She grabbed her cell phone and punched emergency numbers, starting with the top row.
Her mother’s rang, rang again, and rang yet again. The voice mail recording came on, so she hung up.
“Oh, she’s just out shopping at that new supermall, ” she thought, “but I can still get her.”
She paged her mother. But she didn’t wait, and hit another emergency number--her husband, who would be over at the International Church Headquarters in his office--a office she had given him that was twice as big and lavish as the one he had at the church. Walnut-paneling, jacuzzi, even an ivory-topped ebony desk once belonging to the last king of Romania—-no expense was spared for her dear Harry!
Startling her, Harry’s own recorded voice came on, instead of the voice mail dummie she dreaded. This time she replied, “Honey, just wanna check in, and say ‘I love you,’ and everything is going just super fine, the ministry cruise to Hawaii, Singapore, and Hong Kong is booked up already, and I’m packing! Maybe see you tonight and give you a high five before I go!”
Her voice was shaking, though, when she finished speaking.
Her throat was awful raspy too. She left the phone and went and got a drink from the alcohol-free wet bar. With the soft drink she threw down a prescription tranquilizer.
Then she went back to the phone.
Her mother still hadn’t responded to the pager.
“What’s wrong with her?” she wondered, but it wasn’t so much that she was worried about her mother, it was herself not hearing, her worst fear being confirmed by her mother never, never responding to the page. After all, her mother was healthy as a horse at seventy. She had no heart trouble, no cancer, no nothing. The only thing that could get her mother was an accident on the road, and she was a good driver too.
So her mother’s failure to call her bothered her even more than her husband’s, which could be explained since he was a ministry head too, and very, very busy. No doubt he had been called out of the office, probably to a special interview or stint in his own studios requiring a televised message.
“Cmon! Cmon!” she said, punching her mother’s numbers for both her home and her pager. “What’s wrong, that you’re not calling me? Your poor daughter is worried sick! Call!” The tranquilizer wasn’t working. It just wasn’t working. She felt prickly heat all over the back of her neck and down her arms and under her hair.
She didn’t want to go any further calling, but she was desperate now, so she called her psychiatrist, then changed her mind, hung up and called someone from her directory that she knew would surely be taken if the Rapture had really occurred. This call took all her courage to make, but she had to know.
Miss Waters had been an old-time Holiness Pentecostal preacher in her day, traveling the sawdust circuit of country tent meetings and little Holy Ghost chapels in the south, but had to retire after developing chronic leg trouble that wouldn’t be denied or healed, and despite her own ill health ministered to troubled souls with her own telephone ministry. She had called in one day during a telethon, and something about her authoritative, godly voice had so impressed the girl taking the call that she went to put it through to Dr. Heloise for special attention--an option the telethon volunteers were instructed to use if the donor was a “biggie.”
“Honey,” the caller began, “is this Sister Heloise? I must speak to her, nobody else!”
“Yes, it is, what is it I can do for you?”
“No, you’ve got it wrong, darlin’. I’ve got something I must do for you. Pray, that is. The Lord says call you right now, don’t put it off. He says I must pray for you, but get you on line and pray, you understand?”
“Sure, sure I understand,” Dr. Heloise had replied, drumming her stretch designer nails on her marble desk. “Go and pray for me. The ministry can sure use your prayer support.”
“No, honey, it’s not the ministry. It’ll get along without you just fine. It’s you I be prayin’ for!”
Dr. Heloise remained silent, and waited.
Then the woman, after insulting her, began to shout into the phone. “God Almighty, break through, break through this woman’s pride and greed and reach her imprisoned soul, and save her! Save her! Save her from her own strength! Don’t let her perish in a web of deceit and selfishness! Open her blinded eyes! I claim her for the kingdom of God! I--”
By this time Dr. Heloise Turnbull wasn’t listening. The woman, obviously, was a nut. The old Bible Belt was chock full of such religious cranks. But when the “prayer” was ended, and she thanked her for it, the woman had shocked her by offering her pledge.
“I knew you wouldn’t believe a word, and the Lord knew it, so He said to me in advance I was to give you every dollar of my savings--$6,103.45. Only then would you believe me, that you really are in trouble and need a prayer like mine. It’s coming in the next mail. I’ve got it in an envelope with your address now, ready to go.”
