After the Rapture
The day after The Rapture, Kenny lost his job at the slaughterhouse.
“Because you skipped work,” his boss said.
“I was at The Rapture.”
“Yeah, I read about it. You and Reverend Groodle and a bunch of his yahoos, sitting out in that pasture all day, getting grass stains on your pants.”
“I figure, we get other religious holidays off, if The Rapture ain’t religious, what is?”
“The Rapture—did it happen?”
“Darn tootin’ it didn’t happen. You take Christmas, that’s a real religious holiday because that stuff happened. But the Rapture didn’t happen. If something didn’t happen, it ain’t religious. No holiday.”
Vaguely offended that his boss considered religious holidays, e.g., the birth of the Son of God “stuff,” Kenny frowned.
“And another thing, Christmas, you’re gone a day, then you come back to work. Was you planning on coming back from The Rapture?”
“’Course not. The Rapture means that all good folks go up to heaven, forever and ever.”
“There you have it.” The boss pointed sternly at Kenny. “You wasn’t on no vacation. You wasn’t coming back. In other words: You quit.”
“It wasn’t my fault it didn’t happen.”
“It wasn’t my fault neither. You was on the seven o’clock shift. You didn’t show. You don’t show, that’s it.”
“It won’t happen again,” Kenny said.
“Darn tootin’ it won’t, cause you ain’t working here no more!”
“My boss said I couldn’t have time off, on account of it wasn’t a real religious holiday,” Kenny told the Reverend Groodle.
“If The Rapture ain’t religious, what is?”
“That’s what I told him. He said if it didn’t happen, it’s not a holiday.”
“He may have a point,” the Reverend said, scratching his sparse beard thoughtfully. “But that ain’t your fault.”
“I was thinking, maybe you could go talk to him?”
“What good would that do?”
“Well, maybe you could tell him it was your fault.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“In a way, it was. You’re the one told us The Rapture would be Monday morning around seven. That’s why we all sat around that pasture all day.”
“Ah-ah-ah-aaah,” the Reverend said, wagging his finger. Kenny hated it when people did that to him. Always had. “I didn’t tell you. The Good Book told you.”
“Yeah, but you’re the one told me that the Good Book told us.”
“Don’t go shooting the messenger.”
“I ain’t shooting anyone. I just want my job back.”
“Well wantin’ ain’t gettin’.”
“I need that job!”
The Reverend stood up straight, stretched and yawned. “I needed The Rapture,” he said. “So we’re in the same boat.”
“No we ain’t. You still got your job.”
“Ain’t much of a job. You forget, I wasn’t hired by no church. The First Church of the Eternal Rapture is my own creation. I don’t receive no salary. I live on donations, and since The Rapture was a bust, donations is scarce. You might say, donations is toast.”
“I gave you four dollars.”
“And I appreciate it.”
“I was thinking, since there wasn’t no Rapture, you ‘spose I could have my four dollars back?”
“Religious donations ain’t refundable,” he said. “That’s in the Internal Revenue Code. You could look it up. I’d be happy to give you back your four dollars, but it’d be illegal. You could go to jail.”
That’s what his doctor had told him when Kenny requested more hydrocodone. Every time he asked for something, he was told he could go to jail. His sister Valerie had said that once or twice too.
“Oh.” Kenny sensed that something was not right. But he had been taught to be respectful to the Clergy, even on the rare occasions when they might be wrong. He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he said, “I got grass stains on my pants. I only wore these on account of my jeans is all in the wash. My sister bought these for me to wear to job interviews, and now they’s all stained.”
The Reverend looked concerned. “Shouldn’t of worn good clothes. I always tell folks, ‘You come to a rapture, you’re gonna be sittin’ in grass all day. Don’t wear no tan Dockers, on account of the stains. Dockers and the Rapture don’t mix.’ Everyone knows this.”
“You always tell folks not to wear tan Dockers when they’re getting Raptured?” he said. “You done this before?”
