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(a story in 53 nodeshells, fiction based loosely on facts)

It's been quite some time since I went to church, after being relocated by the WitSec program, Federally Protected and all that. I'm in this rinky dink shit-city after signing away my soul, just looking for any old church, but preferably a small version of my childhood Roman Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, because that's what I feel I need so the hum and silence can co-exist. I had light hopes and heavy dreams when they changed my name and my homeland. Madame Curie would have understood; she was more like a destructive force of nature than a teacher when all she did was said and done.

Between radioactive nightmares of Paul Soldner and her, I'm so glad I'm not alone in my dreams. Paul tells me taking pictures in the snow wearing a bikini is the new thing and other statements that implicated himself. He doesn't look at all like I remember him. Oh well. So he's dressed a little differently and he has a halo-like light above his head. He was raised Mennonite in Ohio in the church that baked cakes. Marie secretly hands me a note to be tucked away, written in green ink. I think of polonium or was it pitchblende? She whispers something about implements of destruction and her parting advice, "Don't patronize anyone who temporarily rents a store."

I tell her I'm no saviour. I'm just a nut with a baseball bat. She tells me she drives a truck. I tell her I'm looking for a church with ten strong women in it. She leaves, a faint greenish glow driving somewhere in a truck, as if she has more work to do.

A few more familiar dead people join the fray: so my crowd was Catholic, Protestant, atheist, confused, and white. I'm thinking all I want is to find a church here, not a cruise ship of Godparents... there must be something positive about this; I just can't think of it at the moment. Here I am on the boardwalk in New Jersey, even cigarette smoking, Atlantic City gamblers walked away from the slot machines to help me. They're all talking at once. Perhaps they're just dead poets, one last poem in them.

Though I could swear on a thousand Bibles I heard one say, "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender." A casino maid confides in me, (in Spanish, which I've translated poorly) "I never knew how much snow it took to flush a toilet." A perfumed woman in red, draped with jewels, murmurs to herself, (in French, which I've translated correctly) "I remind myself I'm a married woman." The elderly well-groomed gentleman she is with senses my confusion and takes me by the hand with the cryptic comment, "You look like you're blind but still can see." He tells me, "unless you anchor your shoes to the ground, you'll end up at the bottom of the ocean like the USS Bowditch."

BUT I'M TRYING TO FIND A CHURCH, I almost shout. He continues, "You must possess the willingness to touch a turtle and listen for an echo of your own."

Well I am... over-fucking-whelmed. I can't believe it! If my writing confuses you, excuse the pencil but I'm inkless. Inkless, clueless, and just looking for a church. The woman in red stalks off, miffed and trailing perfume. A scent from the past, my past, Shalimar.

The gentleman and I are just about to cross the street when I remember a billboard at the edge of town, if you walk across the street in this town with someone, make sure the guy's name isn't Jay Walker. I glance at him, not wanting to ask his name, but he's talking about some off-off-Broadway play, misty-eyed, happy as a clam or a lark or as happy as Pacino can be.

That's when it hits me, too much coincidence, my new name is Pearl Pachino. He knew too much about me, a veritable cornucopia. Man, was I dancing in the dark. I made up an excuse to find a ladies' room and escaped out a back exit and alleyway. As luck and imagination would have it, there was a church, all lit up and right in front of me.

I had to walk fast past a gift shop, with a red-headed woman talking on a phone in a room, and one single protester wearing a sandwich-board sign that read, "enough praying, let's burn the flags!" Mass had already started, but after I dipped my fingertips into the holy water I went back out to warn the protester, "do not let the sun go down on your anger." His offhand reply was, "Nothing to worry about here! though It will come after a while."

Back inside the sanctuary I finally relax and let my mind wander and wonder what are the odds they renamed me after an actor, one of two guys who have killed scores of imaginary people. Going to have to get a new identity, no more Pearl Pachino. Darn.

After the music and the liturgy and one heck of a sermon titled Leave it to a child to understand life, I pass the peace with a white-haired woman dressed in a green paisley skirt. Her jacket buttons are not buttoned correctly, so I see underneath what I thought was going to be a turtleneck turned out to be a dickey. Her hand is small and powdery. She wears gloves. Traces of her powder on my hand burn and I feel slightly ill, mentally foggy. We talk about the importance of a good handshake. There's a box for used printer cartridges, old keyboards and broken cell phones, something about Supporting the Troops, probably a youth group activity.

My blood sugar must be low, when did I last eat? Fortunately, there's fellowship coffee, cookies, fruit and donuts. I'm feeling more and more lightheaded, off balance. To make up for this, I ate a lot of pastries. After the third raspberry shortbread triangle, I feel her clever poison doing its damage. Just before I black out permanently, someone says, "you can't escape from God on a Sunday, or any day for that matter."

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