Hit & Run
As Bryan scanned the article and grainy newspaper photo, he immediately recognized the woman’s overbite, her large Bucky Beaver teeth. They’d grazed against his stiffie once but he couldn’t recall when. A year ago, two? The article said her Nikes were found on the sidewalk, her shredded limbs scattered among sycamore branches. A hit and run: speeding car, woman jogging at daybreak. The impact had ripped the shoes right off her dying body.
As a pastor, Bryan’s job was to comfort. Names and details weren’t important. “A friend loves at all times,” he liked to say, quoting Proverbs while unzipping his trousers. It was the least he could do for female congregants, especially those whose husbands no longer paid attention. He took pride in restoring their confidence, in sharing a secret, tawdry yet warm.
Damned if he wouldn’t have to write a eulogy and perform the service, for this woman, though. The paper said her name was Tabitha, the same name of the little girl on Bewitched. How he’d loved that show while growing up. Elizabeth Montgomery, the voluptuous star, had been the impetus of his first wet dream. “Focus Bryan,” he said out loud, running a hand through his highlighted hair. The first time he’d come home from the salon with his new blonde tips, his wife had freaked out. “Good Lord, Bryan,” she’d said. “How long is your midlife crisis going to last?”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” he’d yelled down the hallway.
In the four years since he and his wife had moved to this affluent suburb north of LA, Pastor Bryan had tripled the size of the congregation. He was a rousing speaker, his sermons sprinkled with jokes. He’d replaced traditional hymns with modern Christian music that was performed live on stage by a ten-piece band, and he projected tearjerker videos on huge screens that always brought in sizable donations.
His influence had been likened to that of a super pastor in San Diego, and his looks to that of movie star John Travolta. “I’m in the driver’s seat, baby,” he’d said several times to Claire back when they were getting on better. His wife had become increasingly dour since moving here, always complaining about other women’s silicon breasts and skinny thighs. “Careful now,” he’d say. “Jealousy is a deadly sin.”
He couldn’t recall why the newly deceased Tabitha had made an appointment to see him a year or so ago. What had been troubling her? The paper said she was single and never had children. He usually stuck to married women, counting on their guilt to ultimately override their interest in continuing affairs. He’d have a pop or two and then pretty much on cue, they’d become reengaged with their husbands, which suited him just fine. He didn’t like paper trails, or scents you could pick up on. Sure, he’d wink slyly at them when they’d pass by each other in the church’s large carpeted hallways even though he wasn’t always certain which ones he’d been with and which ones he hadn’t. LA women seemed to all look alike.
Perhaps Tabitha had sought him out to confess loneliness or a long ago mistake. He would have taken her hands in his gentle manicured ones and offered reassurance with his velvety voice. She had a rock-hard body; that he remembered. He was getting wood just thinking about it when Melinda walked in.
“Excuse me, Pastor,” his assistant said. “Someone is here to see you. She’s in quite a state and says it’s urgent.”
“Okay, just give me a minute and then bring her in.”
The woman was in her sixties, with short legs and cropped gray hair. Clutching a purse to her chest, he directed her to the sofa across from his desk. “No, no,” the woman shook her head. “I can’t possibly sit down.” She drew a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her eyes. “My precious Tabitha died yesterday and I understand she attended this church. I’m afraid we hadn’t been on speaking terms for quite some time and I’m hoping for information, anything at all about her.”
“There, there,” he said, wrapping an arm around the woman’s shoulder. “Please accept my deepest condolences, which I extend on behalf of the entire church, and our Heavenly Father. Your daughter was a lovely, God-fearing person.”
“She was?” the woman asked, bewildered. “Why, I wouldn’t have pictured that. That doesn’t sound like her.” She licked her lips and swallowed. “Do you know if she had any friends here at the church? She usually kept to herself but maybe she’d begun to find her way, to reach out.”
“She absolutely had friends,” Bryan said, smiling broadly. “More than you can count. And I’ll have you know that I kept my eye on her, always made sure she knew I was in her corner.”
The woman’s face brightened, her eyes still damp at the creases. “You can’t imagine how that helps me. I’m not much of a churchgoer myself, but God Bless You, Pastor Bryan. May God bless you always.”
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Cynthia Nooney is an MFA candidate at Pacific University and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, twin sons, and a Rhodesian ridgeback that chases squirrels like nobody’s business. cynthianooney.com