It was back at the “head table” in the cafeteria for Denise and her friends.
“How did it go with Terry yesterday?” Pete asked.
“You saw her blow her stack and storm out of school, didn’t you?” Vannie asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Pete vaguely replied.
“You think she’s going to do anything about it, Denise?” Vannie asked.
“I think her old man’s already called the school, but I think he ‘winged the wong number’ this time!” Denise exclaimed as the group burst out laughing.
“You think Bartow will cave?” Pete asked.
“Never!” Vannie exclaimed.
Denise was more thoughtful. “He might. . .you know Gerland’s still sitting on the trust fund that keeps this dump going. And a lot of that money’s off the Island.”
“How’s he doing these days?” Pete asked.
“Not good,” Denise replied. “He hasn’t been seen in public since Yule, when he went to church. I think he may be ready to kick the bucket on us. Not a moment too soon, either.”
“So how’s your old man going to get his money?” Pete asked.
“He’s got a plan, but he won’t tell me,” Denise said.
“So we’ve got to figure out a way to make keeping Terry home this weekend stick,” Vannie said. “If we don’t, you’ll be in deep with her old lady.”
“Wait a minute. . .that’s it!” Denise exclaimed.
“That’s what?” Vannie asked.
“I’ll get the Foreign Ministry to put her passport ‘under review.’ Just long enough to keep her stuck this weekend. She won’t be able to get out of the country then—especially with the route we’re taking.”
“That get’s it out of Bartow’s hands, too,” Pete observed.
“Exactly,” Denise agreed.
“You learned from the best,” Pete told Denise.
“I did learn from the best,” Denise agreed. “But it’s going to get better.”
“Too bad you can’t put the hurts on Frenchie,” Pete said.
“Dad won’t budge on that,” Denise said. “He won’t admit it, but I think the French government put us in a full nelson over the way our stupid Ministry of the Environment threatened to shut her old man’s company down. He won’t even consider pulling their contracts for tyres—he doesn’t want to give the business to the Americans in any case. He did get her visa changed so she’ll have to hit the road after graduation.”
“As if she wasn’t going to already,” Pete added.
“Maybe there’s something else,” Vannie suggested.
“Like what?” Denise demanded.
“Maybe Maddy’s the avatar,” Vannie said.
“The what?” Pete asked.
“The avatar. The incarnation of God. Like Meher Baba. You know, his eye looks at you from the cover of Tommy. You know what that’s about.”
“You have flipped, Vannie. You’ve been to too many seances.”
“But she did heal that blind girl. Every time I think about that, the album comes back to me.”
Pete started to groove to the rhythm in his head. He began to softly sing to it: “Listening to you,/I get the music./Gazing at you,/I get the heat. . .” His reverie stopped when he caught Denise’s angry glare burning a hole in him.
“It’s still stupid,” Denise disagreed. “Avatars are from India. She’s French. And she’s Catholic too.”
“But don’t you think it’s time for a woman to be the avatar?” Vannie asked.
Denise looked out at the crowd eating lunch, then back at Vannie. “It’s not going to be her. And not here either.”
Claudia Yedd’s “water cooler talk” had been about this new prayer group that she was attending up in the University district. Pierre’s reaction was decidedly unenthusiastic, but Madeleine was curious, especially when she discovered that it was lead by the Catholic priest/political activist James Avalon.
So that evening Madeleine tucked her car in the warehouse and took the bus with Claudia up to the transfer point at Central Avenue and Ardmore Street, which made the north west corner of the University of Verecunda. It was there they met Carol, who gave Madeleine a big hug when they met. The only drawback to Carol going to regular school was that she just couldn’t go straight to Claudia’s workplace from her school. Fortunately Claudia had a neighbour with a daughter a year younger than Carol, so she had a place to stay until her mother got off work.
