“You’re right there it’s been a fairly quiet week.” I agree, hastily restoring my end of the conversation with the most general comment imaginable.
“Of course it has, Roland loves nothing more than good conversation…except your good self of course!” Sally laughs, curling the phone cord around her wrist.
“Naturally…we took the vows he steadfastly believes in.”
“You did indeed…and you’re all the better for it.”
“Sometimes…I’m not sure…I catch myself wondering, well, where would I be without him?”
“A dark place hon, shadows everywhere…he really pulled you out of it didn’t he?”
“Yeah I spose he did…that’s the latest in back-fence talk been bandied about anyway.”
“Come on hon I know the feeling of such a big community can be a little daunting, especially for a younger woman like yourself, but be grateful for it: at least you know everyone really cares about you.”
“There’s always that angle.”
“There is indeed! So just try and focus in on that, and any ‘negativity’ you’re feeling will dissipate, I promise! We’re all here to help you hon, me especially, so the sooner you start believing that, the better!”
“I know…you’ve been a great help, you all have…”
“And we’re going to continue to be hon, every step of the way and that includes coffee at 11 tomorrow.”
“Looking forward to it,” I assure her, then replace the receiver in it’s cradle before the closest thing I have to companionship can think of anything else to proclaim and promise.
More than ample provisions were made for his materialisation. A makeshift stage was assembled on the patchwork lawn. In the centre was a chipped lectern, whose very existence the Caringbah Bible Chapel were forced to deny after it’s sprawled legs claimed a third victim, this time a visiting evangelist who, before appointing Jesus as his true Lord and Saviour, tore after ambulances and trawled hospitals for expiring accident victims and their families. If it wasn’t for the bonfire in his throat, Roland Walker would have had something worthwhile and weighted to say at his daughter Catherine’s farewell dinner. But, as Jeremiah 30:17 so perfectly spells out; “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord.” Roland took immeasurable comfort from this passage; if it was God’s will that his chronic laryngitis should depart, then it indeed would. He sipped honey-lemon tea, took warm showers as required and even went as far as to swallow two ibuprofen tablets in addition to the recommended dosage of aspirin. Yet, in spite of these determined efforts, God had chosen for Roland not to speak and as unfair as this seemed at the time, he knew not to trouble the Messiah with so much as a raised eyebrow.Even when Roland is detained beneath a duck feather eiderdown and a mountain of pillows, crocheted blankets and wilting flowers, I can’t break the habit of knocking on our bedroom door. I stand outside, running my bare feet nervously across the mohair carpet until I realise that permission to enter wont be granted anytime soon, given his absent voice.
Propped up in our vast bed by two royal blue banana pillows, his eyes abandon the leather bound King James and follow me across the room.
“When you’re ready.” I offer, setting the Tupperware container on his bedside table.
A motion of his head grants me sanction and I ease the Bible from his hairless hands and rest it at the foot of the bed.
“Sally suggested this remedy when I was over at her place for coffee this morning” I explained, motioning to the container on the table.
His eyes light up at the mention of one of the most cherished and trusted members of his congregation. I know now that whatever remedy I’m offering, he will take without a moment’s hesitation.
“All you’ve got to do is inhale the steam. I spose it soothes or something I’m not sure, she didn’t say…I’ll hold the bowl for you.” I offer, prying the lid off the container of boiling water.
He takes bottomless, down-reaching breaths as I steady the container beneath his stubbled chin. The urge to tip it all down the front of his blue flannelette pyjama top creeps in through an ever stretching hole. The container trembles a little as I force this vision back into the rain soaked trenches of my perception.
“…I…I hope…I really hope it’s working ok…” I manage, a reemergence of sorts.
He shrugs his shoulders, motioning for the bowl to be removed from his sight.
“I guess only time will tell” I answer helplessly, setting the container just outside the door then returning to plant the Bible back in his outstretched hands.
“Your congregation they…they miss you… guess you figured that with all the gifts…the fill-in pastor isn’t fit to sew the hem of your garment, they all agree…well I’ll…I’ll let you get some rest anyway, sooner you recover the better really…” I ramble as I collect his washing and head towards the door.
A smile edges it’s way to his thin lips as I pull it closed; he must be turning my ramblings over in his head, letting the fact that he is sorely missed at church hand feed his ego.
As part of the ‘Live the Gospel and Get to Know Your Neighbour’ campaign, developed by Sally and approved by Roland with a flourish of his Parker Pen, I am doing chores for the Barton’s this week. Sally sits at the breakfast bar in their newly renovated kitchen, sipping a cup of percolated coffee and offering shouts of encouragement.
“Hon, come out here a minute, I’d say you’re nearly done anyway.”
Rinsing the squeegee in the Barton’s oversized shower and leaving it there to dry, I come out to the kitchen.
“How’s it going?” Sally asks enthusiastically.
“Ah great now that’s done,” I return weakly.
“You’re right; it gives you a fantastic feeling inside when you help out your fellow man,” Sally asserts, reassured and oddly satisfied.
With her hair is up in a tight bun that contorts her usually delicate features, she appears more authoritative and less of a companion today.
“I’ve been emailing Roland a fair bit while he’s been unwell, to give him a bit of an outlet and obviously keep the lines of communication open, he is the Pastor after all…” Sally began, her hands dancing on the Formica bench top as she spoke.
“Anyway, what I’m saying is, what we both are saying is…it’s been nearly five months since you and Roland married. I can understand you wanting to find your feet in this community and so on: but we’re getting a little impatient now hon, the whole congregation is…”
Her words all melt into one, like butter when you leave the fry pan on, and I rock the kitchen chair on and off my foot in bid to stay alert.
“You know, it’s been great getting to know you hon, it really has, both before you and Roland married and since…but did you ever think that I was doing it for a reason?” She asks, her rust coloured eyes rifling through me for an answer.
I tilt the chair back and bring it back down again, half intending it to topple onto the cream tiles below, sending me sprawling and distracting Sally from the question that lay in wait.
“Well, ah no…not really…I left all my old friends behind when I moved here and started dating Roland…I just thought that we were similar people in some ways and maybe you saw that …”
“Yes yes you’re partially right but there’s more to it…I know Roland hasn’t told you anything at all about loosing his first wife, Marilyn, and I’m not going to, that’s up to him. But let me just say this; it just about destroyed him hon. So many changes, we barely knew him anymore, but we stuck close by him, hanging out for something to happen, for the Lord to intervene: and that’s when he met and married you. I can’t tell you how good it was to see the old Roland again, and it still is but…”
“But what…” I ask, captivated and repelled by the sight of my husband’s grief unearthed.
“But you’re not fully involved in church life hon: there’s whole lot of hesitation to you that no one, least of all Roland, would’ve picked.”
“I know it’s just that…” I begin, overcome with a bizarre sense of emotional responsibility.
“Look, enough with the ‘it’s just that’ excuse, ok hon? I’ve tried to be sympathetic but we’re not asking for much. Listen, Dan’s taking the kids up to see his mother this weekend, so I’ve got the house free. Why don’t you come over, stay the weekend if you like and I’ll show you what it really means to accept Jesus into your heart!”
Sally’s face shines with conviction as she finishes her sentence and a fleck of spittle flies from her mouth and lands on my arm, a Baptism of sorts.