At 8:45, sixteen circle in an upper room of a large empty building in a small town.  One man is a counselor, another two are retired.  A cane is propped against one woman’s chair.  Three college-age men are there in flip-flops with their wives.  A few white heads are there.  A doctor in square glasses crosses his legs at the ankles.  A man in a t-shirt kneels on the ground and clasps his hands together.  Most lean forward in their seats with forearms propped on their knees.  Eyes are closed.  One speaks at a time.  They don’t talk to each other, but there is a sense in which they talk for each other because every once-in-a-while one murmmers a “yes, Lord.”

“Sure.”

“Amen.”

While  the heads are down, a seventeenth person appears in the room.  This person doesn’t kneel like the others, instead he walks around the imperfect circle of bent heads.  He sequentially pauses to place his hands on each member of the circle.  His hands are calloused, bruised, through gaping holes there is tendon and fascia.  He rests his hands on the bald head, the broken hip, the shoulder of the girl who came straight from work.  His hand stays for an extra moment on the belly of the pregnant woman, and he smiles.  But no one in the circle notices.  He touches them, and they don’t stir.  In the womb, the baby kicks.  Their heads stay bowed, they keep speaking one-at-a-time and muttering intermittent agreements, “Amen.”

Forty-five minutes later, they finish.  The seventeenth person still stands in the room.  Some give hugs, shake hands, leave one-by one or alone.  The light is turned out, the door is closed.  Ten cars engines turn over and ten pairs of head lights turn right or left onto the main road, until the parking lot is black.

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