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Fucking Christianity had attached itself to Louis like a gigantic vampire bat and, slowly, mercilessly, it had drained him of all of his blood and youth and life. He had grown up in South Carolina, although I think that his mother was French – as a teenager, he had spent several years living in the Loire valley. Louis was now studying aeronautical engineering at Edinburgh University. He and his friends were Pentecostal Christians, and they would meet weekly in the grounds of a hotel out by the Firth for camp meetings and prayer picnics. It was all rather disappointingly sensible, I have heard, and they did not, for example, speak in tongues. Louis also worked for the same employment agency as myself, and we often found ourselves working together in the canteens at Pollock Halls and Standard Life.

Louis was a very beautiful young man, with dreamy eyes and a tangle of long brown locks. He was less beautiful when the supervisors made him wear a blue hairnet and his mane was compacted into a stiff blue blob on the top of his head. Louis and I often ended up working alongside a French girl named Charlotte – a Parisian if I recall correctly – and from the first moment that she had met Louis, Charlotte’s stated intention was to take his virginity. She would kiss him and rub herself against him, but he would just smile pleasantly at this teasing and venture some sarcastic remark. Sometimes she would get angry:

“It feels good to fuck. If God really loves you, why doesn’t he want you to have some fun?”

“God doesn’t want me to have too much fun,” Louis told her.

“He sounds a complete dick to me. Why do you have to do what he wants…?”

“Oh please pack it in you two,” I entreated, bored of their endless, inconsequential bickering and wishing vaguely to protect Louis.

“Do you masturbate?” Charlotte demanded.

Louis looked away.

I frowned but I have to admit that I was interested.

“You don’t masturbate!” Charlotte screeched incredulously.

“I have never masturbated,” Louis declared without embarrassment. I regarded him with a mixture of awe and horror.

Charlotte was a feminist, and an Indie kid, and part of the People-and-Planet crowd. Louis’ disapproval of homosexuality would infuriate her:

“So you think that being gay is evil? And that gays will burn in hell?”

“In a manner of speaking. It is not real love. Homosexuality is a sort of lying.”

Charlotte rose to her feet, looming over us, as if wishing to fill the entire room with her indignation. “Do you live in the fifteenth century? Are you retarded?”

“It is not real love,” Louis repeated.

On Sunday morning, Charlotte was smoking outside Susie’s Diner when she noticed Louis walking down the far street. He had been playing tennis in the Meadows and he was now on his way to church. Unobserved, Charlotte followed him. She watched him cross South Clerk Street and presently disappear into a squat, unremarkable-looking building around the back of Tesco. Charlotte tiptoed up to this building, brushed the dust and cobwebs from one of the window panes, and peeped inside.

A bare room, sparsely furnished. A congregation, mostly of young men and women, were singing heartily. Their voices rose like a great fire and Charlotte watched with horror as they bobbed and clapped, as if loosening their bodies before the music. Charlotte found that there was something awful and embarrassing to their singing – it reminded her vaguely of photographs of nudist beaches, where everybody was exhibited in all of their human awfulness and one was left with an impression of the huge stale smell of their humanity. She watched, appalled, as the congregation settled, in one great movement, and began to chant a prayer. That all of these people could participate in this ludicrous, half-hidden act overwhelmed Charlotte, and she then experienced a sensation which she had only ever previously read about: her flesh began to creep. She tore herself from the window and slumped down to sit on the pavement, dumbfounded.

Half an hour later, the church emptied and the congregation stood chatting in the street. Charlotte withdrew to the other side of the road to watch. She vaguely imagined that these sunny young men and women were exchanging recipes for Smoothies or discussing the fortunes of a Pentecostal netball team. Louis had a very beautiful young woman on his arm, and the pastor wandered across, beaming, to bless them.

After about fifteen minutes, the congregation were dispersing and Louis and his girlfriend were waving goodbye to the churchgoers. Unobserved, Charlotte followed them. They crossed South Clerk Street and wended their way around George Square towards the Meadows. Charlotte watched, unobserved, as they sat down on a bench in Middle Meadow Walk to rest in the cool of the great elm trees. She watched, unobserved, from behind a tree, as Louis kissed his girlfriend very prettily and very neatly upon one of her apple cheeks and the girlfriend laughed with pleasure. And then Charlotte noticed the little silver rings which each of them wore, and it was this that set the spluttering pot overflowing.

She leaped out from behind her tree, almost landing in the laps of the couple. “ARE YOU RETARDS?” she screamed. “ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID? WHAT IN THE NAME OF FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” But then despair laid a cold finger on the ringing bell of her heart and her outpourings ceased abruptly. Louis and his girlfriend were staring up at her with concern. How could she explain to these people? It was impossible. She spun on her heels and marched away across the Meadows.

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