Dr. Heloise Turnbull, who wasn’t in the business of turning down pledges, especially ones of this size, gasped. “No, not your savings! I couldn’t possibly! Maybe a couple hundred bucks, but not all your savings! That would be criminal!”
“No, dear,” the caller explained patiently. “it would be just plain obedience.”
Then dial tone.
In a couple days the money arrived and landed on Dr. Heloise’s desk, after she had instructed the mail department to keep an eye out and let her handle the letter personally.
She tore it open and found only a check, with the pledged amount in full, to the very penny--$6,103.45.
This, of course, made things difficult. How was she going to explain it away? She knew she couldn’t. So what was she going to do? Was that prayer really from God? It had six grand now to back it up, and that was somebody’s life savings too.
“Maybe it’s all a hoax,” she thought, “a devilish ploy to destroy my confidence, and wreck my ministry. I’ve had others try that in the past. Maybe she’s just the latest, and one of the best at it.”
Truth was, she didn’t believe her “maybes,” for the woman’s voice was just too convincing.
So she did the only thing left, she called the woman directly.
“This is Dr. Heloise,” she began. “I want to know just why you think I’m in trouble, spiritually. Since I affect so many millions of people, I need to be on the right path, you understand. Won’t you tell me? I’m begging to know what’s wrong with me! Is my doctrine wrong, is it my approach, is it my prayer life, am I not submitted to my husband? What exactly is it?”
There was a long silence, with heavy breathing, on the other side of the line. Dr. Heloise felt like screaming for the woman to hurry up with an answer, any answer, and after an eternity the same voice came on that had stopped her cold once before.
“Honey, I couldn’t answer right off, I’m not well. I have to get my strength up, just a bit, before I can answer. Now what’s the matter?”
Dr. Heloise, having all she could do not control her quaking voice, repeated her request for illumination.
Again, there was an appalling, long wait. A weary, hoarse, distant voice came on the line.
“Who is this? Oh, did I call you, honey? Forgive an old lady, I sure don’t recall. But then I’ve been known to forget a few things at my age!”
Dr. Heloise couldn’t believe her ears. “But you DID call me! I have your call and pledge recorded. I can play it back for you, if you just wait a sec so I can get somebody to dig it up. But that’s not necessary, for I remember what you said. You said I was blinded by my own deceit and greed and--”
She repeated everything the caller had said, only when she finished she realized Miss Waters wasn’t listening, she was praying in tongues.
Dr. Heloise listened, waiting for her to finish. “Thank you, but I need to know what you meant by what you said to me. Maybe it will help me, and I will pray about it and--”
“I don’t think that will help, honey,” the old woman cut in rudely. “You just go on as you were doing, it will come out all right in the end, the Lord told me. Except—expect some slight affliction, of course!”
“What? I can’t accept that! I want some specifics! I have a right to expect some--”
But the old woman wasn’t listening, she was praying in tongues again, and in exasperation Dr. Heloise had done what she later regretted, she slammed down the phone.
Feeling terribly guilty, she rang her back immediately, but someone else answered, and said Miss Waters had gone to bed, and they were needing the line to call the doctor.
“Oh, yes, call him, I’ll get off immediately,” she said. What else could she do? Miss Waters had slipped through her fingers like a fish!
Then when she called again an hour later, the phone rang again and again. Where was she? In the hospital? It seemed likely.
But she gave the number to her secretary to call until she got a response, and several days later Miss Water’s friend answered, and said she was doing better, and would be home in a few hours. Did she want to leave a message?
“No, I just wanted to tell her I’m praying for her healing, and not to worry about me, I will be fine.”
“Just fine!” she thought, hanging up. “Just fine, indeed, if I never get another call like hers again! Look at the trouble it caused me! I’m a nervous wreck! And I’ m scheduled to lead a big tour in a few hours!”
It was good she had her makeup girl on the payroll full -time. She had her come in and do her face, which looked like Omaha Beach after Operation Overlord. A shot of boxon too, helped clear up the gully running between her brows. As for the old nervous tic in her right cheek, boxon fixed that too. Which reminded her she could use another laser collagen treatment and needed reservations booked at the celebrity doctor’s center in the Bahamas!
This call was, therefore, the one she really needed to put through. Her mother’s was optional--after all, would the Lord separate a mother and daughter so devoted to each other? It was unthinkable.
The phone rang again and again.
“Maybe she’s in the hospital.”
She buzzed her chief executive secretary, who looked up the hospital on the Internet, and then gave her the number.
