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Featured Fiction Part Two

By Nathan D. Johnson, Contributing Writer

You can imagine the sour state we received Mrs. Lewis in when she came bobbing down the steps of the church screaming, “Happy Easter, Mr. Moore! And Winnie! Our Savior is risen!”

“He sure is,” Daddy said. He popped from the buggy, happy to get away from me.

So the reverend’s wife began her prattle and I fell back against the seat. Ezekiel must have heard my mighty exhale from up front. His head turned in profile as he said, “I’s realized, Miss Winnie, that I never told you I was sorry about Mr. Trent.”

“Oh, it’s fine—”

“And I know you prolly don’t want to talk on it, but I just was wantin’ to tell you to enjoy such a pretty holiday.” Was peace nowhere to be found! “I wish I’da learned that real soon after Miss Pam and my boys went away.” He still couldn’t accept they’d been blown away? His ignorance flew all over me, and I was ready to bicker over why—precisely why—he thought they were still alive. Except I was assaulted with, “The day for peach cobbler has come!”

Ezekiel was already helping me from the carriage, and it was too late to run from Mrs. Lewis. “I’ve put pecans in it this time! I tried it out last night—I had to try it—since nuts really shouldn’t be a part of fellowship if at least someone isn’t familiar with them! Fellowship, at the parsonage, again: can you even believe it, Winnie!”

“Just barely!”

“And the rain is holding off! This’ll just be something special!” She was dragging me up the steps.

“Yes, so special.” I tensed, fearing exactly what she would say next. I grinned big as I grabbed for Daddy’s hand. But he was still down at the buggy, saying something to Ezekiel about parking. So all I could do was get Mrs. Lewis wound up on her parsonage luncheon (“The Reverend couldn’t help me prepare, though I’m sure lost souls take precedence over peppered pork!”). But I knew her dumb pity was creeping up. She would mention Trent, and what would happen? Would I pretend to be all torn up? Or would I absorb the shot with a smile and say excuse me I need to get out of this humidity it just trashes my hair. But if I dashed inside there’d only be more pity eyes, they’d be splayed out all over the foyer.

Through my dread (my anger? I never should have come!) I heard her talking spell start to wind down. I blurted out, “Is it full up in there?”

“Oh, yes, and it makes Reverend Lewis so happy. To be able to share Good News with such a crowd is a blessing. I just don’t know what we’re going to do about this Negro Problem.”

Well, I could have cared less about this Negro Problem (was it one in particular or all of them?). But I did let my noodle think on it once Daddy and I squeezed in to the foyer. What else could I do as I waited there, horrified that someone’s condolence was about to explode on top of me?

Daddy talked and talked away. I didn’t begrudge him his negotiating if rice prices were as crummy as he said. But was this my grand re-entry? Is this how things would be from here on out—me, cowering in the corner like a nun? Sister Winnie of the Heartless and Frumpy?

Then I realized what I could do for the rest of my life—open a dress shop for lasses in mourning—and call it, what, The Gloomy Loom of Doom?

“And that’s why my embroidered pigs are so rotten!” I heard blare from behind me.

I froze at her voice! Where could I hide? What was even huge enough to hide me? A statue? A cross? An ironclad?

There was nothing anywhere. A church foyer had never been so ruthless!

Then I saw him. Next to the Easter egg crucifix stood Marshall Pellet. He would shield me from her. But was he alone? Too late to wait! I grabbed my skirt and charged. In the blur of flight I grabbed some sort of flower (a daylily?) from the arrangement I whizzed by. I held the thing up—its petals flapped and fluttered in the top speeds—then jammed it into the sleeve above my left hand. An orange wrist corsage on a black dress: just the thing for courage.

Looking much fresher, it was no surprise my approach to Marshall would be stupendous. That old couple would be departing just as I arrived and—

“Winifred, dear.”

The ruby velvet glove clamped onto my arm. I managed a “Mrs. Graham” with the ghastliest smile that’s ever blighted a lady’s face. I looked into the eyes of Trent’s mother and felt just the way I did when I read about that Nepalese man charged by a rhinoceros.

“I didn’t know if I could do it,” she said, sounding much graver than when she was discussing crocheted swine just a minute ago. “But I thought, it’s Easter. Yes it is. A day of living! Trent would have wanted me to come today. And seeing you here tells me I made the right choice. If you can do it, I can, Winnie. Because if Trent’s mother—who’d already had so many good years with him—couldn’t be here, then what would that mean for his fiancé? That’s what I thought to myself, Winnie, and now that I see us both together I know that we’re really one in the same. You know people can be united in grieving and in overcoming.”

If my father hadn’t come just then I would have fallen over. I know it. I would have gone through the carpet, the wood floor, the stone foundation, and into my own grave. Because now I could see that burrowing into primordial bedrock was the only way I would get away from this mess. I clutched Daddy’s arm as I rassled my breathing.

I didn’t even care about collecting myself until I saw Marshall heading towards us. It was a nice diversion—feeling the shock of seeing a small boy holding his hand. It’s easy to forget a man’s a father when he’s already a veteran and widower.

“Marshall!” I said, taking his hand before he took mine.

“Miss Moore.”

“It’s good, it’s very good to see you!”

“Good morning, Major Pellet,” said Mrs. Graham. Her voice had slammed the Major as she glanced my way.

“Major,” said Daddy as he nodded to Marshall. “Terrific having you back. I bet this fellow’s pretty glad, too.” Daddy bent towards Marshall’s son.

Then they left me behind as they went on and on about Gordon the darling seven-year-old. Mrs. Graham had been the one to keep him (with Marshall off fighting and his wife dead) so you can imagine the wonder she allowed herself in discussing the boy. She had just come to the 84th retelling of the failed riding demonstration she’d done for Gordon (“the brass quintet should mostly heal, but our horse will never go near another trombone”) when she suddenly shut up. Her violent stare moved the rest of us to turn and gape.

“Mr. Moore, ’scuse me,” said Ezekiel, “just wanted to let you know I put away the buggy without too much problems. It’s up on Wimbley Street.”

“That’s just fine,” Daddy said with cheer.

“So I’ll be waitin’ in front of the parsonage after luncheon.”

“Yes, that’s good, Ezekiel,” Daddy said.

Ezekiel nodded and we watched him go. At the sanctuary doors, he stopped before an usher, who was doling out fans to the folks going in.

“So,” said Marshall, “they’ve even come into the church.”

Mrs. Graham turned with a leer and said, “We’ve kept them in the back but who knows for how long.” Ezekiel stepped even closer to the usher, who was still giving out fans to others walking by.

“Why do you still have him, Hill?” Marshall asked Daddy with a smile.

“He’s awfully handy. He never acted up like the others. Of course, no one wants to employ him now, so I thought why not keep him around for jobs I’m too busy for. He’s well-bred—with his manners, I mean—and he’s good for watching Winnie when I can’t go with her into town.”

Mrs. Graham nodded, disbelieving, and the organ rumbled from inside. Now Ezekiel moved right in front of the usher’s face. A reluctant chat was beginning. I thought I heard the older man say that “it don’t get hot back where the Negroes set” but Ezekiel persevered, and got himself a fan, then entered the sanctuary.

Marshall shook his head. “Niggers and Northerners. Think the rules of The Gates apply to everyone but them.”

“The Gates?” I asked.

“Of Heaven.”

I couldn’t ask what he meant before Daddy said, “Shoot, Winnie, we don’t even have our seats yet.”

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