Diptych No. 2

The congregation is sitting in their pews, arranged four to each cell. Their eyes are focused downward, towards the bibles they prop at acute angles on their laps, occasionally drawn upwards by the wide, flowing gestures of the pastor's hands. A woman, sitting in a middle row and towards the aisle, is the only one who seems consciously engaged by the pastor's movements, who does not endeavor to follow along in the sermon or to bow her head in feigned preoccupation.

Behind the pastor is a large diptych altarpiece, situated between two large and cruciform stained glass windows. The left panel depicts Christ in the midst of his crucifixion, in a poor imitation of the Florentine style. The right panel, seemingly the product of another no less imitative artist, shows Christ rising from the dead, offering his golden body out to be touched. Both panels are coated in what looks like a thick varnish, reflecting the shapes of the church's high square windows as pure white light, and from underneath this varnish can be seen the bubbling, tectonic surface of the painting; its imitation of thick impasto unfortunately wholly incongruent with the visible brushstrokes printed underneath.

The collection plate is moving through the congregation like a rope through dirt, beginning at the pews closest to Christ's upturned hands. As it travels from person to person, its movements become more labored and difficult. A loose pile of small bills is accumulating on top of a shallow pool of coins, conjoined in the shared undulations of the plate's movement. When it reaches the end of the pew, one of the congregation stands to pass it to the next person across the aisle.

The woman's face is still pointed towards the pastor's hands, but her eyes are locked on the collection plate, tilting and rocking with it in careful sympathy. Between her feet on the ground is her handbag. Its zipper is closed. As the plate comes to her row of pews, she brings the pointed toes of her shoes together and rocks her feet backwards on her heels, pivoting the handbag up on its flat back edge. As the plate is handed to her, a beam of sunlight breaks through one of the windows behind her and strikes the altar's right panel, obscuring Christ's face with its brilliance. The pastor, caught in the path of the light, steps backwards and repeats his last sentence. The woman rolls her heels forward until her toes are parallel with the floor. The collection plate is behind her now, the zipper of her handbag still closed. She turns her head slightly to listen to the money as it rustles in the gentle wave of hands, now rubbing the exposed skin of her left foot back and forth against the pleated leather beside it. A cloud has darkened the rear window. The pastor clears his throat and the woman's lips part slightly.

The congregation are again lost in the books in their laps.

. . . . .

The back office of the church is a small room, a square pressed slightly wrong, with eggshell paint and too much furniture cluttering the windowless walls. The collection plate is sitting on a small end table, a repurposed nightstand perpendicular to the door, hidden by the darkness cast by the hallway's incandescent lights. The plate is resting on an oblong gray and red checkered cloth, perhaps an old dish towel, whose pattern is now obscured by the wide, round shadow of the plate. Underneath the plate and the towel, inside a rectangular compartment of the nightstand, a small metal safe rests shut and unattended. The lights flicker and buzz nearly-imperceptibly. The voices of the congregation, still chatting in their pews, are dulled and obscured by the static hum of the air conditioner. The preacher is somewhere else.

To the right of the nightstand, equidistant between the safe and an aluminum desk, the woman digs her feet into the shallow beige carpet. She is wearing dark high-heeled shoes, black leather drawn forward in sharp points, whose red soles from the appropriate vantage resemble dogs' tongues dragging themselves along the floor. There are reddish speckles of dirt scattered across the toes and outsoles, stuck in place by the thick, tar-like polish which clings to the leather, only halfway brushed-in. Her purse again rests between her ankles, pregnant coffee-colored sides rippling out like a paper fan. All her weight is resting on her heels. The rocking of her feet has left a narrow black smudge on either side of the handbag. Two coins are on the ground.

A toilet flushes somewhere down the hallway. The woman cranes her head back towards the door jamb.

The valleys between the woman's toes are barely-visible underneath the shoes' sine wave throat. Four narrow black lines, the intimations of digits, jut out from the rounded border like points of a crown. Above them, in tight bundles, the woman's metatarsal bones shift slightly in rhythm with the dragging pendulum of her heels, rising and falling in intricate domino patterns leading from the bottoms of her arches out to the far edges of her toes. When she leans over to take the purse under her arms, her long hair brushes against the sides of her ankles and the brassy teeth of the handbag's zipper. Under the new weight, her toes spread slightly in her shoes, urging outwards. She leaves the coins on the ground and begins to walk. Each step flushes the pale, dull skin of her ankles with blood, blotting pink in the yellow light. She does not close the door.

The room, the plate, the hallways and the pews are all empty.