Chapter Two

Locke

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.

This entry was posted on March 1, 2017. 2 Comments

Chapter One

Iris

Iris sat primly on the end of the fifth pew in the middle section of St. Andrew Baptist Church—the oldest African American church in the state of Georgia. She smoothed her taupe sheath dress on her lap once more and adjusted her clutch at her side. This was her first service at St. Andrew since her grandmother, Margaret “Maggie” Murphy, died a month earlier.  Iris had decided to stay on in Sweet Fields and live in the large Victorian house she inherited from her grandmother.  Now, it was time for her to join the community, and attending a church service was the first step. A pupil of human behavior, Iris couldn’t help but observe and analyze the congregation of her granny’s church.

A motley collection of twelve women in white shirtdresses and white hats with scarlet trim sat to the far left of the pulpit.  Each wore a magnolia on her lapel to further signify her affiliation with the deaconess board.  A few were fanning themselves, and two elderly ladies were already nodding off, even though the service had just begun. Others were enjoying the choir’s lively rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon.”

As Iris scanned the faces of the congregation, one face demanded her attention.  A pair of active bulbous eyes sat beneath a dramatically low blond widow’s peak.  The woman with the eyes was the color of vanilla custard, and she glared at Iris as if she were interrogating her.  She held the carriage of a deaconess, an influential deaconess.  Iris’ suspicion of the big-eyed woman’s position was confirmed by the magnolia.   The custard colored woman also wore a shirtwaist dress like the other deaconess members; however, Iris noted that her dress was noticeably shorter when she walked into the church.  The dress stopped at a dangerous height, several inches above the knees, revealing the longest pair of bird legs Iris had ever seen.  The legs were covered by thick flesh tone stockings, the kind that dancers for football teams often wore underneath their small shorts.  Her eyes continued to question Iris.   Not one to back down, Iris returned the woman’s glare and eventually slid the corners of her mouth upward into a dry smile that did not fully reach her eyes.   She smoothed her dress again and turned her attention to the choir.

It had been a long time since she had heard the song they were singing.  The organist, a robust woman with a large dark burgundy colored bouffant looked straight ahead as she played.  She paid no attention to the director or the choir. Odd, Iris thought.  Did the choir sing the song so often that the director and organist need not communicate about its nuances? Iris tried to follow the organist’s gaze; it looked as if the organist and the large-eyed deaconess were glaring at each other.   But the organist was no match for the deaconess, as the organist eventually looked away first.  She banged on the keys with more gusto when the showdown came to its disappointing end.

Iris weaved a story in her head about the two ladies. They both looked to be about the same age—early to mid forties. In a fist fight, Iris’ money would be on the organist. She was a large woman, solid—not soft and pillowy. In a battle of wits, Iris would put her money on the large-eyed woman.  She seemed clever; her eyes never stopped moving and taking in information. It was a man, Iris figured.  It was always a man.  Was one the wife and the other “the other woman?” Or were they both single and after the same man? Did this man attend the St. Andrew? Yes. Most likely. Anyone who was anyone attended St. Andrew.

Iris scanned the deacon’s board.  About twenty men of all ages sat in their Sunday’s best suits and ties, clapping and singing.  Perhaps the object of the women’s affections sat on the deacon board. But which one?

Iris had begun an analysis of each man but was interrupted on the third gentleman when she was distracted by the pastor who was approaching the podium.  The pastor, Prentiss LeBeaux, was tall and broad-shouldered with a thick mustache. He was an attractive gentleman with an athletic build, honey-colored skin, and thick wavy hair sprinkled with touches of gray throughout. The honey wasn’t just in his skin; it was also in his voice. Iris was sure he had used the combination of his baritone and long-lashed gray eyes to charm countless women.  She let her eyes trail the pastor’s frame from the shoulders of his navy suit down to his fingers.  His fingers.  They were not adorned.  No wedding ring, but still a visible quarter inch indentation of commitment.  That explains the slight droop of his neck, and the way his large hands dangle from the wrists–lonely hands, Iris thought.  His shirt collar was neatly tucked, except for a slight puckle of white at the neck, on the back right side.  Iris knew what this meant.  There was no one at home to tuck and dust him–to be sure his collar was completely tucked and the small bits of lint were dusted from his back and shoulders.  She was almost sure of it.  He was the man.

