Waiting For The Blinds

Heidi stampeded down the wet, slippery road in pursuit of peace of mind. Between and under the wooden houses built on tall stilts she caught glimpses of the Atlantic waves crashing down on the drenched beach. She shivered and zipped up her jacket to protect herself against the imposing wind. The temperature had dropped last night and the ominous gray clouds forecast stormy weather.

She watched her feet rush forward while she drew back. She stopped and took a deep breath and then slowed down her gait, pretending she was a 19th century poet who had strolled across the countryside all day and now weary was in search of an inn out of the storm. “Oh, to be a writer,” she thought. “Such purpose. To meditate on long walks and then scribble down prose and verse in the evening under the flickering light of an inn’s wood stove while my soggy shoes dry by the fire.”

She heard echoing footsteps behind her and looked back over her shoulder. There was no one on the long straight road but her. She turned the corner.

Her feet took off again, indifferent to her pleading heart, and when she looked up again a splash of sunlight was making a brief appearance on a white clapboard church. The church had been a stack of two by fours among the weeds and brambling bush on their last vacation.

There was a large sign nailed into a post at its driveway entrance informing the parishioners of next week’s Sunday service, and other signs swung from rusty hinges crediting those who had built this simple edifice.

It lacked the steeples of Chartres or the gothic domes of Notre Dame that she’d entered on her travels when needing the deep protection of a sanctuary. Once inside, she’d wait until her eyes adjusted and then walk softly toward the candles flickering under age-old St. Francis of Assisi or dearest Mary Magdalene. She’d avoid the paintings of Christ in agony as she was never seeking salvation or redemption just peace of mind.

With heightened expectations, she walked across the sand-pitted driveway toward the golden doorknob, hoping to find the large, white double door unlocked so she could enter the peace and solitude within and light candles for her dead parents, her child, and herself.

Why shouldn’t its doors be open? All church doors should be open so the hopeless and weary can pray. She saw herself seated upright on a hard wooden pew, her gaze on the serene stained-glass windows, her eyes reaching up to the chandeliers and the lofty ceiling above.

Her hand dropped from the doorknob when she heard the screech of wheels braking on the dirt path and a slamming door.

When she’d run out of the rental, she hadn’t thought of what she was wearing only of her need to escape. The black pants and hoodie over her head might make one suspect her to be a thief or a graffiti artist intending to cover the pearly white walls with her art.

She turned, smiled, and stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Heidi.” The tall, silver-haired driver held his stand in the empty parking lot as if making a decision. She kept smiling until he approached her. “Hi I’m Heidi,” she said again. “We’re renters over there.” She pointed behind the church. “Last time I was here it was in ruins.”

Up close, he saw she was a small middle-aged woman and not a juvenile delinquent, and turning a key in the lock, said, “Come on in, I’ll show you around.”

When they entered the portico, a hushed, peaceful silence fell over her. If she’d been alone, she’d have walked up the center aisle and sat near the altar, but the caretaker wanted to show her around his new church.

The modern kitchen had a long picnic table and all new appliances. Everything shiny white. The small sacristy was for private meetings. It’s window looked out on her back porch where she sat last night and trailed the moon’s arc while waiting for Mark to come back to say he was sorry for yelling at her.

The caretaker showed her the pre-school classroom for the community’s children. She looked at the child-sized red, green, blue and yellow chairs. “How nice it would have been for my own child to come here to school,” she thought, shaking off her remorse.

“Do you have children?” he asked. She shook her head no and walked into the next room. He explained that the organ had been given to the church by a parishioner. Heidi said she remembered her mother playing the organ in their church but now she was dead. She had hoped to light a candle for her today and for others who had died, but saw no votive rack.

He said they built a church where anyone could pray regardless of their particular faith. She nodded and thought “what a nice man.” She encouraged him to tell her more about his church. He said they’d had their first service two Sundays ago and 76 parishioners filled over half the pews. He was expecting a larger turn-out this Sunday. She said she was sorry she couldn’t attend but she and her husband were leaving today.

He told her it was the largest church in the area now and pointed behind the altar wall saying they were going to install two giant video screens. “Build it and they will come,” she said. He smiled and nodded in agreement. If Mark had been there he would have been embarrassed at her using an old, stupid cliché.

“It cost $575,000,” the caretaker said. She wanted to give him a donation but had rushed out without her purse. He said they’d raised all the money they needed and still had funds to start the pre-school.

Her weariness returned. If only she could lie down on the newly laid carpet under the yellow and blue stained-glass window and listen to the angels waiting to sing to her from the rafters.

He explained how it had taken two and a half years for them to build again the razed church that had been flooded by the many storms on Hatteras Island. “A phoenix rising,” she said, relieved Mark wasn’t there to hear her use yet another cliché. He was a professor of English literature and often criticized her limited vocabulary.

“Yes, you could say that,” he said, before switching on a light that illuminated the church in glaring electric lights. Not wanting to be rude, she didn’t ask him to turn off the lights.

She thought she heard him say he was waiting for the blind to arrive and said, “Besides the ramp for the handicapped and the wide bathroom door and the classroom for pre-schoolers, you have classes for the blind?” He laughed and shook his head. He meant that he came here this morning because the window blinds were being delivered.

She saw that the kitchen windows were barren and looked out across the sandy breach, dried-out bushes, weeds, wilted grasses and a half-collapsed fence in the back of their rental. She saw Mark’s silhouette in their kitchen window as he moved about making the pancakes he’d promised for breakfast.

She thanked the caretaker for showing her the church and left out the backdoor. Her feet lifted her over the broken fence and stepped down.

Mark’s bent head was at the kitchen sink and she caught the homey smell of sizzling bacon. He didn’t see her drop to her knees.

Her head leaned forward. Tears dripped onto the sand and disappeared. With a soiled tissue she dried her cheeks, then gathered herself up and stared out at the ocean. The fog had lifted and the sun shone down on curling waves.

She took one last look at the kitchen window and walked away from the pancakes, the sizzling bacon, the heated Vermont maple syrup, the fresh-squeezed orange juice, and Mark who she didn’t love anymore.