Evangeline Witherstead pauses just outside St. Christopher’s Catholic Church and turns her attention to the daffodils struggling their way out of the thick layer of mulch suffocating the flowers. Evangeline scowls. Frank Difazio always applies too much mulch to the church’s flowerbeds. In fact, Frank does everything generously: Lavishly bowing at the children whenever they drop a quarter in the collection basket. Accidentally kicking over the kneeler behind him in the middle of the Consecration. Laughing too loudly at Father’s jokes, occasionally even going so far as to append a loud clap when something really tickles his funny bone. Honestly, Evangeline thinks now. The man is a doofus.
“Aren’t they beautiful, Evangeline?”
“I beg your pardon?” Evangeline turns to see Deidre Jacoby smiling inanely.
“The flowers.” Deidre points.
“Oh. Well. Yes,” Evangeline says. “Just lovely.” Truth be told, Evangeline hasn’t stopped to admire the flowers. She’s stopped to hike up her pantyhose before heading into the church. Her daughter accused her of buying cheap hose, recommended she invest in some good nylons if she didn’t want to walk around with droopy elephant legs. But Evangeline isn’t going to throw away her hard-earned money on department store nylons when the dollar store brand will do just fine.
“Shall we go in?” Deidre beams and offers her elbow which Evangeline doesn’t take: Hells bell, Deidre is just as old as Evangeline and with those tottering old sticks she calls legs, it’s a wonder Deidre hadn’t fallen and injured herself. Evangeline squints. It’s also a wonder that Deidre’s nylons can maintain a grip on those thin legs. She steps forward and into the church, hoping Deidre doesn’t notice her nylons.
Frank hands Deidre a palm, then passes one to Evangeline. She takes it and folds it over, follows Deidre to a seat near the front. The church smells of Murphy Oil Soap and hushed expectations. Evangeline rubs her hand along the pew, pleased.
“Looks good,” Deidre observes and Evangeline nods. Of course it looks good. For the past thirty-two years, Evangeline has led a group of volunteer cleaners, older women mainly, but occasionally the high school student in need of service hours. The day before Palm Sunday, they clean and buff and scrub the church new.
As it gets closer to seven-thirty, Harold and Emma Jackson stream in with their nine boys.
“Look how sweet,” Deidre says. “Each of them neat as a pin.”
Becky Fister doesn’t bother to kneel before she enters the pew, Evangeline notices. And Phillip Lewis fails to remove his sunglasses before he sits. Evangeline sighs.
“Phil looks good,” Deidre observes.
“Can’t see the man’s eyes,” Evangeline replies, pulling her rosary beads from her purse and fingering a bead.
“Do you think he’ll…”
Deidre blushes. “Marry again?”
Evangeline crosses herself. “Rose has been dead a year and you’re already…already…” She pauses, floundering for the right words.
“Deidre’s making the moves on Phillip.”
Evangeline turns to her right. Frank is standing there laughing loudly. Smiling too broadly.
“Is this seat taken?” He gestures.
“Scoot over, Evangeline.” Deidre has already done so, leaving a small space between them.
Evangeline sighs and moves over as well, crossing her wrinkled nylon legs beneath the pew.
Zoe Cardash sits at the piano, pulls in the bench, and punches in a number which is immediately lit up in neon in the corner of the church. Evangeline slides a missal from the back of the pew and opens it to the proper page. She clears her throat in preparation.
The cantor unscrews the lid on her plastic water bottle and takes a long pull before arranging the microphone just so. She turns towards Zoe, whose hands hover over the keyboard, looking to the back of the church, eyebrows raised. As she settles into a chord, the congregation stands.
Evangeline takes a deep breath and begins to sing. But the cantor must be nervous: She barely touches on note before charging on to the next, rushing about like she’s late for something. Evangeline frowns. Sings louder in the hopes of setting the cantor back on course. It’s no use. Evangeline can’t slow the cantor down, nor can she keep up with her. Neither can Zoe, who gamely pushes forward, leaning into the music, plowing her hands along the keyboard as fast as she can, dropping notes like stitches in order to catch up.
“I think Zoe’s broken out into a sweat,” Deidre says.
“Who is that singer?” Evangeline demands.
“Vera Loving’s daughter. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“She sings like she’s running in the Kentucky Derby.”
Frank lets loose a loud guffaw just as Father passes their pew.
Evangeline feels herself redden.
The music stops. The congregation sits. Evangeline begins thinking about her nylons. In fact, Evangeline is so wrapped up in her nylons, she misses the first and second readings. Only when they stand for the reading of the Passion does Evangeline realize she hasn’t been paying attention. Listen up, Evangeline, she tells herself. You’re starting to slip, old woman. She pinches her upper arm and reads along in the missal. When it’s the congregation’s turn to read, Frank’s voice booms. Evangeline pretends to turn down her hearing aid. Frank doesn’t appear to notice.
“…laminate Jesus,” the reader says and Evangeline stiffens. Lament!she thinks. Lament! She waits for the reader to go back; to correct himself; but he rushes forward like Zoe trying to keep up with the beautiful yet tone death Miss Loving.
Beside her, Frank is shaking with laughter. “Did you hear that?” His whisper is loud. “Laminate Jesus?”
“Hush yourself, Frank.” Evangeline fishes a lavender scented handkerchief from her purse and hands it to Frank. “Wipe your eyes.”
Frank shakes out handkerchief and mops his face, heaving laughter through lavender. On her left, Deidre starts giggling. “This is a fine mess,” Evangeline hisses. “The budget director and the groundskeeper making fools of themselves in the middle of church. Where is your decorum?”
“Yank your nylons up, Evangeline,” Deidre says and Frank takes Evangeline’s hand and gives it a squeeze. “I love you, Evangeline,” he says, smiling. “You old fuddy-duddy stick in the mud. Why don’t you and me get hitched tomorrow afternoon?”
Evangeline feels her heart thump. A warm surge courses through her veins. She tries to return her attention to the Mass but finds she cannot.
When the Gospel is finished, the congregation sits. The people arrange themselves in their pews, crossing legs, shushing children, folding palms into crosses before settling in to listen. Evangeline takes this opportunity to pull up her nylons. She glances at Frank and smiles.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Michael Webb gave me this prompt: We gain no wisdom by imposing our way on others –James Lee Burke. I gave Kirsten this prompt: Your main character is moving. Where? Why? When?