First published at Fiction Attic Press January 1, 2021. Copyright is held by the author.
MRS. HAGGERTY arrived with the newcomer during the doxology. She covered her cough with her elbow, extended a friendly handshake to Mrs. Lane and headed down the aisle.
Mr. Brown leaned into the last phrase. “Praise Father Son and Heavenly Ghost.” He slid a bit closer to the youngest Galanos daughter to make way for Mrs. Haggerty and the newcomer. Mrs. Haggerty sneezed as she sat down. Mr. Brown breathed in, replenishing air spent on the song.
The youngest Galanos nudged her mom, opening her mouth at the same time as Mr. Brown exhaled. But Mrs. Galanos 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 turned to the hymnal’s worn page for Morning Has Broken. The newcomer, too, was “springing fresh from the world,” the other side of it in fact.
It would take a microscope to see that the newcomer’s top spiked in red-orange bits, outgrowth from a golden base that shed some. Mrs. Haggerty did not notice the bit that had 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. Giggles from the boys drew an exasperated exhale from their uncle into their ears that put their revelry to rest.
The newcomer joined 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 travels, keeping him away from church this morning. She wasn’t at all sure about the merits of an aging rock band working cruise ships, but he seemed to love it.
During the offering, Mrs. Galanos handed the plate to Mr. Brown who gave it to Mrs. Haggerty who handed it to Mr. Lane after the newcomer tossed in a contribution as well. Mr. Lane passed the plate to the next row. Mr. Brown’s nephews mixed the coins and bills like a salad, before handing the plate off to Mrs. Young who leaned back, almost cheek to cheek with Mr. Brown to accept his apology for the youngsters. The offering plate moved through two more rows before Mr. Lane returned it to the front to be counted after pocketing Mr. Brown’s crisp hundred to pay off his weekend gambling debt.
The youngest Galanos daughter whispered to her mom she couldn’t wait any longer to use the toilet. Mrs. Haggerty coughed 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.
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, the youngest Galanos daughter and Mrs. Haggerty were the first to die. Turned out, the newcomer loved gatherings.