Madeleine bought the three of them a quick dinner at a small café near the corner, then they took their transfer tickets and headed over to the St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish and Student Centre. The church itself faced Ardmore and, across the street, the University. Madeleine could see the signs of CPL vandalism around the church, especially the torn shrubbery, mauled grass and signs of graffiti not entirely effaced from the front and sides of the building. Strangely the building that doubled as the parish hall and student centre was behind the church and away from the University whose Catholic students it supposedly served. But it was neither a parish function nor a meeting of the Newman Association where the three women were going; they went down the side walk along the left side of the church which led them to the gathering of the Servants of the Lord Prayer Group.
Although they were a tad early, they were met by the front doorkeeper, a squirelly looking man in his mid-thirties.
“Good evening, Claudia,” he said. “And Carol. And who is your guest this evening?”
“This is Madeleine des Cieux,” Claudia proudly announced. “This is the girl who prayed for Carol to receive her sight.”
The doorkeeper’s eyes turned as big a saucers as he beheld Verecunda’s most notorious miracle worker. “I am so glad to meet you at last,” he said, shaking her hand vigorously. “I was hoping you would come. Please come in and have a seat. We’ll be starting in a few minutes.”
They went in and took a seat towards the back. But Claudia was busy flagging down people she knew to meet Madeleine. The reactions were mixed; some were impressed like the door keeper, some were indifferent. Claudia was miffed by the latter but Madeleine was unconcerned. She was happier to sit and watch the proceedings then to have to attend to a receiving line.
It wasn’t too long that the musicians took their place and the prayer meeting began with their music. By that time the room was full to almost overflowing. Even though the room was long and relatively narrow, the chairs were arranged in a circular arrangement with two aisles to the centre. The musicians occupied about half of the innermost row of chairs, with their music stands and one guitar amp. Most of their guitars, however, were acoustic, with one bass and a couple of woodwinds. All of the musicians were young people, ranging in age from Lower Division to University students. They only had a couple of microphones, but the room was small enough—and there were enough of them—to compensate for that. The songs they sang—with one or two exceptions—were as unfamiliar to Madeleine as those at Carla’s church.
On the other side of the innermost row from the musicians were a group of middle aged men. Claudia explained that this was the core group, which directed the course of the prayer meeting. Next to them was Father Avalon, in his clerical collar. They had come in just before the music started.
The style of worship was also a novelty to Madeleine. At all times people raised their hands. Between the songs there was spontaneous, concert prayer and praise, frequently in song. Madeleine detected an unusual language coming out in some of this, but she couldn’t make out which tongue it was. The worship flowed very nicely but Madeleine could tell it was more highly structured than it looked.
The songs tended to become slower as the meeting progressed. As the music stopped, people started coming up to an empty chair next to the men, speaking with them about something. In most cases they got up after that and gave some kind of message, Bible passage, or revelation.
At this point Claudia got up and went forward to the chair. Unfortunately for her, the men evidently didn’t approve what she had to say, because she got up without sharing. But she was undeterred; she pulled on Avalon’s sleeve and whispered in something in his ear. He perked up at whatever she said, and she returned to her seat.
“What was their problem with you?” Madeleine whispered to Claudia.
“I don’t know, but Father Avalon will take care of it.”
“Take care of what?”
“Announcing that you’re here!” Claudia jubilantly replied. Madeleine found herself wishing that the men had not been overturned upon appeal.
With the end of sharing, Father Avalon got up to speak. The doorkeepers were still stationed at every entrance; Madeleine could tell that they looked out as often as they looked in. She expected Avalon to give some kind of homily, but instead he stuck with a few announcements, most of them related to the anti-abortion and pro-morality activities that had made him a stench in the nostrils of both his bishop and of Denise’s father. At the end of that, however, he had another announcement to make:
“We have with us a very special guest of one of our newest people, Claudia Yedd. Miss des Cieux, would you stand up?” Madeleine dutifully complied. “This is Madeleine des Cieux, the young lady who prayed for Carol to be healed of blindness. We are honoured to have you with us tonight.” Once again Madeleine could feel everybody’s eyes on her. She sat down and the meeting continued.
“I thought they would do more,” Claudia said to Madeleine, puzzled. Madeleine breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.