The hospital answered, but said they had admitted no one by that name, but had discharged a Miss Waters several weeks prior.
Dr. Heloise checked her calendar, and saw the date of first admittance was the one on which she herself had called. As for the woman’s checking out, it was just two days prior to her own return from the Far East tour.
“She was at home yesterday, then. Yesterday! So where is she today, if she’s not in the hospital?”
She felt like she would go mad if she didn’t find out soon. “Who else for certain can I call? Who else would the Lord be sure to take?”
What was she to do? Go down by car to that steaming, bug-swarming bayou village of Plum Springs to look up Miss Waters in person?
She thought hard, then began punching her phone, doing all the work herself, since she wanted privacy.
She called every big ministry head she could think of, and they were all available! She couldn’t believe it! Why weren’t they gone? Most of them were experts on the Rapture and the End Times!
Pausing, she flicked back on CNN, and replayed the News broadcast that the major networks had all carried, with CNN’s Ceo showing up with a big boyish grin to give his own editorial opinion--the one about mysterious disappearances in which he tried, but did not succeed in fully explaining away his own vanished ex-wife. Evenso he got off some telling blows at “fanatical, right-wing, panickey, air-head” evangelicals for making a lot of “Left Behind” videos and books that had now been proven smoke instead of real fire.
Even with his ex-wife’s abrupt absence from the planet, the disappearances apparently weren’t considered newsworthy enough to make the 11:00 recap, but some trouble with the disappearances had occurred in spots, in key transportation hubs, or jobs affecting air traffic or communications and such. But people around had been able to fill in the gaps quickly, without any major problems developing. Was the White House going to comment? Apparently not. National security was not at stake. World crisis? Hardly! By tomorrow the world would have forgotten all about it. This concluded, CNN’s founder and president signed off, grinning ear to ear.
Feeling better, somewhat assured by the CNN ceo’s analysis despite his usual slams on evangelicals, she glanced down at the latest briefs on her desk, calling for her signature so that the work could go forward, briefs for projects like joining her ministry studios and satellite channels to a major entertainment giant’s network--all for a wonderful sum of cash and stock in the company making the offer.
If she signed, she’d have the funds in her account to launch a number of expansions-- branching out into ministries to the homeless, AIDS victims, famine relief, the disabled, and to refugees of ethnic conflicts. Her organization and its outreach would double in size in two years. She’d be the size of the biggest fish in televangelism, and in another two years she’d leave them in the dust!
How about that, after starting out in a room the size of a broom closet in her husband’s home church building? In twenty years she had built up to challenging the greatest ministry of them all even though she was not physically attractive (her own mirror told her daily she badly needed major cosmetic surgery) and not a great preacher, nor did she have any great spiritual gifts.
What was her secret then? Brilliant organization, she thought. Drive and perseverance could accomplish almost anything in this world, she knew, if things were well-planned And she had, since getting this “vision” just after setting out on her calling of televangelism, persisted and kept trying despite a thousand setbacks until she found herself reaching for the highest rung of all.
But now, her hand reaching for the pen, she remembered something. She still hadn’t confirmed her hunch, that she was making herself sick for nothing.
But whom could she call? Everyone who was anybody answered the phone, and it was hard to give an intelligent reason for calling, when she actually wanted to know if the person was raptured or not.
Then she had an idea. “Maybe I should just go and walk through the offices, and see who is still here, and who didn’t make it. That should tell me something.”
So she did it, taking care to look cool and informal, as if she were just needing something to fill a few minutes of empty time.
Nodding first to her top executive office help, which included her script writers, she left the “inner sanctum,” or “Holy of Holies,” as her office was informally known. With a “Breakthrough Faith” emblazoned cup of coffee in hand, she strolled down through the floor. It was actually the 40th floor of the ministry’s total of fifty floors of a structure that looked in every way premier and world-class-- the “Breakthrough Faith and Healing Tower”--BFHT emblazoned across the top most beam of the Cross in neon at night. She walked briskly, glancing into the busy cubicles to either side of the carpeted lane. When she noticed someone gone, she stopped and asked whoever was available, “Is she on break?”
“No,” she was told, again and again. “She just didn’t come in! Or call in sick! It just isn’t like her!” She could see by the strained smiles it was hard-going for those who were left, to fill in without prior notice and take care of the normal business load.
Finally, she challenged one worker. “Call her home, and see if her husband or family will tell you what’s wrong. Find out something!”
