Church People ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
As mother was backing out of the driveway, father ran out of the house and motioned for her to stop. He was always thinking of things almost before it was too late.
“Bring me a Sunday paper and some cigarettes,” he said. “And then come straight home.”
“Why doesn’t he go to church?” Lathan asked, when they were underway again. He was dressed in his new suit, sitting beside mother on the front seat.
“He’s tired,” she said, “and he doesn’t like those people.”
“I hope he doesn’t eat all the best Easter candy while I’m gone.”
“If he eats it all, I think he might be sick for the rest of the day,” she said with a little laugh. “I think that would be kind of funny, don’t you?”
“I guess so,” Lathan said, “but then there wouldn’t be any candy left.”
The Easter Bunny had been very generous this year, with three cellophane-wrapped baskets and another basket of two-dozen dyed eggs, which had to go right into the refrigerator. At age eight, Lathan knew there was really no such thing as the Easter Bunny, but he would keep up the pretense as long as he had to, or until mother acknowledged the truth.
The church parking lot was already full, so mother had to park on the street half a block away. She and Lathan just barely made it inside and found a seat in the back as the service was beginning. Lathan sat on the end with his shoulder pressed into the wood of the pew, glad that mother was between him and the person on the other side of her, an old woman who shook all over and reeked of perfume.
Even the occasional churchgoer managed to attend on Easter Sunday, so the church was full to overflowing. They sat packed in, shoulder to shoulder, the men in their dark suits and their slicked-down hair, the women in their whites or bright spring colors. Some of the women wore funny hats with feathers or fruit, but most of them were bareheaded with hairdos fresh from the beauty parlor. Little children sat next to their mothers or grandmothers, trying hard to be good and knowing they would get swatted on the leg if they weren’t. As babies fussed and whimpered, a valiant effort was made to keep them quiet.
A man (not the minister) stood up and said a prayer, after which he read some announcements about upcoming church activities. The choir sang, without much enthusiasm, a couple of songs suitable to the occasion while the organist, a somnambulant grandmother with orange hair and a hanging mole on her upper lip, provided spotty accompaniment. The somber-looking deacons passed among the congregation with their felt-lined wooden money plates. People deposited coins, bills or little white envelopes into the plates, either with a smile or a scowl. After this “offertory” was finished, it was time for the Easter sermon, which, if it was a good one, would be remembered for a long time and might still be talked about next Easter.
The minister stood on a raised platform higher than anybody else, higher than the choir behind him, with baskets of lilies on both sides. He gripped the pulpit with both hands as if trying to hold himself upright. “Dear friends,” he said in his high, reedy voice (surprising for a man of nearly three hundred pounds), “I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to me to see so many of you here on this glorious Easter Sunday. Our message today is ‘come one, come all’. The more people we can get into our humble little church on this, the holiest day of our holy year, to hear our message of peace and love, the more it gladdens my heart and the heart of the One who watches over us all and knows us, each and every one, better than we know ourselves. From the moment that Adam and Eve disappointed God in the Garden of Eden by doing the one thing He asked them not to do…”
About fifteen minutes into the sermon, a pigeon flew in at the window and, after flapping its wings around the ceiling for a couple of minutes, perched on a crossbeam twelve feet above the minister’s head and did what appeared to be a little dance, facing front and back and then sideways, as if wanting to give everybody a chance to admire it. Children tittered and pointed. About half the people in the church watched the pigeon to see what it was going to do next and had stopped listening to the sermon. The minister didn’t see it or else chose to ignore it.
Those who were hoping to see the pigeon poop on the minister’s head were destined to be disappointed. All it did was face front, tuck its legs under its body, and close its eyes. It gave the impression that it was in no hurry, would stay as long as it wanted, and would leave whenever it chose.
Listening to the minister drone on, Lathan thought, was worse than the most boring subject in school, but finally it was over and time to go home. Everybody stood up at once, glad to be able to move again and to make as much noise as they needed to make. The minister appeared at the front door as if by magic (the back way) and proceeded to shake everybody’s hand as they left and to receive the compliments that were due him on what he considered a very fine sermon.
When mother stood up from the pew and Lathan beside her, a smiling man approached her and extended his hand. He wore glasses and had black hair; he was wearing a light-gray suit with a red tie and a red carnation in his buttonhole.
“So nice to see you today, Sylvia,” he said. “I saw you as soon as you came in but I didn’t think you saw me.”
“Hello, Cedric,” mother said, taking his hand in her own.
“I missed you at Sunday school,” he said.
“I was lucky to make it for church,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m with my mother but she’s over there talking to somebody, so I have to wait until she’s finished.”
“Have you met my son, Lathan?” mother asked.
“Yes, I believe I’ve seen the little fellow once or twice,” he said. “How are you?”
“Okay,” Lathan said, not without a touch of sullenness.
“Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” he said, “but I hope to see you again soon. We’re bound to run into each other again.”
“All right, Cedric,” mother said. “Tell your mother hello for me.”
When they were walking to the car, Lathan said, “Who was that man?”
“His name is Cedric Coolidge. He’s somebody I’ve known since high school. I used to go out with him some.”
“Do you mean on dates?”
“Yes, it was before I was married.”
“Is he married?”
“No, I don’t think so. Why?”
“Do you like him?”
“Well, yes. He’s an old friend. He’s smart and funny and an excellent piano player.”
When they were almost home, mother said to Lathan, “I’d rather you didn’t mention to your father that we spoke to Cedric at church today.”
“Oh, no reason, I guess. I think it’s just better if we don’t bring it up.”
“All right,” Lathan said, “If you say so.”
“I know you’re good at keeping your word,” she said. “I know you don’t understand yet, but that’s what it means to have integrity.”
When they were having dinner, they were all silent until mother said, “A bird flew inside during church service today. I wonder what it means.”
“What kind of a bird?” father asked. “Was it a crow?”
“No, I believe it was a pigeon or a dove.”
“It means somebody’s going to die.”
“No,” mother said, “I think in this case it means something else.”
“Well, whatever it means,” he said, “it shouldn’t matter to you. Pass me the potatoes.”
Lathan looked from one of them to the other, but they didn’t look at him. The words they spoke seemed to have some other meaning that he wasn’t able to understand.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp