No one really noticed the newcomer. Mrs. Haggerty arrived during the doxology. She covered her cough with her palm, wishing her bunions would quiet down. She extended a friendly handshake to Mrs. Lane in the foyer, before accompanying the newcomer down the aisle. She bent over to rub her right foot before entering the pew.
Mr. Brown leaned into the last phrase. “Praise Father, Son and Heavenly Ghost.” He breathed in, replenishing his spent air, issuing a hello as he pushed himself a bit closer to the youngest Galanos daughter to make way for Mrs. Haggerty and the newcomer. The youngest Galanos nudged her mom, opening her mouth at the same time as Mr. Brown exhaled. But Mrs. Galanos, somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of the elder son who hadn’t come home last night until well past midnight, didn’t abide chit-chat in church and put her finger to her daughter’s lips and then to her own signaling silence.
Mrs. Haggerty grasped the hymnal and turned to the worn page for Morning Has Broken, not that she needed it, the words memorized long ago when Cat Stevens covered it in the ’70s and she and Mr. Haggerty used to make love at midday which they never did anymore because he traveled so much or because their lovemaking had become stale. She sang the words and wished they could refresh somehow. Beside her, the newcomer was “springing fresh from the world” and could make change.
The newcomer’s head spiked in red-orange bits, outgrowth from a golden base that shed some. Mrs. Haggerty did not notice the strand that floated her way or the one that landed on Mr. Brown’s lower lip as he pursed it, leaning over the next pew to whisper to his fidgety nephews to settle down. Mr. Brown’s sister had a tendency to sleep in on Sundays and Mr. Brown would stop by to gather the empty liquor bottles for the trash and the boys for church. No one commented on the newcomer’s crown-like appearance but it may have been the source of the giggles from the boys, causing an exasperated exhale from their uncle into their ears that put their revelry to rest.
Mrs. Haggerty turned the hymnal page wondering about a new face cream advertisement she had seen, smoothing the page wide so the newcomer could find the entry along with her into the song. The congregation swelled in unison. Mrs. Haggerty sneezed, wondering if she was catching the same cold that her husband had brought home from his trip to California. His stuffed head kept him away from church this morning or so he said upon recounting how much he preferred west coast weather to the Midwest extremes. The youngest Galanos daughter licked her palm, sticky from morning pancake syrup, until her mother took her hand squelching the action, mashing their palms together. Mrs. Galanos ran her hand along the back of her neck studying her eldest and considering who the girl might be that had kept him out so late if in fact it was a girl. She tapped her fingers on her lips thinking Mr. Galanos might ascertain the truth and at least she didn’t have to worry about her oldest daughter all set for college and leaving home in the fall.
When the offering plate came around, Mr. Galanos made the usual family donation, a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill after which Mrs. Galanos handed the plate, a shallow dish really, to her daughter who popped open her pink patent purse and placed in a quarter before passing it to Mr. Brown who gave the plate to Mrs. Haggerty who handed it to Mr. Lane after the newcomer tossed in a contribution as well. Mr. Lane stepped to the next row, handing the plate off to Mr. Brown’s nephews, who mixed the coins and bills like a salad, before passing it off to Mrs. Young who leaned back, almost cheek to cheek with Mr. Brown, wishing he would say yes to her dinner invitation and to accept his apology for the rambunctious youngsters. The offering plate moved through two more rows before Mr. Lane returned it to the front table to be counted, sans the Galanos hundred which he pocketed in a magician’s flash to pay off his gambling debt in the next county. His losing streak had to end soon.
The youngest Galanos daughter whispered to her mom she couldn’t wait any longer to use the toilet and sifted by Mr. Brown, interrupting his daydream about his time last night with Melvin, who loved Mr. Brown, ran the local hardware and had a remote farmhouse where they could be alone. Mrs. Haggerty sneezed again just above the child’s head as she passed. The sermon, on spreading the gospel, was rich in meaning particularly with the newcomer in their midst who they would all make welcome.
The opportunity to be hosted by a variety of the church’s members was not lost. The newcomer eventually found a way into the hearts of the entire congregation, settling into the tissue of their lives, offering reason if not solace when Mr. Lane’s losing streak did in fact end. He was the first to die, followed by the youngest Galanos daughter and Mrs. Haggerty and shortly thereafter, her husband. The newcomer decided to stay for a while, for at least a year, if not two.
Kay Smith-Blum, a recovering retailer, was named Woman Business Owner (NWWA) of 2013. Smith-Blum co-authored the “Every Man” card series, published by Schurman Fine Papers. An author of historical fiction, she lives in Seattle WA. Her short stories can be found at CommuterLit.com, Minerva Rising (Winter 2021) Fiction Southeast (Winter 2021) and The Stray Branch (Spring 2022). Her humorous essays (nominated for Best of the Net) may be found at Pif Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, The Furious Gazelle (Winter 2021), Quail Bell Magazine, Bewildering Stories and Down in the Dirt Magazine.