She got someone to call, a man answered, and his voice sounded pretty distraught. “I’ve reported it to the police. I’m sorry I didn’t call the office, Dr. Heloise. I was meaning to, but everything here is a mess, I don’t know what could have happened. She was here, in the other room, and then--no where! And my youngest daughter--she’s gone--did they go to the Mall or something? But Melody was to go to Kingdom Kids Day Care today so my wife could go distribute to the homeless--”
This story was repeated with a dozen variations as Dr. Heloise continued her tour, level after level. She hadn’t done this in years--it was quite a revelation to see how vast her organization was, with actual eye contact. Ninety nine percent or more of her workers had reported on time as usual, but that less than one percent, that was a nagging problem that wouldn’t go away, especially since CNN and the others hadn’t told the whole story, that the disappeared people had vanished into thin air.
Finally, Dr. Heloise couldn’t take any more bad news. Taking her express private elevator, one with a dozen fresh long-stem roses in a crystal vase, miniature chandelier, and a Persian carpet, she fled back to her office and shut the door and sank down at her desk. “At least I’ve still got Harry. I’ve got my family--”
But had she? Wasn’t she assuming she had them?
She began punching the phone frantically. She got her daughter Cassia, then her son Aloes, and finally her remaining daughter Myrrha. They all sounded surprised she was calling them during her normally busy office hours.
“What’s wrong?” her oldest, Cassia, prodded her, with her usual knowing, scornful tone “I can tell you’re really uptight about something. Pledges falling off? Or is it dad? Has the doctor said something about his health or something? What is it?”
“No, it’s none of that. I just wanted to see if you were all right. I’m a mother, and mother’s can’t help worrying, the world being as crazy as it is.”
That lie was the best she could do, and her cynical daughter wasn’t buying it, but she kept holding to it until her daughter gave up, and they both hung up.
Well, she had her family, her husband Billy Sunday Turnbull, almost all her employees, and then there was the fact that the big ministry heads were all present--or all those she could contact without getting a message to call back, that is. Should she keep calling? She was making a fool of herself, she suspected. What would people think if everyone got this strange call out of the blue from Dr. Heloise asking nothing but apparently just calling to see if they existed?
She decided she had best go in person. No more calling.
Leaving the office early, she went to her car, the one that she took for short trips when she wasn’t needing a chauffeur.
In twenty minutes she left the freeway and was at her mother’s. No one answered at the gate when she called her mother.
Since she had been given a key, she let herself in the condo. She went immediately into the kitchen, when no one answered the door. The security system, fortunately, was off, for in her panic she couldn’t remember the code to disarm it. Her mother, a truster in God, never wanted it in the first place.
“Mother, are you all right?’ she said with a cracking voice as she crept into the room, fearing the worst, her mother lying on the floor possibly, after a sudden heart attack or stroke.
But she found no one, and so she went and searched the other rooms. She found nothing, and returned to the kitchen. Then she leaned against the counter, wondering what to do. It occurred to her that her mother wouldn’t leave the coffee on if she was going somewhere. Otherwise, she always had coffee on--that was her mother, a hospitable soul who wouldn’t be caught without hot coffee to serve her daughter or some visitor from the other retirement condos.
Dr. Heloise stared at the coffee maker. Red showed on the button, and there was a cup beside the unit, poured full.
Her whole body shook as she tried to get hold of herself. Grasping the counter, she steadied herself, then realized she had touched something with her foot. Kneeling down, she grabbed it, the pager!
She wanted to scream just then, scream for her mother, but all she got out was horrible high-pitched, gasping sounds that seemed to come from a toy duck’s broken audio track.
Moving in a daze she found herself in her mother’s room after a few minutes, and collapsed on the bed. She lay there a long time, trying to bury herself in her mother’s bedspread and blankets. Then she crawled across to the closet, and pulled out dresses and buried her face in them, all the while crying, “Mammaw! Mammaw!”
Blinded with tears, she lunged toward the dresser, and found pictures of her parents, and seized them like a drowning soul would seize a lifeline. She sank down on the bed, the pictures nearly crushed in her arms as she rocked back and forth in witless agony.
Her pager beeped, nearly giving her a heart attack.
She called the number, which was her office, and her secretary saying the airlines had called to confirm her flight out to LA.
“Thanks,” she managed to say. Hanging up, she thought, “The tour! I have to go. It’s all arranged. I can’t back out now.”
