“You’ll come to church with us this morning,” the man told me at breakfast. Inwardly I shrugged, Thank You for getting me to Mass yesterday afternoon, I told my Friend. “Sure,” I said aloud. The church was an old house the man had rented in a ramshackle neighbourhood. The associate pastor, Rev. S., helped several elderly residents from the nursing homes the man managed descend from a van. Ella, Betsy and her husband, Ella’s friends, and Mrs. S., along with Ames, Matthieu, Claire, her toddling daughter, and a slender young man were the congregation. “This is Henry,” the man smilingly introduced me to the young man. “He’s a seminary student.” I held out my hand, “Hello.” We sang The Old Rugged Cross accompanied by Mrs. S. on a tinny, terribly out-of-tune piano. The man read from the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
He preached about good wives for an hour. I glanced over at Ella. She seemed to concentrate on each of his words. I scratched my ear and looked out the window at the street behind him. After the service, Mrs. S. told me, “We’ll take you and Henry to lunch in the city.” “Sure,” I smiled at her. I excused myself and went to greet Betsy and her husband. In the Chinese restaurant, Mrs. S. asked about college, “It’s a lot of work,” I told her. “But it’s good.” “Have you considered a major yet?” “Psychology or medicine,” I told her. “Would you transfer back here?” she asked. “You know, there’s a very good women’s college near here. I went there.” I sighed, “They haven’t very many majors.” “No,” she agreed and smiled. “But it would be nice to have you here.” I smiled and ate a bit of moo shu pork. “Henry!” I inquired brightly, “You’re at seminary?” “In my senior year,” he replied in a pancake muffled voice. “What brought you here?” I asked. “The Southern Baptist Conference sent me as an intern to help Rev. I with his church,” he replied smiling. “Oh yes?”
“Why don’t you and Henry go for ice cream?” Rev. S. suggested as he paid the cheque. “You can get the bus back.” “Sure,” I told him. “Baskin Robbins is just over there,” I told Henry. “Don’t get the brownie sundae,” I warned. “I had it once. It has so much sugar, you’ll have a stomach ache.” “That sounds perfect,” he smiled at me. I shrugged. “We don’t want to miss our bus,” I told him as we walked out of the shop. “On Sunday, they only run once an hour.” “I like your voice,” he said. “Uh… Thanks,” I replied looking away from him. Huh? I asked my Friend. “You pronounce each word so distinctly,” he told me. “You almost sound English.” I nodded my head and chomped a mouthful of ice cream. I refrained from sucking the ice cream from the bottom of the cone as was my usual practice. The bus appeared up the block. We were on the wrong side of the street. “Run!” I called to him and ran across the nearly empty road. The bus pulled up. I got on, paid my fare, and found a seat. Henry stood across the street, ice cream cup in hand, mouth open. I gurgled. I told him to run, I mutely told my Friend then wolfed down the rest of my cone.
“Where’s Henry?” the man asked as I walked through the door. “I don’t know,” I told him. “He missed the bus.” “That wasn’t very nice,” the man reprimanded. I shrugged and raised my hands palms up. “I told him the buses don’t come very often on Sunday. I told him to run.” I shrugged again, “He didn’t.” I began ascending the steps in relevé. The man’s voice stopped me, “I want you to transfer to the women’s college here.” I looked up at the ceiling. “I’m going back to New York,” I said. “You can get a good education here,” the man replied. “You can get a degree in library science, like Rev. S.’s wife,” he continued. I turned and looked at him. “You need to marry someone like Henry.” He took a breath, “I won’t buy you a ticket to go back to New York.” My eyes widened, “Uh-huh,” I said flatly, turned, and continued up the stairs. He thinks he can marry me off! I fumed. Do You believe that? I looked at myself in the mirror then shook my head. He thinks he can control my life! I dropped my face into the palms of my hands.
The thought was already in my mind when I wakened the next morning. “Really?” I asked aloud, my voice a rising shrillness. The thought penetrated to my heart. “Okay,” I told my Friend in an unsure voice. That evening, I knocked on the man’s door after he and Ella had retired. “You don’t need to buy me a plane ticket,” I told him. “When I was in high school, I took the armed services exam. I was the top scorer but I wanted to go to New York.” The man’s forehead creased into deep furrows. “I’ll enlist and they’ll send me to college.” His mouth snapped open but emitted no sound. I turned and went back to the room I once shared. An hour later, there was a knock on the door. “Yes?” I called out. The man opened it, “I don’t want you to enlist. Women don’t belong in the army.” “I’ll join the air force or the marines,” I told him. He sighed, “I’d rather you go back to New York.” I shrugged, “If that’s what you’d prefer.” He glared at me, “I really can’t do anything with you. Can I?” I pressed my mouth into a little rueful smile and shrugged.