JOSEPH WATCHED CASE UNDRESS
on the bluff overlooking the still surface of the rock quarry. Case removed his shirt, then his shoes and socks. He planted his feet on the weathered rock at the edge and leaned over to peer into the water below. The sun was directly overhead, and a breeze riffled through the sycamores lining the old factory road. Case’s chest was a white-marble tone, and the line on his arms where his tan began made him look like a painting someone had only half finished. He removed his watch and tossed it onto the pile. It landed with a click, striking the plastic LDS tag upon which his name was spelled out in white letters. Joseph sat behind him in the dirt of the road, next to the two bikes and a parked van, studying Case’s outline against the blue sky.
“Not only does the Mormon Church offer salvation,” Case was saying, “but in addition to your salvation package, you receive a principality in the kingdom of God.” He smiled over his shoulder, then pulled his belt out of its loops and tossed it onto the pile. “Which sure beats the living arrangements you have now, Claude.”
Claude was sitting on the bumper of the van, its back doors thrown open to reveal a stained mattress and sheets, across which was scattered several water-stained romance novels. His face was framed by wiry gray hair that extended down his jaw and collected under his chin, and he was trying to roll a joint on the frayed knee of his corduroys. The reek of mildew and sweat coming from the van was overpowering, and Joseph, who was sitting in front of Claude, wondered how long he could hold his breath.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Case continued. “You’ve got a nice thing going here, living in your van. No neighbors to bother you, only one key to worry about, nice view. But it’s not what God’s got planned for you, Claude. Elder Joseph, what does God have planned for Claude here?”
Case turned to Joseph, who’d just picked a dandelion from the grass and was holding it against his nose to combat the odor. Joseph didn’t answer immediately, and Case gave him a look and coaxed him with his hands. “He has a condo set aside for you in heaven, Claude,” Joseph finally answered.
“That’s right Claude. Have you ever been inside a condo?” Claude looked at Case as if he were crazy. Case just smiled and scratched at the hair under his arms.
Case and Joseph, both nineteen, their birthdays within a month of each other, had arrived a little over an hour earlier, walking their bikes down the stretch of railroad bisecting Ijams Nature Center until they found the overgrown access road that led to the abandoned marble plant and the adjacent quarry. Case had learned about the place from a college student in the Fort, where he and Joseph had been handing out tracts. They’d found Claude’s van parked beneath the kudzu-choked mill, nearly fifty feet above the water in the quarry.
Claude was stretched across the mattress in the back of his van reading a romance novel called Gentle Rogue. The cover depicted a man and a woman, scantily clad, swooning across the rigging of a ship. Joseph was wary of the old man, but Case saw only opportunity.
Reprinted with permission
from The Atlantic Monthly
Copyright © 2007
by Bradford Tice