got interrupted as Hiney’s congregation sang too loudly drowning the choir.
Hot Cakes Baptist was only a few blocks from Hiney’s house. Reverend Creo had a few words to say but left Hiney’s home nourished and hydrated.
Hiney thought enough satisfaction came from celebrating God’s word. Worship was meant to be loud and boisterous. A few toad-like locals tapped keys on the Steinway and bearded bumpkins strummed guitars. Drunk Brodsky insisted on singing She’ll be Coming’ ‘Round the Mountain.
Beyond praising God Hiney’s church searched for joy’s essence. Hiney’s version of joy came from dashing around the kitchen. She would say, “You gotta give ‘em a foundation. Everyone meets each others’ needs.”
God’s words broke down overachieving jealous traits. As chords collided in worship with throats wailing everyone hungered like baby chicks. Hiney was obsessed with baby chicks. She needed a spirit fed atmosphere to enjoy all her kitchen utensils while meditating. Her manic preparations, old soul’s hands and astute posture could be restful when service wasn’t required. Her diligence to guests kept them busy. The wailing voices were spirit fed before eating cakes, scones and other crumbly delicacies. Now peaceful, Hiney would giggle imagining the bearded guitarist with crumbs caught. Potential messes were troubling.
Hiney thought of a scenario involving brash Vasvallo seducing a guest in the living room. Something about the shrink seemed dishonest.
Hiney barely left her house. She would spend the entire week prepping for worship. Vasvallo’s arrogance haunted her even as she contemplated a hairstyle. He always prowled for attention and he was successful. With Vasvallo the circular living room burst with colorful conversations about ancient Greek healing. He would shut up as the word of God got read. Perhaps he figured the human brain doesn’t need spiritual authority. Hiney observed young girls getting drawn to his brash outbursts on healing.
Vasvallo’s style was a combination of flirting and fast speech. Now Hiney in her apron with hands resting on the table felt the finger of judgment. Now Empty-headed, numb from the neck down, a spiritual presence warned she could never be married if the heart pursued hatred.
She scorned Vasvallo thinking he resembled a dopey goose curious for rotten garbage.
China drummed the parlor table clicking and clacking. Hiney heaved every plate, dish and platter. She lit several candles. They were blackberry and absinthe and sweet peaches. She collected these ingredients under candle wax. The olfactive mixture complimented the strong coffee aroma.
There was a rectangular space in the corner of the living room where guests mingled and mussed up cleavage and beards with crumbs.
Hiney anticipated footsteps. Her palms were sweaty. With high faith there would be new visitors. She prayed on the spot with her mouth gaping like a baby chick. She ran to the living room for a few extra seconds. She noticed torn seems and dust clusters and clenched her teeth. The room was abominable. This Sunday there were more mishaps than ever before. Voices chattered by the door. Hiney recognized a few of them. A holy spirit grabbed her soul and released. She was thinking beyond the moment. A local house church expected fine worship today. Communication had to be merry even with the imperfect upholstery, parrot pellets and dust.
The parlor was set up like always. There were picnic baskets filled with King James Bibles. Scriptures got chosen randomly. Boney figures started rhythmically tapping.
Hiney looked forward to her empty kitchen. The only peace she knew was disassociation. The space was empty now stripped of dishes. The painting of the thatched farm cottage glowed differently. The surface was thick enough to trace every stroke with eyeballs.
Hiney’s fragile mind always prevented her from worshipping with her guests. Her anxiety became total isolation. Today her prayers focused on expanding the church’s small living room.
She looked out beyond the Japanese gardens at the field across the street. School kids romped. Another dismal Sunday bid goodbye. Hiney stared until trees blurted out completely and burned away in darkness.
Hiney hummed swaying side to side. She had a vision for owning a proper church house. Of course there were taunting voices. She couldn’t raise the subject with the congregation. She knew they were already merry and content.
Hiney was content to be a hostess. The fragility in her soul made her keep icy distance. She never addressed money matters.
She thought, a bar wench might charm drunken Brodsky into donating. He could whip out checks over shots.
Hiney was knowledgeable about Albany’s hard won boom.
The will burned and churned in her soul. She remained squeamish.
Hiney never addressed tithing. She always surrendered saying the rift was God’s doing.
Tonight the arms were restlessly drumming on the windowsill. The hips swayed.
The dance of spiritual rebirth was part anxious and part soothing. She muttered nonsense prayers. Vasvallo could surely have her committed in this state.
Swaying hips in the dark like a ghost was ideally comforting. Hiney could remain this way from Sunday evening into Monday morning. She couldn’t blink waiting for Herbert’s little joyful self to walk down.
Tonight she heard an unusual buzz. She thought about the insects and how they couldn’t resist a tiny crack in the front door. She battled in prayer regarding them God’s children.
The forehead itched.
If the buzzing caused a bite she’d shatter all compassion.
Standing and humming in the dark made the itching worse. Hiney’s meditation was over. An insect indeed bit her forehead. There was a great white lump with tinier red lumps.
Hiney was aware she took God gifts for granted. She reminded herself that a lumpy head was praiseworthy.
The hour was 2am.