Excerpt from Gwendamned: Chapter One


The First Day: Let there be Light

Chapter One

Working for God had never been easy. The hours were pretty good, aside from having to work weekends, but the work itself took everything I had in me and then took an additional 50% when I had to deal with Mrs. Zucker. I think the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was around my tenth anniversary working at Metro Community Church, the same day that I asked Gwen out for the first time.
The day had started pleasantly enough, I felt that my sermon on acceptance had gone pretty well. Lots of people were getting worked up about gay rights lately, and I was doing my best to let my practitioners know that if there was one thing Jesus made abundantly clear in his teachings it was that love was the way to go, and hatred gets us nowhere. I thought my parishioners had taken it pretty well, of course, being a small community church just outside of Old Town and Manitou, I was literally preaching to the converted. The crowd we attracted had never been one to make a fuss out of other people going about their daily lives. Still it felt good to get across a message that I thought was important, and to counteract some of the vitriol that was being spewed by some of my competitors. On the way out, a number of my congregation stopped to thank me and make quiet sounds of agreement with my sermon and some slightly less quiet sounds of disapproval at those who sought to "keep good people from making a loving home," as the dear old Mrs. Evertt put so prettily before shuffling down the stairs on her grand-niece's arm.
Had the morning ended there it would have been lovely, a banner day, Simon: 1; Hate: 0. 
Mrs. Zucker seemed to have other plans for me.
"Reverend Norwin, you haven't made enough calls for donations this week," she said as I tried to close the doors on the last of my parishioners and slink away to my office before she could corner me.
"Mrs. Zucker," I replied, the door still in my hand and Mrs. Evertt's grand-niece lingering as though waiting to ask a question. "Can this wait until I've spoken with Ms. Finn here?"
Mrs. Zucker took in Ms. Finn, and apparently deciding that she was unlikely to donate large amounts of money to the church promptly shook her head and turned her bespectacled gaze on me once more. I restrained a sigh. I have often thought that anyone would hate their job if they had to deal with Mrs. Zucker on an almost daily basis. As my father used to say, "She's enough to drive a man to drink." Though I've often thought she was rather enough to drive a man to second degree murder. Perhaps I lack some of my father's patience.
Mrs. Zucker was the head of the church board. She was also the primary contact person between me and the board, and, most frustratingly, she was responsible for making sure I completed my duties to the standards of the church.  Unfortunately for me, and probably for many other people, not least of which is Mr. Zucker, talking to Mrs. Zucker is rather like talking to a large colorful parrot that has been trained to recite a few rather lengthy monologues of little to no substance. Said parrot is, however, incapable of saying anything outside of said monologue or of even responding to normal human speech, yet it must recite its monologue in full before it will either be silent or go away.
"Reverend, as you know, our parish is exceedingly low on funds. We pull in less than 50% of the revenue that the average church in Colorado Springs does, and we have a growing congregation to take care of. You always encourage generosity in your sermons, but you rarely include generosity towards the church in your list of recipients. In these troubled economic times we can ill afford to..."
I let Mrs. Zucker get out her full spiel, but tuned out the details. We'd gone over it hundreds of times before, in tough economic times I thought that the church should be supporting the people in need, not the other way around. Mrs. Zucker didn't see it that way. There was no use arguing it with her. She never listened to a word I said. So, I simply waited, smiling politely to Ms. Finn occasionally and then when she finally paused for breath,
"Mrs. Zucker, you're right of course. Let's discuss this at the next board meeting and see if we can't come up with some solutions as a group."
She opened her mouth to disagree, I could tell from the way her eyebrows were trying to play footsie over her nose.
"Of course, the whole process will go much faster with the whole board backing us up from the start. Far less time getting approval and such, and our next board meeting is at the end of this month. That should make everything much smoother."
She looked as though she was tempted to object, so I spoke again before she got the chance.
"It's so considerate of you to give me this chance to talk to Ms. Finn before she has to take her great-aunt home. Have a good evening."
Mrs. Zucker mumbled something as I closed the doors to the church and stepped outside. I had originally planned to close the doors and lock up from the inside, but Mrs. Zucker had cut off my only escape route and besides, Ms. Finn really did look anxious to talk to me about something. I sat down on the top step in front of the door and patted the space next to me so that she might join me.
"That was impressive," she said as she settled herself on the step a few feet to my left.
