Following a Star

6 Aug

I was sitting directly in front of my feeble rotating fan when the doorbell rang. It was one of those hot July days where you can feel each drop of sweat coming out of your pores and your clothes stick to your skin.

“Coming,” I called out.

I sat for another few seconds lifting my pits to catch the vague breeze, then got up and went to the screen door.

“Hey,” I said.

On my porch stood a tired-looking man wearing a sweat-stained golf shirt, holding a bunch of creased fliers on pink paper.

“Hi!” he said, with a somewhat forced smile.

I held open the door, “How can I help you?”

“My name’s Pastor Malcolm. I’m from the New Hope church up the street? We’re having a bake sale tomorrow! And You’re Invited!” he said, as if I were a special guest. He held out a damp flier toward me.

I took the flier and glanced at it. “I’m Kristina. I’m the neighborhood psychic,” I replied, smiling too broadly. I always bristled in the presence of organized religion, and that reply usually put them off.

His face, at first stunned, broke into a disarming smile. He asked, “So, how do you predict this bake sale will do?”

I paused and glanced upwards, as if beseeching some spirit, and replied, “Lemonade would be a better idea.”

He laughed.

I found myself saying, “Speaking of which, want some?” and holding the screen door open further.

And so it began. I invited Malcolm in for a cold drink and the small relief of my rattling fan. Despite our skepticism about each other’s professions,  we discovered we had a lot in common. Both of our jobs entailed listening to people’s troubles and providing hope. It meant we had to bear the searing criticism of non-believers and believers alike. We shared the heartbreak and folly of our “followers”. We talked about our own struggles with authenticity when struggling with our own faith in what we did. We talked about loneliness. We’d both lost people. We’d both grieved.

“Screw ’em all,” I said, attempting to sound cavalier and bold. (I felt a strange sense of indulgence swearing in front of this pastor.)

He gave me a wan smile. One that let me know he didn’t have that luxury. That he could only bless. Only be kind.

“The thing is, Kristina,” Malcolm said, twisting his cotton handkerchief into a tight spiral, “I don’t know if it’s right. My congregation… I don’t know… Sometimes, I hate my job.”

“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked.

“You don’t understand,” he groaned. “They all knew Marissa. They all loved her. They all … She was… the perfect pastor’s wife.”

I shook my head. “So what you’re telling me is that you think you don’t have the right to love again?” I put my hand on his and said, “You do. Surely your God thinks so too.”

He looked back at me, his eyes filled with tears, and his thumb brushed my finger. He got up abruptly, “I have to go.”

When he reached the door he looked back at me, and I said, louder than intended, “Come back any time, when you want to talk about … a bake sale.”

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