Big Sky Country and its big sun set, rapture before the rise1. You sit with Carol Ann on a bench by the tarmac, air flurried with gravel from planes taking off. She’d come out from Baltimore, two canceled flights and twenty hours in the air, a canvas purse tugging at the straps of a yellow, button-down dress. You ask her if she knows how pearls’re made and she answers, Zafar, let’s just go home. You tell her, It’s christlike in a way, or no, more like David. She smirks with purple lips2,thinks you’re full of it. But, No, no, no, you assure her, You see, it starts out with debris, a little shit particle that no one wants, minding its own business, until one day it trips over murky waters and falls into the mouth of a clam. Now for most things in nature, this is the part of the story where the little guy gets spit out and gets acid thrown in its face, marked like Cain and surely disabled. But an oyster, an oyster’s something special. When it gets scared,when it sees something sharp and broken, it just pets it, pets it with nacre, smoothing it out layer by layer, making it better, an extension of its own good self, a crustacean angel giving wings to the little guy until there’s nothing left of him but a pearl. Jesus, she says, rolling those big, blue-black eyes, be careful what you ask for3. Or better yet, what you don’t4.

1 You used to go to Youth Group in high school to hit on Carol Ann. You’d take walks on her tobacco farm. One evening the clouds whirled with cannon shot reds and tangerine pinks and Carol Ann said she could die, that she hoped this would be the day, that if Christ were to make an entrance this is what it’d look like. “It’s rapture before the rise.”

2 You bought dark, purple lipstick for Carol Ann’s Confirmation your junior year of high school. This was before you learned that Baptists don’t have Confirmation. The color’s to remind you of Christ’s suffering, you’d said. It was a saccharine, ignorant gesture, but sincere, and she it took it to heart. She only wore it when she was in trouble—to remind her that Christian strife meant more than missing curfew. The first time you saw her wear it was theday she told her parents that y’all were dating. She’d never flown before, she hated planes, but you’d said it was important.

3 You’d been studying the Chinese pearl economy all summer on the fourth floor of Beijing’s Hóngqiáo Market. Every night you’d Skype Carol Ann and she’d ask what you learned at work today, and you’d always say, “I’ll tell you soon,” and she’d always answer, “The second you see me.”

4 You have a ring in your suit pocket, a Tahitian black pearl set on silver, “Matthew 13:45-47” carved on its Möbius strip. The pearl rolls from blue to black depending on the light, has a single divot like a bruise.