Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
TITLE: Ripening Like Cherries
By Ann Grover
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Parishioners gathered outside the church, avoiding the inevitable, the moment they’d be called to worship by the wheezing organ. The Reverend Mueller would sermonize tediously about prevenient grace and propitiation, atonement and antinomianism.
Deacon Hillsworthy stood straight as a hoe handle, arms hanging despondently, while his mousy wife hovered behind. Their similarly lackluster children were as silent and gray as the nearby tombstones. By contrast, Elder Wenford’s expansive belly jiggled alarmingly as he shook hands all round, and Mrs. Wenford swelled like a steamed pudding tied with string.
Like a flock of bright canaries, several elderly ladies in their spring finery waited in the shade, twittering and tut-tutting while their shawls fluttered like lacy wings.
“Use a tad more.”
“And then he left.”
Blooms on their bonnets bobbed and dipped, and I was glad, for they were essential to our plan for shortening the Reverend’s monotonous morning discourse.
The organ was insistent, so, reluctantly, we migrated inside. Feigning a need for my handkerchief, which I’d forgotten anyway, I let go my father’s hand, and sidled toward the stairs for the balcony overlooking the sanctuary. Henry Gibbons and Lester Penwell were waiting in the musty dimness.
“Did you bring it?” I hissed.
Lester smacked his pocket, gasping in fake pain. Boys were so tiresome.
The service began with hymns, accompanied by Miss Amelia’s attempts to tame the unbridled organ, but in spite of her valiant pounding and pumping, the organ stubbornly refused to produce anything but discordant racket. An Elder prayed, and I despaired of the sermon commencing anytime before noon. I was unbearably hot in my petticoat, Sunday frock, and pinafore.
“It’s time,” whispered Henry. Lester dug a skein of string from his pocket. Hurriedly, he attached a fishing hook.
We leaned over the edge of the balcony. As anticipated, Miss Violet and Miss Luella were directly below us, the flowers on their bonnets bobbing cheerfully. Fake cherries waggled on Miss Luella’s bonnet, and Lester aimed for the gaily bouncing fruit.
It wasn’t the most ingenious scheme we’d ever designed. Once, we’d spread glue on the floor, right where the Reader would stand as he brought the Scripture. His shoes were ruined, to say nothing of his rendering of Isaiah.
Some stunts had caused us extreme suffering. Fitzy MacDonald had to split ten cords of wood for Miss Posey Harris after we moved the church outhouse before the pageant last Christmas. Unfortunately, Miss Posey, in her holiday ruffles and ribbons, had been the one to succumb to the slimy pit while entering an outhouse that was no longer there.
And, unfortunately, Fitzy was caught with dirt on his hands, so to speak.
Our current plan was still brilliant.
The Reverend Mueller’s beetroot-hued face gleamed with sweat as he vigorously delivered his homily.
“Ye are children of wrath, enslaved to the sin of thy fathers, totally corrupt, totally depraved.” He smote the pulpit. “Ye are doomed to eternal judgment because of original sin.”
Original sin? Was capturing a bonnet a sin? If it was, it was certainly original, not common like lying or stealing. I trembled.
Lester handed me the string. I lowered it, like a strand of spider silk, swaying ever so slightly. I concentrated so intently I didn’t notice the silence, until the moment I snared the cherry, taking a deep breath as I bore the hat aloft.
“Harrumph,” the Reverend growled.
The hat swung, a peculiar pendulum. Parishioners snorted and mothers hushed their sniggering children.
The boys high-tailed it, abandoning me. I released the string and hid, huddled beneath a pew, not caring about dust or splinters.
Was eternal judgment falling so swiftly? Two shiny-buttoned boots stopped inches away.
“Come out, child.” Her gloved hand tugged my sleeve, and I crawled out.
“Ah, Emily. That was an impressive undertaking.” The ubiquitous cherry nodded as she drew close. “Someday, you’ll understand such cleverness for what it is.” I wondered what that might be. “You see, I was a child once. And the bane of my mother’s life because of my mischief.”
I couldn’t imagine Miss Luella with smooth skin and plaited hair, much less getting up to any naughtiness.
“Would you care to take tea with me?”
Tea? With Miss Luella?
I did. The following Wednesday and for many years thereafter, we had tea, and I eventually learned to be ladylike and mannerly.
But, never once did I consider adorning my bonnets with fruit.
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