Silas’s college visit had gone great. “Their creative writing program is fantastic, West,” he said to me up on his roof that evening before the August Arms episode, this week’s theme being “August August” since the calendar had flipped once again. Last night’s story had been centered on Caesar Augustus, for whom the month was named, and his rise to power that incited Mark Antony and Cleopatra to each commit suicide.
“Yeah. Most of the English professors there have published books, and they have this really cool literary magazine run by the students. And the campus is gorgeous—brick buildings a hundred years old, and they’re crawling with ivy. It’s on a lake—well, I guess pretty much everything in Minnesota is—but anyway, it has seven miles of lakeshore and its own island with a community garden. You really should check it out too. We … we could … go together.”
By the way he was stammering, I knew that he meant we could go to college together and not just we could go visit the campus together. I liked that he was thinking of me so far in the future. Then again, college really wasn’t that far away—senior year was starting in a month, and I’d turn eighteen in just a few days.
“Did you get any info for Laurel?” I asked. Please say yes.
He nodded. “They have a BFA in dance there. Mom and I asked the recruiter lots of questions, and it seems perfect for Laurel.” When Silas paused, I could hear the words he didn’t say: “if only she were healthy again.”
I told Silas about my conversation with Laurel while he was gone, the conversation about all her strange ideas about God, not the one about Whit. He sighed. “I knew that sometimes she doubted God’s existence, but I didn’t know she had all those alternative theories of spiritual reality. Dammit,” he said, “just listen to that phrase—‘alternative theories of spiritual reality.’ It’s more Descartes, that bastard. Is she really only seventeen? She drags those few years around like they are a backpack full of bricks.”
The story on the radio that night was about seven Rwandan children—six girls and one boy—who, in August of 1982, had visions of the Virgin Mary showing them a river of blood, people killing each other, decapitated corpses. Twelve years later, civil war broke out in Rwanda between the majority and minority tribes, including 100 days when about 800,000 people were killed, many beheaded by machetes and dumped into the Kagea River.
“It was the vision, come true,” the voice on the radio said. “A river of blood, bodies without heads.” It told how the Kagea carried the bodies to Lake Victoria, creating a health hazard in Uganda.
“… Our Lady of Kibeho apparations were later declared authentic by a local bishop …”
“Do you really think so?” I asked Silas.
He shrugged, the flickering bonfire casting light and shadows across his face. “Maybe. These days, we’re so removed from the burning bush and the pillar of fire that they somehow seem tamer than a vision of Mary. But God speaks softly sometimes too.”
“What does he say?”
Silas leaned backward and looked at me with furrowed eyes and a crooked grin. “I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me,” he said. “Are you?”
Was I? I thought of the stories he was referring to—God speaking to Moses from a bush blazing with fire that did not burn it up, God leading the Israelites to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. I’d heard the stories a hundred times in Sunday school as a child. Did I believe them? I hadn’t really thought that—what do I believe?—for so long. I’d just been limping along from Sunday to boring Sunday, doing my best to avoid encountering it all. Had I been creeping around corners to hide from Dad—or from God?
“No,” I said. “I’m not making fun of you. What does he say?”
Silas was quiet for a moment, an odd, lingering moment that made me wonder if I’d been too forward in asking a question like this so flippantly.
But then that moment was over, and Silas looked at me. “He says to abide.”