Fellowship by Jack Coey

  He got hired for a summer job in Keene, NH. even though he lived in Worcester, Mass because Old Man Fenton couldn’t staff the Keene store. The deal was Old Man Fenton would pay for his hotel room and a salary and it would be the first time Tyrone was away from home.  He’d just graduated from high school. His father was okay with it and his mother hysterical. His mother didn’t think he was ready to be on his own in a strange city; his father thought that would mature him. So, at the end of June, Tyrone took the bus and walked to the E.F. Lane Hotel on Main Street. Old Man Fenton was cheap so he got a butler’s room off the lobby which was so small he couldn’t have a roommate which was all right with him. He worked a lot for there was nothing else and became really good at running a cash register. But he was desperately lonely. He sat in his room for as long as he could before going out and walking the streets. Sometimes in kind of a despair he walked – walked the streets going wherever he went – not caring. It was on a walk that he saw the sign which read “Fellowship Hall” and some people were working on a small garden and said hello to him as he walked by. The building was a somewhat run-down single-family home probably built after the Second World War that had battery-operated candles in the windows. He saw a young girl with a smile. He pictured her smile afterwards.

And afterwards and afterwards. That Sunday morning, he walked by the Fellowship Hall again and saw the girl with a smile. She said hello and he said hello; she said it was a nice day and he said it was a nice day; she said there was a fellowship meeting in half an hour would he like to attend? and he said he would like to attend. She said The Oracle was going to speak and she was sure he would say something illuminating for the congregation. He didn’t care about that but enjoyed her smile. He told her he’d be back and kept walking. When it was time, he went back, and she was waiting for him by the small garden. There was no one else around.

“Some Oracle,” he thought. 

She led him into the hall. There were portraits on the wall of a man Tyrone assumed was The Oracle. She led him into a room with two rows of folding chairs and a podium and more portraits of the man. 

“This Oracle cat thinks a lot of himself,” Tyrone thought. 

Suddenly like out of nowhere five or six women filed in all wearing blue skirts and white blouses. Several men also appeared; nobody smiled. Nobody sat. After several moments, The Oracle entered from another door. Everyone except Tyrone bowed from the waist. At some signal, everyone sat except for Tyrone until the girl with the smile tugged at his shirt. The Oracle indulgently smiled at Tyrone. The Oracle had the whitest smile Tyrone ever saw. 

“Welcome to the Outsider,” said The Oracle. 

 “Welcome,” chanted the group. 

The Oracle stared at Tyrone and Tyrone felt like he was trying to intimidate him.

“We can feel the anxiety the Outsider brings to our fellowship,” said The Oracle “because he contaminates us from the outside world and the ambiguity and anxiety from the outside world is brought among us, but we nevertheless welcome him just the same. It is my fervent hope that the Outsider will be receptive to the obedience and sacrifice that guides us here and allows us to forsake the anxiety of the outside world.” 

“Anxiety of the outside world,” chanted the group. 

 “It is my Divine Command to navigate the fellowship in the ways of righteousness even when to the outside world our ways are perplexing or arcane.”

“Navigate the fellowship,” chanted the group. 

The Oracle paused.          

 “It appears to me that Mara has brought the outsider into our midst and I will see Mara in my office after service.” 

 “After service,” chanted the group. 

Tyrone felt tension. He listened as The Oracle gave his sermon and it was all about obedience, and if that wasn’t bad enough, Tyrone sensed it was about obedience to him. He couldn’t wait to get out of there. He realized The Oracle wanted Mara in his office so she wouldn’t leave with him. When the sermon was over, Mara no longer had a smile, and he told her “Good Luck” and headed for the door. A couple of the men followed him and watched him from the doorway walk down the street. 

That night he was laying on his bed staring at the ceiling hearing the tickling of glasses and laughter from the bar on the other side of the wall when he had a realization about The Oracle. He had total obedience; that excited and fascinated him. Just imagine being able to say to Mara anything you wanted, and she complied willfully – gleefully even. He worked himself into a state and walked three times around the common to break himself free. He wanted to go back and see if he could watch The Oracle to learn how to get others to do what you wanted. 