"What was?" I asked.
"Getting Mrs. Zucker off your back like that. I've had to work with her before. I helped organize the Christmas party last year... You must have a silver tongue."
I laughed. "I wish that were true. I'll just have the same conversation with her again tomorrow." I sighed. "Now then, what can I help you with today Ms. Finn?" I asked.
"Well..." she paused unsure of herself, and blushed slightly, "I..."
"Is it man trouble?" I asked, fairly certain of the cause of the blush. Ms. Finn, whose first name was Sally, but who I had taken to calling Ms. Finn when she was a teenager, had often come to me to ask advice, but had never blushed at me before.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"Lucky guess. Do I need to beat someone up?" I asked before I could stop myself.
She laughed and then looked horrified. "No. No, you don't have to... My boyfriend, he's... he... he asked me to marry him."
"Congratulations!" I said, giving her a genuine smile. "Are you glad he did?"
She smiled and blushed once more. "Yes. I am, truly, but..."
"But what?" I asked, worried where this would go. She should be ecstatic, why was there a trace of sadness in her eyes?
"Well, I'm not sure I can marry him... I mean, I love him, but..."
"He's an axe murderer?" I asked.
She laughed again. "No! Reverend, stop. I'm trying to be serious."
"Well you're not helping me out here. What's the big BUT that you can't get out?"
"He's an atheist," she whispered.
I worked to suppress my grin.
"And?" I asked.
Her eyes went wide and her eyebrows tried to hide in her hairline. "He doesn't believe in God."
"I'm aware of what the term atheist means. I was wondering what the problem was."
"But... Reverend... I..."
"Is he an axe murder?" I asked again.
"No. I already told you he isn't. But I don't--"
"Is he mean to small animals? Babies?"
"No, of course not!"
"Ewww! NO!"
"Tried to kill your great-aunt Evertt?"
"Reverend! Would you please be serious!"
"I am being serious," I said, "Is he a good man? Kind? Generous? Loves you with all his being?"
"Yes," she said, almost whispering once more.
"Then why on earth does it matter that he's an atheist?"
Ms. Finn just looked at me. I decided to follow up.
"If it didn't stop you from dating him, why would it stop you from marrying him? Are his values skewed? Does he think that killing and stealing are alright?"
"No. I already told you he's a good man."
I nodded. "And he loves you?"
She smiled. "Yes."
"Then I dub him a worthy mate and look forward to your wedding day." I said, flourishing my arms as though the man were in front of me and I were knighting him.
Ms. Finn sat there for a moment and finally asked the question that had been burning at her.
"What if he goes to hell?" She asked quietly. "What if I don't get to be with him in the afterlife?"
I thought for a moment, I had two answers to that question.
"Do you really think God would send the man you love to hell just because he didn't join the right club during his life?"
She thought about that for a moment.
"Jesus wouldn't, but God might."
I laughed again. Ms. Finn certainly wasn't dumb.
"They are one and the same, lady, no matter what the old testament might say, Jesus and God are one, so if Jesus wouldn't do it, God wouldn't either."
"Besides," I added, "even if there's a chance he'll go to hell, are you really going to sacrifice your happiness in this life, because there's a chance something might go wrong in the afterlife?"
Ms. Finn thought about that too. Eventually she smiled.
"I can always convert him!"
"I suppose you'll have your whole life to work on it," I said. "But, don't count on it, Sally. Only marry him if you love him just as he is now."
I wasn't sure if it was the use of her first name, or the advice that took her by surprise but she eventually said, "That's exactly what Nana Evertt said."
"Well, there you have it, ignore one of us perhaps, but ignore us both at your peril!"
She laughed and stood up offering her hand to help me up after her.
"Thank you, Reverend," she said, smiling. "I'll go tell him I'll say yes... on one condition."
"Oh, what condition is that?" I asked.
"That he lets you marry us," she replied.
I laughed. "Well tell him I'd be happy to do the wedding outside, at least. Don't want the poor man cornered into a church if he doesn't want to be."

She laughed and skipped down the steps to join Mrs. Evertt in her 1980s Volvo station wagon and drive the old woman home. I waved them off as they drove away and only then did I notice a man I didn't recognize wearing a black suit with a straight black tie and a white shirt. Aside from the suit and tie he was unremarkable looking, with straight brown hair, thin rimmed silver glasses and the barest hint of a mustache gracing his upper lip. Anyone who watched X-Files too often would have gotten a very creepy vibe off this man, and I was no exception.  Still, he remained on the far side of the parking lot as I walked back into the church and locked up, so I promptly forgot about him as I attempted to make my way back to my office without another run in with Mrs. Zucker. 

1 comment :

  1. For those of my readers who are thinking, "Huh? A preacher? Virginia's writing about theists?" Worry not, the main character is a preacher, but the story gets complicated pretty quickly and he's not your average believer. If that intrigues you, please read the book once comes out!