Ernst Schrieben- festen stood behind Old Josh in line at Di Popolo's Feed Store this morning.
Ernst is the editor of the paper here in Zen. Old Josh, a preacher, had tomato stakes in his hand.
"Tomatoes already up, Josh? On the first of April," Ernst asked. For Ernst to speak at all was unusual, but Josh was one of his favorites.
Josh replied with half smile, "Faith is the substance of things hope for..."
"...the evidence of things unseen," Ernst replied. "Sounds like an Easter sermon."
"Yup," Old Josh said. "Maybe." He looked at the stakes. "Tomatoes, though, they're my Holy Saturday project. Every year, the day before Easter, I put stakes in the ground 'round my little plants, knowing, hoping, that by the end of May or so those vines'll reach up round this metal and take off toward the sun."
Ernst nodded. The two men stood there in silence waiting on the flustered women in front of them to dig out the money from her purse. She was buying a crate of baby chicks, and she spoke very loudly.
"We're having an Easter egg hunt down at the Baptist church at ten o' clock this morning. And I'm buying baby chicks to give to to the top ten kids who find the most eggs. Aren't they the cutest thiiiiiiings!" She trilled the word "things" like a tenor singing an aria from Handel's Messiah.
"The chicks, I mean, not the kids. Oh, the kids are cute, too," she rattled on. "They'll be there in their little Easter dresses and matching sailor suits. Boys hate those clothes, so I figure winning baby chicks would make 'em glad they got dressed and came. Last year I bought baby bunnies for the winners. Kids was just knockin' each other down to get those eggs. But the preacher told me they was pagans."
"The bunnies I mean, not the kids." She laughed loud, long and high. "Anyway, this year we're giving these chicks as prizes. So ya'll come. Ten o' clock at the Baptist church. Everybody'll be there."
Old Josh and Ernst watched as the woman bustled out of the door with the crate of chicks.
"So, Josh, you going to the egg hunt? Might win yourself a chicken," Ernst said.
"B'lieve I'll pass on that, Ernst," Josh said. "You better go and take some pictures for the paper. Kids in sailor suits knocking each other down to win baby chicks to commemorate Jesus dead in a tomb -- that'll sell papers, for sure."
In a rare public outburst, Ernst bellowed a giant "Ha" of a laugh. He wiped saliva from the the corner of his mouth.
"So what do you do on Saturday, Josh? Holy Saturday, you called it? Besides putting out tomato stakes," Ernst asked.
"Well, we leave the egg hunt to the Baptists," Josh said. "They do that pretty well. The Episcopalians, they put on pretty moment with their organist playing Bach and all. They're solemn. I like that. And the Methodists are the most earnest -- they get together and scrub their building from top to bottom, all day. Leaf blowers and weed eaters. They're diligent."
Old Josh stared at the floor for a good long while. Ernst waited. Even the pimply teenager working the cash register leaned forward.
" 'Bout seven o' clock this evening, we'll gather at the church. There may only be three or four of us, maybe as many as eight or ten or so. We'll sit there a for a few minutes. Then I'll stand up and read a scripture. Maybe Psalm 22, about being forsaken and our bones being out of joint. Then I'll say that's probably how Mary and Mary Magdalene and Joanna and the rest of Jesus' disciples felt with their friend buried and gone. I figure we all feel that way sometime, even when we're looking for Easter eggs or using a leaf blower in the flower bed. A lot of the time, if we're honest. Life is painful. We're lonely. Then I might pray and ask God not to be far off, even when our souls lay down in the dust. Then we'll sit still for a while, then go home."
Silence in the feed store.
"So, that's it," Old Josh said.
"That's it," Ernst said quietly.
"That's it," the pimply teenager said, even quieter still. "Uh, I mean, that'll be $7.49." His voice was scratchy, as if his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Old Josh paid and went home to put stakes around his tomatoes that were growing, unseen, in the dark earth.
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