He walked by the Hall several times before seeing Mara again. He approached her and asked about going to a meeting and she didn’t respond. He told her he wanted to be part of the fellowship and live an enlightened, exalted life too like she was lucky enough to do. He saw bruises on her arm and someone looking out a window. He felt anxious when two men came out of the house. He quickly walked on. 

Tyrone thought of himself as a spy having to infiltrate the enemy’s line. He told himself at the next Fellowship to watch the members to steal ideas how to make himself more assimilated. He was looking at the paper one afternoon and saw a notice for The Fellowship Hall and Enlightenment Meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:00 PM. To his fellow workers, he seemed more absorbed, and when one of the men asked if he was okay, he answered, “sure.”  

He got paid on Friday, and Saturday afternoon after work, he went to the Salvation Army and bought an outfit and sandals for eight bucks and went to the barber to shave his head. He looked in the mirror in his room and smiled when he saw he looked like an apostle. He had the idea to tell Mara he was homeless, and could he find shelter at The Fellowship Hall? He stood in front of the mirror practicing different facial expressions to see how he looked. With his head shaved, his ears stuck too far out from his head and he had to compensate for that with stern expressions. After a while, he thought he should go out into the public to see how strangers reacted to him. He walked up and down Main and saw sympathetic smiles from mostly women which he interpreted as acknowledgement of his holy status, and it never occurred to him, they thought he was sick or crazy. 

The men at work thought it curious what he did and were told it was for the hot weather. The men loved to drink beer and Tyrone didn’t so after work they went their separate ways which made Tyrone a subject of ridicule, to wit: his shaved head only encouraged more. 

But there was only one audience he cared about: Mara. On Tuesday afternoon, he knew there was a meeting, and he talked to his manager about leaving work early to go to the dentist, and he went back to his room to change into his apostle costume before going to the Hall. It was the same as before and The Oracle sermonized about obedience. On the way out, he asked Mara if he could speak with her. She glanced around before hesitatingly saying yes. He told her he was sleeping in the woods and would there be a possibility he could shelter in The Hall? She looked around while she told him she would have to ask The Oracle, and that The Oracle would have to trust him before he would allow him into The Hall. Tyrone asked Mara if she would recommend him? Tyrone saw men watching them, and that was why Mara was so fidgety. She told him to come to Thursday’s meeting and she would have an answer. 

 That night lying on his bed, looking at the ceiling, he realized that he couldn’t talk to Mara in The Hall without being watched. He had to figure out a way to see her outside The Hall. He thought he would slip her a note to meet at Fenton’s Grocery at the end of his shift. He didn’t feel any better because he doubted if she would do it, and if she did, who’s to say the men wouldn’t follow her? 

His manger was annoyed when he told him on Thursday he had to leave early for a follow-up at the dentist. The manger sensed something was going on with Tyrone and the shaved head was part of it. He’d seen other employees go bad from relationships, booze, gambling, and money. With Tyrone, he’d guess probably a girl that’s got him all tied up, and he guessed that from experience.      

Tyrone showed up for the meeting and the members bowed when The Oracle entered the room and chanted back to him his illuminations. He had a piece of paper in his pocket with Meet me at Fenton’s Grocery on Main Street at three in the afternoon written on it. He would slip it to Mara on the way out and see if he could divine her answer from how she responded. When the moment came, she blushed and turned away. He saw the men watching. He left not knowing.

For the next couple of days, the store manager watched Tyrone and observed he was quiet. One day at the end of his shift, he walked out into the parking lot, and two men, one on either side of him, pushed him into the back seat of a car, and drove off. The next day, the manager noticed the bruises on his face. He called him into his office and Tyrone admitted he’d had some trouble, but he would take care of it, and no, he didn’t need any help. It was on his way to his room, that he stopped at Wal-Mart, and bought a gas can. 

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