by Jeffra Hays
Copyright 2011 Jeffra Hays
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Mrs. Shirley Ryder’s knees of a certain age ached. She closed her eyes to force one more prayer. A chronic joke stole its place. “Pew burn, Momma.” She smiled at the memory of her mother, fourteen years dead, and their stupid jokes. Why did Shirl-girl cross the road? She opened her eyes as the congregation rose for the final hymn of the morning. To buy the cheapest chicken. Number six hundred eighty-six, “Come, thou fount of every blessing.” No bargains there but don’t despair. The familiar faithful, hymnals raised, sang the first stanza as she hummed, swayed and wiggled her knobby fingers, but Sunday was serious business. Pulling herself up from her knees and leaning back in her accustomed pew, she listened to the singing and began her Sunday census. “Mr. Curtis may be sick with asthma today, Momma. And Ann-Marie isn’t here either, third Sunday in a row.”
Shirley turned to the wrought iron candle stand, directly across the aisle, to count the votive flames in their dark red glasses. Each flame merited, first, a nod of her head, then the firm pressure of two fingers on her wrist. She had decided, despite her mother’s death, to continue their weekly attendance surveys, and to add a personal analysis by taking her church’s pulse with her own. “Only eleven lit today, Momma. Down, down, down.” She stared at the rows of candles, imagining her mother’s face as she chose to remember it, before her illness and decay.