Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
15 minutes before 9 o'clock on Sunday morning, Ted MacKenzie walked beside Andalib Elkart across the open wooden front deck of the barge, on which the First Presbyterian Church of Shellfish Shoals stood. Today the sky was overcast. A steady breeze stirred up the waves, causing all the smaller vessels in town, to rock slightly back and forth where they were moored.
Instead of his usual workday wardrobe of bluejeans, sneakers and bright colored short sleeved shirt, Ted wore dressy black pants, with a white shirt and tie. He also wore a light blue, zipped open windbreaker jacket, and neatly shined black leather shoes.
Andalib wore a modest, light yellow dress and "sensible" shoes. She was also dressed in a jacket of light green. Ted had paid for her new wardrobe that consisted of a few garments now hanging in the closet or lying in the dresser drawer, in her boatel room.
Andalib thought, He's bailed me out of the Heartbreak Hotel, and now he's got me sleeping in a cozy Boatel room. At least for now. It's only a matter of time 'til I'm back in a cell, but until then,
"Enjoy what you've got, while you've got it!"
Of course I've got to be careful not to overdo the enjoying. Like Ted MacKenzie said, I should at least try to look like I'm truly repentant. I just wish that he wasn't trying to look repentant himself. I wanted to enjoy him when I had him in the Boatel room after he paid for my staying there. Unfortunately, he no longer feels the same way about me. That boy just doesn't know what he's passing up.
Yeah he knows. He's passing up the woman who took part in the robbery, in which he almost got killed by an alligator. I wouldn't be surprised if I never see him again. If I was him, I wouldn't want to fuck me either.
And yet, he's taking me to Church with him this morning. Giving me a chance to show a sign of repentance? I'm not sure if I'm truly repentant, but I'll give it a shot. On second thought, maybe I should just see how this all plays out.
Many families were arriving at the Church, in dinghies, or in speedboats, dressed in a modestly casual style, like she and Ted. The members of the Congregation headed across the slightly rocking front deck and through the entrance into the house of worship. It seemed to Andalib that every member was looking curiously at her; the woman being escorted by Ted MacKenzie.
Many, including the Pastor stopped to ask Ted how he was doing.
"I'm okay." He told everyone, "The bandages have been removed. There'll be a little bruising for awhile, but it'll clear up soon enough."
Then he said, "Oh by the way. This is Andalib Elkart. She's the woman who saved my life."
It seemed to her, as if every member of the Congregation, to who she was introduced, looked at Andalib with suspicion. That included the pastor.
The Reverend David Randolph, Pastor of the Shellfish Shoals Congregation, spoke to her.
"I thank you for what you did for Ted, Miss Elkart. We all do. However, all of us also know why you were there in the first place."
She looked directly at him and said, "It's better if I don't say anything about that."
"Miss Elkart." He told her, "'What you intended for harm, God turned to good."
She began shifting around uneasily. "Good, huh? Yeah right. Let's see how good it is when I'm looking at a stint in jail."
"After what you did for Ted, no one in this Congregation would think of condemning you. The Lord is giving you a second chance, and so are we. Turn your back on the life you've been living, and follow the way of the Lord. Then you will receive all the blessings that He wants you to have, in this life and the next, if you will live according to the guidance that is found in His Word."
"A second chance? I'm being stared at by people who have hate in their eyes, people who don't know the first thing about me or my life. You're all judging me, Reverend and most of you are condemning me."
"Andalib." Ted said softly, turning to look at her.
"No." She said stubbornly, "I am a criminal, I don't deny it and I know that what I did was wrong but what would you have me do? Stop stealing so that I can starve to death? So that I can freeze in the winter, fry in the summer? Hmm? Is that it? You know, I once heard someone say if you hold out your hands and put all your prayers in one and shit in the other, take a guess which one will be filled first?"
She then turned and walked toward the edge of the deck, ignoring the looks people gave her.
The Pastor stared at Andalib and watched as Ted walked over to her, stopping next to her and looking at her with a frown on his face.
The Reverend then went inside the Church, puzzled and appalled by Andalib's words.
"Is that really how you feel?" Ted asked as he looked at Andalib.
"About what?" Andalib asked angrily. "About everyone here in town or life in general?"
"About prayers and that obscenity you used?"
"Yes." Andalib said and looked up at the heavens, "You remember when I told you that I hadn't set foot inside a church since I was nine?" Ted nodded. "Well, the last time I was in church, I asked God to bring my mother home to me. She walked out on me, Ted. She just, up and left one morning, walked out on my father and I both and I still don't know why. I went to church and prayed for hours, asking God to answer my prayers and guess what, Ted?"
Andalib turned to him and shook her head, "He never did." She whispered.
"So you gave up believing in God and praying?"
