The Temple At Avenue B
When the pastor moved into my neighborhood, taking over a run-down tenement in Alphabet City, I saw that things were going to change. He brought with him a dozen men, followers who recorded his every utterance with Dictaphones, then transcribed his words into pamphlets with titles like Holy Man Speaks and The Collected Lists, selling them for $9.95 in Tompkins Square Park.
For days afterwards, trucks arrived. Twelve men in radiation suits unloaded crates that were smooth and black, a muffled buzzing sound coming from within. Once from my window I saw them drop a crate. The corner broke and a clear substance oozed out. One of the men bent down to clean up the mess with an old newspaper; the text disappeared as he mopped the liquid into a nearby drain.
During the second week the tenement windows were boarded up, eight stories patched with thick lumber, nailed in by new workers who wore facemasks that resembled the pastor. I counted again a dozen men, twelve visions of the pastor’s serene expression, a kind of superior contentment, unfazed by modern society. After the men finished and took down the scaffold they went into the building and never came out.
After a month or so, as the fall leaves turned an odd shade of red, strange sounds came from inside the building. Drilling, I thought, or maybe gunshots, went on for hours at a time. Government officials with ID badges, and clipboards, came and then left with thick books that weren’t Bibles, yet transfixed the men as they walked away. At night panhandlers came, looking for a free meal or handout. They entered as if the place was just another soup kitchen or hostel. They all left with an expression of fear. Their eyes bulged and bodies flinched as though they had epilepsy or Parkinson’s.
At the end of December, I could hear the New Year countdown from Times Square. On one, the brick walls of the tenement came down like some Biblical Jericho, quickly sending a plume of beige dust into the sky. As the view cleared, I saw a shining monolith. Made of smooth black tiles it reflected the fireworks exploding over the city. From the building’s grand archway, the pastor came out in splendid robes of imperial gold and silver and crossed the street to look back at his temple. His expression seemed still and plastic as though he was wearing a mask of his own face.
The temple was the start of the area’s gentrification. The neighborhood changed. People came to live here just so they could stare at the building. Residents remarked that it healed their ailments and made their stock portfolios rise. I couldn’t afford the rent anymore, and moved away to an apartment in Queens. Yet the other day I saw through my binoculars twelve new men enter with steel picks and industrial jackhammers and not leave.
Christopher Linforth is an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech. He is the editor of The Anthem Guide to Short Fiction (Anthem Press, 2011). He also has work published in Denver Quarterly, Arcadia, RipRap, Camas, and other literary journals.
Pic courtesy of itsnewyorkcity