By Jack Coey
The sun was going down when Jessica appeared at Father Brendan’s office door, and after being motioned in, in a hissing whisper, told him what happened. Father Brendan recoiled from hearing it; not because he didn’t believe it, but more, it was a problem he didn’t want. He reassured Jessica he would speak with the named perpetrator, and after she left, rethought the problem, and because of the sensitivity of it, decided to speak with Becket, the choir director. Becket came to Father Brendan’s office doorway with trepidation at the unusualness of the summons. Father Brendan asked if he’d noticed any odd occurrence in the choir. Becket put his fingers to his lips, and looked at the ceiling for several moments, before he said,
“Perhaps. There was this moment, yesterday it was, when Jessica jumped in her seat like a Jack-in-the-Box, and I passed it off as a bit of choreography, nothing more.”
“Yes, well, she claims Edgar put his hand on her knee.”
“Oh, dear, indeed.”
Becket took refuge in the ceiling.
“Awfully good baritone, Edgar,” he said.
“We can’t have any bad opinion of the church; attendance is waning as it is,” said Father Brendan.
“I never knew Edgar to have predilections that way,” said Becket.
“What’s his status?”
“Bachelor as far as I know,” said Becket coming down from the ceiling.
“Perhaps we or I should speak with him?”
“Let sleeping dogs lie, I say.”
“Yes, but what if Jessica tells her tale in the community?”
“I’ve got it! I’ll institute a new policy of separation of the genders. Men on one side and women on the other. That should solve it.”
“Well done, Becket! Thank-you for your help with this.”
That ended the commotion in the choir until the next time which came during an after-service coffee hour when Jessica let out a blood-curling scream from the corner of the room, and a red-faced Edgar made a hasty retreat down the hall. Father Brendan and Becket hustled Jessica to Father Brendan’s office and closed the door until it was pounded on by three or four women of the congregation. It was just as well, as it was plain that Jessica wasn’t going to speak with any man. The women huddled with Jessica and whispered. Olivia Proctor rose up, and said,
“If you gentlemen would kindly leave the room?”
“I beg your pardon? This is my office,” said a perturbed Father Brendan.
“You want to help Jessica or not?” snapped Agnes Williams.
Father Brendan and Becket looked at each other. After a beat, Becket jerked his head toward the door.
“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes,” said Father Brendan.
The women wouldn’t tell the men what went wrong. Father Brendan tried to exert his authority as minister of the church, but the women wouldn’t yield. Father Brendan and Becket sat in silence.
“What say we talk to Edgar?” suggested Becket.
Father Brendan thought about that.
“Do you think he’d tell us?” asked Father Brendan.
“Don’t know really. He’s a bit of an oddball,” said Becket.
“You can’t recall anything peculiar?”
“Well, come to think on it, and I recall seeing him looking at Patrice.”
“He’s a funny looking fellow, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, his long cylinder like nose, and thin torso gives him a rather scarecrow like look.”
“Poor fellow probably doesn’t do well with the women, I would guess.”
“One afternoon I overheard him describing probability theory to Matilda Owens.”
Father Brendan put his hand to his chin.
“Oh Good Gracious! That sounds dreadful.”
“Okay so he’s not Hugh Hefner.”
“I think we should give him an opportunity to give his side of the story since the women don’t want us to know what happened from their point of view,” said Father Brendan.
“Yes. I would say that seems fair enough.”
After the Tuesday afternoon choir practice, Father Brendan and Becket waited in Father Brendan’s office for Edgar. There was a soft knock at the door. Father Brendan acknowledged the knock and there stood Edgar. He wore a vest two sizes too big that looked like a sail. He glided into the office and took a chair without being offered one. He didn’t look at either man.
“Edgar, do you know why you’re here?” asked Father Brendan.
“It’s not what you think.”
“What isn’t what we think?”
“What you think it is, is not what it is, but only what Jessica wants you to think it is.”
“Why would Jessica want us to think it is, when what she wants us to think it is, isn’t true?”
“Tell us your side of the story.”
“I didn’t initiate anything.”
Father Brendan and Becket looked at Edgar.
“How did your hand end up on her knee?”
“She put it there.”
Father Brendan and Becket looked at each other.
“Edgar that’s a very serious charge. You’re sure that’s what happened?”
“I would never touch Jessica on my own. Now, Patrice is another story.”
“So your story is that Jessica put your hand on her knee?”
“What happened during the coffee hour?” asked Becket.
“She bumped her rear-end into me like a boat docking.”
Father Brendan and Becket looked at each other.
“Edgar you understand the seriousness of what you’re saying?” said Father Brendan.
“The truth is always serious. That’s why people avoid it.”
“I want you to tell me you understand the seriousness of what you’re saying.”