“Of course,” the Reverend looked a little offended. “The Rapture ain’t nothing new. It’s been coming for years.”
“It’s been coming where for years? I thought it was something brand-spankin’ new.”
The Reverend laughed and spat on the ground. “Hell, no. The Rapture happens all the time.”
“It didn’t happen yesterday!”
“I didn’t mean it happens all the time. I mean, it’s a-gonna happen all the time.”
“Well, when’s it really gonna happen? On account of, if it’s gonna happen later this week, that’s okay. If it’s gonna be awhile, I’m gonna have to get me another job.”
The Reverend stared at the cross hanging around his neck from a black shoelace. He breathed on it heavily, then lifted up his shirt and rubbed the cross with it. Satisfied at its shine, he dropped it back onto his chest.
“Well if you find one,” the Reverend said, “you might let me know. You might find out if they’re hirin’ anyone else. I may be in the market for a new calling.”
“It’s from sitting in the grass all day,” Kenny told Valerie when she asked about the grass stains on his pants.
“I don’t think it’ll come out,” she said, with her usual lack of spunk. “But I can try.” She dropped them into the washing machine and set the dials. Water churned.
Valerie was always helping Kenny. She’d helped Kenny with his homework from the seventh grade through their senior year. He watched with the slightest touch of sadness as she bent over his laundry appliances. She could have been at some smart-ass college, getting hammered and listening to Dark Side of the Moon with a bunch of snot-nosed college boys, and getting paid for it too. And yet, here she was, helping Kenny out of a jam once again. He felt guilty, but not guilty enough to ask her to stop.
“I hope you can get them dry by tomorrow,” Kenny said. “Them’s my best pants. I’m gonna need them for job interviews.”
Valerie looked at Kenny as though he had said something of surpassing significance.
“What job interviews are those?” she said.
“You know,” Kenny said. “I got to get another job. I need clean pants.”
“If you think anyone around here’s going to give you a job, you need more than clean pants.”
Kenny paused long enough for her to tell him what more he needed, but she offered no further thoughts.
“They’re hiring down to the rendering plant,” he said.
“They’re hiring. But they ain’t hiring you. Not after that Rapture stuff.”
“It wasn’t stuff. It was the coming of the Lord. The Day of Judgment. We was all going up to Heaven.”
“I was gonna be Sandra Bullock. And here I am, washing grass stains out of your pants.”
“It was gonna be The End of Days.”
“It was the End of your Days at the plant,” she said. “Ain’t nobody gonna hire anyone who’s mixed up with that Groodle.”
“He’s a man of the cloth.”
“Well, maybe he can remove the grass stains from this cloth. But I don’t think this here old Whirlpool is gonna get the job done, just between you and me.”
She gave the clanking machine a friendly kick and headed for the door.
“Where you goin’?”
“Work. Got me a job at the slaughterhouse. There was an opening just come up.”
“That’s my job!”
“Was your job.”
The back door slammed shut behind her.
“I hear ol’ Val is moving up in the world,” Kenny’s friend Rube said over beers that noon at the Wet Works Café. “Got herself a job at the plant and is fixin’ to shack up with ol’ Edgar. You got grass stains on your pants. And they’re wet. Did you forget to put ‘em in the dryer?”
“Dryer don’t work. But I got me a interview.”
“Where you gonna interview? Who’d interview you after you sat out with that Groodle guy all day?”
“That ain’t no interview. That’s government stuff. Why should some government guy care if you got no job? He’s already got his job. What’s he care about you?”
Rube shook his head and reached out his hand. “Here, have another beer on me.”
“Nah, Shouldn’t of had that first one. Now I got to go home and brush my teeth. Can’t go there with alcohol on my breath. I hope Valerie didn’t take the toothbrush.”
“Relax,” Rube said, grabbing Kenny by the sleeve and returning him to his barstool. “Them unemployment guys is in the bag all the time anyways. He won’t notice.”
