The boys were sitting in a circle in the middle of the tent so that each could face the other. Only the low dim flicker of the lantern separated them.
“What is your code to live by?” Don asked Sammy.
“Live for today, plan for tomorrow,” Sammy said. “How ‘bout you, Don?”
“Do to others as you want others to do to you,” Don said. “And what about, you?” He said looking at Rich.
“I don’t know,” Rich said.
Don and Sammy frowned and shrugged their shoulders.
“The key is belief in God,” Don said.
“God can help you make good decisions,” Sammy said confidently.
“He can make all your decisions turn out good,” Don said.
“What do you mean?” Sammy said.
“Let’s say you went someplace your mom and dad said not to go< Don said. “And something bad happened there; like a fire. God would allow you to save everybody, he makes bad things turn into good if your heart is right and you believe in him.”
“Yeah, yeah that’s right,” Sammy agreed. “I know what you mean. Things like that happen all the time.”
There was a moment of silence. Sammy and Don waited for Rich to proffer a theory to the stew of philosophical and religious discussion.
“Does that mean you can do anything, like anything and it will come out right because God doesn’t want you to screw up?” Rich finally said.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Sammy said disgustingly.
“I don’t think so,” Don said. Don thought deeper and seldom spoke without thinking. “I think what you are saying, is that you can spend a lifetime of jumping in front of cars or off skyscrapers, thinking its all going to turn out good and that‘s tempting God, which we shouldn’t do.”
“You ever heard the one about the guy who jumped out of the fifty-story building and each widow he passed on the way down he said, ‘so far so good?’” Rich said. “Just because things seem to be going okay, doesn’t mean that we’re on the right course. It can’t be left to chance.”
“My head is hurting,” Sammy said and they all laughed. “God keeps your head from hurting.”
“How do you know there is a God?” Rich asked.
“For god’s sake, what are you saying?” Sammy said.
“You got to believe in God,” Don said. “Are you a communist?”
“God will punish you for that,” Sammy said.
“I’m not saying I don’t believe in god,” Rich said. “I ask, how do you know?”
“You just know,” Don said.
“It takes faith,” Sammy said.
“Maybe you should go to church,” Don said. “Do you go?”
“I’m not so sure that has a lot to do with it,” Rich said. “Look at the people around us that go and those who don’t go. Look at Chet Winters, he treats us good and pays for more than we do. He said that ministers preached troops to go into battle to die horrible, and painful deaths. He said he hasn’t been in a church since before the war, except to get married and go to his kids’ weddings. He’s the most honest man around. Have you ever worked for Orville Higgins? He’s a deacon in the Brethren Church. I caught him resetting the counter on the baler and he deducts fifty cents a meal if his wife feeds us.”
“No matter, you got to belong to a church,” Sammy said.
“What churches do you guys belong to?” Rich asked.
“The Methodists,” Don said.
“Baptist,” Sammy said. “What about you?”
“I suppose a Lutheran,” Rich said.
“Suppose!” Don said. “You’re not sure?”
“I’ve been to one Easter service and two weddings. That’s it. How often do you go to church?” Rich asked Sammy.
“I go about once a month,” Sammy said.
“Could you call yourself a student if you went to school once a month?” Rich asked. “That makes you a truant.”
“It’s what’s in your heart,” Don said defending Sammy.
“Yeah,” Sammy said. “And I believe with all my heart.”
“What about you Don?” Rich asked.
“I go every Sunday, for church and Sunday school too,” Don said.
“But how do you know if there is a God?” Rich said.
“It’s faith,” Sammy said. “You just know.”
“Is that how you feel?” Rich asked Don.
“That’s it,” Don said, “either you got faith or you don’t.”
“How can I get it?” Rich asked.
“By going to church,” Sammy said.
“You treat it like catching a cold,” Rich said. “I know you two exist because I can see you, feel you, and hear you.”
“You need help,” Sammy said.
“You’re in deep trouble with God,” Don said. “I don’t even know if I should be here with you.”
“Look you guys,” Rich said. “I think it’s great that you know. I want to know. I want to know how to know.”
Both looked at Rich as if an infidel.
“You act as if I’m different. I’m the same person today as I was last week,” Rich said. “I’m just being honest.”
“If my mom knew this about you, she’d never let you see me or come to the house again,” Don said.
“Me too,” Sammy said.
“Suppose you guys didn’t think your dads were actually your dads,” Rich proposed. “How would you go about proving it, one way or another?”
“I’d ask,” Sammy said.
“Me too,” Don agreed.
“What could either of your fathers offer as proof?” Rich said.
“I’d believe him,” Sammy said.
Don stroked his chin. “Are you trying to get us to deny God?”
“No,” Rich said. “I want you to help me believe in God.”
“Maybe that’s for a preacher,” Sammy said.
“It’s for Rich,” Don said.
“Thank you, Don,” Rich said. “That’s a start. I just can’t have somebody tell me to believe. Do you remember the experiment Mr. Mahaffey did with salt water? He said salt does not dissolve. You said it does. You dissolved salt in water and then he poured it through filters until it was pure. The salt collected in the filter. You had to have proof.”
“This is making me feel creepy,” Sammy said. “Satan may come for you tonight.”
“Let’s go back to our fathers. You would ask your fathers, right?” Rich said.
Rich inched closer to the lantern. “I think your dads would take you by the hand and lead you to a mirror and say, ‘See how we look alike.’ That’s proof. I want God to show me proof that I am one of his children, by taking my hand and showing me how we are alike. We reflect our God like we reflect our dads. I don’t want to be like my dad. If God wants me to be like him, he will have to show me how. I don’t do bad things, but I feel I’m bad. I don’t feel like I even belong here with you guys, but look at you guys, when Sammy’s dad said something about window peeking at the Johnson’s, a vision flashed in both of your heads. You were both to the point of drooling.”
“That’s natural,” Sammy said defensively.
“Why does the Bible say not even to look lustfully upon a woman, then?” Rich asked.
Sammy and Don were clearly uncomfortable.
They all lied down and soon fell asleep.