By J Thomas Fussell
Epilogue: Hook, Line, and Sinker
April turned to May, and the afternoons warmed even though the mornings were still somewhat cool. Kathy Blanchart had been dying to go out for days, but Mike had been very needy of late. Today though, she could escape. Mike had a rough night and had not slept well. Just after lunch, he fell into a deep sleep, and she made for the door.
He’ll be okay, she said to herself. I’ll only be gone an hour, and he’ll probably sleep till dinner.
She threw on a hat to hide her mess of hair and stepped out to face the day – at least she had managed to bathe this morning. Her one and only planned destination was 004 Silent Glade Drive and Ethel Thompson. She strode confident in her new found faith that she would be able to keep things civil and only discuss good and proper things – although to be honest, things were not going exactly as she imagined when she prayed on her porch. In the past, these forays onto Ethel’s porch were meant for gossip and mining. That is, Kathy would spill the dirt on everyone who Ethel might know and ask probing questions to see if she could glean any additional juicy information. It was most often fruitless because Ethel did not share Kathy’s predilections and would not give if she did not think it prudent. That never not stopped Kathy from trying though. Nothing short of rudeness would, and most did not want to be on her bad side.
When Ethel opened the door, Kathy was so thrilled to have another woman to talk to that she completely ignored Ethel’s haggard appearance. Well not completely. It was filed away to discuss with Mike – or any other willing listener – when she ran out of other things to talk about. Ethel seemed glad to see her at least, and that did Kathy’s heart good. She needed acceptance more than anything. After taking a seat and the initial pleasantries, it did not take long for Kathy to fall right into her old pattern.
“I tell you what,” she started, “Javier’s gonna have to control that wife of his. Why just yesterday I saw her standing on the front porch completely naked. Can you imagine?” Kathy said, her tone dripping with condemnation.
Ethel sighed and let out a long stream of air before she spoke. For her part, Ethel only tolerated Kathy at the best of times, and since her husband died, her patience had grown thin. She never would have opened the door when Kathy knocked if she had not grown so lonely of late. Without Berry, the house felt enormous and so terribly bleak. All the color and joy drained from her life when he died, and she had yet to find her equilibrium.
“You were up to visit, were you?” Ethel asked, knowing better but asking anyway to poke Kathy – if nothing else.
“Of course not,” Kathy sounded shocked. “I’m no snoop. I was simply looking at birds through my binoculars when I spied her prancing about on her porch. Do you know, she moves like someone who sees as well as you or I. How do you think she does that? I’ve never seen a blind woman move like that. It’s uncanny, I tell you. Downright spooky.”
“So, you watched her for a while, did you?” Ethel asked. She knew what Kathy did in her spare time. She had seen Kathy spying on others before – anyone who lived in Silent Glade long enough would.
“Well… no… but with the brief glance I did give, her movement seemed – clearly seemed – to be that of someone who could see.” Kathy smiled at her own word play. Old Ethel’s testy today, she thought. Maybe I should change the subject.
“Did I tell you I gave my soul to the Lord?” Kathy asked abruptly, changing the subject without a segue.
“Do tell,” Ethel said, already tired but intrigued by this change of topic. Kathy had been going to church for years as far as Ethel knew. Of course, that didn’t mean anything. People go to church for lots of different reasons. Kathy was going to have to read up a bit on propriety if she was going to pass as newly minted Christian though. Not that Ethel felt she was a model Christian by any means. Her religious choices were a bit more arcane. Nonetheless, she recalled several verses in the Bible about gossipers and those who sow deceit among their brethren.
“I was feeling so alone. You know, now that poor Mike is a cripple and all. I felt like everything we had worked for had fallen to ruin. I couldn’t seem to get my mind right; everything stressed me. I tell you I would cry at the drop of a hat, and for no reason at all. Dear God in heaven, all I wanted was for Mike to be okay again, for… for… I don’t know, for everything to be the way it was before the whole neighborhood went crazy. Do you know what I mean?” Kathy’s face softened when she realized what she had asked. Ethel had lost her husband too. “Of course, you do. What am I saying? I’m so sorry about Berry. Here I am going on and on about Mike, but at least he’s still alive. Right? How are you?”
