I stand at the south side entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge, on the pedestrian walkway. It’s brisk, the on-shore flow flaps hair, shirts, and loose trousers. Sweat forms on my brow and I feel a chill emanate in my lower back. The fence is tattered; links lay about the ground like so many memories; rust and the weight-of-siege are landmarks to a frivolous past. At the tollbooths, guards control access from the north and south end of the bridge, into and out of the Church of Roberts City. A few mill about the booths with AR-15’s slung across their shoulders. Two Hummers are parked on the roadway on each side of the bridge; they have a hole cut into the roof so a gunman can stand and fire out of it. A guard pulls out his keys and opens the gate. I am the second of seven prisoners who will meet their fate at sunset, unless, I confess the sin of knowledge, unless I recant reason and join the new Church of the Sacred Life. I have about twenty minutes.
Our guards, Agents of the Sword, march us double time towards the center of the bridge. Halfway, one of the prisoners on the chain falls down pulling the man in front and behind him to the ground. Our waists are linked together with 3 feet of one-inch chain; each man’s ankles are tied together with an orange nylon rope, and it shortens our gait to about a foot and a half. Progress is awkward, comical like an old string and weight, walking toy; we could be sailors, elephants, or ducks. The legs articulate forward and back as the single piece bodies swing back and forth, while a weight pulls them to the edge of a table. They never fall off.
The guards surround the fallen and grab on to their clothes, arms, or hair, and pull them up. I bend over panting and notice my shoelaces are loose.
At the apex, we line up facing the street. A preacher, Brother Harrows, walks from man to man and offers to pray with him. “Pray with me, recant your acts of non-belief, and your soul will be saved.”
The preacher wears black jeans, black running sneakers, a crisp white shirt, a bloodstone surfer cross bolo tie, and a black ball cap with the Cross of Roberts at its peak. He carries a black homemade messenger bag off his right shoulder and in his hands a tattered King James. It is a twilight, but he still wears darker than night Wayfarers.
“Vengeance is mine, say eth the Lord. Like a thief in the night I will come,” he says. “Pray with me, repent before it is too late.”
He looks in to my face, but I can’t see his eyes.
“Ambrose,” he says, “Where are your children? You and Elise, your intelligence, her looks, both dedicated and focused, and your love?”
I bow my head and look away.
And now Ambrose,” he continues, “your dear and lovely wife lost from her childless vanity, birth control, suffrage, and independence. We need you; the Lord needs you. Join us. The Lord can save you. I’ll witness it,’” he says and pauses a breath’s length. He leans close to my ear. “Even my own daughter would love to be with you, Ambrose. I would be a happy father and grateful.”
Before I can answer, the convict next to me–the last for the confessor, the first for heaven or hell or oblivion–pulls on his chains, steps slightly out of line, snorts and spits at the preacher. A sticky, light green glob lands on his left chest just above his heart, but Harrows doesn’t react. The guards beat the convict’s legs back into line with axe handles they carry on their belts. The convict cries out and drops to his knees; he moans, growls, and laughs out loud at the blows. The thrashing on the chains almost pulls me to the ground. I can see tears in his eyes. He stinks of urine, and sweat; his once white t-shirt is covered in brown, yellow stains, and dried blood. He’s not wearing a belt, and his tattered jeans barely hang on his hips. I can see the label of his underwear, Fruit of the Loom, and I remember a conversation with Elise.
When I was a child, I wore white briefs with my initials in them to separate from my brother’s, and Elise asked which fruit I liked best.
“The banana of course my love.” I say as she rolls over onto her back, sweat dripping from her nose, and her long hair tangled and strewn about her head like the rabbit-ear cactus we saw everywhere on our honeymoon, when we rode paint horses on the beach in the Mexican Riviera and drank Margaritas made with prickly pear fruit.
She sighs, rolls her eyes, and laughs, “the apple is the sign of wisdom.”
“I’ve enough wisdom to keep you happy, but the banana…” I say, and roll on top of her, kissing her nose, each eye, and her lips. Kissing her neck, her ear, I blow at its entrance, and she shivers. I kiss her mouth and tongue, I look deep into her blue eyes, bright as a pilot light on the longest winter day, a woman of her own will, intelligent and beautiful, subservient to no one, a woman warm open and honest, a woman in full.
“I’ve had enough banana for an evening, dear. Could you get me a glass of water, please?” She sighs, smiles, and bats her eyes.
I get up off of the bed, bow slightly, and walkout to the kitchen.
I sit the glass on the table next to her, “do you think our children will have your eyes?”
“Children?” She says, “my work.”
“Damn project, when will it be over?” I ask.
“The end of the year. I promise.”
I sigh and shrug my shoulders.
“I’ll be a partner next year, and I’ll have time.”
“Okay, okay. I love you.”
She wraps her arms around me as I lie down next to her on the bed. “I love you too; you’re the best man in the whole universe.”
Brother Harrows removes a handkerchief from his left coat pocket, and with one continuous movement, wipes his coat and returns it. He speaks to the guards in a low voice.
“Dudes, looks like we got another choir boy, pedophile, non-believer here, a fucking cath-o-lick.” Shaun says; he’s the Lieutenant of the group, “He’s gonna swing like a sticky turd.”
“Yah, he’ll be swinging like black spaghetti out ‘da pope’s ass,” one of the men says.
“He’ll find his great reward in the burning sewers of Rome,” another says.
“Hail, El Ponti, hail, hail your way to hell,” Shaun says.
The crew of five men/boys, Assistants to the Sword are between the age of 15 and 21. They laugh, and jump about howling monkey noises, dragging their fists on the ground, and crossing the trinity off of each other’s butt, snorting and spitting obscenities to a belief long dead.
“Light the torches,” Brother Harrows says. Darkness stalks out of the east, and the guards pick up several bundles of wood and rag, and strike a flame to each. They place them in old recycled electric floor lamps, in a semicircle around us.
“Mr. Barbary, Gabriel, for the last time, confess your heresy and repent?” The preacher says. “The Pope was a serpent. Father Roberts is the one true way.”