“Reason for quitting the slaughterhouse?” the unemployment guy asked, popping open a brewski and offering one to Kenny, who thought twice about it, then accepted.
“Didn’t quit,” Kenny explained. “Got fired. See, I thought The Rapture counted as a religious holiday. Besides, way I figured, after The Rapture, we’d all be in Heaven anyway so I wouldn’t have to worry about work.”
“Ol’ Groodle again. Hoo boy.”
“You know him?”
“He sends this agency a lot of folks. Goes from one county to the next with Raptures. People quit their jobs to go to Heaven and wind up going on unemployment. He keeps guys like me employed.”
“Guess he’s looking for work too.”
“Not no more. I found him a job at the slaughterhouse.”
“I thought Valerie got that job.”
“Nah, she worked a day and went off with the guy what owns the place. I heard they was going to Tahiti. Probably ain’t comin’ back.”
“Can you get me a job?”
“Nobody will hire a Rapture guy.”
“They hired Groodle.”
“He’s a man of the cloth. A Holy Man. You’re just a guy with grass stains on his pants. You own a washer and dryer?”
Kenny thanked the guy for the beer and headed home. He was the only pedestrian in sight. Everyone else was working. It started to rain pretty hard. He had no umbrella, but didn’t mind. Maybe it would rain forty days and forty nights. That would be a Rapture, although he had always pictured it as a clean, dry ascension. He had a fear of drowning, even if it meant eternal salvation.
A police car, driven by Officer Monty, pulled up alongside him. Monty asked him what he was doing.
“Goin’ home from my interview.”
“Nobody will hire a Rapture guy. Specially if he’s wet. What happened to your pants? Them the Dockers Donna bought you?”
“All I wanted was to go to Heaven. It’s not like I kidnapped someone.”
“Drago the Polack kidnapped someone last summer. He did five months and they paroled him. He got a job at the slaughterhouse.”
“I thought Groodle got that job.”
“Different job. They hired Drago to replace the guy that’s in charge of firing people. Ol’ Drago, he specializes in rejection, you know. Maybe that’s your problem. You ain’t got no specialty.”
Kenny started to ask what happened to the guy who fired him, thought better of it, and kept walking.
“Where you going?”
“Good. Cause you don’t want to go nowheres important wearing pants like that. Hang ‘em up to dry outdoors, you ain’t got no dryer. What my mom used to do. Here.” He tossed Kenny a beer and drove off. Kenny continued walking home.
He stopped at the Bullets ‘n Brew for a six-pack and maybe some shotgun shells, what with pheasant season coming up. The clerk was reading a newspaper at the counter.
“See this?” the clerk said, pointing to a picture of Kenny, Groodle and the other would-be Rapturers. It was a nice color shot on page seven, right next to the obits.
“Guy’s gonna take your picture, he ought to ask permission,” Kenny said.
“Guy’s sitting in a pasture in front of God and Everybody, he ought to expect to get his picture taken. How come you got no umbrella? What was you doing out there anyway?”
“Waiting for The Rapture.”
“What exactly did you think was going to happen?”
“I expected to be carried away in the arms of the Lord. That’s what the Reverend said.”
“In them pants? You oughtn’t to walk a dog in them pants. They wouldn’t let you into heaven lookin’ like that. Wet, grassy—”
“All right with the pants!” Kenny raised his voice a bit, something he rarely did. He fetched a six-pack of Steamy Creek Beer and placed it on the counter. The clerk looked at him funny as he made change.
“Sorry,” Kenny fumbled. “Didn’t mean nothing.”
“That’s okay. I’d set all day in a pasture waiting to be Raptured, I’d be in a bad mood too.” The clerk leaned forward, looked left and right, and whispered as if about to reveal a dark secret. “Me, I’m a pantheist.”
Kenny was in no mood for further conversation, but he had to ask.
“It means I believe in all sorts of deities, and not a-one of them makes me sit in a pasture with quacks like Groodle, getting grass stains on brand-new Dockers my sister bought me.”
