It is a matter of common acceptance, if not perfectly proven, that a small town block is shorter than a city one. This may never have been confirmed, but certainly is taken for granted.
About a block-and-a-half from Meningsbee’s home was a brand-new coffeehouse called “The Garson-Fill.”
Even though Richard was not averse to making his own pot of brew, there was just someting fun about walking the short distance every morning to sit in a chair, lean back, drink his limit and order half a muffin.
Another attraction at The Garson-Fill was a lovely waitress named Carla. She was that mysterious age women often reach–where you can’t tell if they’re thirty-five or forty-five. She was beautiful in a rugged sort of way–the kind of well-traveled face that’s like a good map–easy to read.
She was also easy to talk to. After two or three visits, the preacher worked up the courage to do so. He found out that she had gotten married in her late teens, quickly had two children but had been divorced for seventeen years. Her offspring were both grown and on their own, and she had taken the job at The Garson-Fill because she had met the owner at a positive-thinking seminar. Carla seemed to like her work.
It was on visit five–or certainly by six–that Meningsbee realized he was attracted to her.
The idea of being drawn to another woman other than Doris was terrifying. It wasn’t so much that he felt unfaithful, but rather, paralyzed in awkwardness. He hadn’t flirted, dated or even considered mating with anyone else for decades.
But now here was Carla.
She seemed to like him, too–sometimes. It was rather odd. Some mornings he would come in and she would be bubbling and anxious to see him because she had a story to tell or a blessing to share. But when he had ventured to invite her to the church, she quickly changed the subject and started talking about her new duties of baking pastries.
He liked her. He knew deep in his heart that it would never go any further unless he let her know his sentiments, and set up something that didn’t involve playing the roles of customer and waitress.
It took about a month. One Wednesday morning, he cleaned up a little shinier, brushed his teeth a little harder, sprayed his cologne a little longer and headed off to have his usual morning repast–but this time, to finish with a tip and an invitation to dinner.
He was so excited. He was optimistic. He just knew she was going to say yes. There was a twinkle in her eye that let him know that in her private moments, she had considered the two of them together.
For the beauty of a woman is not in her ability to hide, but rather, in her great gift to reveal.
However, once he was at the cafe, some cowardice seeped in. So he took a long, long time chewing on his muffin, trying to work up the courage to ask Miss Carla for an evening of her company.
Finally, the little diner cleared out. She was busying herself cleaning off her last table when he called her to his side.
“Carla,” he said, “I know you know that I am a widower and that I’m the pastor of the church. I’ve really enjoyed our times together here…”
She suddenly interrupted him. “Oh, dear God, you’re not going to ask me out on a date, are you?”
Meningsbee’s left eye began to twitch uncontrollably. How should he respond?
Carla sat down in a chair near to him, patted his hand and said, “Listen. You’re fine and all. No, no. You’re probably better than fine. You just don’t understand.”
Meningsbee managed some speech. “What do you mean, I don’t understand? I don’t understand what?”
She quickly looked around the room to make sure nobody was listening. Assured that they were alone, she whispered, “I like you. I mean, I like you. But I can’t like you.”
Meningsbee must have looked very confused, because she inserted, “Oh, I don’t know how to explain it.”
She stood to her feet to walk away, and Meningsbee reached out and grabbed her apron, holding her in place. She pulled away as if struck by lightning.
A flash of fury came into her eyes. “Goddamnit, don’t you ever touch me!”
Meningsbee stood to comfort her and she pushed him back down. She pointed her finger in his face. “You have no right to touch someone! Do you understand that?”
He did, so he nodded.
She was obviously fighting back tears, and he realized he had unearthed some nasty piece of evil that bewitched her.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry,” she replied. “I mean, don’t touch people unless they ask you to, but…Oh hell. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I just thought we could spend some time together,” said Meningsbee. “If that doesn’t work out, that’s fine.”
She sat back down and said, “But it might work out. And you see, it can’t. There’s a problem that exists between us that can’t be changed.”
“What is that?” said Meningsbee, making sure he maintained his distance.
“You’re a preacher, right?”
“You believe in God.”
He nodded again.
“Yeah,” Meningsbee said. “I guess it’s kind of a package deal.”
“You’re a Christian.”
“I am. Proudly.”
“Proudly,” she repeated louder. “You see, Reverend, that’s my problem. I’ll never be with a Christian. Because for four years, my husband proudly beat me every day … in Jesus’ name.”