Like a ritual, whenever I'm home, I spend my nights at Donut Shack. It's open twenty-four hours. Tonight fits the pattern. I send a text to Matt, Isaac, and Austin.
"Donut Shack?" I ask.
"I'm bringing Everett" Austin replies.
Twenty minutes later, we're all sitting around the counter. A Greek lady is trying to serve us regular coffee even though it's late. Each of us has coffee on one napkin-turned-coaster, and a donut on another napkin-turned-plate. Austin is replacing the cracked screen on Matt's phone. He pulls three napkins out of the dispenser and arranges them at intervals across the counter, taking up at least one and a half more places than he should. He pushes his glasses all the way up his nose with his wrist, and begins to remove the screws at the base of the phone.
"So, are y'all gonna infant-baptize Everett?"
"You gotta ask me that right now?”
Isaac recently took a job at a Presbyterian church. Presbyterians believe in infant baptism, but Isaac doesn't. Until he took the job, Isaac went to a Baptist church.
"Part of me wants to have Everett baptized now, as a baby, but I can't decide if it's Biblical or not."
Austin delicately pulls off the broken screen, placing it facedown on a fresh napkin.
"Well, it's not biblical. But that doesn't mean you can't do it."
I walk over to Everett's carrier and pull him out to play on my lap. At three months, he has a full head of hair. He can't talk yet, but he doesn't really cry either. He makes this sound that is similar to cooing, but more persuasive. I'm trying to get him to make eye contact. I wonder if he wants to be baptized?
The phone repair is underway. On the first napkin, Austin has arranged each of the screws in piles according to which section of the phone they came from and at which stage of the process they were removed. On the second, he has the old parts: the broken screen, the intact back. On the third, the new screen with its stickers and colors facedown for protection from dirt, scratches, and fingerprints. He is somehow able to maintain focus on both this process and the conversation about momentarily, metaphorically, drowning his son.
"I realize there isn't any example of a baby being baptized in the Bible, but I like the idea of dedicating him to God from an early age.”
"Then don't call it baptism, call it dedication.”
"Do Chelsea's parents – or your parents – want you to baptize him as a baby?"
"No, this isn't about them, I'm just trying to decide what to do before he grows up."
We find no easy answers.
With the repair finished, we swallow the rest of our coffee, collect our things, and leave for the parking lot. We're standing by Austin's car, but we aren't ready to leave. Austin puts Everett's carrier down and opens the trunk. He's been working for a company called Booster-thon. They help schools fundraise. He has all these leftover prizes. The best prizes are a kickball and this foam football thing with a tail. Matt and Isaac begin trying to throw the football thing as Austin and I pitch and kick the ball to each other. Being so close to the road, the kickball soon proves to be a bad idea, but Isaac and Matt are beginning to get the hang of the football thing. Now they're going for distance.
Isaac is on the lawn of Baranco and Sons, the funeral home next door, and Matt is midway through our parking lot, past Donut Shack, by the Verizon Wireless. It's close to two hundred feet. Austin and I are just chatting; Isaac and Matt are working on accuracy. With his next effort, Matt strikes the Baranco sign, causing it to wave. They both agree that should be the final toss.
As they come back to the car, Austin is distracted with Everett. Seizing the moment, Isaac begins hitting Austin with the football thing. He starts on the legs, moving up to the torso. The football thing is big enough that it can work as a bat. Matt and I join in. We're all just playing, but it begins to escalate. With fake rage, Isaac drops the football thing and wraps his arms around Austin from behind, dragging him backward, away from the car. He falls and is lying on the ground. We're pretending to kick him in the gut. As part of the act, Austin curls his legs toward his stomach, making fake cries for help. He is thrust back to reality when Everett starts protesting.
We straighten up and let out a collective sign. Matt checks his watch and makes some remark about the time. He wants to go because he has to get up early tomorrow. Austin shakes his head, pleading:
"Don't break the fellowship. Don't break the fellowship. Don't break the fellowship."
He stretches out his hand to grab Matt's shoulder thinking that physical contact will be binding. Matt swerves. Reaching into his pocket to grab his keys, he backs up apprehensively.
We let him go, knowing it's probably the wise thing to do, realizing how late it is. We shake our
heads because Matt is usually the first one to leave, as proved once again tonight.
I look at Austin and Isaac. We don't want to shatter the fellowship any more, but we also
realize that the body needs sleep. We each develop individual plans to leave but before we can proclaim our exit, three cop cars scream into the parking lot – one from the left and two from the right.
The cops park haphazardly and get out with the engines still running. Two of them walk toward Donut Shack and shake hands by the front window. The taller one points around the parking lot then goes inside to talk to the owner. The other scans the perimeter then walks around back, reaching for his flashlight. The third comes over to us.
"What's the problem officer?" (like they do in the movies)
"We got a call, not too long ago about an altercation here in the parking lot. We're just checking it out. Did any of you see anything?"
"No. I mean, we've been out here for twenty minutes or so and we haven't seen anything."
The cop holds his gaze on each of us, carefully, but not suspiciously, then walks off.
Everett begins his particular cooing. He's never seen cops before. Behind me, Isaac is
pacing. I lose track of him. Austin is rubbing his temples over and over again, muttering,
"I'm so glad we're white. I'm so glad we're white. I'm so glad we're white.”
I stare at him. Part of me is mad because I want to believe that nothing would be different
about this if we weren't white – we would still be honest and the cops would still believe us; and the other part of me is mad because I know that everything would be different if we weren't white – we would still be honest, but they would not believe us.
Without another word to us, having concluded their inquiry, apparently, The cops peel out. I take out my phone and record a quick video to send to Matt. It's the only way he'll believe us. He shouldn't have broken the fellowship. He missed this.
When the parking lot is clear, Isaac rubs his hands across his face.
"Well, I think that's enough excitement for me.”
He hugs us, then leans down, flattens Everett's hair three times, and kisses his forehead.
Austin and I look at each other.
"Wanna come over? Watch something?"
+ + +
The next night, we're back at Donut Shack. This time there are no phones to repair, no baby, no
cops. We're catching up.
"How was your Thursday?"
Austin has just come from dinner at his in-laws house. Chelsea, his wife, had told her mother that Austin was out very late the night before watching a movie at my house. Chelsea didn't know about the cops.
The Greek lady pours regular. Tonight, we're discussing whether or not Austin should officiate his cousin's wedding, as he is neither a judge nor an ordained minister. In Maryland, you don't have to be a judge or an ordained minister to officiate a wedding.
"I think I should do it because they asked me, and I'm really the only Christian they know – so I feel like it would be a great opportunity to demonstrate the gospel. But I can't decide if it's Biblical or not.”
"Well, it's not Biblical, but that doesn't mean you can't do it."
I rip off a piece of my donut and dip it into my coffee, partaking.