Kenny left the store without a word. He drank half the six-pack on his way home in rain that got heavier and heavier, and was working on the other half in the comfort of his home when the lights went out. Thunder shook the little house. He had no candles or matches so he sat there in the darkness, waiting for the storm to play out, but it didn’t seem to be doing that. It would be fine with him, he thought, if a tornado picked up his house and carried it up to heaven, or at least over to Polk County, where Metallica was going to be playing in a couple days. But he didn’t expect any such luck.
When the beer ran out, he remembered half a bottle of Hawkeye Whiskey under the kitchen sink, but when he rose to get it, he tripped over a pile of Tahitian travel brochures Valerie had left on the floor. His fall was accompanied by the biggest clap of thunder he had ever heard and he found himself face first on the carpet, which smelled of potato chips and beer and a few other things. He wished he had some fresh chips, but no longer expected miracles. Lightning lit up the room as he lay there, surrounded by thunder and darkness and descriptions of a tropical paradise. This wasn’t any fun at all.
From outside came the unmistakable tragic snap of a giant maple tree meeting its maker. Kenny had always liked that tree; it was a hundred years old if it was a day, and judging from the heartbreaking noise, Kenny knew the tree was a goner.
Other sounds ricocheted around the living room while Kenny remained prone. He had a transistor radio in his bedroom, and thought about fetching it, but what could it tell him? That a big storm was going to knock him to the floor and kill his favorite tree? And where the hell was Tahiti anyway? Kenny thought it must be in Hawaii somewheres, but wasn’t sure.
Looking up from the floor, Kenny could see large objects taking flight. Maybe they were being Raptured. Wouldn’t that just be his luck, for a tree to be gathered up in the arms of the Lord forever and ever while he stayed here among the crumbs of Valerie’s potato chips and travel plans?
When he saw his neighbor’s trailer go sailing by like one of those hydroplanes that were always crashing on TruTV, Kenny lost it, tossing his cookies onto a map of holiday splendor. This wasn’t his day. He could hear other trees giving up their ghosts all around him. He had never noticed that much vegetation in the neighborhood, and its collective demise produced a collective death rattle scarier than anything AC/DC had ever concocted. But it wasn’t until things got dead silent that the real fear set in. He tried to burrow into the carpet. He clawed into it, but only came up with a handful of Tahitian hotel information. Then he learned that everything he had heard about tornados was true, they did sound just like a big freight train crashing into a Grand Canyon full of bumper cars at about a kazillion miles an hour. The opposite of a Rapture, when you stopped and thought about it, but Kenny figured that beggars couldn’t be choosers, and maybe this was the Lord’s way of punishing him for believing in an obvious crook like Groodle, who took his four dollars and left him naught but grass stains a broken heart and no job.
The walls Raptured around him, taking with them that great Dio poster he’d won at the State Fair the summer before, sky-high and then higher. The city’s expensive new warning siren and the roof went off simultaneously. Just like the city, Kenny thought, to warn a guy about a little wind when he already had a tsunami crawling up his keester.
When hail more or less the size of tennis balls that had been left out in the rain once too often began to fall, he rolled up against the living room couch, lifted it up, and crawled underneath. The couch settled upon him and pressed his face into a pile of hitherto lost possessions. He’d wondered, for example, what had happened to his favorite Black Oak Arkansas CD. Well, here it was, right underneath the slaughterhouse safety manual he’d meant to read as soon as he’d gotten his G.E.D., only he never got it, what with overtime and Valerie and all.
The hail gave way to rain. He tried to remember some of the survival tips he was supposed to learn in Boy Scouts, that year the juvenile court had made him join as a condition of his probation. Then he remembered that, in his opinion, the greatest survival tip of all was to stay the hell indoors during storms. He hadn’t liked the uniforms anyway.