The thought that she was committed to something helped calm her nerves. After all, cancel any really important program and the rest might go down like dominoes--momentum, she had discovered early on, was the vital thing in a ministry--building, building, always building to the stars, never downsizing or merely treading water. Without excitement, without expectation of reaching a higher level, you were dead in the water.
Then it struck her, she was sitting in her mother’s condo, and her mother had vanished. How was she going to explain it to her family? Tell them the truth?
“No, I can’t deal with it right now. I’ll just tell them--”
She phoned her husband and left a message, that Grandma would be out of town for a couple weeks and not to worry about her, a friend had taken sick and she had to go suddenly. She left this message at her own home phone message box for the family to check into--adding she would appreciate their prayers for this very important ministry trip, and then she dropped the phone, exhausted.
She went to the bathroom and ran cold water in the sink. But that wasn’t helping. She got some ice from the kitchen and pressed it into her face until it melted. Drying her face, she looked terrible without makeup, but she felt better, and making do with her own makeup kit she was able to go and take the plane to LA that connected her with the touring group of six hundred she was taking on her “Dr. Heloise Turnbull International Bible Prophecy Center’s Far Eastern Holy Spirit Ministry Tour.”
Causing some trouble and confusion, there were considerable no-shows, which hadn’t happened before to her sold-out tours. But enough were present who had signed up and prepaid to go on with it. Yet the no-shows had to be accounted for, and new arrangements made for accommodations and plane seating and such, and that was a hectic thing to handle at the beginning, but it helped Dr. Heloise take her mind off her own troubles a bit as her fine-tuned, organizational skills came to the fore in the emergency.
A few tour members seemed more than a little troubled by the no-shows. Two ladies, Trudy and Ida Stufflebeem, elderly, well-heeled sisters from Indiana (Fairmount, they were always telling everyone, where James Dean attended high school) came up to her as they were permitted to leave their seats.
“It’s not like Jan and Denise and--,” they said to Dr. Heloise, listing quite a number of their friends and new acquaintances scheduled for the tour. “We just can’t understand it. We heard on the news that--”
“Yes, I heard something too,” said Dr. Heloise. “But we must not jump to any rash conclusions. So very few people are missing, after all. It couldn’t have been the Rapture. After all, we’re still here, aren’t we? I’m still here too! Would God leave me behind? Think again, ladies!”
All her bravado seemed to fly clear over their heads. She tried to smile her famous smile, but it must have failed, for her two questioners gave her a sickly expression in return, and one said, “Dr. Heloise, yy heart tells me I made a big mistake somehow. I feel so empty and cold inside, it is just awful! really awful! I must have really missed doing something for this to happen to me. But what could it be? My sister and I have always been good church goers and tithe regularly, we never miss! We’re good people!”
Dr. Heloise was at a loss for a response, which was utterly unlike her. She stared at the two women, and they looked at her, and then they went off to talk to others, who were obviously watching to see if Dr. Heloise were any help.
This was not a good start for a major ministry tour of the Far East, to be sure. It put her off in her confidence, which was vital to success. She went through all the usual motions, said everything she had written for her in the scripts, but nothing seemed to connect--nothing! The tour group just stared at her, not responding, their hands hanging limp, and when they were told to move on, they moved, but showed no other response to all her routines pumping them up with “Hallelujah” and “Praise God, saints!”
Her clothes hung on her like sweat togs after she finished her pieces at the hired auditorium in Singapore. The bands performed, the choirs, the bit was done perfectly--but the whole thing produced only numbness and blank faces.
Afterwards, she staggered back to her hotel suite, and collapsed face down on her bed. She had done Hawaii, then Singapore, and still had to complete four more days of this hell.
She could not say how she survived the next days, each hour was a torture beyond description as she and her crew went through all the motions, and they got absolutely nothing for all their efforts.
The tour over, she landed in LA, thanked everybody around her for joining in, and fled to her next flight out. It might have been a funeral, for the glum faces she had to confront as she shook their leaden, cold, damp hands!
Back home in Orlando, her daughters met her at the gate, but they weren’t especially pleased, by their expressions.
Now have I done to them? Dr. Heloise wondered, getting highly annoyed. She couldn’t help blurting out her disappointment. “Can’t a mother expect a little affection when she returns home? And where’s Harry? He always meets me, at least he did until a couple years ago.”