"I've never stopped believing in God, Ted. It just seemed like a fair trade; He doesn't answer my prayers, I don't talk to Him anymore. Simple as that. Instead, I learned to look after myself."
The bell in the steeple above them rang out; its sound spreading out for miles across the waves.
"You better go in, Ted. Don't want you to be late on account of me."
"I'm sorry about your mother, Andalib. It couldn't have been easy for you."
"No, it wasn't." She agreed
"Join me." Ted said. "It can't hurt to be in church, you know. It could make you feel better though."
Andalib hesitated. Finally, she stepped toward the church and entered with Ted and the rest of the crowd. The two seated themselves about midway between the entrance and the pulpit, in a pew to the right of the center aisle. It seemed to Andalib like everybody in the Congregation was glancing at her, then quickly turning away.
After a few minutes, the Pastor and Elder had seated themselves up front, behind the pulpit.
The Worship Service began, with the organist playing the prelude.
Then the Choir entered along the center aisle, joining in song with the entire Congregation, including Ted. Andalib didn't open her mouth, even after Ted showed her the words written in the hymnal.
"Eternal Father strong to save,
Who's hand has stilled the
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep.
Hear us now as we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!"
Pastor Randolph offered a few prayers, including one of thanksgiving, for the rescue of their fellow member Theodore MacKenzie, along with a prayer of blessing for the woman who'd saved his life.
Now came the Scripture Reading, from the New International Version of the Bible.
The Elder stepped up to the pulpit, and read from the Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 7: verses 1 through 14.
"'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"'Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
"'Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"''Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
"'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'
The Scripture reading was done. The Elder sat down.
Andalib stared in front of her, not moving the entire time the Elder was reading. Instead she listened, two verses in particular catching her attention. 'do not throw your pearls to pigs'. Who in their right minds would throw pearls to pigs? She could think of a thousand different ways in which to use those pearls. These are not the thoughts of a woman trying to be repentant.
Andalib smiled and had to lower her head in fear that the Reverend would see her smile.
Scripture reading was followed by the collection of tithes and offerings. The ushers went along the aisles, passing the collection plates back and forth along the pews, where members of the congregation dropped in their tithes and offerings.
Andalib whispered to Ted. "I haven't got anything to contribute."
He reached into a pocket in his light blue jacket, and pulled out a white pearl, about the size of a pea.
"Here." He said, and handed her the pearl.
She looked at what he'd placed between her fingers, with confusion. "You can make that your contribution," Ted told her, "or you can keep it for yourself. The choice is yours."
Now a collection plate was being passed along the pew where they were seated. Everyone dropped something in. Ted dropped in an envelope containing his contribution. Then he handed the plate to Andalib. She saw that people had not only dropped in offering envelopes and loose bills, there were also more than a dozen pea size pearls lying among the papers in the dish.
She looked at the pearl in her own hand, and figured that everyone seated in this pew was looking at her.
Suddenly she looked at the ceiling. This must be Your idea of irony; she thought and shook her head aware that most of the congregation was looking at her now. What a rotten sense of humor
You have there, but I won't be tossing this to any pigs. She thought and dropped the pearl in the collection plate and passed it on the person sitting beside her.
"Repentant enough?" She whispered to Ted who was smiling slightly. "Where did they get all those pearls? You don't hire that many people do you?"
"No." He told her, "Everyone in Shellfish Shoals, has a pearl garden of their own."
"What?" She breathed, making a few people turn to look at her. "You're joking!"
Ted shook his head.
Pearl garden? She wondered, Every private houseboat in town has its own pearl garden? Houseboats in residential neighborhoods, where a lot of children play? No alligators would be permitted there.
A broad smile appeared on Andalib's face. The second verse that she remembered suddenly boomed around in her head.
"'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find'." Truer words had never been spoken.
The collection was completed. Pastor Randolph consecrated the entire collection to the Lord in prayer, including the pearl that Andalib had been given by Ted.
Then the Pastor spoke. His sermon lasted almost a half-hour. By then Andalib's plan had been devised. Worship ended and Pastor Randolph spoke the Benediction:
"The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Now and forever more. Amen."
Every member of the church replied to this with a hearty 'Amen' including Andalib, who was now planning to give herself a "piece" of what was produced in someone's local pearl garden.
As they left the church, Andalib took a deep breath and felt the crisp wind blowing on her face.
"Storm's coming." She said. "Smells like a South-Easter coming in from the Gulf. Are the boathouses all secure around here, Ted?"
Ted remained quiet. There was a change in Andalib. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on.
"What?" She asked and smiled at him. "What is it?"
"You seem different."
"What can I say, you were right."
"About church making me feel better."
Andalib smiled and looked at all the houses.
"Everyone in Shellfish Shoals has a pearl garden of their own". Ted had told her.
"Much better." Andalib sighed and looked out to the oncoming storm.