Sunday, July 29, 2007

The widow's might

L.B.: Fact and fiction, Left Behind, pp. 308-314

Susan had been taking notes. When it seemed Reverend Barnes had come to a natural break, she raised her hand. He looked over at her, with an odd frown, but he said "You want to share your testimony with us, Sister?"

"Well, Reverend - " Susan felt shy suddenly, but Barnes nodded approvingly.

"You come right up here and share with us, Sister," he said.

Everyone in the circle was looking at her now. Susan felt herself blush. She got up, and walked across to the flipchart. "Well, I just wanted to say - Thank you for explaining Pastor Billing's sermon, Reverend, I must confess I didn't understand it at the time - " Her husband had been a devotee of this kind of thing, it was one reason they'd switched to New Hope. Susan didn't mind: it was nice to go to church on Sunday mornings, and as her mother had been used to say, 'God can hear you anywhere'. "But we need to take this kind of thing seriously, Reverend, I mean, after what happened - "

To her surprise - somehow grief always did take you by surprise, she'd noticed - she started to cry. Ronnie's side of the bed felt so empty. She'd gone to sleep on the couch more often than not, in the past week, just because it was so terrible to wake up in the middle of the night and not hear Ronnie's puppy-like snoring, and be able to roll over and snuggle in against his back. He'd never make her coffee in the mornings. He'd never hold her hand in church, fingers pressing against her palm. She snuffled and wiped her nose with a paper hanky. She hadn't done a wash in ten days, she was all out of proper handkerchiefs.

Ronnie had won the argument they'd always had. And she couldn't tell him so, and see him duck his head and grin, and tease her "See, I can be right twice a day - "

"We've been left behind," she said. "All that about the Rapture and the End Times, I never quite believed it, I suppose none of us here did, but it seems that it was all true. So shouldn't we be setting all that aside, Reverend - " she pointed at the flipchart - "and studying our Bible? I mean, for real?"

"We are here to do that," Barnes said. He looked less sympathetic. He wasn't good at looking stern - Pastor Billings had that down to a fine art, he could glower like an old-time revival preacher - but really, he was just too young for that. He'd grow into it.

"But, Reverend - " Susan hadn't been brought up to argue with a man of the cloth, but this did seem to be quite important. "We didn't look at our Bible once, this whole time. My husband, rest his soul, used to say it was all in Revelations, so shouldn't we be reading that? I had a look at it after your phone call, and I don't see how Pastor Billings got any of this out of it. There isn't anything in Revelations about seven years, that's from the Book of Daniel, and that was about the Jews when they were in Babylon, not right here and now."

For a young man, Barnes was managing quite a frown. Susan looked round the circle of faces, and got the same look from all of them.

"Sister, are you saved?"

Susan was truly shocked. "Reverend - "

"Susan Watt, are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus in the words Pastor Billings taught us?"

Susan could only stare. She had never expected that kind of abrupt challenge, said by someone who knew she'd been a church member since, well, since long before he came to this church.

"Don't you fear hellfire? Don't you understand what I've been telling you! If you don't accept Jesus, you are damned!"

Susan crumpled the hankies she'd been holding into a tiny ball, and took a deep breath. "Reverend, I've always tried to be a good Christian. I don't know whether I'm saved or not: that's for God to judge, not you. I came here tonight because I felt I'd surely like to spend more time reading my Bible and praying after what's happened, but it seems that this isn't the place for it."

She had to go back to her chair to pick up her coat and her purse, and she felt every eye staring at her. She wanted to cry again, but she wouldn't give them the satisfaction. She walked briskly to the door. These people had all been Ronnie's friends. She'd been looking forward to coffee and cookies after the meeting, talking about Ronnie, talking about their shared losses.

"Susan!" Reverend Barnes' shout was a feeble imitation of Pastor Billings' bellow. "If you leave now you may put not only your soul but your life in peril!"

Susan had used up the last of the hankies. She was really crying now. This wasn't much of a church any more - maybe it never had been - but walking out now felt like losing Ronnie all over again. She couldn't turn around. "I'll pray for you," she said finally, trying to mean it. "Goodbye." It seemed like an awfully long way out of the church.

She got into the car. There might be a packet of kleenex in the map compartment. There wasn't, but in the back seat - she hadn't noticed it when she got in - there was an old knitted jersey of Ronnie's. She picked it up and buried her face in it, giving her nose a good blow and mopping the tears.

Sitting there, in the car, she felt Ronnie with her. He'd have walked out of the meeting with her. He'd have been on her side. He'd have put his hand on her shoulder till she stopped crying. And he'd have said -

Susan started the car. She put the jersey in the passenger seat. "Come on," she said to herself. "Don't let someone like that upset you. Let's go have coffee and dessert."

Monday, July 2, 2007

Doctor in the House, Part one

When you've read the same paragraph three times in a row and still can't make sense of it, it's time to do something else, thought Michelle Ravenswing muzzily. She decided that she might as well take a nap, so she'd be reasonably alert when they landed at Sea-Tac in the morning.

She woke to panicky voices. "Huh? What?" As Michelle attempted to flag down a flight attendant to find out what was going on, an announcement came over the PA.
"This is your captain speaking. I have reports that several passengers, and one of the crew have vanished from the plane. I... I don't know how such a thing could happen in mid-flight, but I implore everyone to try to remain calm. In order to determine just who is missing, and how many have disappeared, I'm asking everyone to make a list of who they're traveling with and note if anyone is missing from your party. If you do not have paper and pen, the flight attendants can provide them. When you have completed your list, please hand it to one of the flight attendants.Thank you."

Michelle had flown to the conference alone, but on the return trip she had sat with a pediatrician who'd also been there. He'd surrendered to sleep a couple of hours ahead of her. Now she looked over at his seat to see his clothes stacked neatly on it with the pants legs hanging over the front. Pulling out a pharmaceutical company freebie pen and paper, she made note of his absence while fighting back her own fear. What could cause something like this, and how would you go about finding out? Was she going to vanish too? Where had they gone?

Somewhere behind her, a woman was screaming about somebody named John who wasn't breathing. Michelle grabbed her purse, and headed back toward the sound of a much more mundane emergency. She found herself at the seats of a couple in their mid-fifties. A quick assessment of the husband confirmed that not only wasn't he breathing, his heart wasn't beating. Michelle swore under her breath, invoking a couple of Native American spirits that clearly had it in for her this morning. The only place she could really do CPR was in the aisle... with flight attendants running around trying to cope with the panic over the disappearances. This was not going to work, unless... Michelle managed to snag a flight attendant and get her to bring over the on board defibrillator. Then she got work doing CPR. The flight attendants would just have to work around her. When the AED arrived, she placed the pads, and let it do its thing. A couple of shocks later, the patient had a pulse, and Michelle was able to get him back into his seat with some help from a male flight attendant. Then she spent some time talking to the patient's wife and found out that they'd been coming back from vacation with a daughter and her two kids. The kids were among the vanished, and the daughter had fled to the bathroom. The patient already had a history of heart disease, and the stress of the disappearances had been too much for him. Michelle decided that she'd probably better stay nearby until they landed.