Cassia and Myrrha helped her with some of her personal items of luggage, and then they hired a man to carry them to their car and load them up.
In the parking garage, Dr. Heloise couldn’t wait any longer to challenge them again. “Aren’t you happy to see me come back safe and sound?” she said.
Her daughters looked both equally surprised. “Of course,” Cassia said, and shrugged. “But where’s Grandma, still visiting her friend? Why doesn’t she call or write as she usually does? It’s not like her. And what town is it, so we can call her at least? You never said.”
“I’ll tell you girls when I’m good and ready!”
Swallowing her rage, that nobody cared whether she arrived alive or dead, Dr. Heloise walked to the car, and then got in, her daughters slouching to either side, while her driver took the front seat.
They rode in a ringing silence for the first few minutes.
“My God, aren’t you going to ask how it went?” Dr. Heloise burst out. “Here I leave home and travel fifteen thousand miles in some of the world’s most unhygenic places for the salvation of uncountable lost souls, and my own family acts as if I went shopping for a few groceries!”
“Well, how did it go then?” Cassia snapped.
That tore it for her. Dr. Heloise wasn’t going to let it pass. “I don’t like that tone, or that attitude. You won’t speak to me that way. I won’t allow it.”
Her daughter didn’t flinch. She met her mother’s eye with scorn. “Why should I care if you are fleecing ignorant peasants again over in Asia, when I see you doing the same thing here day after day? It’s all the same garbage to me!”
Dr. Heloise felt as if her face had been slapped.
“‘Fleece’! ‘Garbage’? How can you say that? This is my anointed ministry, which God gave me, and I was set aside by the Holy Spirit for this work! You all know the story how God raised me up by sending that star—a brilliant red color—down to me as I stood at the crossroads of my life, wondering what direction I should take next. I was given God’s full anointing at that time, and all the boldness that I would need to overcome every obstacle in my path. Then the first time I was speaking God’s word somebody stood up and shot at me and the bullet turned miraculously in mid-flight and--”
Cassia laughed, and then Myrrha, who wasn’t normally sharp-tongued and combative, joined in with a comment that shocked her mother. “We only have your account of that star shining on you! And as for that bullet doing a detour-- it’s nothing but a scam! There was no such incident. You made the whole thing up!” she said, and the two laughed.
“How dare you two laugh and jeer at me! How dare you call my ministry a scam!” Dr. Heloise was so angry she could have pulled her daughter’s hair and slapped their faces, but they were nearly grown, and the chauffeur was glancing back at them from rear view mirror.
Controlling herself with a violent effort, Dr. Heloise clamped her mouth shut, and kept rigidly silent until the drive home was over. When the car was put away, and she was walking with her daughters into the house, she turned on them in a fury.
“I won’t let you badmouth me, your mother, like this! You’ve both as much as called me a fraud, taking advantage of people for my own gain! Where did you get such an idea? What’s been going on here when I was away? Has the Enemy gotten hold of you? Grandma would be very unhappy to see how you girls are acting toward me!”
Her daughters, no longer laughing, stared at her coldly. “No, it’s just the truth, which we knew for a long time,” Cassia replied sullenly. “But no one dared to tell it to your face before, that’s the only change around here. Even Grandma wouldn’t be able to say it wasn’t true. But where is she? I don’t think she’s gone on a trip. That’s what YOU told us, and we all know for a fact you’re the biggest liar in Davis County!”
Dr. Heloise couldn’t hold herself back any longer. Her hand flung out and she slapped her daughter full across the face.
The impact sounded awful, ringing in the air for a terrible, long moment that Heloise would never forget. Yet her daughter just took it, and then defied her mother to strike her again. When Dr. Heloise couldn’t do it, her daughter sneered. “I despise you, you fake!” she said. “You’re nothing but fake. Your face, your laugh, your smile, the way you walk and throw yourself at people, the whole show you put on for the cameras--all fake!” Then she turned away and walked off.
Dr. Heloise turned to Myrrha. But she too backed away. “You shouldn’t have hit her. She was telling the truth. You are a phony! And I hate you too! And I don’t believe Grandma went like you said. She’s really gone. Gone--like the others, like the others! And I thought I always believed in God—despite you and everything! I--”
Her face showing grief and bewilderment, Myrrha then ran off, leaving her in the hall.
Heloise sank down at the nearest chair, trying to get her thoughts and feelings together.
