Joel noticed the twitch of the English ivy that clutched onto the stucco. He convinced himself that it was the wind even though the movement was too erratic. He knew the vine had its own agency. Because of how the plant coiled, clung, and weaved on the textured wall, he figured that, out of most common flora, English ivy was most inclined to make cognitive decisions concerning movement, positioning, and survival. He questioned the evolutionary advantage to clutching against the scraping walls of a church when a eucalyptus tree, with white rubber bark, reached up higher towards the sun than even the steeple.
He laughed at his critical view of the ivy asking himself what he personally knew concerning the survival of the fittest. Sure, he survived. That’s part of the reason that he was at Saint Monica’s Episcopal Church. It was a court mandated strategy for the betterment of himself and the community. He was more motivated to stake out the ivy, catch any intentional movements.
He followed the vines, which reminded him of green crayon scribbles because they grew more chaotic the closer they got to the main entrance. The door stuck slightly, vines prying themselves through the cracks. He remembered the verse he heard in confirmation, something about Jesus being the vine, we the branches, and God the gardener who cuts all of the branches regardless of producing grapes or not. He still didn’t understand the metaphor and couldn’t help but have an image of God with garden shears. He wondered why maintenance didn’t rip out the vines trespassing into the house of God. Or maybe they did, he thought, but couldn’t keep up with their exponential growth.
The twelve of them sat in a circle on yellowed chairs. Out of the window, Joel could see the shadow of a leaf from the vine. It bobbed in the wind like a lure. Ten of the others were older, men that had been given the time to ferment in their failures. They were dressed as if it were Sunday, or a Monday in the office. Don, dressed in a brown suit with a yellow tie, confessed his inability to sleep without drinking a gallon of Bud Light. At times, he’d pass out on his kitchen tile because the cold against his skin cooled his hot cheeks. Wife, kids, engineering job making over one hundred thousand a year, and a poodle mix named Walter just weren’t enough. He’d been thirty three years sober and now led the meeting.
Joel couldn’t relate to the man with first world problems and a savior’s complex. He wondered how Don could get drunk off of the piss he called beer and why he ever stopped in the first place. And one by one, the old men with names like Tom, Bob, and Chad confessed stereotypical middle America white collar stories fueled by chugging too many Coors Lights, PBRs, Michelob Ultras, and Miller Lites. Joel was bored.
But one of them was young like Joel. This kid, Dion, had black coiling curls, tanned skin, and was wearing a hoodie the color of syrah. Dion’s spirals distracted Joel because, when they bounced, they made him visualize the uncorking of wine. Dion’s confessions were different. To Joel, they felt mythic, full of an energy that only ambrosia could ignite. Dion confessed that he got drunk off of four box wines that he snuck into SeaWorld, hid under the bleachers of the dolphin show, and danced with the pod in their pools after hours. He confessed to a three day orgy in the mountains that ended with copters airlifting those with alcohol poisoning. He continued to confess and the Jerrys, Bills, and Berts were appalled, particularly when he professed to believing that it was his divine right to drink, a gift he gave to the world. But to Joel these weren’t confessions; they were miracles, fables, and parables.
Dion was zero days sober, just like Joel, and somehow Joel could smell the wine on his breath, and it made him ravenous. He saw vines entwining in Dion’s curls, grapes forming like bubbles and hanging on the sides of his head. He saw Dion’s yellowed chair shift into a living throne of a tiger, bull, leopard, and serpent. The beasts danced under Dion, stumbling as they gobbled the fermented grapes. Then, he stood on the beasts and pointed at Joel’s waist with his thyrsus, a scepter wrapped in vines and tipped with a pine cone. Immediately, Joel needed to shift his quickly growing mass by tugging at the denim that was now too tight against his thigh. And when Dion called upon him, he suddenly understood the metaphor of the vines and the branches.
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