“It’s okay, Kathy. I’m okay.” Ethel did not want to talk about her feelings with Kathy Blanchart. These were her private feelings and for her alone. She opened the door for the company, not to share.
Kathy smiled, relieved that she did not have to stop her train of thought. Unlike Ethel, Kathy needed to share. She could not help herself. Respecting others personal boundaries had never been her strong suit because she had none of her own. She continued, “Anyway, I felt really bad, so I just fell down on my knees and started to pray. Right there on my porch. And do you know what, I felt it. For the first time in my life, I felt something. I knew in my heart I had done the right thing.”
“Is that so?” Ethel asked.
“Yeah,” Kathy said, nodding for emphasis, but then a change came over her face and she added, “I have to tell you though, I’m pretty disappointed so far.”
“Are you now? And why’s that?”
Kathy didn’t notice the bemused tone in Ethel’s voice, or if she did, she chose to ignore it. “Because, I prayed to Him to make my life better. All I want is one miracle, and He hasn’t done it yet. I mean, He’s God, right? He can do anything He wants. Why is fixing my sweet man so out of the question? Miracles happen, right?”
“Hmm,” Ethel said, looking hard at Kathy. She seemed earnest, but that meant little. Maybe God’s ineffable will had not been explained to her. Maybe she did not realize God does not change His plans for the whims of mere mortals. This might turn out to be an interesting conversation after all. She said, “I don’t think that’s how…”
A stick cracked nearby and both women looked up.
“Well look what the cat dragged in,” Kathy said, interrupting Ethel before she could explain anything. “If it isn’t Ginger Lynn Debrow in the flesh. And how are you, my dear?”
Ginger Lynn stood in stark contrast to the older ladies. She wore black yoga pants with pink stripes and a t-shirt with a stylish tear on one side tied in a cute bow. Her blond hair was pulled back to a bouncing pony-tale behind her. She looked the picture of health and happiness.
“Oh,” Ginger Lynn said, looking startled. She did not expect to find Kathy Blanchart. Kathy should be home taking care of her convalescing man, not here gabbing on the porch. “Hi Kathy. I didn’t expect to see you here. I hope Mike’s doing well. Hi Ethel; how’s things?”
“Good. Kathy here was just telling me about her conversion.”
Ginger Lynn had come to Ethel’s to tell her the exciting news of her pregnancy. She had to tell someone. Chase wanted her to keep it secret until she passed the first trimester, but that seemed so old fashion. Babies do not die like they did in the old days. Part of her just needed to talk to other women – someone to discuss things that seemed to make Chase uncomfortable. She smiled at the thought of him stuttering for answers that were as far above his head as the computer programs he worked on were above hers. He would not mind a little indiscretion if Ethel promised to keep quiet, and Ethel would promise. Now though, Kathy Blanchart’s presence completely laid waste to those plans. Telling Kathy guaranteed that everyone in the neighborhood and beyond would know by tomorrow. There was no turning back now, though. She would just have to keep her mouth shut.
“Cat got your tongue, honey?” Kathy asked when Ginger took too long to respond.
“Sorry no, I just remembered something, but it can wait. So, you’re a convert. What did you convert too?”
“Well conversion is really the wrong word. I’ve always been a Christian you know. I’ve just recently needed some comfort and decided I could ask for God’s help, to humble myself, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Mike is still paralyzed and life is still a bitch, I mean… hard. I’m still working on the language. I get carried away.” A weak smile crossed her features, then she continued, “But enough about me. What’s new with you?” They could talk about her later. Right now, she needed some news. Input of any sort was far better than sitting with Mike in front of the TV.
