by Douglas PageŠ
What happens when you find yourself in possession of wood
that hasn't been deconsecrated? Do you take it back where you got it? Do you deconsecrate it yourself? Can you? Does it matter?
What is un-deconsecrated wood, anyway?
I don't have the answers. I only have the wood. I took it from a church.
The next day my kitchen caught fire. It makes you wonder.
Early one recent morning I happened on a pile of splendid-looking
scrap wood in front of the old Episcopal Church across town. The wood was varnished, straight, solid and strong. Probably
oak. Perfect for book shelves. The wood didn't look like scrap, but from the haphazard stack by a trash can out near the street,
and from the nails protruding like talons from the ends of it, I satisfied myself that no matter how valuable the boards once
were, they were being scrapped. I helped myself to two one-by-sixes and cradled them across the street to my car.
A dozen or so boards remained, plus a trash can choked with trim and
molding. The church was probably being remodeled. A pickup truck was backed against the curb; the corpse of a faded red aisle
carpet had been rolled into it.
Such venerable hardwood bonanzas on street curbs are rare. Even without
an immediate need for shelving I would have appropriated a few specimens. You can always find a use for good wood. I went
back for more.
A polished man dressed like a workman had appeared between the curb
and trash can, near the wood pile. He looked familiar. He's in one of the photographs hanging in a church room where I've
attended meetings. I think he's one of the parsons. He was speaking to a man who had just gotten in the truck.
"This is scrap wood, isn't it?" I interrupted, nodding toward the
pile, smiling at the obvious. I scanned the stack for my next boards.
"It isn't deconsecrated," he responded, glancing past me.
"That's okay. I can pull the nails out myself," I quipped.
If he was amused he managed not to reveal it. "The wood just came
out of the sanctuary," he said.
"Uh huh." I nodded slowly, concealing a sudden suspicion. Then I asked,
"What does that mean?" Maybe he wasn't a parson at all; maybe he was hovering out there for the same reason I was.
"It means we haven't deconsecrated it yet," he repeated, slightly
louder. Volume is often the solution to incomprehension.
I nodded again. An orthodox standoff was developing over some junk
wood by a church curb at 8 a.m.
"What does that involve?", I asked, squinting skeptically. Maybe he
needed to un-bless it or something. I could wait.
"It needs to be deconsecrated," he repeated a third time. He wasn't
smiling. "It was part of the altar," he said, in a final tone. "It should be done by tomorrow."
"Oh," I said, nodding again. Nodding is another sign of incomprehension.
He had me; I had no idea what he meant. I sucked the sound of capitulation over my teeth. Now I wasn't smiling. I looked away,
the surrender complete. I know just enough about these people to be afraid of them. I departed in disappointment; I knew none
of that wood would still be there in the morning. Wood that covetous would be gone before I got home.
Then I remembered the boards in my car. This was suddenly not just
scrap wood, these were altar sheathes - consecrated, ordained, holy, anointed, sacred and inviolate. Who knew what human drama
they had witnessed at the altar of a hundred year old church? Who could count the ceremonies, cries and christening they had
enabled? Who knew what spirits inhabited these timbers?
The choice was simple enough: keep them, or whisk them compunctiously
back across the street, to await decommissioning. I considered my spiritual predicament then drove off, in a huff, with the
boards next to me in the front.
The next morning my kitchen caught fire. The bread in the toaster
ignited when I left the kitchen to take a call from an east coast editor while making breakfast. By the time the smoke alarm
in the hall went off the kitchen was so full of smoke I couldn't see the window. Angry skirts of flame were kicking out from
under the spice cupboard across the cabinet door toward the curtains.
Later that morning I found my friend John. He's the most spiritual
person I know. He has his own puja, meditates with a guy named Bob, and reads 12-Step literature to Hubbard, his cat. He'd
know what to do.
"How the fuck should I know?" he gasped, lurching away from the nails
as if they were Ebola darts.
I told him about the fire, then looked at him expectantly. He dismissed
the situation with a benedictory wave. "I knew a guy once who used to put tadpoles in the Holy Water. I think he drowned at
camp one summer."
I shuddered. I could still see the smoke shrouding my kitchen.
"Look," he said, sensing my dismay, "you also got an assignment from
that editor on the phone, so maybe it's your toaster that's possessed and not the boards. Or maybe you just have one bad board."
He gave me the rat face.
I blew a deep breath.
"Okay, so maybe you should deconsecrate them before you use them,"
he acquiesced. "Just to be safe."
"Drive the wood around a church parking lot in reverse, while chanting
the Lord's Prayer backwards."
"It doesn't even have to be the same church. Any Christian church
will do. Even Catholic."
In the end, of course, he was no help, and again I was left sucking
air over my teeth. I still don't know what to do with the boards.
Right now they're in the garage by the washer-dryer, against the wall
under the line where the women in the downstairs apartment dry their underwear.
Taped to the boards is a notice:
BEWARE OF NAILS