Welcome to the Divine Church of the One True American Religion. Don’t mind me. I’m the organist dressed head to toe in black robes. But if you do look carefully you might see the chains confining me to the organ. I’m playing our opening hymn, “Come, O’ Come to the Cruz” as a choir of veiled women blend their voices in harmony behind me.
But this pious servitude hasn’t always been my lot in life. Just a few months ago I was playing piano at May’s, an establishment catering to men in need of female companionship.
It was a Saturday night and the working girls were sashaying down the broadly curved staircase in groups of two and three. Only May herself entered the room by herself. It was part of her routine, this grand entrance, and she looked saucy and elegant in her gown of turquoise.
Men, both the rough and the refined, began assembling in May’s ornate waiting room shortly after sundown on that cold winter’s night, and were waiting respectfully as they viewed the diverse display of feminine beauty descending the stairs as if from heaven.
At the end of the evening, some of the men would go home to waiting wives, women whose days of child bearing and child rearing, housekeeping, laundering, and cooking, had left them too exhausted for frivolous activities such as lovemaking.
Most of May’s potential clients, though, would return to their dreary rooms in equally dreary boarding houses back in an even more dreary Texas border town. For them, the vivid pageantry at May’s was the brightest spot in an otherwise colorless world.
For that moment in time, though, they were all in high spirits after a long week of hard labor building and policing The Great Trump Wall.
Through it all, the expectant arrival of clients and the sultry parade of scantily clad, prettily painted ladies, I poured my heart and soul into playing May’s well-tuned grand piano, a true gem of an instrument, magnificent in appearance and quality. I played the classics: Lennon and McCartney, Morisette, Bowie, and Joplin (Janis, not Scott).
Occasionally a regular client or one of the girls asked me to sing, and often I acceded to their wishes, belting out one of the near forgotten feminist anthems from the turn of the century and bringing the listeners to tears. “I’m Just a Girl” was a crowd favorite.
The men, all regulars, treated me with respect, and the ladies looked after me like a gaggle of big sisters. May was the mother I never had. So when an unfamiliar, but well-dressed man came through the foyer, and grabbed my left arm in mid-song, I was immediately surrounded by a protective circle. Pete, a cowboy from near El Paso, was the first to intervene.
“Hold on now. No one touches Ella,” he growled menacingly. Pete knew this because his attempt at escorting me upstairs were discouraged in much the same way upon his first visit to May’s.
Other men’s voices chorused their agreement with Pete, but it was May herself who stepped forward to confront the man face to face.
“Sir,” she smiled gently, laying a hand on my shoulder. “Ella isn’t available for my clients. She’s our precious pianist, and we place great value on her artistic services.” This last was said with a tinge of steel in May’s voice, and gratefully I leaned back against her protective bosom.
“I’m not here for her services,” the man sneered, while extracting a badge from the pocket of his embroidered waistcoat. “I am Custis L. Biggs, deputy sheriff of Hidalgo County. This woman is under arrest for inciting unpatriotic emotions under code T-001024.”
“Surely, you must be mistaken. Our Ella is but an excess child. If she’s done any wrong it was out of ignorance, and not intentional disrespect,” May assured him.
“Excess child or not, she’s been written up and must be taken in for reeducation. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Without further ado he snapped cuffs on my hands and yanked me to my feet. I began crying, realizing that there was nothing May could do but stand wringing her hands as the officer led me from the only true home I’d ever known.
A chorus of supportive words followed our departure. May called, “Don’t lose hope child! We’ll see you again!” And I thought it was Pete’s howl of frustration I heard as I was led from the protection of May’s.
As it turned out my reeducation consisted of me sitting in a cold, damp cell in plain view of The Great Trump Wall. Each day for six weeks I was made to kneel while reading from The Gospel According to Cruz. From my reading I learned of the great spiritual awakening decreed after Emporer Trump created the position of Minister of Ministry and named one of his former political rivals to the post.
I also learned that excess children like me had few rights other than the right to be born. Most like me had been abandoned at birth to be raised by strangers. I thanked my lucky stars for the seventeen sheltered years I’d enjoyed at May’s, realizing they might have to suffice for a lifetime.
May was allowed to visit me once. She brought me a delicate handkerchief embroidered with words of comfort from a pre-Trump Bible:
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go….
I sobbed when the guards took her away, but she only said, “Be patient, child, for Pete’s sake.”
Upon completing the readings and swearing renewed fealty to Emporer Trump I was dressed as you see me now, in voluminous black robes that provide not a hint as to my gender, and reassigned to the Divine Church of the One True American Religion. My days are now as drab and lonely as my nights once were filled with excitement and affection.
Worship is mandatory, and every man who works on The Great Trump Wall must attend services daily. The staggering number of men working in shifts means that I play organ for six separate services: three in the morning and three in the evening. Only Saturdays are worship free.
Every man now is required to give twenty-five percent of his weekly earnings to the “greater good.” A slip of the minister’s tongue, as he fumbled with my robes in a drunken stupor, informed me that the “greater good” was how the wall was being financed. I cried silently at his awkward intrusion and filed the information away for another day, taking note of where he stored the revenue.
Now as I play the solemn strains of the offertory hymn, “Render Unto Caesar” I notice a movement from the second row of the choir. A piece of cloth falls to the ground and comes to rest beneath the risers. This cannot be an accident, for the choiristers are forbidden to hold anything in their hands during services.
None of the singers waver in their neat lines, but beneath a veil I swear I see a hint of turquoise. I blink twice and surreptitiously glance into the congregation. There on the front row nearest me, sits Pete, eyeing me earnestly, and I feel a surge of hope. The minister might be in for a bit of surprise when he comes for me tonight.
Copyright 2016 by Leslie H. Noyes. All rights reserved.
This bit of post-apocalyptic fiction was inspired by this quote from President Harry S Truman. … “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician.”
I’m not sure I’m finished with this piece yet, and would appreciate feedback.