Matthew waited in the toilet cubicle and listened to who didn’t wash their hands. Someone had stood by the door but Matthew sniffed to say, No, I’m still going... They huffed and used the urinal. They didn’t wash their hands. He opened the door when the first song began, watched sunlight through a single-pane window, and walked into the hall. The congregation stood from their seats, moving their hips without moving their feet, and clapped in rhythm. The worship leader stood at the mic and strummed his acoustic guitar, “Come on everybody! Let’s go!” Adrian sat on the bright orange sofa in the back corner. Matthew walked over and sat beside him. They stared at the congregation. The woman in her 40s was crying with laughter, as she did every week, looking upwards. Matthew followed her gaze, and then the wooden beams that crossed the ceiling. A deflated paddling pool draped over the balcony’s handrail. A young girl ran up and down the aisle with a soft toy crocodile. Adrian lent into Matthew and signalled towards her. “Sometimes, when I go to bed, I make-believe I’m a big, cuddly crocodile.” Matthew nodded, “I make-believe I’m a worm, burrowing.” Adrian paused, “I don't believe in hell.” Matthew was taken aback. He watched a man on the back row collapse onto his chair. The man rested his elbows on his lap so he could hold his head in his hands. “I don’t believe in buttering toast if you’re going to put another spread on top. I mean, I know it happens. But I don’t believe in it,” Matthew replied. The band began to improvise as they ended the song. The keyboardist held a chord with his left hand, and held his other hand in the air. The backing vocalist made eye contact with members of the congregation and smiled, her tambourine held to her heart.
“Sometimes,” Adrian said, “I feel so sad I could tear my head off but still stand so my neck’s open wound is like a mouth screaming at the sky.” Matthew didn’t know what to say. His forehead sweat. His eyes darted to the ceiling. The drummer brushed the cymbals. A short, bald man strode on the stage. He wore a wireless microphone around his head. “Welcome!” he said. The congregation cheered. “The heating was on at three this morning!” The congregation cheered louder. The band began the next song. The short, bald man jumped off the stage. Matthew looked at the child with the soft toy crocodile, and the woman who was crying, and the man who collapsed onto his seat. There were no further developments. Adrian elbowed Matthew’s ribs, “Do you forgive me?” “What for?” Matthew asked. “How can your love be unconditional!” Adrian shouted over the music. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Matthew put his arm around him, and they lent into the sofa. Adrian weeped, “Do you ever take a hot water bottle to bed?” “Sometimes. When I’m lonely.” The service went on for some time.
Richard Capener currently lives and works in Bristol. His writing has been featured in Sublinary Editions' Subscriptions, Streetcake, Overground Underground, Spontaneous Poetics and the Crested Tit Collective's Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology, among others. His debut pamphlet is forthcoming in 2021 from Broken Sleep Books. He also edits The Babel Tower Notice Board.