Ethel watched Ginger Lynn closely. The young woman often came over to talk. Ethel thought Ginger Lynn a bit naive but a sweet girl, and she did not want her to say anything that would come back to haunt her. The Debrow family had not been in Silent Glade long, and although Ethel had subtly warned her about Kathy’s busy-body attitude, she was not one-hundred percent sure Ginger Lynn understood the level of Kathy’s gossiping nature.
“Oh, not much. I just finished a workout and stepped outside to do some yard work. Chase is inside working. You know men: work, work, work.”
“Not my man. He’ll never work again.” Kathy sighed.
Ethel nodded sagely in agreement, but said, “Now, now, you don’t know that. He might…”
Kathy suddenly tilted her head as if listening and said, “Do you hear that?”
And suddenly they did, the clacking step of someone in fine shoes.
“I don’t know that step,” Kathy said under her breath, not even aware that she had spoken.
“You know everyone in the neighborhood by their step?” Ginger asked with her eyebrows raised incredulously.
Kathy mumbled, “Well… you know… I mean… not everyone.” She was not paying attention though. Her eyes followed the sound as it approached.
Ginger Lynn looked at Ethel who shrugged, but nodded once and spoke without sound, making the shape of the words ‘You bet she can,’ without saying it outloud.
Ginger Lynn mouthed the word ‘Creepy’ back and shook her head gently.
Kathy’s sharp intake of breath made the other two look up from their silent conversation and follow Kathy’s gaze.
A tall man wearing jeans, a simple white button up shirt, and a plaid grey sports jacket turned down Ethel’s sidewalk as if that were his destination all along. When he saw the three women staring at him on the porch he stopped and flashed a disarming smile that melted the women’s hearts. This man was gorgeous. His age was hard to determine, but he could be no older than forty, although he could be as young as thirty. He had a full head of raven hair flecked ever so slightly with grey over a strong jawed clean shaven face. He moved with the grace only afforded those in top physical condition.
“Good day to you ladies. I was going door to door…”
“Excuse me, sir,” Ethel said sharper than she intended, “I can save you some time. I ain’t interested in buying anything, helping your favorite charity, or funding some walk-a-bout. So, take your business elsewhere, and I thank you.”
“No ma’am. Of course not. It’s fortunate I’m not selling anything. I would just like to talk with you ladies for a moment. I’m sorry for my rudeness. First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Reverend Carson Thorn.” He held out his hand and moved towards Ethel’s porch.
“A preacher…” Kathy said. Could it be? Could this be a sign?
“Now hold on, son. I don’t know you from Adam. I’ve already told you I ain’t interested. You can take that to the bank. Do you have some sort of ID on you? Far as I know, a pretty boy like you would be a perfect cover for a scam. Folks soliciting wear lanyards these days, and you my friend,” Ethel indicated on his chest with a point, “do not have a lanyard.”
Carson held up his hands and stopped moving, but his smile never wavered. “I can assure you I’m not here to scam you ma’am. I don’t have a lanyard because I’m not soliciting. I’m looking at local neighborhoods to find a location for my new church. The spirit has moved me to build, and I heard about your unused property at the top of the hill. I have to say it’s beautiful, but it does seem a bit out of the way. Nonetheless, since the neighborhood is so small, I thought I would save myself some time and see if folks around here were amenable to the idea before I pursued it further.”
“Well, I for one am not,” Ethel said. “You can just take your church and move on. We don’t need-”
“Ethel!” Kathy interrupted, “You’re being rude. I would like to hear what Mr. Thorn has to say.” She flashed him her best smile.
“Well you take him to your house. I don’t have time for this sort of nonsense, and I don’t want a church at the end of our quiet street. No offense intended, Mr. Thorn.”
“Please, ladies, call me Carson. And no offense taken Mrs….?”
