Unsaid

Prompt: Abide

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Abide with me,
Fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens,
Lord, with me abide

Now that Jerry Plankton had become comfortable with the old pipe organ in the church, he preferred it for many of the hymns he was asked to play, like Abide with Me, a 19th century classic specifically requested for the funeral of Louisa Perez by her son, Dominic.

The score key was E flat major, which was not difficult, but Jerry couldn’t really hear while he played if the congregation was comfortable enough with the key to sing along. He played with great flourish, even though it was a solemn occasion deserving of calm respect. No one could really see him up in the organ loft, and he liked to move to the music as he played and pumped the pedals.

The mourners were few, despite the fact that Ms Perez, in her heyday, had been a very famous, exquisitely beautiful young Hispanic actress, with a television program that revolved about her fiery personality and expressive eyes. The series was broadcast in Spanish-speaking states throughout the world.

Yet there were perhaps a dozen people populating the polished, maplewood pews, scattered like random pebbles on a beach; silent, heads bowed, handkerchiefs brought to distraught faces.

Dominic sat alone in the front pew, staring at the coffin and the framed picture of his mother. It looked like a publicity photo from the television studio under which she was contracted. Black and white, but showing a woman full of life and sparkle. Red roses billowed and cascaded down the coffin.

Partway through the service, two young men came and sat behind Dominic. One came from the back of the church, the other from across the aisle. They met, quietly acknowledged on another, then after each silently greeted him with a brief hand on his shoulder, they took their seats.

Jerry wondered if the service was comforting to the boy. It had never been the kind of service that comforted Jerry, but then Jerry thought everything Father Hector said was a lie, and that the hymns were full of false hope and deception.

He knew Dominic had no money for the casket or flowers or sandwiches, and that Father Hector had discreetly petitioned some of the regular congregation for support. Jerry chipped in twenty dollars. He knew what it was like to lose someone, and feel like the loss was the end of your own life.

When other helpers
Fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless,
O abide with me

After the service, Jerry did something he had never done before. He made his way down to the main floor, where mourners were migrating towards the staircase leading down to the modest reception. He joined the silent procession.

He spoke to Dominic, shook his hand. He spoke to the two young men who had moved to be near him. One was named Dennis, who said he was an old friend of the family, the other was Xavier, who didn’t know the family personally, but loved and admired Louisa Perez, who was on the television screen every day when he was a small child. Both lads seemed nice enough.

Jerry Plankton ate half an egg sandwich, and passed potato chips to young Xavier, who looked of an age when no amount of food was enough.

When Dominic suddenly looked so frail that he might faint, Jerry alerted Sister Bernice, who went to his side and took him in her arms; what Jerry called the big nun hug. He remembered those from his youth, along with the nun discipline, which was less welcome.

When the sandwiches and potato chips and peanut butter cookies were gone, Dominic and everyone else slowly drifted away. Jerry stayed to help clean up.

Sister Bernice washed the sturdy white serving platters and the coffee mugs, while Jerry dried and put each away in a cupboard in the church kitchen. 

“Nice of you to come downstairs,” she said. “And unlike you.”

“He seemed a nice young man,” said Jerry. “Such a loss for the boy, you know? But so few people to share the grief.” Unsaid: When God fails, who will be present to provide comfort; if not me, who?

“And you know what that feels like,” said Sister Bernice.

“I do indeed,” said Jerry.

God Willing

Prompt: Sing

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Some people, when they experience a great loss or tragedy, move closer to God. Others move away.

Jerry was of the latter group. He still played the organ for two separate churches, every Sunday, and sometimes on weekday evenings. But while he played with some skill and sensitivity, he was now immune to the words, the sentiments and beliefs they espoused.

Music was music, thought Jerry. I’m awake on Sunday morning anyway. I have no such instrument at home, but can play whenever the organs are free. It was win-win, as far as Jerry was concerned.

But now, The Church of Perpetual Motion wanted him to dust off their seldom-used pipe organ for a traditional wedding march. He’d had a look at it only once: lots of knobs and buttons, and two short keyboards, all looking very alien and difficult.

But it wasn’t so different, as Jerry learned once he read materials from the library and online. The techniques, the various knobs and octave variations,  were easy enough to learn for something as simple as the wedding march; the tricky part was the difference in volume and release.

So Jerry took to practicing on Tuesday evenings, when there was generally nothing going on, except naughty children washing all the pew seats with warm sudsy water.

These were 11-13 year olds, mostly boys, having misbehaved somehow in the Catholic school attached to the church, now doing penance. They were supervised by a pair of formidable nuns, though to Jerry all nuns were formidable, from a distance.

So he played for the bad boys and their nuns, trying to mix it up so as not to drive them crazy. He played the theme from Phantom of the Opera. He played “The Long and Winding Road”. He played Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in C Minor”. He played the wedding march.

If the Perpetual Motion pipe organ was a woman, Jerry was falling in love.

So steady and predictable she was. So even in tone. So flexible, so versatile, so sombre, so joyful, so playful. So soothing, so stimulating. Strangely, inexplicably, like his wife Helene, whom God took away so very young. Life (death) happens, Jerry knew that, but Helene died slowly, painfully, while Jerry, their daughter Elise, their son Noel, and God, watched.

Their prayers went unanswered. Well, says the homily, sometimes the answer to a prayer is “No”. The answer is no?

Lord, spare Thy devoted servant, Helene, that she may share her joy of life and her love of Thee for a little longer. Please, spare her that she may raise her daughter and son in Thy name.

God, they are so young. She is young and has so much to give. Please let her live. Please.

“No”.

Jerry was startled back to the present by the sudden appearance of Sister Bernice, in a grey sweater and skirt and sensible shoes, looking upon him with soft grey eyes, which reminded Jerry of the eyes of Lily-Rose Roades, who lived next door to him.

“My goodness, Mr Plankton,” said Sister Bernice with a smile. “That was as fascinating, if aggressive, a rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as any I’ve ever heard!” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright, Jerry?”

“Sorry, Sister, I’m fine, Sister,” said Jerry. “I’m off now anyway, you can do God’s work in peace.”

He packed up his papers and scores and binders and stuffed them into an old briefcase.

“See you Sunday, Mr Plankton.”

“God willing,” said Jerry.

Good Lord

Prompt: Un/Faithful
Tell us about the role that faith plays in your life — or doesn’t.

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The Unfaithful:

  • My god is better than your god.
  • You have to do what my god says.
  • I decide which parts of what my god says are true.
  • My god wants me to prosper.
  • I fight for my god.
  • Forgiveness means I can do whatever I want, and if I express regret, I can meet my god in heaven.
  • Only believers in my god should be my neighbours.
  • Unbelievers are less than I am.

The Faithful:

  • God is love, whatever her name or manifestation.
  • We are free to express our faith in ways we choose.
  • I know the word of my god preaches goodness, kindness and a tolerant heart.
  • God wants an end to global suffering.
  • I fight no one, and work towards peace, as my god would want.
  • God accepts the pure of heart, not the hypocrites.
  • God loves everyone, regardless of race or religion.
  • I am humble in the eyes of my god.