True Religion
by Meg Wise-Lawrence

There's a landslide in her heart, a slow crumbling of will and reason. My soul is dying, she thinks. But I can live through this.

Nadine scribbles something out on paper to leave as a note on his cluttered and boyish little metal rimmed desk.

The note seems deep to her at the time. Later she can only recall pathetic and pleading words. They come back to haunt her like drunken blathering: It's always been you. The burden of memory; her words repeat on her: it will always be you. Go away: I'll always love you. Did I have to say it: How could you sleep with HER?

She leaves behind what was theirs and only takes what was hers. She moves back into her mother's house in New Jersey.

Sal calls her a couple of days later and leaves a message on her mother's machine. "Nadine, meet me at the Screw Factory."

The Screw Factory really had been a screw factory in lower Manhattan a long time ago. Now it's a heavy metal-techno type club.

She and her brother are in the kitchen drinking instant coffee. Adrian says, "You're not really going to meet him, are you?"

She pictures Sal --her Italian Stallion-- back in their basement apartment in Astoria, Queens getting dressed and fixing his hair.

"Yes I am," she says.

Adrian goes with her and drags along his friend Raymond. They both manage DIY auto body parts stores in Jersey, Bergenfield and HoHoKus respectively. Otherwise they're a study in contrasts, Adrian being lean and acerbic while Raymond is fleshy and sweet-tempered. Maybe life's about dichotomy. Brother and sister: he had blue eyes and blond hair, she's a dark eyed brunette. Husband and wife: both dark in looks and spirit, but still a study in contrasts with him always running off and her always staying. Well, at least until last time.

Inside the Screw Factory, she was assaulted by her senses. The lights of the foyer where men were required to "check their leather"; the eyeing bouncers; the ticket girls (tickets to what?). Inside the main area rooms spread out from the center, circular bar like tentacles from an octopus.

She still feels cold, even in her leather jacket.

"We'll meet you at the bar."

The boys prowl for game while Nadine looks for Sal. He's nowhere. She's not surprised, just profoundly disappointed.

She heads back to the center of the beast, the bar, where she meets up with Adrian and Raymond. They've managed to secure a seat which they yield to her.

Raymond buys her a drink. Adrian thinks it's just as well she didn't find Sal and says gruffly-philosophically, "Let Sal find YOU."

But when he goes off to try and pick up some girl across the bar, Raymond says, "Why don't you go have a look again? You don't want to miss him if he's off sulking somewhere."

Nadine smiles, her heart breaking, "It would be like him to be off sulking somewhere."

She climbs the stairs past the restrooms to where they use to hang out and talk, away from the loud music. There's a couple in the cul-de-sac making out but it's not Sal.

She descends with both a heavier and a lighter heart. Oh oh oh where are you? But she knows he's not here and he's not coming. She orders another Tanqueray and tonic.

Adrian returns not with the girl but with an older polished gentleman. Adrian parades him proudly ahead like a prize. Nadine hopes he hasn't cooked up something too mischievous (a quick glance at Raymond tells her he's thinking the same thing).

"This Nadine is the OWNER," Adrian announces proudly. The man restlessly twists with his pinkie ring while his expression is one of infinite boredom.

Without looking at Nadine, he says, "Who here would you like to meet?" She doesn't answer, not understanding his meaning. Adrian is smiling proudly. The owner-man glances at her, noticing she's pretty. "Would you like to go with me to the Hard Rock Club?"

Nadine glances at her brother. "Okay-" she begins. Her brother nudges her.

"He's talking about the S&M club, Nadine."

"Oh! Well, no thank you," she says.

The owner shrugs, a wave a disappointment like nausea, passing over his face. "Who would you like to pick?"

"I was looking for Sal," she says.

"Your handsome-estranged husband?" His accent is vaguely Eastern European. "Forget about him, at least for tonight. Pick someone new, anyone here, and I will introduce you."

She shrugs and smiles gamely. "Okay..." She glances around. "Him," she says, pointing to a guy who, she thinks, looks like a young, rising rock star.

It takes them ages to weave over to the would-be rock star. It seems the owner knows everyone and has to shake everyone's hand. He's infinitely polite, like a bored politician.