After Avalon was through one of the men got up to the microphone.
“That’s Francis Xavier Eck,” Claudia informed her. “He owns a petrol station up here. He’s one of your father’s customers.” Eck had travelled extensively on the mainland, visiting prayer groups, covenant communities, and attending seminars, and he wasn’t shy about reminding everyone about his travels. Eck went on at length—about an hour, actually—about the need for everyone to come under the umbrella of authority, especially that of the prayer group, which he announced was becoming a covenant community. Madeleine found his speech hard to follow and largely irrelevant to her situation.
When Eck ended his address, they had special prayer for a couple of people, then the musicians played their final song, and the meeting was over. Madeleine was rushed by a few people, but not many. She turned around from speaking to an elderly couple to find herself face to face with Father Avalon.
“Miss des Cieux,” he said, “it is a real privilege for us to have you with us tonight. Your miracles have done more to encourage us to continue that just about anything else that has taken place in the last two years.”
“I am glad that you are encouraged,” Madeleine replied. “Unfortunately some people are not.”
“Like the bishop,” Claudia added.
“There are many things that he does not understand,” Avalon admitted. “We must do our best. Is this your first time here?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Then you must come back,” Avalon insisted. “And, of course, you are also welcome to the folk Mass we have on Sunday evenings.”
“Thank you,” Madeleine said.
“I want to speak with you some more, but I must greet some people before they get gone.” He turned and left. In his wake were some of the musicians. The guys were unwilling to simply let a girl like Madeleine get away without trolling for her phone number, especially the “two Steves”—Eck, F.X.’s son, and Brenner, the son of an army officer. Both Madeleine’s contemporaries, their eyes showed that they were overwhelmed with what had come up from Evan Point.
Eck turned away to talk with others. But Brenner hung around through the rest of the musicians talking with her to ask her an unusual question.
“I don’t want to embarrass you,” Steve began, “but do you guys have a sensual society on the Point?”
“A what?” Madeleine said, taken aback by the question.
“I’m sorry, a Life Identification Society.”
“Unfortunately,” Madeleine replied. She was still uneasy at the line of questioning.
“So do we,” Steve admitted. “They’re trying to force me to join it. One of my teachers has told me that he’ll flunk me somehow if I don’t. I need you to pray for me that I’ll get through.”
Madeleine thought a second, then reached into her purse for the aloe vera tube. Claudia lit up when she realised what was going on.
“This will work,” Claudia assured him. Madeleine crossed herself and invoked the Trinity, then she took the tube and anointed him on the forehead, praying that he would graduate from University Comprehensive without joining the Life Identification Society. She ended, as always, in the name of Jesus Christ.
“Thanks,” he said. “Hope you come back.”
“So do I,” Madeleine said, a little cheerier at meeting these people.
Madeleine and the Yedds gathered together to begin their journeys home. Suddenly Madeleine discovered that F.X. Eck was standing in front of her with two other of the core group men.
“What were you doing with the young man Brenner?” he asked.
“I was praying for him,” Madeleine said. “He asked me to. He is in a difficult position in his school.”
“Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?” Eck asked her.
“Excuse me?” Madeleine asked, puzzled.
“How can you perform miracles without the fullness of the Holy Spirit?” Eck demanded.
“Because God permitted it, perhaps?” she answered.
“We do not permit people outside the group to pray for others,” Eck rudely informed her. “You will have to take some instruction and become a part of our group. We cannot have transients doing this kind of thing.” With that he and his companions walked away.
“What is going on?” Madeleine asked Claudia.
“I’m not sure,” Claudia replied. “Father Avalon has been great. The way these men run this group reminds me of the Lodge.”
“Let’s go then,” Madeleine said. They gathered up Carol and caught the bus to the transfer point. Claudia insisted that they accompany Madeleine to at least where she got off on Central Avenue. Pierre had left his 2CV at the end of the street, which she drove on home. She related in brief her experience with her father.
“I assume from what you have said that you do not plan to return,” Pierre surmised.
“No, Papa, I don’t,” Madeleine confirmed.