Coffee and confessions
The rummage sale went quickly. It lasted only an hour and a half. Almost everything was sold, even Joellen’s old phonograph. She stayed until the last table was collapsed and put back in a storage closet. The other ladies drifted off one by one, waving goodbye, saying how much fun it had been. Old Pastor Immerhaupt shook each lady’s hand and thanked her for helping. Associate Pastor Karlson did the same. Joellen was the last to walk out. Pastor Immerhaupt thanked her.
“You did a wonderful job, my dear,” he said as he shook her hand. “We collected quite a nice bit of money for the overseas orphans’ fund.” Joellen thought Pastor Immerhaupt looked ancient today, stooped, bald, bony, rumpled.
Joellen let him shake her hand. She was aware that Associate Pastor Karlson was standing a few feet away.
“I must run now,” Pastor Immerhaupt said. “I’ll leave you in the charge of my good right hand here. Soon there will be an announcement, and I’m sure all the other members of the church will be well pleased with the changing of the guard.”
“Pastor Immerhaupt?” Joellen raised her eyes to look closely at the old man’s face. “Are you retiring?”
“Why yes, dear. I thought it was common knowledge. That’s why North Karlson came down from Michigan.”
“Oh,” she said.
“You’ll be in good hands. He’s a fine young man. Very able and, I might add, full of energy.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll do a good job.”
Pastor Immerhaupt walked away from the church to his car and got in. He waved once more and then Joellen was standing beside Associate Pastor Karlson.
“Well, Joellen,” he said. “It went very well indeed. I also thank you for all your help.”
“It was nothing,” she said. And then she stood there, waiting, wanting to say something, not knowing what to do.
“Was there something you wanted to say?” he asked.
When she was quiet like that, Brent never asked if she had something to say or if there was something she wanted to talk about. She didn’t know how to begin. She felt a blush start at her neck.
“Is something troubling you?”
“I don’t know,” Joellen’s voice sounded distorted. She had the note in her purse. And the passkey.
“Would you like to go into one of the offices and sit down?”
“I don’t know,” she said again. This time her voice cracked slightly. Ever since she found the note, she felt as if she was hanging onto a taut rope.
“Come with me. We can have a cup of coffee.” He began to walk toward the breezeway that separated the offices from the church. She followed slowly until they reached the office where she had signed the tax receipt.
At a small sideboard he picked up two cups and placed them on saucers. Then he poured coffee from a pot that was plugged into a wall outlet.
“Sugar or cream? He asked.
“No. Thank you.”
He brought the cups to her and sat down, he on a straight-backed chair, she on a small sofa facing him.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
Again she repeated, “I don’t know.”
He said nothing, only sipped the coffee and then put the cup down on a small end table. The moments ticked away. Joellen tried to drink the coffee but her hand had begun to tremble and in attempting to place the cup back in the saucer her grip gave way and the cup clattered onto the saucer and both tipped over and landed on the floor, the cup’s handle cracking and splitting off, sliding across the floor, the coffee spilling out in an abstract flow of darkish brown.
“Oh,” she said in alarm, “look what I’ve done. I’m so sorry. Let me clean it up. She knelt down, pulling some tissues out of her purse. The note came out with them and landed on the floor next to her hand. She saw it dip into the coffee and she made a grab for it and then she looked up at Associate Pastor Karlson, her face contorted. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’ve done.” She kept repeating it over and over as she sopped at the coffee with her pitiful tissues which were by now completely soaked and disintegrating.
“Now, now, Joellen,” he came to her side with a rag from the desk drawer. “It’s nothing really. Just a spill. No reason to be upset. There, see, easily cleaned.” He held the rag up and took it over to the bathroom and laid it in the sink. He rinsed it out and came back and wiped the rest of the spill clean. He took the tissues from her. “Come,” he said, “we’ll wash your hands in the sink and everything will be good as new.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered once more. The note was still clasped in her dry hand. “It’s not the coffee,” she finally blurted out as they reached the sink. “It’s this.” She thrust the note out and put it into his hand. She washed up and they went back to the couch. He sat beside her as he read the note.
“I found it in my husband’s pant’s pocket. With this.” She pulled out the passkey. “He’s having an affair.” She was amazed at how composed she had become. At how matter-of-fact she could be in telling this story. “I just found it yesterday. And I don’t know what to do.” She took a deep breath as if she had just run a race.
“Oh,” was all he said.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“I came down from Michigan.”
“No, I mean you have an accent. Where are you from originally?”
He laughed. “That was a long time ago. I came from Denmark with my parents when I was seventeen. Do I really still have an accent? I don’t hear it at all.” He smiled at her. Then his expression changed. “What are you going to do?”
She sighed again. “I don’t have any idea.”
He didn’t say anything. Joellen took the note and the passkey back from him and their fingers brushed each other’s. The feeling below her stomach returned.
“I think you’ll need some help sorting this out, won’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Now that you’ll be pastor here, will you be the one people come to with their troubles?”
“I will always be available for parishioners who need to talk to someone in confidence. In cases like yours, I have found that time can be a healing element. I advise you to give this problem some time. The solution will make itself apparent on its own.”