It was unusual for a Baptist minister and his wife to get a divorce, but the divorce was after the deacons had asked him to resign and after his having preached well for fifteen years, saving souls and increasing membership in the church and adding a two-story brick addition to the small church and sanctuary. When the minister didn’t resign, almost half the church left and began meeting at the Masonic lodge, bringing in a retired preacher on an interim basis until they could decide their course. Rumor was the preacher’s wife Jessie was worried about their family and wanted to move north closer to other family and get away from the gnats, snakes, and rednecks of the deep South.
Jessie’s sense of despair increased when the break-away group returned after they’d garnered enough support for a majority vote to boot the minister and his family from the church and the nice brick pastorium, which had recently been purchased against some of the deacons’ support. It was a humiliating and degrading experience, a hard pill for a minister’s family to swallow, especially after friendships had flourished, care and concern had been shown to parishioners, and the growth of positive momentum of the church in the community. Jessie was stoic in the business meeting, save a tear or two welling in her eyes and zig-zagging down her cheek.
Stubborn and unwilling to listen to his wife, the preacher let Jessie go and live in a trailer in another rural community not far away, where she took a job as an elementary school teacher. Rumor was they would work it out, get back together, and move away, but dreams of the night fade with the sunrise and Jessie began counseling to help her make way through the life fog she felt engulfed her.
At the end of their first session, Hugh embraced her and she began to whimper. He whispered positive messages to her about how strong she was, how she would get through it, how she had her whole life ahead. Sessions left her feeling exhilarated and the embraces became more than comforting. The first kiss happened unexpectedly, and she felt it was innocent enough and didn’t think much of his wife or family. By the time he dropped a sack of peaches by Jessie’s trailer and they became entangled in passion all the way down the hallway into her bedroom, she had come to believe he was sensitive and caring about her, had fallen in love with her. She had fantasies about their home together, two middle-aged souls finding a renewed salvation in each other, but the meetings became more fraught with promises until he began to ask for some time and she made threats to go to his wife, to go to the counseling board.
By phone, Hugh and Jessie planned to get together and talk. She was reluctant, but he reassured he’d made some decisions. She told him she’d meet him after she finished some work on her classroom, a Thanksgiving decorating session with card board cut-outs: horn of plenty, pilgrims and natives, and turkey stapled on the bulletin board framed with orange accordion border.
She was putting the finishing touches on the bulletin board when Hugh creeped into her room. Startled, Jessie turned on her heels. “You about scared me to death. I thought we agreed to meet at the café to talk.”
“Change of plans.” Hugh pulled the revolver and pointed. “I can’t let you destroy my life.”
“Hugh, I’m not trying to destroy your life. Put that gun away.”
He moved toward her and she backed into the corner, where students had stood remorseful of their behavior, and he fired a bullet into her side, and she fell to the floor. Blood began to soak that side of her seasonal plaid dress and he pulled her to the side door, through the Bahia grass to her car, where he pulled her body into the seat, sat her up, put the pistol in her hand, pushed her hand toward her head and pulled the trigger again, allowing blood and brain splatter to cover the driver’s side window.
He wiped where he knew he’d touched with an alcohol wipe, walked back in the same path, turning his feet sideways and raking the grass back in an upright position, cleaned a puddle of blood on the linoleum floor. Her purse he left on the desk. The pistol had been his, but he’d paid cash for it at a gun show in Atlanta several years ago before registration was required. In the days that followed, after being discovered dead by a custodian, local law enforcement ruled Jessie’s case a suicide and her family struggled and moved away to begin a new life.
As Jessie was in her final moments, she noticed a glow coming through the school window across the desks, and she reached for a gentle hand that comforted and walked her peacefully toward that light in the window. She was appreciative of the warmth and closeness with which they walked.
Niles Reddick is author of a novelDrifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in many literary magazines including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, Southern Reader, Like the Dew,The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Pomanok Review, Corner Club Press, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, among others. His website iswww.nilesreddick.com