Big city at last. Buildings, cement, a few trees. Some birds tweeting the fall of dusk. I’d hitched in. Now what? I must have had a lost look on my face because a van pulled up and drove alongside me, matching my pace.
“Hello there!” called the driver.
“Hi,” I said.
He stopped the car and got out. Introduced himself as Norbert.
“What’s your take on the problems of this country?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Feel like talking about it?” he said.
“Feel like having a free dinner?” he said.
“Alright,” I said. He opened the back of the van. There was a young woman in there.
“That’s Sarah,” Norbert said. I got in. Norbert shut the doors and the van took off.
I talked with Sarah. Another runaway picked up off the street. Where the hell were we going? Can’t be any worse than where we came from, we both laughed. She took my hand in hers as we bumped along.
The van came to a stop. Norbert opened the back. I heard cicadas.
“Come on, you two,” said. Sarah pulled up her tights and we followed him onto some sprawling estate and into a red brick country home. The cooking aromas were scintillating. I had not eaten all day.
“Help yourselves,” he said. “After that we’ll have a little presentation.”
The food was laid out buffet style in the dining area. Stacks of clean plates, plastic cups, a pitcher of water with lemon slices in it. There were six or seven dishes to choose from. Some other young people joined us. They were all quiet and respectful. The food was vegetarian, cooked to perfection, completely satisfying.
“We’ll begin the presentation whenever you’re ready,” said Norbert. There were about ten cheap plastic chairs unfolded in the salon, but only Sarah and I sat. It was a slideshow. Norbert used a pointer as he clicked from slide to slide. The world was in crisis, he said. It was up to us to fix it.
I raised my hand. “Is this a cult?” I said. Not that I really minded if it was.
Norbert laughed. “We are called a cult by the mainstream. But we think the mainstream is a cult.”
In my mind’s eye I saw a generic house, some generic suburbs. The home I’d bolted from. The home my father came to at dusk, exhausted, complaining. Ugly mood. Hating his job, his colleagues, his family. Yet, judging the fools who did not live their lives as he did.
Good Riddance, he’d have said Mom. The only way we let her back is if she cries and begs and apologizes. Otherwise she does not set foot in this house again. Is that clear?
Mom would nod, her head down, hands folded, like a statue.
He’d sleep. She would not. The light would be on all night. The house like a Jack-o’-lantern. My mother at the kitchen table, begging me to call, to let her talk to me one last time, so she could beg me to grovel before the old man like she did.