Grace fanned herself with the church bulletin as the ceiling fans twirled lethargic and helpless against Little Rock's August heat. An insufferable concoction of perfumes, after shaves, lemon furniture wax and dust collided with the smell of too many over-heated bodies and their failed deodorants all packed into a confined space. It hurt to breathe. She focused on her loving husband's tall, commanding presence at the pulpit, tried to concentrate on the sermon she must have heard a dozen times. The cadence of his voice flowed through her head like blackstrap molasses, dulling her ability to pay attention. "God will supply every need," she heard him say. Then why ain't we praying for an air conditioning unit?
She cast her gaze across the pews of familiar faces, an ethnic stewpot that spoke well of the reverend's popularity. Stella, her copper penny complexion complimented by an animal print and beadwork cloche hat, sat next to her latest beau, a scandalous fifteen years her junior. Roberta and Stanley looked frazzled around the edges, their five sandy-haired children in tow, all dressed in homemade coordinating pastel cottons. The youngest, dear six-year-old Anna, had Down syndrome. Will and his Japanese-American wife, Mei, the newest members of the church, their two beautiful, light brown babies both still in diapers, sat near the back in case they needed to hustle out with a fussy one. The widow Boucher, vibrant in a crimson church suit and matching hat with a brim so wide it nearly sliced the side of poor Mr. Stuart's neck every time she turned her head. Mr. Stuart, a quiet, tolerant man, arrived pallid and alone that morning, his fool wife home recovering from a toe she broke while gardening. How on earth the woman managed to break her toe was anybody's guess.
Ed's younger sister, Arleeta, stunning in her powder blue suit and matching sinamay derby with feather bouquet and over-sized bow, also sat spouseless, her husband, Harold, no doubt at home glued to the TV. Grace had little tolerance for the man, but he was a good provider, and he put up with his wife's constant chirping better than most.
Grace knew each parishioner like family, yet this morning she felt isolated. She didn't talk about her gambling days in church. How could she expect any of these people to understand her heartbreak over some ol' casino she forgot?
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