Ethel waved him away.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, the cranky one’s Ethel, the young lady here is Ginger Lynn. She lives next door. I’m Kathy Blanchart. I live a few doors up. You probably already stopped by my house, and no one answered the door. My husband’s very ill, you see, and …”
Ethel stood up with a grunt and took a few steps towards her door. “I’m going in. Feel free to take Mr. Thorn with you and chat him up all you want. Ginger Lynn, it was good to see you honey. Come back anytime.” Then Ethel took the last couple of steps, entered her home, and closed the door behind her. Two locks clicked into place before the ladies outside heard her move away from the door and deeper into her house.
“Well, that was awkward,” Ginger Lynn said. “I think I’ll just go on home too. No need to stop by, umm, Carson.” A bright red blush sprang onto her face when she said his name. “I’ll mention you to my husband and discuss your idea. Do you have a card or anything?”
“Not right now, Mrs. Lynn. I had not intended on doing this, so I didn’t prepare.”
“Mrs. Debrow, Lynn’s my middle name.” Ginger Lynn blushed even harder. This man was too pretty. She could not even look at him. “I’ll tell him. Chase that is. I mean. My husband. Umm. I have to go.” She bounded down the stairs and walked quickly towards the safety of her own house.
“Bye,” Kathy said – glad to be alone with Carson. Here was a man who would listen to her – a godly man. Thank you, Lord, for sending this man of yours my way. I’m sorry to have doubted you.
“Well, that escalated quickly. I apologize for running off your friends. I don’t usually have that effect on people.”
“Oh poo,” Kathy said, dismissing his apology with a wave of her hand. “Ethel’s cranky because her wonderful husband died recently. And I don’t know what got into Ginger Lynn. She and her husband are new to the neighborhood, so who knows with new people. Millennials. Right?”
“Dear lady, you should know pregnancy’s hard on women. Nerves and hormones all a flutter. Nature’s cruel joke, if you asked me. The power to create life tied to all the misery and chaos a person can stand.”
“Wait just one minute,” Kathy stammered. “Ginger Lynn is pregnant? No way, I would know. I mean… is she?”
“Well of course.” Carson looked surprised. “You couldn’t tell? Dear lady, why… if you didn’t know that, there’s so many things I can tell you. So many wonderful things.”
“About the Lord, of course?” Kathy asked, watching his face intently, but knowing in heart that he meant something else.
“Of course,” Carson said with a mischievous wink and a radiant smile. “What else is there to talk about?”
He stopped and turned her to face him. “I believe we have made it to your house, and I regret to say, I must take my leave.”
“No. Don’t go,” Kathy begged and added a silent prayer. Please Lord, don’t let Ethel have chased him off.
As if he read her mind, Carson said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Blanchart. I’ll be back in a few days. Maybe you can help me convince the neighbors to build a church at the top of the hill. We’ll see, but today I must visit a few more of your neighbors, and then return to my hotel in town. I’ll be more prepared next time, perhaps we can do lunch.”
“Oh my, yes. That would be just fine.” Kathy could not take her eyes off of him. His eyes… his smile…. He leaned towards her as if to kiss her. She closed her eyes and… nothing happened. Why did she think he was going to kiss her? She opened her eyes embarrassed, and he was nowhere to be seen.
God, she thought, I’ve gone and run him off myself. You idiot.
Kathy shook off the feeling of loss and turned to climb the drive to her house. She could not wait to tell Mike about Ginger Lynn. They would have to have a surprise party for the whole neighborhood. What a delight it will be for Ginger Lynn when she calls her up to the front of the crowd and tells everyone the good news. Ginger Lynn is pregnant. Kathy loved a good surprise party.
It never occurred to Kathy to wonder how Carson managed to disappear right in front of her in those few seconds her eyes were closed. Nor did she look at the clock to realize that four hours had passed. In fact, she did not think of Carson at all until he reappeared in her life several months later – but that is a story for another time…
Mary Sue From Across the Street: Book 1
Look for Book 2 to start January 2021