The ladies all ambled home, each their separate ways, and no one saying much to the other for once. It was a mean proposition, the thought of everyone being scattered to the winds in death. Bible said nothing about where a person was laid to rest affecting how they’d find each other in the hereafter. It was understood you’d find each other in Glory. But it was the principle of the thing—everyone’s mothers and fathers were resting in this earth, and it was expected that they would all rest together when the time come. To be forbidden that—it was a prospect Claren Ruth wouldn’t tolerate.
Upon arriving at the cemetery gates, Claren Ruth found she was not alone. Dorothy stood over a grave on the east side. Claren Ruth conjured a smart comment and then let it drop. Dorothy had her eyes closed, hands clutched white on that old aluminum cane. A small shake to her shoulders. Claren Ruth toddled silently on her way to let her be, but Dorothy turned.
“I knew it would come to this,” she said, as Claren Ruth passed.
Claren Ruth closed her eyes. “What you talking?”
“I knew if we sold the church the cemetery would go with it.”
“And you still went with it.” Claren Ruth tsked and shook her head. “You ain’t dumb like I thought. Just evil.”
“Oh, am I?” Dorothy chuckled. “Pastor was keeping the lights on with his credit card. He done it three times in the past six months. And he has children. I couldn’t in good conscience let him go on with that play. But I’m the evil one? So be it.”
Claren Ruth blinked at Dorothy. “You coulda told us. We coulda put more in the offering basket.”
“You know as well as I do that everyone was already putting in all they could. Ain’t no ten percent tithers out here.”
“A bake sale.”
“Oh, Ruth,” Dorothy said through grit teeth. She turned and stared hard at the woman, enough to shrink her. “A bake sale for who? There’s no one left out here.” She waved her arms at the open prairie, more yellowed than was polite. Dark clouds bore down like a taunt. Claren Ruth shook her head. Amazing how the woman could admit it without admitting it.
“I told you,” Claren Ruth started, trying unsuccessfully not to mount her high horse. “It’s the end times.”
“It’s not no end times,” Dorothy said. “This prairie will go on like it always has. Closing down the church doesn’t mean it’s the end of everything—it’s just the end of us.”
Dorothy turned back to the grave at her feet—her mother’s. Green moss covered the name, grown wild after money for maintenance was cut last year. She reached down and scraped at it but it stayed put.
“We’re dying, Claren Ruth,” she said. “That’s all any of this means. Nothing more.”
The wind dropped with Dorothy’s words. “Well,” Claren Ruth said. She took a step back. “You don’t have to be so mean about it.”
But still, one more option nagged at the back of Claren Ruth’s mind.
She hurried home and went to the east window under which sat the old oak chest that held everything important. She knelt in front of it, her mind on one thing in particular. Past the cigar boxes of mementos from trips she could no longer remember, past the photograph album filled with people she couldn’t identify, past the blanket her mother made her upon her birth, past the blanket made on her own mother’s birth. She dug until she found it—an envelope with an old yellowed paper inside. She took care not to tear it as she hurried back to the church.
The light still shone through Pastor’s office like Claren Ruth knew it would. Even if the church was being sold, it was still Wednesday, and Pastor always wrote his sermons on Wednesday. She knocked, first gently, then harder. She did not wait for him to speak before she thrust the paper into his hand.
“Take it,” she said, pushing it to his chest, just above his crucifix. “I don’t know what they’re worth now, but they were worth about twenty-five thousand when I put them in.”
Pastor uncrinkled the paper and read it.
“They’re CDs, Pastor. Certificates of Deposit. I hereby donate all them to the church so the church can buy itself back.”
Claren Ruth heaved a large, satisfied sigh. There, she thought. It’s settled. And it didn’t hurt one bit. It was easy. Success was always on the side of the good and they had all been good, were all good people.
“That’s kind of you.” Pastor grimaced a hard smile. “But the church cannot accept this.”
Claren Ruth’s smile faltered. “Why not? I’m gifting it to you. I’ll put it in the will and everything.”
Pastor smiled. It withered more than shone. He looked at her the way he looked upon all the congregation when he got to the turn in his sermon. Claren Ruth eyed him for two seconds more before she realized that even the paper in Pastor’s hand wouldn’t be enough.
He started kindly, slowly, and she hated the way he talked.
“Even if it were enough, it would be immoral of me to accept an old woman’s life savings to save a thing that’s already been pronounced dead.”
“And who’s doing the pronouncing?” she demanded. These young kids, she thought. They never knew how to make a commitment.
Pastor dropped his head and sighed. “No amount of money can save a building if there are no people to care for that building.” He laid a hand on her shoulder she felt like shrugging off.
“We have a good offer on the table,” Pastor said, retreating back into his office. “We would be foolish not to take it.”