“I’ve got to return to first base, I’ve got to--” she kept repeated in the crisis. Somehow she knew it was the only hope for her. “But what was first base?”
“God, help me!” she cried, but her prayer seemed to clash against solid stone or metal. She went to the library, to her desk and got a Bible and opened it. The words and letters stared at her, cold, dead, alien. She knew every everything the Bible held, but it no longer spoke. From the effect, she might have been staring at wallpaper.
Dropping it, she rose and put her hands in her face. What was she to do? Where could she go?
She checked her watch, and saw that her husband was due home, but where was he? A late meeting at the church? Was he eating out with his ministry board, or invited to the home of some generous donor? She checked her voice messages, but there was nothing for her from him.
She went into the master bedroom, but it felt so cold, indifferent, that she might have been standing in an airport lobby. She looked at the bed. It looked like it hadn’t been slept in since she left. The same flowers she had put in the vases, they were dead and dried up, the withered stems standing in stinking water.
Going to her son’s room, she pushed open the door and stared in. Where was Al? At his friends’ again? Why didn’t he ask or at least leave a note where he was going?
Her daughters? She didn’t dare approach them again and passed by their rooms, hearing the roar of rock beat beating against both their doors.
She stood there a moment at her baby’s door, her forehead pressed against the vibrating surface, until it made her brain ache.
She continued on, and found herself in the Japanese garden. It was beautiful, a world-class showpiece of that kind of horticulture, but cold and uninviting. She hated it. And it seemed to hate her. Where was she to go?
Instinct told her.
She fled the house, which held nothing but hostility for her, and burst into her mother’s condo, running to the kitchen.
She wasn’t there more than a few moments, wondering what to do, when the bell rang.
Neighbors, whom she recognized from previous visits, looked in worried. <
“We haven’t seen your mother for days! Anything wrong! Is she taken ill?”
“No, no, nothing like that!” Heloise said. “She’s gone visiting a friend who is suffering from cancer, and I’ve just come by to water her plants and check on things. I may stay overnight, since it’s getting late. So if you see a light, it’s me.”
“Oh, that’s a relief, we were so concerned,” the woman said, speaking for her husband too. “Now if you need anything, dear, we’re two doors down the hall the left. Feel free. We’re just one big, cozy family here at Magnolia Heights!”
“Thanks much, “ said Heloise. “I’d invite you folks in for coffee, but I’ve just returned from a big trip overseas, and I’m totally exhausted.”
“That’s quite all right, we’ve in the middle of watching something right now we wouldn’t miss--“The Longest Day”--our all-time favorite war film. Henry here, his dad fought on Omaha beach in the invasion of Normandy, you know. His papa saw General Patton, and even got to speak a word or two to him. The general was a southern boy, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know that. I can see why you wouldn’t want to miss it. Well, good night, and thanks for coming by to check on my mother. She’s fine, and should be back in a week or two at the latest. Thanks again for coming. Good-night!”
Heloise shut the door, and leaned against it for a while. Then after making sure it was locked and deadbolted, she set the security system and went into the kitchen, taking a chair at the table in the breakfast nook.
“I’ll just stay here at Mammaw’s,” she thought, though knowing she was being irrational and couldn’t just walk away from her ministry and her home and family. “It’s almost as good as having her. I can shut out the whole world here, and let it go to hell and I will hardly notice. Here I am safe, and I feel her. Why go back anyway? They all hate my guts!”
The panic and terror surging within seemed to subside the longer she sat there. She almost wept tears of relief, but no tears came this time, her mother’s presence was still so strong that it had revived her spirits somewhat, and she felt she might be able to cope at last with what was happening.
In the morning, she found herself lying in her clothes on her mother’s bed. Somehow she had passed out, and slept for fourteen hours. It was nearly noon, when she checked her watch, yet so quiet that she had slept without pause the whole time.
She knew things must be frantic at the headquarters without her showing up, but she didn’t care.
“Let them figure out what to do,” she thought. “They’re paid well enough.” And her evangelist-stand-in could pitch hit for her for the day’s studio preaching stints.
She got up, washed her face, then went to the kitchen. The sight of the coffee maker stopped her in her tracks. She remembered something. Her mother’s cup was setting right by it. That meant she hadn’t had time to take it to the breakfast nook, where she always sat down and read the Bible and prayed for a couple hours every morning, starting at 5 a.m. Her mother always put the filter and coffee in the night before, so it would be ready, and all she had to do was flick the switch. It would start perking a couple seconds later.
