Belle Lynne Locke arrived at St. Andrew Church of Sweet Fields exactly twenty-seven minutes early. She needed time to settle in. It had been seven years since she attended worship services there and two years since her Clive had died. Everything she was centered around Clive, and she liked it that way. They were a pair who had done well together, in everything. The kind of couple that people didn’t think really existed. Clive and Belle Lynne Locke, though they’d been married forty-three years, had always looked like newlyweds. When they went out to eat, it was rare they’d finish their entire meal, because they talked the entire time. Often, the salads would wilt and the soups would grow cold underneath the energy of their vibrant conversations. Up until the last time Clive drove, he still made Belle Lynne wait inside the car while he made his way around to open the door for her. Belle Lynne reached for the door of the church and paused. She observed her hands, protected by a favorite pair of soft kelly green gloves. As she extended the right one to turn the knob, she realized that in all her years with her Clive, she never had to touch the door knob of St. Andrew the lever of her own car, or the first MACK truck Clive bought to drive across country. Clive made that so. Yes, he had his way, Locke thought, but he was good to her.
While during their early years of marriage, Locke was content to live happily in a small cottage with her small gardens and small pots of basil, parsley, and rosemary, Clive thought big. He was a gargantuan man, with dreams to match. Only seven years after they’d married Clive bought them a large Victorian home, three streets away from St. Andrew, and only one block away from her very best friend, Maggie Murphy. He was determined she be near the most important things in her life.
Often Clive’s big dreams arrested Locke’s want to live simply. He wanted not just to own one big truck to drive as a carrier, but an entire fleet of trucks “to put on the road.” He wanted not one rental home, but a community of luxury row houses in downtown Sweet Fields. He made not a few safe investments, but several risky leaps that yielded more money than even Locke knew they had. Clive made their money long, even though his own life was relatively short. He said he did it for her, but Locke told him he didn’t have to do all that. No need to make such a fuss. And for what? We have no children. It was just me and you, Clive. That is the way we wanted it, at first. Me beside you in that stinking eighteen wheeler, bumbling around the country, with one of your hands on the wheel and the other on my lap. Us spending time together. All our time together.
“I have to spend a little time away from you now, so that I can spend a lot of time with you later.” Her Clive had said. And that he did. “You’ll get sick of having me around.” And that, she did not.
The doorknob of the church reminded Locke of what she’d lost. But that same doorknob at St. Andrew would give Locke an opportunity to plug into life again and regain some semblance of usefulness.
Locke had never really thought of herself as useful, until Clive died. She took care of him, even before the colon cancer. She made sure he ate well, even though he would sneak away and eat pounds of choice cut beef and slabs of pork ribs. She cut his hair. She ordered his custom made shoes–the ones that did not rub his right pinky toe and make him walk funny. What use was she to anyone, now that her Clive was gone?
Locke mourned Clive’s death deeply and for a very long time. Yes there were suitors, but their advances annoyed her. The men who came to call looked their age. Often they would have to take an extra quick step to climb the stairs leading to her front porch, a wide span of bamboo floors, cushioned rocking chairs and aromatic plants in exotic looking pots. The men who attempted to woo Locke shuffled and grunted. They farted without discretion, following each wind breaking with awful laughter of the heh, heh, heh sort. Clive never “heh, heh, heh-ed,” Locke thought. His laughter was a big round cloud. He threw it into the air where it exploded and filled the room.
But these men, they tried to hang on to hair that should have long been shorn away. They ate bad meat and probably took Viagra. Clive had never taken Viagra. After a year, the men stopped calling and Locke was content to sip mint julep tea, make strong cherry wine, and watch Lawrence Welk reruns on the large flat screen TV she’d had Pastor LeBeaux mount on the sun porch at the back of her home.
So Locke grieved hard, and even Pastor LeBeaux thought she may grieve herself to death, but Belle Lynne Locke never did anything to death. It was not her way. Still, Pastor Prentiss LeBeaux didn’t know that. He tried to mother her. She was one of the reasons he came to Sweet Fields in the first place, and his investment in her livelihood was almost a necessity. Payback. On their many trips to New Orleans, Clive and Locke visited Pastor LeBeaux’s church, and after he lost his wife, they were the first people he called, even before his own father. The Lockes saw Pastor LeBeaux cry. They saw him become infantile in his grief, his sufferings from separation anxiety. They supported him after he handed his church over to the associate pastor. They called him when St. Andrew of Sweet Fields needed a new pastor, new blood to help rejuvenate the church after a scandalous split.