The would-be's name is Stu. He's an unemployed high school drop but cute and charming. When the bar closes they go looking for an after hours club. All of them: Stu, Adrian, Raymond and Nadine. But no Sal -- who no one ever spotted. She could imagine something coming up: his mother calling because her car broke down and she needed him to drive her. His stories were always so long and convoluted she could neither believe nor disbelieve them, they were just too hard to follow.

Looking like a band without their instruments, they weave through the streets which are empty and deserted. New York City looks more like a movie set than a real city tonight.

Adrian can't find an after hours club so they start following Stu.

"I feel as if we're following a false prophet," Raymond says to her quietly and she laughs.

They find an unmarked bar that turns out to be filled with transvestites. They eye Stu and Adrian, the pretty ones. Adrian laughs and heads for the bar, Raymond follows, dazzled, while Stu clings warily to her arm.

Adrian and Raymond are able to push to the bar but Stu and Nadine lag behind. "Want to get some fresh air?"

Outside, they search for anywhere to sit, relax, and absorb the moment like summer sun into skin. And like Dorothy and Toto stumbling upon the Yellow Brick Road Stu and Nadine wander into Needle Park.

There are a few junkies and lovers and someone walking their dog, but she's not afraid. There are awesome Greek pillars of marble and marble benches and a path leading inward. He wants to sit but she leads him inward.

"It's like The Secret Garden!" she says.

"Or Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome!"

The path narrows and suddenly opens into a wide, empty wading pool. It's painted sky-blue like a popsicle and full of dark puddles of rain and soggy leaves.

Around the abandoned pool are more marble benches. They pick one. It's cold to her legs (she's wearing tights and a short sweater dress). She shivers and he kisses her, maybe not in that order.

A dog barks in the distance.

But we're here in a state of grace, she thinks. No one can touch me. The dog's bark comes closer. Then it recedes.


It's her brother and Raymond coming toward them. They look like a couple of hoodlums silhouetted against the branch filtered moonlight.

She runs. Later it's hard to explain to them that it was nothing personal, just the need for flight.

There's a landslide, a slow crumbling of the facade of will and reason. She thinks maybe her soul is dying. I'll live through this, she thinks. I'll rise through the ashes. Like one of them Phoenix-birds. Hallelujah.

There is so much around me. If I can remember the infinite universe: the black holes, the places where memory refuses to shine; the supernovas where lovers soar and die in the flash of an eye; the dark matter and the gray matter. It's all the same. Hallelujah. All right.

She runs through the streets. She runs through the cold until it seizes her chest like a tourniquet and makes her stop. Hands on her knees, she's trying to catch her breathe, and she's caught by an image. No, a reality: a clock as big as a house standing beside her like a refugee from post-modern antiquity of 1970.

She can't help but pause.

There are granite benches encircling the clock. Who would want to stare at a clock?  Wall Street employees on lunch break? A strange sect of time/space worshipping modern Druids?

She sits, the cold the cheap knits between the stone and her skin. She ponders. The clock reveals nothing; the night reveals nothing; the cold reveals nothing.

Her ass is cold so she curls up on the bench. It is warmer in the fetal position.

She wakes to a new morning on the horizon and the shock, with the warmth of the sun, that everything is different!

There's a landslide in her heart. She sits up, rising as if from the ashes to face the world. She blinks.

Oh my god! She thinks. It's the world in all its naked splendor: cold and gray and hairless and somehow lovable, like an old man, like God. It's God! She thinks. Her heart jumps. She tackles back the feeling: God! Or whatever you are.

It's something about the light over the Harlem River, the way it sparkles-- no. The way it's so real. It reminds her of the way Sal feels in her arms. Her eyes are teary or maybe it's just the last vestige of night flaying from her eyes. Either way she has squint against the morning. She squints past buildings and past the rise and fall of the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge. She squints past the smokestacks of Queens and past the Silvercup Studio sign. It's always made her wonder why the sign faces Manhattan, as if in worship, curiously abandoning the mundane-mortal borough that is its foundation.

It's time to go home.

Meg Wise-Lawrence is a stay at home feminist mother of three. Her writing has appeared most recently in "Coffeehouse: Writing from the Web" (Manning Press) and "The Mother is Me". Meg is the creator of Acorn Mush.

Meg's work has previously appeared in the spring nineteen ninety seven issue and the autumn nineteen ninety seven issue

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© Copyright 1998 - Meg Wise-Lawrence. All rights reserved.