Why not go through her old routine? she thought. She dumped the old coffee out, put in fresh filter and two scoops of coffee, then switched it on. The unit began to perk, hiss, and make all the usual sounds. Soon coffee began dribbling down into the pot.
She watched it, keeping her eye on her watch.
By the time the pot was full, it was five minutes after she had started the process. She poured herself a cup, then went and sat down.
Her mother’s Bible? Where was it?
It should have been on the counter, set down while her mother got the coffee started. She went back and there it was, where her mother had set it. Taking it, she returned to her seat.
Now what? Her mother, she knew, would open up to some favorite passage or read a “Message for the Day” from the Dr. Heloise Morning Bible Study course--an excellent study guide written by a professional writer in her organization. The course for the month was a thin booklet that fit in the Bible, and it was still inserted in the book. But something else caught Heloise’s eye-- the pink underlining.
Her mother preferred pink for some reason, and she always marked favorite passages.
She looked for one, and the first that caught her eye was an entire chapter, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, the so-called “Love Chapter” of the Bible.
With nothing else to do, she began reading.
Spreading it with her fingers, for it was crumpled, she read,
“So that I would read it?” Heloise wondered. How strange! Did her mother somehow anticipate all this happening to us, and me?
The Bible and now her mother’s own words condemned her. What did she mean, she had no love? She had done it all for the Lord, and the poor and the homeless and sick! Look at all the good her ministry had done over the years to countless thousands! The number of people saved and brought into the Christian fold numbered in the millions! It didn’t matter that rivals accused her of making “Rice Christians” with her organization’s abundant aid to the needy, homeless, orphans, etc. She had no need to defend anything she had done, yet her own mother had betrayed her, saying she had no love for anybody.
Stunned to numbness, she jerked up from the table.
But where could she go now? She felt once again she was spinning out of control, but this time she didn’t care what happened to her since her own mother had seemingly rejected her.
Forgetting to water the dying plants in the condo, she left, and got in her car and began driving, taking the freeway. She got pulled over for speeding, took the ticket, and then continued speeding. She got pulled over again.
“Say, aren’t you the host. of that show, “Prophecy Link, Century Twenty One”?” the cop wanted to know, as he took a second look at her and her $300,000 custom Mercedes in black and gold.
“Yes, I am, and I’m sorry, I’m late to a disabled and AIDS victims’ benefit show where I’ll be giving the keynote address,” she lied with the big automatic smile she had practiced on video tape for a thousand retakes until she got it exactly right for the camera.
The officer, hearing this, tore up the ticket, and let her go, giving the Mercedes a little slap on the behind as she pulled away.
She drove off, and was soon going ninety five again, reaching for the edge.
The edge came more abruptly then she imagined it would. It came about as fast as the Rapture, in fact. Then:
Noises, a banging of pipes, muffled roaring, the sounds fading, fading. Noises, voices, words--what did they mean?--roaring, some light, then fading, fading. A room, lights and faces--don’t know who---someone was holding her fingers--then fading, fading. “Help!” she said, released once again from Fade-Out. She looked into a face, it was--who? “Who are you?” she said. “Where is Harry? Where is Aloes, Cassia--?” The someone said, “You don’t know me, do you, mother? But then, you never did, did you?”
Fade-Out then someone massaging her limbs. Nurses turning her in bed. Bandages on her head replaced. Doctors coming, doctors going. Her hand being held again by the strange girl. Splitting headaches. Nurse giving her something in water she had to gulp down with water.
It happened, it happened--the same thing. But she saw the room more often, people were growing familiar even without knowing them. The truck’s back end, flying at her, breaking through her windshield--it kept coming to her, making her scream. But there was something else that kept coming. She was in a lighted tunnel, and at the end was someone standing, waiting for her, a man who looked like a rabbi in his prayer shawl, except that there was this terrible, unearthly whiteness to his garments. She walked up to him and he was--she didn’t know. When she asked, he said with infinite, Lincolnesque sadness, “I am your Judge.” He was robed in white from his shoulders to his feet. “Judge?” she wondered. That didn’t make sense. “Where is Jesus?” she replied. “Am I dead? Jesus is supposed to meet me. Somebody, please tell me.”
The man in robes of blinding white replied,
“No, I really saw him,” she said, but they shook their heads and smiled.