Loreena’s Gift—Short Excerpt
The reverend’s house stood exactly twenty-two steps from the back door of the Stillwater Christian Church. Not straight back, but kitty-corner, easy if one kept to the rounded stones that marked the way. Returning from the Sunday morning service, Loreena Picket remembered what the house looked like in her mind—a two-story white-paneled cottage that would fit perfectly on a Christmas card. Evergreens guarded the home like sentinels, watching over an eight-foot marble statue of an angel secured to a cement pedestal in the front yard.
Holding onto the railing, Loreena climbed the three steps to the porch, her white cane tapping rhythmically. The awning overhead sheltered her from a light shower, raindrops landing with little pops on the vinyl. She imagined the geraniums still blooming from the four hanging baskets and the fragrant roses creating a border of multicolored buds. The lawn flowed from the house to the back of the church, an uninterrupted swath of green curved like a dove’s wing and often used for barbeques and potlucks.
Pausing a moment, she listened for voices and heard her uncle speaking to Mrs. Enger. As usual, the portly woman was the last to leave. Loreena pictured her uncle trying to get around his bookkeeper, who also saw herself as activity coordinator—but getting around Mrs. Enger was always a challenge, not only because of her sizeable girth, but because the woman had a way of nimbly maneuvering herself right where she could best interrupt one’s progress.
“I just don’t know, Reverend,” she was saying. “I really think a bake sale would be better than a banquet. People love my homemade fudge brownies, you know.”
“You’re right,” her uncle said. Loreena could imagine him nodding while his gaze drifted elsewhere. “I’m happy to leave it up to you ladies to decide. Maybe we can do both?”
“Both?” Mrs. Enger sounded shocked at the mere suggestion. “That would be a lot of extra work. I’m not sure how I would man- age both, what with keeping the books and the membership records and all, and the fall harvest Sunday brunch just around the corner.”
Her uncle started walking, the familiar clop of his cowboy boots echoing on the sidewalk. “I’m fully aware of how much you do for us. Perhaps you could put Mrs. Whitmore in charge of the banquet? She’s excellent at coordinating such things. Does a splen- did job for the mayor.”
Loreena covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. The younger, more active Mrs. Whitmore was a constant thorn in Mrs. Enger’s side.
“She’s never done any such thing for the church,” Mrs. Enger snapped.
“Perhaps under your guidance, then?” Loreena’s uncle said.
Mrs. Enger chased after him a bit longer, her heels scuffing the cement, but Reverend Don was headed for the shed, the old wood- en storage building tucked into the back of the property and acces- sible only by dirt path. It was the one place Mrs. Enger wouldn’t follow for fear of soiling her dress shoes. After a few more valiant attempts to catch him, she slowed and finally stopped, exhaled an exasperated sigh, and retreated the way she had come.
Loreena turned back toward the church to let the afternoon sun warm her face. The outside of the old building used to match the white paneling of the house—did it still?—but it stood a story taller, with seven-foot stained-glass windows, forest-green trim, and a short bell tower. Loreena felt a little sad whenever she thought of it, for the bell hadn’t sounded for three years, its clapper having broken off and fallen onto the roof shortly after Ben, their gardener, died. She thought many times it wasn’t a coincidence.
All together, the property took up over an acre at the top of Mary Hill Lane, a picturesque crown on the head of Stillwater, Idaho, featured on many of the postcards stacked in the tourist shops. Loreena had one of those postcards in a box under her bed, from a trip her mother had taken to visit Uncle Don years ago, back when her family had lived in Colorado.
“I thought you might like to have it,” her mother had said. “It’s so beautiful there.”
Loreena still felt a sense of peace about the place. The angel, most of all, hovered nearby like a protective spirit. Loreena could picture her best: though she turned her head slightly, as if looking for something behind her, she had vacant eyes, only the outlines of the lids carved into the white marble. When Loreena thought of her own eyes, shadowed in the accident twelve years before, when she was just nine years old, she pictured the angel’s and imagined they must be similar. Unseeing. Opaque.
Once inside the house, she closed the heavy door behind her. Her lace shawl stuck to her skin with perspiration. She was glad to pull it from her shoulders as she stepped into the kitchen for some orange juice. When she finished, she made her way upstairs to her room, the second-story hideaway that looked out on the backyard. Her shoulders tensed as her thoughts strayed to the ritual that would take place later that afternoon. It had been over a year. Could she still do it? Turning her palms up, she closed her eyes and tried to feel the power there. These fingers were blessed with a gift from God, her uncle had told her, but she always wondered if God might take the gift back—or if He thought of it as a gift at all.
A door opened and closed in the lower part of the house. “Loreena, are you ready?” her uncle called.
She changed clothes quickly, and then opened the top dresser drawer. Inside rested a stack of clean cotton gloves. White, her uncle had told her. Sliding a fresh pair over her hands, she flexed her fingers to secure the fit. It was the second pair she would wear that day, the first already discarded in the laundry basket. Like a sheath for a knife, they were her assurance her hands would never accidentally hurt anyone. Not again.
“Loreena? We have to go. Now.”