The Guild of Saint Cooper by Shya Scanlon
a selection from The Guild of Saint Cooper by Shya Scanlon
We walked in silence to the meetinghouse. The building held two hundred people, all of whom sat on folding metal chairs facing a stage, and because the sun was flooding one side of the room everyone held their hands up to shield their eyes as though in salute. Blake was nowhere in sight. Kent pulled me down to sit with him at the back of the un-sunny side. He shifted in his seat and fiddled with the seams of his t-shirt — something he did when he was nervous — and he kept craning his neck to get a better view. I realized I should probably talk to our mother about this. Surely it wouldn’t be okay that her younger son was getting caught up in a cult. I was about to ask him how he’d paid for the retreat when everyone stood up with a deafening round of applause, cheering and whistling: Bobby Graves had taken the stage.
The monolithic man wore all white: loose white pants and a billowy white shirt unbuttoned to the middle of his chest, which boasted bug tufts of white hair. The hair on his head was white, too, and has been pulled back into a limp ponytail. I pictured him in a green room, sitting in his underwear before a mirror, his white outfit laid out on a chair to one side, the suit he wore to the performance hanging on the door. There was a distinct theater about it, as though he’d studied a guru manual. Why white? Why the ponytail? Maybe conforming to stereotype put people at ease, opened them up to manipulation in a way they wouldn’t be if they had to “read” his appearance. A small microphone curled across his cheek like a sneer. After a moment he held up his hands in what seemed to be a cross between “That’s enough” and “Ta-da,” and though the clapping struggled against death, it finally settled down.
“Thank you,” he said in a voice made for radio. “Thank you.”
As he spoke, he began to drift slowly from one side of the stage to the other.
“I want to speak with you tonight about how you got here. Look at the people sitting next to you. Look at the right, look to the left. That’s right, that’s right –say hello, why not? Take in your immediate situation. We’re doing this for two reasons, the first being: you’re sitting beside people you have something in common with. Anyone want to guess what that is? It’s easy, come on, there we go, yes! Excuse me? Exactly: we’re all here.”
His massive body moved like an iceberg, and it provided a hypnotic accompaniment to his speaking, which, deep and forceful, was also slow, ponderous, rhythmic. His body was his voice incarnate.
“Now, I know that sound pretty obvious, doesn’t it? And, well, it is. It’s obvious. But that’s what makes it even more tragic that people just don’t let themselves be aware of it. That’s right. We ignore it. We take it for granted. We forget it. We deny it. But there it is, and let me tell you, it’s powerful. A powerful thing. To a great extent, what we’re going to be learning how to achieve over the next couple of days can be summed up in this way: we’re going to be learning how to realize where we are. Sounds easy, right? Ha ha ha! Easy as pie! But more goes into it than you think, because, well, where are we? We’re here, yes, here in this room. But we’re also part of a story. That’s right. What’s the story? Well, the story if your life. And where does your life take place, besides space? Anyone want to — yes! Who said that? Thank you! Yes, in time. We’re both here in time. So we’re here in time, and we’re here in space, and that’s one of the things we have in common with one another, everyone together right now in this room.
“So what’s the other? What’s the other? The other is that not one of you chose to come here today. Now, I’m going to say that again and give it a moment to sink in, because it;s going to need to sink in, because you’re not going to want to believe it, and you might not believe it even after it sinks in, but we’ll be working on that. So let me say again that aside from being here in space and being here in time, the other thing you have in common with one another is that not one of you chose to come here today.”
Here he stopped, like he said he would, and looked around the room, grinning like he’d just told the best joke imaginable. I looked at Kent, and he was smiling right along with Graves, and he turned to me for a moment and winked, as if he, or as if they all, were just now letting me in on this amazing joke the man on stage had told.
“Looking out at you all, I can see who’s been here before, because the folks who’ve been here before are smiling with me, and those who haven’t, well, you’ll need a little time, and that’s okay. But so let’s look at that a little closer, yes? Because what can that possibly mean?”
The Guild of Saint Cooper by Shya Scanlon is now available to pre-order from Dzanc Books.