We started as marginal Catholics, going though the motions. Now I was having dinner with Kenny, the only one of us who’d stuck with it. Father Postlewaite to his parish. It’d been too long.
“Andre still an atheist?” he said.
“Yup. In Oregon. Found himself a nice godless girl.”
“Still waiting for Armageddon.” Kenny grinned without looking at me, eased back in his chair.
“Remember that comparative religion class? All those speakers trying to explain their faith before the bell rang?”
“The Baptist preacher in the powder blue suit? Right out of central casting.”
“They’d never get away with that now.”
“And Malathi the exchange student telling us about Hinduism. She planted a seed,” I said.
“Ah, the corrupting influence of public education.”
“Well, she was cute. Even so, back then I thought the rabbi and the priest made the most sense.”
“Thank you for that. So why Zen then?”
“No dogma. Only took me thirty years to find it.” I held my cup with both hands, elbows on the table. “Listen, I’m sorry about all the Jesus jokes. Most of them, anyway.”
“You’re forgiven, my son. I’m sorry I didn’t come to your jukai ceremony.”
“No worries. You know, with these knees I meditate in a chair now. Most times I nod off.”
“It was important to you.”
“You thought I was going to Hell.”
“Oh, you’re still going to Hell. But I should have been there.”
The server who’d come to top off our coffees eyed us like she expected a brawl. Kenny and I burst out laughing. Back in the day he’d passed silent judgement when I told him about the abortion I’d paid for. And again about my vasectomy. It had gotten between us. What a relief to finally just say what we’re thinking.
By the time we got our coats I’d forgotten how I got there. It was dark and misting in the parking lot.
“So how do I get back to the highway?”
“No GPS on your phone?”
“I don’t even text. Phones are for talking. And calling 911.”
“Follow me then, old man.”
The wipers beat a slow rhythm like a grandfather clock. I followed Kenny until the blurred halos of his tail lights blended with so many others, all of us going home.
Bill Merklee loves short stories, short films, and very short songs. His work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, Ghost Parachute, Gravel, Columbia Journal, New Jersey Monthly, and the HIV Here & Now project. He lives in northern New Jersey. Occasional outbursts on Twitter @bmerklee.