 Iris glanced at the thin frog-faced woman just in time to see her eyes alight with admiration and respect onto the pastor’s distinguished figure. There was something Iris saw in the bulging eyes, a wildness restrained by fetters too loose. There was wildness and something else.  Iris looked at the woman’s mouth and saw her tongue peak out to subtly lick her lips–top and bottom.  The woman then pressed her lips together into a slight pucker. Lust. That’s the other thing Iris saw in the deaconess’ eyes.  Iris shot a glance to the right of the pulpit at the organist who had stretched her lips into a wide, toothy grin. Right. Of course, it was the pastor.  The two women were vying for the attention of the pastor of St. Andrew.  Who wouldn’t be? He was very handsome, and from what Iris heard from her grandmother, the pastor was quite charming too.  Grandma Maggs had called the pastor, “a very nice man, nice to his own detriment.”

Throughout the service, Iris continued her survey of various people in the sanctuary. She noticed a small lady tucked into the pew across the aisle from her. She repeatedly sanitized her hands after every handshake, hug, or touch.  Iris was content to watch the little lady with the gray sister locs, but someone whispered for her to stand.

“We’d like to welcome Mother Murphy’s granddaughter back to St. Andrew. As you know, Mother Murphy went to her heavenly reward last month, and don’t we miss her, church?” The congregation shouted hearty amens.  The pastor continued, “Well, her granddaughter, Iris, moved back to Sweet Fields and decided to make St. Andrew her church home.” The congregation clapped and shouted,  “amen.” Iris wanted to crawl under the pew or better yet, walk right out of there. It was, in fact, very hard for her to keep her feet planted at her seat.  I will not walk out.  I will not walk out, she thought.  She felt there was no need for this kind of public display, and hoped she was smiling as she smoothed her dress over her lap.

“Sister Iris, come up here so we can greet you and welcome you into the St. Andrew fold” the pastor urged. Iris did not move. She nodded and smiled. “Come on, dear. Don’t be shy. Everyone remembers you from the time you were knee-high to a grasshopper.” Iris stood and stepped out into the aisle. She did not walk out of the church, but she refused to look at any of the faces watching her. When she finally reached the front of the church, the pastor stepped down from the pulpit and pulled her into a bear hug.  His cologne filled her nostrils.  His large arms were squeezing her ribcage. She wanted to pummel his muscular back with her fists, but fought back the urge.  When he finally released her, she gasped for air, but the freedom didn’t last long.

Soon she was bombarded with unsolicited affections from men, women, and children—none of whom she knew. Hugs, handshakes, and, to her dismay, a kiss on the cheek! Who did that? How dare they! Finally, the parade of strangers was over. Iris did not run back to her seat at the end of the fifth row, like she wanted to. Instead, she regained control and took confident long strides back to her seat.  The little lady with the sanitizer stuck out a green-gloved hand as Iris passed her.  She did not look at Iris, only straight ahead.  Iris got a good enough look at the little lady to note her smooth walnut colored skin, her small triangular wooden earrings, and the hint of soft pink gloss on her lips.  The woman slipped a tiny vial of sanitizer into Iris’ trembling hands.  “Use this,” she said in a voice almost too loud for worship service.  Only then did the woman turn to take Iris in, fully.  Iris noted her quick nod of approval, the kind that only people with long money, as her granny would say, could give. The loc’ed lady then turned her tiny head toward the pulpit as if the exchange never happened.

This entry was posted on February 22, 2017. 4 Comments