The couch was not an effective means of staying dry. Water gushed under it. Surely a storm this big was a sign from above, to punish those who had scoffed at him, and at Groodle, and the other believers in The Rapture. Surely this was the real thing. It better be, Kenny thought, or he would really be pissed. Prayer seemed to be in order, to let all relevant parties know how serious Kenny was, and to divest his own self of the fear that was rising up from his stomach like the time he ate that undercooked extra-large turkey leg at the State Fair. The experience was disturbing, particularly in the close confines of the couch and floor where he cowered. He had always intended to move to a place where there was a decent roof, but he had kept putting it off, and now look at him.
There had been a time when Kenny knew three or four prayers by heart, having been a church regular in his youth. But what with mom and dad dying, and Valerie showing up, and the slaughterhouse job, and a couple of Green Day tours, and what have you, he had more or less become unaffiliated. And yet, glimmers of old Sunday school lessons rattled around in his head as the hail piled up around him.
He had said the Lord’s Prayer a thousand times and had never liked it once, especially that part about forgiving trespassers. In this neighborhood, trespassers were not forgiven. That’s what shotguns were for. As for being forgiven for his trespasses, that was pure baloney. Kenny knew he’d done some bad things—most of which were half Valerie’s fault—but he had never once trespassed, no sir. He started to recite it again when the hailstones hit the couch with the sound of a popcorn popper on crystal meth, and a roar lifted him off the ground. His mind scrambled frantically for scripture, for holy words with which to entreat the Almighty to help him out of this. He vowed never to spend another dime on AC/DC tickets, unless they were incredibly cheap, which would probably never happen. He could remember no formal prayers, though, only Christmas carols. He tried to think of one that might help him in the middle of a tornado, but came up short, so he started to sing the only one he knew.
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly!” he sang, still not sure what the heck a bough was, as the sofa sailed merrily away, leaving him a sitting duck for hail and pieces of what had been some of the finest trees in the neighborhood. “Fa la la la la, la la la la.” Spiritual energy surged through him like a double shot of Gentleman Jack. “Tis the season to be jolly!” The storm drove on and through him and he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he now had absolutely no chance of ever seeing that beloved old Black Oak Arkansas disc ever again. Damn.
As he approached the dreaded “gay apparel” line, he abruptly changed his tune and segued into We Three Kings of Orientar. He had always meant to look up Orientar on a map but had never gotten around to that either. Strange, how now he was about to die he was thinking of all kinds of interesting stuff to do, while on a normal day he had never been able to think of much of anything.
“Silent night, holy night!” he wailed, as a big tongue picked him up and spit him into the storm the way he used to spit watermelon seeds when he was a kid. He hoped that Valerie wouldn’t see him airborne, as she would just find an excuse to laugh at him and turn his pain into another one of her stupid jokes. Then again, he figured, she was probably in Tahiti and too far away to see him.
Things flew by him in the wind, much as things had tended to fly right by him all his life, only these things were more interesting and immediate. The Knutsons’ dog, for example. On the ground, it was a mangy and grumpy little mutt, prone to irrational violence and tantrums. Up here, however, the hound took on an almost divine tranquility, although it seemed to be in peril from the Knutsons’ stately oak tree which, detached from a yard sadly overgrown with creeping charlie, had assumed a supernatural splendor—all those arms and fingers madly driving toward some goofy and undoubtedly painful end. The dog, for once, seemed at peace with the world. Maybe it was dead, or having an out-of-body experience, like the one Valerie had always talked about after hanging out with those roadies at that Ratdog show. He’d had to drive to Dubuque to pick her up at the jail. Ever since, he’d had no use at all for out-of-body experiences, whatever the heck they were.
