The police retreated from the church, leaving the parishioners free to leave on their own. Nobody moved. The moment was fragile, timeless, as if movement would shatter everything they’d ever known.
Detective Mendoza escorted Ms. Earline out to his car, assisting her into the front seat. His head and shoulders were stooped as if the demands of his job weighed down on him. Izzy and Delilah grabbed up their five kids, each of whom was quiet and wide-eyed. He hefted the duffle bag and placed it in Deacon Hanson Perry’s hands. Without a word, the seven of them stepped out of the sanctuary and into mid-afternoon sun.
Charlotte, her face bare of makeup, her long weave knotted at the back of her head in a low ponytail stood next to Deacon Hanson Perry. She appeared confused and lost. Deacon Perry gestured, as if to invite her to speak to the congregation but she just shook her head. The deacons gathered around the alter and knelt down to pray. Uncle Frank cried out the opening of a familiar Dr Watts refrain.
Father, I stretch my hands to thee.
The other deacons picked up the call, their pleas poured out towards heaven. Deacon Kieran prostrated himself on the bare floor of the church, his voice joining the others. Uncle Frank deep baritone rang out again.
No other help I know.
One by one, the remaining members of the congregation bowed their heads and joined in the call and response ritual.
Mama Lou and Ethel Mae bowed with them and at the end of the prayer, let themselves out of a side door.
Ethel Mae said, as they crossed the side walk and headed towards the parking lot. “I think they’re going to be okay.”
“They’ve survived worse,” said Mama Lou, opening the passenger’s side door.
“Yoo-hoo! Louisa! Ethel Mae!” Agnes Bradshaw picked her way down the concrete steps, waving both hands in their direction.
“Quick,” said Mama Lou. “Get inside. If you floor it, we’ll be halfway back to midtown before she even reaches the parking lot.”
“Shush, Louisa.” Ethel Mae turned a pleasant face to Agnes. “What is it, dear?”
“Well,” Agnes was winded from her run and fanned herself before speaking. “With all this excitement, we never got the chance to run the silent auction. Of course, now that the loan has been paid off and the generous tithe from Brother Izzy, we don’t need the money anymore, still, I thought you’d like to know whose dessert had the most requests?”Agnes eyed Mama Lou expectantly.
The gleam that flashed in Mama Lou’s eyes made Ethel Mae wish that she’d floored the old Cadillac after all.
Mama Lou opened then closed her mouth several times. Finally, she smiled sweetly and said, “I’m fairly certain your bread pudding has been completely demolished, crumbs and all.”
Agnes tittered, pleased with Mama Lou’s response. “Well, that’s true but your Apple Tart Fritters are almost gone too. Okay, ladies, I’ll let you head on. Thank you so much for helping us out this year.”
Agnes waved them off as Ethel Mae reversed and then nosed off the church property. Ethel Mae could see her through the rear view mirror, still waving as they turned south on the highway. Ethel Mae flashed a grateful smile at her friend.
Mama Lou acknowledged the silent praise with a sage nod.
“Like I said, I’m just trying to get to heaven.”