Locke took a quick deep breath, but it didn’t slow down the beating of her heart. She tugged at the thick bun of gray locks at the nape of her neck. Yes, every strand is tucked and tethered, she thought. She planted her gloved palm on the knob, gripped it and turned. She heard the suction of the door opening and sighed in relief as she looked at the empty sanctuary of St. Andrew.
She walked down the center aisle toward her seat . The church’s smell had not changed, and the carpet was still plush under her feet. Locke abhorred floors that were not made to dampen the sound of footsteps. She reverenced God’s house, almost to the point of obsession. In God’s house, even your footsteps should be sacred, quiet. This carpet, the carpet I chose, added sanctity to every footstep, Locke thought.
Locke was pleased. One, two, three, four, five. To the right. End seat. The brass plate flanking the side gleamed. “Clive & Belle Lynne Locke,” it read. That was the only inscription the Lockes wanted on the pew. Locke thought it unnecessary to make such a fuss over words. The name was enough.
Locke pulled out a vial of sanitizing spray from her purse (it was her own customized concoction, made special to accommodate her unique immune system), sanitized her seat, and stood for a moment to allow the air to settle. Members began to file in; they were surprised to see Belle Lynne Locke, and her standing at the end of the pew, looking at almost invisible droplets of liquid descend, gave them pause. But Locke remained unaffected by her audience. She would not move until she was satisfied that her seat had been properly consecrated by the sanitizer. After Locke was pleased with the sanitation, she gathered the wide legs of her brown linen pants, slid between the pews, and sat down, confident that no one would attempt to shuffle by her, grazing her knees and stepping on her toes, once she’d sat down; they knew better.
She did not pray. She’d made it to church, just as God moved her to do. But, Locke was still a little mad at God for taking her Clive. God understood the beauty of their love. He made it that way, so Locke didn’t understand why He’d take that from her. She was disappointed in God, and sometimes, when she felt God’s spirit upon her, she would tilt her head upward and say out loud, “I am still pouting,” to make Him go away. She and God had worked out a unique and special relationship. They had deep roots, ones that left room for a little bit of pouting. God would not go away and neither did she.
Across the aisle in the fifth row sat a new woman–a self-assured woman who almost belied her own confidence, as she looked as if she would fold up into herself. She was pretty enough, especially her hair which looked like it had not been touched by a hot comb in quite some time. The lady’s hair was black and thick with dense coils throughout. She wore it like an afro, but with shape and moisture. The heavy bangs fell across neatly arched eyebrows that framed a set of deep brown eyes that never stopped scanning the church and it’s inhabitants. The woman had a healthy head of hair, and though the curls were dense, the slightest turn of the woman’s head allowed the hair to greet its audience with a small wave. The woman was fit but not in a hard way. She still held onto some of her softness. Locke thought that all women, no matter how hard their lives, should hold on to some of their softness. This woman had, and while her dewy brown skin almost blended into the taupe shift she wore, Locke considered her a classic, like her when she was young. But then again, the new woman looked like, Maggie, her one true friend–the oldest and the dearest. Surely, Locke thought, it couldn’t be.
Locke’s thoughts about the new woman were interrupted by Pastor LeBeaux’s voice. In that gentle way, that sometimes annoyed Locke, he babbled on about something. For God’s sake what was he talking about, now, she thought, I’ve told him about extending service unnecessarily with information he should put in the church newsletter. Then reluctantly, the new woman rose from her seat. She kept smoothing her clothes and hair and looking back at her spot on the pew, as if her seat would up and run away. Locke could see the moment when the new woman shook off her anxiety and walked up to the front of the church with a cool confidence that covered her anxieties well. That’s a good girl, Locke thought. “Never let them see you sweat. Or they will make you sweat.” Locke said out loud. So, it was, Maggie Murphy’s mysterious granddaughter. Locke looked toward the ceiling and said, “I may be alright, now.”
Readers, what could Iris and Locke possibly have in common; I mean would you befriend a strange woman like Locke or an introvert like Iris? Let us know in the comments what you think of this odd pair, so far.