“Of course I understand. I only look stupid.”
Father Brendan felt pain at Edgar’s honesty.
“Edgar did you ever think that Jessica might like you?” asked Becket.
“I don’t think that’s our concern at this point,” interjected Father Brendan, “Edgar is there anything else you want to tell us?”
Both Edgar and Becket looked at the ceiling.
“Well, there is one thing…”
Father Brendan and Becket leaned forward in their chairs.
“I think I should get the second verse solo on Faith of Our Fathers.”
Becket watched Edgar and Jessica during the next practice, and Edgar acted oblivious, and he saw Jessica look at Edgar several times not without some feeling in her eyes. Becket directed the choir long enough to know to be careful about forming any opinion: the feeling could come from the music or from what she was looking at. But she kept looking at him, there was no mistaking it; then he realized why: his nose.
First chance he got, Becket went to Father Brendan’s office. He was on the phone. When he hung up, he said,
“What a nuisance fund raising is!”
Becket slid forward in his chair.
“I’ve got a clue about that Edgar business,” he said.
“Yes, if you watch Jessica, you can discern what’s on her mind.”
“What in God’s Name are you talking about?”
“Good Gracious, man, how can she see his penis?”
“You obviously don’t understand Freud.”
Father Brendan annoyedly stared at Becket. He extended his arms on either side of him.
“Pray, enlighten me, then.”
“I don’t or Freud don’t literally mean his penis. She’s fixated on his nose.”
Father Brendan flushed red.
“She looks at his nose and has erotic thoughts.”
Father Brendan’s mouth was open and speechless; his chest was heaving like he couldn’t get air.
“How about this? Come to a choir practice, and watch how Jessica looks at Edgar, and see if you don’t see what I see.”
Father Brendan with What A Friend We Have in Jesus in his ears came into the basement and sat in a folding chair. There were two and a half rows of men on one side, and two rows of women on the other, looking out at Becket who appeared to be in some kind of reverie. He waved his arms, and swayed his torso back and forth, looking up with his eyes closed. Father Brendan found and focused on Jessica who was looking down at her hymnal. He watched her through Rock of Ages and into This Little Light of Mine, and sure enough, she looked sideways at Edgar’s nose with a small smile on her face like she enjoyed what she was thinking, but didn’t want anyone else to know. He watched long enough to believe it was diabolical. Flustered, Father Brendan got up and left.
Jessica joined the congregation looking for copulation. The choir was even better because she had to interact with men. She was in her late twenties, skinny, with dirty, stringy blond hair, flat chested, with glasses. She lived with her aunt in a small, run-down house out past the sand and gravel pit. She worked as an accountant for a landscaping business, and at one time, was seen around with Edwin Lancaster who was arrested at a rest stop for lewd activities. That’s when Jessica came to the church. Her aunt was known to hold séances, and worked as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Jessica was confused about what she was feeling; she enjoyed looking at Edgar’s nose, but didn’t know why. She wanted to believe that Edgar desired her enough to put his hand on her knee.
Father Brendan sat behind his big, oak desk and brooded over how to help Jessica; he believed she was possessed by evil spirits. This wasn’t the first time he had sex problems between members of his congregation, and it annoyed the hell out of him, because it seemed he was doomed to deal with it over and over. He considered talking with Becket about it, but knew what he would say,
“Have her see a psychiatrist.”
He thought psychiatrists made patients feel comfortable with their malady rather than change their behavior for redemption. So, having eliminated all other options, he decided to talk to Jessica.
Jessica, with half her face obscured by her dirty blond hair, stood in Father Brendan’s doorway. He signaled her in, and she hesitated. He waited. When she was seated, he began to talk to her about how he felt used by her when she complained about unwanted behavior, but didn’t cooperate with him when he tried to make things better. Father Brendan unexpectedly heard his voice rising. He stopped talking and Jessica calmly smiled at him. Anger shot through him.
“Jessica toying with peoples’ emotions is mean,” he told her. She slightly nodded; smiling. Father Brendan waited several beats before he said,
“That’s all I have to say.” She stood up and walked out of his office, and he had several uncharitable thoughts.
Jessica’s attendance became erratic before she stopped coming all together. Becket asked after her several times, but no one seemed to know. Becket was surprised when he suggested he and Father Brendan make a visit to her house, and Father Brendan was lukewarm about the idea. One member of the congregation said he saw her in the supermarket with a six-pack under her arm. Then there was the emergency with Maureen Sullivan being taken to the hospital with chest pains. Father Brendan took the city bus to the hospital, and was waiting in a hallway when a gurney wheeled by with Jessica’s bloody and bruised face above a sheet. He smiled, and later that night, prayed for forgiveness.
About the Author:
Jack Coey lives in Keene, NH.