In the story the preacher tells, there are two people, a man and a woman, and they’re in love with each other, and they’re in a lifeboat. They’ve been in love with each other before, of course, only this time they really feel it, and this time they’re really afraid of what will happen if it goes away. So to pass the time they talk about the things they’ll do when they’re rescued. They tell each other stories about highway bandits and bank robbers, and they hold each other close as they realize how many different kinds of medicine there are to treat nightmares.
The story doesn’t really go anywhere for a while, until God intervenes, and then the moral kicks in, and a number of impossible or improbable things occur.
Anyway, the preacher has an older brother whose name is on a list of suspicious individuals. His brother feels, sometimes, as if his life is out of control. It started as a pain in his side, but he’s been hospitalized now three times since the New Year turned, and Chryslers aren’t moving off the lot like they used to.
In another part of the world, Celia Jones is losing her virginity. She will not find herself pregnant from this encounter, although she will wish it hadn’t gone by so fast. After sex, feeling neither unfulfilled nor sleepy, she rewinds the videotape and focuses on her favorite part of the movie, where the soldier in the guard tower watches the lovers hold each other close through the fence of the concentration camp.
Much later, the coast has risen forty feet. Celia Jones is dead, but her son still recalls her favorite film, and watches it certain evenings that he knows he can’t face sober or alone.
Someone calls after dinner to talk about the end of days. Someone wants to go into hiding: he’s offering his life savings free of charge.
The preacher couldn’t imagine a more perfect or more terrible time to be alive. He finishes his sermon. He smiles at his masses. He joins his hands with God’s hands. He sees his brother’s face on television, bearded, sunburned, behind dark glasses. He reads it from a list of dissidents. He joins his hands with God’s hands. Someone in this story is always committing suicide.