DEEP CITY in Times Roman

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Sorting It Out

Tom scrambled around the tiny living room. He fluffed sofa pillows, aligned magazine stacks, and dusted the book shelves and the coffee-table. While he darted back and forth, looking much like a robin building a nest, strands of hair poked every which way in his usually perfect hair-style, and a forelock slipped over his right eye.

Sitting on the couch, Sophia filed her nails, then started fidgeting. “Don’t you want me to vacuum?” she asked. “Or I could clean the bath?” She sprang from the sofa and headed toward the closet where Tom housed the vacuum.

He stopped dusting, stood with his legs splayed and fists perched on his hips. “Just sit down,” he snapped. “And relax.” He feigned a scowl. “You’re my guest.”

She smiled, clasped her hands together and sat back down. “Okay. If you’re sure you—”

Tom crossed his arms. “I’m sure.” He shook his head, then rubbed an end table.

She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Even if she felt guilty about not helping him clean, she was relieved, too. Whenever she’d helped anyone clean, she didn’t know what step to take next. It was always the same, too. It always was—she made the wrong moves: loading the dishwasher wrong, leaving smudges and paper lint on windows. Plus, she knew if she spent a few minutes without speaking, Tom would feel guilty about snapping at her, and he’d be amicable when she requested his help. Twisting a ringlet that fell across a shoulder, she watched her toes twitch for a while, then saw Tom put away the dust-cloth and bring each of them a cup of coffee. After taking a few sips, she set the cup on the table and lifted her eyelids slowly. “I really need your help.”

“My help?” Tom wrinkled his nose. “You need money?”

Sophia chuckled. “Always. But that isn’t what I meant.”

“I’m baffled.”

“Do you know anything about the Unies?”

“Not that much.” He raised his eyebrows. “They used to peddle carnations and roses on street corners. And sometimes, they’d pass out tracts at the airport. But come to think of it, I haven’t seen them on the streets or in the airports for years—not since the early eighties. Why?”

She bit her lip. “What did you think of them?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t spend much time thinking about them.” Then, he paused and looked pensive, as if he were trying to recall something. He squinted, wrinkled his brow, and tilted his head to the left. “I remember their eyes, though. They were beautiful, so glowing with belief. I suppose people who truly believe in something are especially beautiful.”

She sighed. She assumed Tom wouldn’t likely make an ally for Lynette’s mission. So she’d have watch what she told him—and appeal to him from a different angle. “Those women with me today are both married to Unies.”

He blinked.

“The problem is, their leader—The Reverend Yung Sung Ghuune—won’t let them stay with their husbands.

Tom wrinkled his brow again. “Why?”

“He holds some strange doctrine about sex. He says because they weren’t married in the Unification Church, they should be married three years before they can get together.”

“Weird.” He rolled his eyes. “Everyone in this country’s obsessed with sex in one way or another.”

“True.” She exhaled loudly. “Anyway, these women are dying to be with their husbands, to at least see them more often than the reverend allows, so they fly here and they’re staying in a hotel. And they want to return in a couple of months, but they can’t afford the lodging again.”

Tom frowned. “My place is awfully small.”

“That’s what I told them.” She tried to muster up a pleading expression but doubted she was successful. “Of course, I’d be here with them. We’d roll out sleeping bags in the living room and be gone early the next morning—”

He laughed. “Three women on my living-room carpet. My father would be proud.” He chuckled once more. “Maybe some of those studs who can’t get a woman should try my life-style.”

“So you’ll do it?”

He quit laughing. “I didn’t say that.” He sighed. “Isn’t there a YWCA around here? And why are you returning so soon. I mean, you’re always welcome to stay here—it’s just odd.”

Her wrist started shaking so much she nearly spilled her coffee. She chewed on her lip again. “I need to use the Library of Congress.”

“You can’t use your university library website? Or go through inter-library loan?”

“Not for these materials. They can’t leave the Library of Congress, and they aren’t available through any websites.” She forced a stiff smile and tilted her head. “Classified materials, I guess.”

He squinted, and she felt goosebumps rise on her arms. She understood that he knew she was lying, but she also hoped he’d trust her reasons for doing so. They’d been close friends more than fifteen years. Perhaps that would mean something. After a long while, he finally murmured, “I’ll have to think about it.” Great, she thought. If he doesn’t let us stay here, what will we do? Now, with D.C.’s heightened security, the three women most likely couldn’t use fake names at a hotel. And they couldn’t leave a trail. Sophia said nothing but got up from the couch and stared out Tom’s picture window. It the distance, the Washington monument blinked like a beacon of light on a coastline.

That night, she thrashed and tossed in the bed she shared with Tom. At midnight, she got up and wandered into the living room, where she plopped onto the couch and thumbed through a Time Magazine. She’d let her subscription to it expire this year. Instead, she’d opted for People. Although she’d often laughed at herself for ordering the gossip rag, she read it avidly. The silly, superficial slick lifted her spirits. It shared the horrors of celebrities’ lives, but she’d noted how all the features followed a certain pattern: They detailed a movie star’s plunge to the pit of despair, and then, recounted the rise back to the surface, the resurrection from chaos. Indeed, the gossip rags gave her hope.

Flipping through Time today didn’t. After scanning it twice, she finally punched Daniel’s number in her cell phone. But her wrist shook so much, she had to re-hit it—she’d accidentally sent a text message. Even if it was an hour earlier there, she wasn’t sure how Daniel would respond to the call. She’d written him after she’d embarked on the trip, but she hadn’t spoken to him for at least a month—not since they’d worked on the magazine.

“Sophia? Are you home?” For the first time in almost a year, Daniel’s voice sounded excited. This especially lifted Sophia’s spirits because his telephone voice tended to sound so depressed. She smiled into the phone. Somewhere she’d read that smiling into the receiver helped a person sound more cheerful, more inviting. “I’ll return Friday.”

“Why did you run off to Washington when there are people here who love you?” He spoke rapidly, as if he’d lost control. She wondered if he were referring to himself. Or perhaps he meant her parents.

“Hard to explain now. Had to. Miss me?”

“I’ve . . . well . . . I’ve been feeling strong agape for you since you left. But now, I don’t know. It’s fading now that you’re returning.”

Agape? she thought. He’s confused the term for longing. He was once a Greek scholar and he’s misusing that term again. What gives? Why can’t he be honest, be real for once—at least, with himself. And with her? Nevertheless, she didn’t call him on his remark. Instead, she said, “I just called to let you know when I’d be back and that the magazine should be out next week. You should receive your check from the university shortly afterwards.” Realizing she was becoming as much of a liar as he was made her bite her lip. She wanted to share her insights about the reverend with Daniel, but that was further from being a possibility than sharing her plans with Tom. Indeed, the universe continued to hang upside-down. She hoped Lynette, Shirley, and she could set at least a portion of it right. Perhaps God would be with them and help them do so. She couldn’t trust anyone else to help them, certainly neither Daniel nor Tom.

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