Her leaving had been a jolt nearly as hard as Mama's death, like earth shifting beneath my feet with nothing but air to grab hold of. Sarah'd been my friend, too—confidante and comfort to me all my growing-up years. Ever present in my parents' kitchen, caring and tender, her warm brown arms held me through crisis after crisis. She'd been a tower of refuge and strength. I wondered what we'd given her. I hoped it was something.
Both women gone in a day. I had to find a way to get on.
I tucked the wrapped cake in my purse and snapped it shut.
Funeral luncheons at our church lasted for hours and always took their toll on emotions stretched taut, on toes and arches crammed into Sunday heels, but at last I was done. As long as I'd thought of it as a funeral luncheon and not my mother's funeral luncheon, I could keep my frozen smile in place, set one foot in front of the other as a good elder's wife should.
Deliberately, I untied my apron and hung it on the hook in the church pantry, flicked off the light switch, and locked the kitchen door. Somehow, those little finalities and the enormity of the dark and empty community room opened the floodgates I'd kept shut. I closed my eyes, leaned against the locked door, and let the tears course over my cheeks. There was no one to hear or see.
Except for the elders' meeting going on upstairs, the church was deserted. Gerald would expect me to wait for him in the car. But it was cold and I had no key to start the engine or heater. Neither Gerald nor my father believed in women driving automobiles, so why would I need a key?
The thought of going home with Gerald after this horrendous day made my stomach swell into my throat. There'd be no end of ridicule about the tears I'd choked back during the service. I could hear him now: "We're not to sorrow as others who have no hope. Your lack of faith and self-control sets a poor example. The wife of an elder should mark a standard, behave above reproach."
If only the elders' meeting could go on long and distract him. They were discussing the church's position in light of Great Britain's pleas to our government for help in its fight against Germany. Should the church publicly state its disapproval of America providing Britain with implements of war? Should the women of the church be allowed to contribute to the "Bundles for Britain"—contributions of clothing, knit items, medical supplies, staples and cash for the hospitals and families that had been bombed out? Would that be helping the poor or risk appearing that the church approved of war efforts and therefore of war? Gerald held strong views that as followers of Christ, we were not to enter into the activities of the world, regardless of the war's moral implications or the needs of others. If the meeting didn't go according to his liking, there would be the devil to pay at home.
Just a moment in a quiet place. Alone. That was all I wanted. The sanctuary. Not that I believed God would listen if I prayed there or anywhere. I loved Him, longed for Him to love me, but knew that He could not. I was too sinful, beyond loving. That message came repeatedly through Gerald's and Father's disapproval. But just now, for only a moment to be quiet, to be still and alone—surely God would grant me that. I climbed the stairs and slipped into the dusky sanctuary, taking a seat halfway up the aisle nearest a window.
I lay down on the pew, closed my eyes, and pulled my feet into a fetal curl. Just for a moment.
• • •
The steady drone of voices coming from the back of the church woke me—that, and the light that poured from the vestibule into the darkened sanctuary. I squinted, was about to sit up, when I recognized the two voices. I lay back down, in the shadows.
"God's been merciful to free you, Brother Shepherd." Gerald's smirk came through loud and clear.
"Marriage is for life. I endured till death parted us." Was that a smile in my father's voice?
"And now it's done."
"Yes," Father sighed, "now it's done. And life goes on."
"Cleanly, I suppose. You're lucky."