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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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The Parish Office

 

by Robert Boucheron

 

 

 

Sadie Thompson volunteered part-time in the parish office of St. Giles. She typed letters and church bulletins, filed correspondence and receipts, and took telephone calls from anxious parishioners. It was a simple routine, but someone had to do it. Mostly, she acted as a buffer for the rector, whose study was just beyond.

   

“Were it not for Mrs. Thompson,” he said, “I wouldn’t get a thing done.”

 

Well preserved, with a profile that had once been compared to that of a glamorous movie star, Mrs. Thompson had her eye on the rector. In the course of her half-day shift, she contrived little favors, invented reasons to engage in conversation, and put her famous profile on display. She typed a letter, then paused in the doorway with the paper in her hand to allow him to take in the full effect. Or she watered a collection of African violets and gloxinias, then lingered to let the light from the window play on her head and shoulders. Like all the ladies of her acquaintance, she kept her hair in mint condition, on the off-chance that someone might notice.

 

To his credit, Theodore Percy noticed. On this Monday morning, Mrs. Thompson took a moment to pluck some shriveled leaves from the windowsill in his study. He looked up from a difficult passage in the Greek New Testament.

 

“Thank you, Mrs. T. What would we do without you?”

 

“Good morning, Father Percy. I didn’t see you sitting there. You were as quiet as a mouse.”

 

“You look ravishing as ever.”

 

“Thank you.” Genuinely pleased, she smiled.

 

“How is Mr. Thompson doing?”

 

“Much the same.” The smile faded. “He drifts in and out.”


“You visit him at Shady Grove every Sunday afternoon—is that right?”

 

“Yesterday was not one of his better days. It was like an old war movie. He thought he was back in the cockpit, flying a mission over enemy lines. He muttered about how much fuel was left in the tank and asked me to check the radar screen. Then with both hands he grabbed the wheels on his chair and took off down the corridor. That man can be a holy terror.”

 

“On my last visit, he was upset when I failed to return his salute. Apparently, I was a visiting superior officer. So I saluted and suggested where the boys in Washington could stick it.”

 

“Were you in the service, Father Percy?”

 

“As a young chaplain.”

 

“I can imagine you in uniform.” Mrs. Thompson became dreamy.

 

“That was many years ago. I ought to get back to work.”

 

 The sound of a door opening and closing shattered this delicate balance of memory and desire.

 

“Good morning!” Louisa called out. “Is anyone here?”

 

Percy sprang to attention. “Mrs. Jones?”

 

Mrs. Thompson followed him into the front room. Percy waited eagerly on the visitor, nearly fawned on her.

 

“Do you know Mrs. Thompson?” he said.

 

“We go to the same hair salon,” Louisa said. “We met there last Thursday.”

 

For a fact, Sadie Thompson did not have a mean bone in her body, but she stiffened with a trace of annoyance. The next thing she knew, the goggle-eyed rector would bow like a servant.

 

“How may I be of service?” he said.

 

“It’s inexcusably rude, but I came to ask a personal favor.”

 

“Not at all, Mrs. Jones. Your wish is my command.”

 

Mrs. Thompson felt that she might become physically ill.

 

“As we made that stroll along the creek, Ted, I meant to ask about Gary Nash, the young man who sings in the choir. Was he at church yesterday?”

 

“I don’t recall seeing him. Did you, Mrs. Thompson?”

 

“No.” She pursed her lips.

 

“For my article on Ralph Willis, I’ve been talking to people who knew him, especially on the musical side.


Were he and Nash friends?”

 

“To the best of my knowledge,” Percy said.

 

“When I tried to get in touch with Nash, there was no answer. So I wonder if you have any other way to contact him.”

 

“He works at the regional hospital,” Mrs. Thompson said in an icy tone.

 

“I’d rather not disturb him at his place of employment. Would you have another number, perhaps of a relative?”

 

“His parents live in Rockbridge, I believe,” said Percy. “Mrs. Thompson can check our records.”

 

“Should we give out such personal information?” Mrs. Thompson said.

 

“If you would be so kind,” Percy said.

 

Mrs. Thompson reluctantly sat at her desk and consulted a directory of church members and staff, slowly flipping page after page. She looked up with relief.

 

“We have only his Hapsburg address,” she said.

 

“Check the files for an emergency contact,” Percy said. “Everyone who serves St. Giles in some capacity is asked to fill out a form.” He hovered over a perfectly groomed cloud of peach-colored hair, as Mrs. Thompson tugged open a file drawer.

 

“Is this what you want?” Mrs. Thompson produced a sheet of paper with handwritten notes beside printed questions. Percy snatched it from her and proffered it to Louisa.

 

“Excellent,” she said. Standing, she copied the names of Stephen and Beverly Nash, with their Rockbridge address and telephone number. Mrs. Thompson waited sourly for her to return the piece of paper, while Percy watched with excitement. Louisa turned her most radiant smile on the rector and his assistant.

 

“Thanks to both of you for your help. I must literally run back to the newspaper office for another appointment. It was a pleasure to see you again.”

 

“Perhaps we could meet . . .” Percy was not quick enough to get the door for her.

 

“That would be lovely,” Louisa sang over her shoulder.

 

“. . . for lunch?” But she was already in the street, striding away in her sensible brown shoes.