Continued from the previous chapter, here.
Asa Pemewan pulled into the parking lot of the church. As he did, he noticed that there was minimal damage to it; a few panels in the stained glass windows were cracked, and one seemed to have been punched out, and it was clear that the roof would need some work, but little else seemed to be wrong. The trees on the property had kept their greater branches and limbs; the shrubbery seemed disheveled but intact. The sound of a working air conditioner betrayed that the power remained on, as did the obvious flickering of a fluorescent light bulb that would soon need to be replaced.
Asa parked, exited his teal hatchback, and made his way up to the church building. The door was unlocked; he walked inside, and the prevailing quiet of the church on a day when no services were in session surprised him. I don’t know why it should be a shock, though, he thought. Churches are supposed to be places of reflection, places to hear Elijah’s “still small voice.” And Asa did hear voices, muted through walls and doors but still plain to his ears; he moved toward them, navigating halls he vaguely recalled from long-ago abortive attempts to join vacation Bible schools and youth groups. I never did fit in here, did I? And at this point, I doubt I ever will; I’ve been gone too long and changed too much.
Soon enough, he came to a door marked “Pastor’s Office.” It was shut; he knocked, and Anna Kerr’s voice rang out “Come in,” so Asa did. “Oh, hi, Asa!” She stood and came around her desk, past messy bookshelves whose boards bent under the weight of volumes of commentary, translations of Scripture into and out of several languages, copies of holy texts from many other religions–Risky move, keeping a Qur’an in this part of the world, Asa thought–histories of Scotland, and knickknacks and tchotchkes of many different kinds and qualities. She stuck her hand out, Asa shook it, and she continued. “I’m glad you made it through the storm. Al and Matilda are okay?”
It took Asa a moment to recognize his parents’ names. He nodded. “They are. But I was sorry to hear about Bartholomew Smitherson.”
He sat as Anna gestured, and she resumed her seat behind her desk. “I was, too,” she said. “We didn’t always agree–which was good; I don’t want my congregants not to think–but he was a solid member of the church. I’m working on the services we’ll have; I’ve heard a bit from the family. Not much, as you might expect, but a little. The funeral’ll be here; he’ll be buried on the family land north of town, so far’s I know.”
Asa nodded again. “Makes sense. I’m waiting to hear from them, myself; Bartholomew’d hired me Tuesday before the storm. Now I don’t know if I have a job or not.”
“I suppose I’d better buy lunch, then.”
Asa shook his head. “That’s not why I said that, and I’ve got some other leads at the moment; I can buy. I asked you out, remember?”
“Yeah, about that…”
Asa sighed. “I figured we’d need to reschedule. Not much is open in town right now–or it wasn’t when I drove through.”
“I haven’t had a chance to look.”
“There’s a lot of cleanup that needs doing. A lot of it’s in progress, but downtown got hammered pretty badly. City offices have a tree through the wall. Rufus Hochstedler’s store’s roof fell in. Other places have windows out, and I imagine the power going out will have hurt a lot of the local eateries and such.”
Anna winced. “I thought as much. The church sent what it could with the Red Cross.”
“I saw the trucks roll by, coming from this way. I’m glad you could help them.”
“I’ve actually been emailing back and forth with the bishop’s office. There’s a bit of an aid fund that the local conference maintains; I’m trying to get some of it sent this way to help with recovery. We’re not the only town that got hit, though, and there’re other concerns in the area, so it’s not going as well as might be hoped.”
“I hope the bishop sees clear to help.”
“Me, too. And I hope we’ll be able to get together sometime when the skies haven’t been falling.”
“But that won’t be today, I know. And I’ll not keep you, Reverend. But I really would like to get together sometime. I mean it when I say I’d like to get to know you better.”
She looked at him levelly. Oh, hell. “I mean,” he found himself stammering, “I’d guess you get that quite a bit, people saying they want to get to know you better. Maybe they mean it. Maybe I protest so much.” His pace quickened as he spoke on; Kerr continued to look at him levelly, and Asa lapsed into silence.
After a moment, just before the urge to flee became irresistible for Asa, the reverend said “Actually, Asa, I don’t. Most of the people I meet are either already committed or are somehow intimidated by the fact of my collar–when I wear it. And I can tell you’re nervous, too. But I’m glad that you’re asking; it’s nice to know someone sees me as being at least a little more than the job, even if it’s not necessarily the way I’d most like to be seen.”
Asa felt himself blushing mightily as Kerr continued. “And, truth be told, I’d like to get to know you better, too. I really would. But from what I hear, what I know about people who’ve been in academic life, you’re called to do the work you do–just as I’m called to this. And today, at least, I need to work on this. People need help, and I’m called to help them. Just like you’re called to the work you do.
“You are called to it, aren’t you? Even knowing that you are where you are, the work you’ve trained to do, studied to do, it calls to you, asking to be done, doesn’t it?”
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