Andrea goes on and on, Dorothy says, about Cathy. "Well, she exaggerates," Cathy says, looking around their beautiful home, affectionate and mordant and a little embarrassed it was so easy. A little bit for Andrea, too, needing to hurt her so much she'd sink to such a cliché and demean them both. Dorothy says she hated summer school at first -- "Called it retard school," Dorothy says, laughing at her daughter's crudity -- but that Cathy has changed everything. Everything.
She's the baby of the family, the sixth child and the first one with any school problems. Their academic challenge, the Jacksons nod. You can't love them smart, Dorothy says, with love. They talk about her beautiful voice, and send Cathy down the street to choir practice.
Confession: Rugby's career as a slut began when she was eighteen, and gave a stranger a blowjob on an international flight. Confession: Paul chose the south of France for their honeymoon because he knew it was the last time he'd ever see another woman's breasts. Tina likes Paulie's stories. They feel good. "I actually only have about fifteen of them. You've got me for another half hour, and then I get boring." Confession. Like laying your burdens down at the river side, like saying goodbye to war. Like going forth into a garden, after sickness; like a home you nearly forgot, after years as a captive.
I'm gonna lay down my burdens
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I ain't gonna study war no more
Cathy sits behind a woman, in the pews; she watches the choir for a moment before remarking on the woman's hat. "I've always wondered why black women wear these beautiful hats to church. I mean, whenever my dad walked into church, he always took his hat off. When he walked into any building, really. Not that he was any shining example of anything..."
Ain't gonna study war no more
I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
Realizing that Cathy won't stop talking, ever; that her skin is prickling with newness and the feeling of being in someone else's space, ripping the safety like cobwebs she's gone dancing through; that she needs desperately to connect, to give the impression of connecting, to be anything but a tourist, the woman answers: "I wear a hat because women -- and not just black women -- should cover their heads while they're in the house of the Lord. Same reason you Jews wear yarmulkes."
Cathy swears she's not Jewish; Cathy revises her emphasis and downgrades it to a statement of fact. As the woman drifts away, down the pew, off to listen to the music and not Cathy, as she spirals out of control again: Jesus is her guy, she assumes, and would say that but with the caveat that she hasn't been to church in a really long time. Cathy notices the woman is gone, finally, and trails off. She is none too impressed by the woman's manners. It is her prerogative to assume Jesus would agree.
When the choir is done, Cathy smiles at Andrea, waving quietly. Her mouth becomes a firm and angry line. She is horrified that Cathy spoke to Dorothy and Donovan, broke her trust in a new way. She is magnificently, delightedly, angrily horrified. Cathy loves her. It is a slap.
"I had to swing by the hood, make sure your drug-addled mom wasn't dying with a needle stuck between her toes, because if that happened you'd be an orphan, what with your dad being a dead felon and all."
Andrea laughs at, appreciates, can almost praise the sarcasm, but she answers Cathy's apposite question -- why lie about something so horrendous -- with the no-doubt even more relevant, "Who the fuck are you to call me a liar?"
Maybe she just hates Cathy, Andrea suggests. Or because she neither wants nor needs Cathy's advice, or her help, or her care with all the strings attached. She reaches down into the darkness and is surprised to find there's very little left, in the way of weaponry; Cathy is looking at her in a most disconcerting way.
"Besides, it's obvious you only came to find me because you're afraid I'll tell everyone about your affair."
"I am here because I care about you. I don't want you quitting school because of a mistake that I made. And just so you know? My husband already knows about the affair." Truth. And Adam? "I wish you wouldn't tell him, but I can't stop you if you do."
Andrea revels in disgust, glories in her triumph over this woman. Her moral victory. Cathy isn't good enough for him. Not for Adam, not for Sean, not for Paul, but that's not who she means. That's not the only men they share. She means Lenny; pearls before pink swine.
Cathy remembers not to laugh. "Is that what this is about? A crush? You have a crush on Lenny?"
A crush never feels like a crush. From the outside, it looks like a concussion, quickly faded. That's why we call it a crush, and not love. But from the inside it feels like a heavy blow to the abdomen and a heavy weight from the sky and that's really why it's called a crush, which is why you should never call them by name: Show respect for temporary insanity, because to do otherwise helps nobody.
"You think a guy that fine wouldn't go for a girl like me?"
This time Cathy can't help but laugh: It's not about her looks, it's about the fact that she's a child. That Lenny was terrified every time she'd look at him that way. "He's twenty-five years older than you are!" Cathy realizes she's losing her, that she's trailing off down the line, back into the river, that she'll soon be swept away, and levels: "Do not quit school, Andrea. Life is hard enough with an education. Don't make it harder on yourself."
Andrea asks Cathy once again to leave, her church and then her life, because this is the study of war. Because she still hasn't told the whole truth, because she still only sees the world through her own eyes and can't possibly comprehend how she's warped this girl's life, and until she does nothing she says means anything: Its truth, its falsity, are moot. She is carrying such burdens some have been forgotten, and nobody knows how scared Cathy grew up to become. Cathy complies and as she is leaving, they are changing the sign outside:
NEED A DO-OVER?
OUR GOD IS THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES
She can't take her eyes off of it. The sign.
Paul can't take his eyes off Tina's newly shaven body. Paul's sister's guest room contains her creepy doll collection, so they've moved the counter-adultery to his sister's waterbed. "Besides, there's a nice potpourri scent in here," he says, unironically, chatty and nervous. "It's like country cottage rose, or some lavender..."
Tina used his sister's razor. She slides into the waterbed beside him as he says his litany -- "Old nuns and baseball, old nuns and baseball" -- and for a moment she is a do-over. A sign. They were so young, the Jamisons, when they fell in love. In some ways they have stayed that age, the age they always were. The boy that wanted to see breasts, the girl too scared to bare her own.
Paulie is reduced to his virginity by Tina, by this strange brave world of new sex: When he realizes he hasn't used a condom in nearly twenty years, doesn't carry one, flailingly suggests Saran Wrap from the kitchen, he is shocked to find that women carry their own. She grins and tells him to shush, to calm; he is honest as he is innocent. "It's a big one," he says, looking at the condom she's provided, eyes wide. "It's too big!"
Like a pastor in a tornado, like any false idol, we need our lies pricked every now and then. Sean's iconoclasm is its own god but he's got the right idea, false idols and the automatically misplaced trust of authority. A teacher, a pastor, a president can't fail you if you never gave them that power in the first place. He stands before his sister's class, holding forth, letting light in through the cracks of worship.
"And now, some more fun facts about our former presidents! Let's see, William Howar