His former part-time church secretary, who had retired when he retired, had clearly been unable to let go of her old job. She made it her business to visit twice a week and help out for a couple of hours, whether he needed it or not.
"I do it for th' Lord," she had stated flatly, refusing any thanks. Though Cynthia usually fled the room when she arrived, he rather looked forward to Emma's visits, and to the link she represented to Lord's Chapel, which was now under the leadership of its own interim priest.
Emma stood with her hands on her hips and peered over her glasses. "Y'all won't believe what I found on th' Internet. Three guesses!"
"Excuse me!" said Cynthia, bolting from the sofa. "I'll just bring you a lemonade, Emma, and get back to work. I've gobs of books to pack."
"Guess!" Emma insisted, playing a game that he found both mindless and desperately aggravating.
"A recipe for mixing your own house paint?"
"Oh, please," she said, looking disgusted. "You're not trying."
"The complete works of Fulgentius of Ruspe!"
"I give up," he said, meaning it.
"I found another Mitford! It's in England, and it has a church as old as mud, not to mention a castle!" She looked triumphant, as if she'd just squelched an invasion of Moors.
"Really? Terrific! I suppose it's where those writing Mitfords came from -- "
"No connection. They were from th' Cotswolds, this place is up north somewhere. I had a stack of stuff I printed out, but Snickers sat on th' whole bloomin' mess after playin' in the creek, and I have to print it out again."
"OK, guess what else!"
"Dadgummit, Emma. You know I hate this."
She said what she always said. "It's good for you, keeps your brain active."
As far as she was concerned, he'd gone soft in the head since retiring six months ago.
"Just tell me and get it over with."
"Oh, come on! Try at least one guess. Here's a clue. It's about the election in November."
"Esther's stepping down and Andrew Gregory's going to run."
She frowned. "How'd you know that?"
"I haven't gone deaf and blind, for Pete's sake. I do get around."
"I suppose you also know," said Emma, hoping he didn't, "that the restaurant at Fernbank is openin' the night before you leave."
"Right. We've been invited."
She thumped into the slip-covered wing chair and peered at him as if he were a beetle on a pin. Though she'd certainly never say such a thing, she believed he was existing in a kind of purgatory between the inarguable heaven of Lord's Chapel and the hell of a strange parish in a strange place where the temperature was a hundred and five in the shade.
"Will you have a secretary down there?" she asked, suspicious.
"I don't think so. Small parish, you know."
"How small can it be?"
"Oh, fifty, sixty people."
"I thought Bishop Cullen was your friend," she sniffed. She'd never say so, but in her heart of hearts, she had hoped her boss of sixteen years would be given a big church in a big city, and make a come- back for himself. As it was, he trotted up the hill to Hope House and the hospital every livelong morning, appearing so cheerful about the whole thing that she recognized it at once as a cover-up.
Cynthia returned with a glass of lemonade and a plate of shortbread, which she put on the table next to Emma. "I'll be in the studio if anyone needs me. With all the books we're taking, we may sink the island!"
"A regular Atlantis," said Father Tim.
"Speakin' of books," Emma said to his wife, "are you doin' a new one?"
Text © 1999 Jan Karon. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Viking.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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