His flight may have lasted half a minute or less, but seemed to take forever, like the time he had taken his one and only piano lesson. He was just beginning to enjoy himself when he realized he couldn’t breathe, having gotten the wind knocked out of him when his spinal column collided with a fertile chunk of pasture. For a moment it dawned on him that perhaps being unable to breathe wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe he should let it go, right here. A pasture was as good a place as any. But the sight of Reverend Groodle standing over him, yelling about Raptures again—that stuff was really getting old—startled him so profoundly that he involuntarily took a breath, and there he was, alive and well again, although a little sore in the back, and his shoes seemed to be gone.
“Hallelujah!” Groodle wailed. He raised his arms to heaven. Just like the old coot, Kenny thought, to be thanking God for whatever-it-was that had happened, when he, Kenny, had done all the work.
“Why aren’t you at work?” Kenny asked. “You copped my job. Least you could do is show up.”
“It’s a miracle!” Groodle persisted. “The slaughterhouse is toast! Wiped out! You and I survived! All has been revealed! Christ has been vindicated!”
“I’m on my back in a cow pasture, it hurts all over, and my shoes are gone. Christ ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”
“The Redeemer has been redeemed! God’s will has been proven!” Groodle kept on.
“Well, if you see God, ask him if I can have my shoes back. I just bought them new at Payless last week. I put them on my Visa card and I ain’t even got the bill yet.”
“Those who scorned you have been proven heretics!” Groodle said. “They shall pay for their faithlessness! They shall pay!”
“Swell. And I’m paying interest on shoes I’ll never see again.”
“Don’t you understand?” Groodle was talking way too loud. “You’ve been Raptured! You are a holy man!”
“I’m on the ground. I’m surrounded by cow pies. My pants, which used to be just grass-stained, are covered with mud and blood. My house is probably scattered over four counties. I got no shoes. If this is the Rapture, Reverend, you can have it.”
Groodle was still ranting. His voice was going strong back there in the distance as Kenny trudged homeward.
Home was gone. There was a basement and a few great vacation magazines. Parts of his Led Zeppelin box set lay here and there, looking trampled underfoot. A news crew drove up and poured out of their van. They looked hunted and bore clear signs of recent experience with certain chemical compounds with which Kenny had once had a passing familiarity.
“I could use a hit myself, you got any on you,” Kenny said to a beefy-faced mama’s-boy.
“What was the Rapture like?” the kid asked.
“Wet,” Kenny said. “Have you seen any Black Oak Arkansas CDs around here? Do you want me to show you how to focus that thing?”
A winning, though skinny girl in high heels and hair that was a little too perfect stuck a microphone in his face. “Shannon Amanda, Channel Thirteen Awesome News,” she chimed. “Give me the whole story.”
“Kenny, Middle of Nowhere, Unemployed Shoeless Loser With Wet Pants and No Job,” Kenny said. “Get me my job back and I’ll tell you the whole story.”
The news crew evaporated quicker than Kenny’s sofa. He sat in the remains of his former abode. It rained harder than ever. All the trees and houses were gone. The Knutson’s dog, however, was still in one piece. It approached Kenny, wagging its little tail. Kenny reached out to pat his fellow survivor on the head, but the dog bit his hand, drawing blood, and high-tailed it out of there.
Then Valerie pulled up in her ancient VW bus. She got out and walked over to him in the rain. For an unfaithful, soulless girl who’d spent a weekend in Dubuque with Ratdog, she didn’t look half bad. She reached into her raincoat pocket and pulled out a Black Oak Arkansas disc and handed it to him.
“Plant’s gone. Worked there three hours.”
“Don’t count on no pension.”
“Airport’s gone too.”
“Want your brochures back?” Kenny said, handing her a handful of previously glossy but now seriously waterlogged paper. She ignored them.
“I heard you got raptured.”
“Oh yeah, it was great,” he said, yawning. “You know what a bough is?”
“Come on, let’s go to the Laundromat. It’s still standing.”
“Ain’t nothing left of my pants to wash.”
“I seen you without your pants before.”
He followed her to the van and they drove to the Laundromat. She did what she had to do and so did he. Groodle had his idea of Rapture, and Valerie had hers. Fa la la la la, la la la la.