As Bryant approached the pew, Margo Sutter was dabbing her nose with a rolled-up tissue. She looked frail and unusually light-skinned for an Arizona girl. The baggy shorts exaggerated her skinny legs. Her ponytail made her seem even younger.
Suddenly, Margo turned and held her hand to her chest. “Oh my gosh, you scared me.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I just saw you over here . . . having a little trouble.”
Margo looked down at her shoes and took a deep breath. “Oh.”
Bryant gestured at the empty space next to her. “Do you mind if I sit?”
“No, that’s fine.” Her voice cracked.
Bryant slid beside her and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
“You’re struggling with something fierce,” she said.
He looked at her. “You feel like you can read people well?”
“Uh,” she scoffed. “You have no idea.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Because I’m a good listener.”
“Really? Then why wouldn’t you agree to see me as a patient?”
Bryant took a breath and tapped his fingers together. Where to go from here? He’d lost his appetite for pretense and social posturing. “I’m not really in a good place, I mean, I don’t have the patience, nor the time to be—”
He pointed his finger at her. “Exactly the word I was looking for.”
“So you understand.”
“Better than you think.”
“How do you understand so well?” he asked.
“Are you playing with me?”
“You mean by answering your question with a question?”
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when trying to help someone?”
“Are you trying to help me?”
“I don’t know, do you need help?”
He leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not the one finishing off a good cry, am I?”
“Ah,” she said, nodding.
She kept her focus on the space between her feet. “You want to know why I’m sad?”
Margo looked up at the altar and maintained an even gaze. She seemed to be in deep thought.
“Do you believe in God?” she asked.
“It’s late on a Friday afternoon and I’m at church . . . what do you think?”
“That’s not an answer.”
Now it was Bryant’s turn to take in the altar. Father Joe was cleaning the chalice with a white cloth, giving it his full attention. Working the rag with elbow grease. There was a man with conviction, Bryant thought.
“Let’s just say,” he said, “I have reason to be a real skeptic.”
“That’s not what I was hoping to hear.”
“I know, but it’s the truth. That’s all I’ve got to offer.”
Margo squeezed her ball of tissue, then opened her hand and watched it expand in her palm. “Here’s what I think. I think Jesus came down here to give us a way out. Something to aspire for.”
“You mean Heaven?”
“Yes. Do you believe in Heaven?”
He sighed. That was his dilemma, of course. Not believing in the Lord put Kate and Megan at risk. He wanted them to be safe, so much he got chest pains just thinking about it. “I’m hopeful,” he said, finally.
“You should be. It’s all we’ve got.”
A profound thing to hear from such a young girl.
“You never told me why you were crying.”
“You’re really not interested. You’re just doing Father Joe a favor.”
“That’s not true.”
She turned and frowned. “I thought the truth was all you had to offer. Did you lose that as well?”
He smiled. “Okay, but I’m here now and I’m still a good listener.”
She crossed her legs and folded the tissue on her lap. “Sometimes when I’m in a quiet room like, I don’t know, maybe a library or say a church . . . I can hear peoples’ thoughts.”
She kept folding her tissue, then unfolding it, then folding it another way. It reminded him of Megan when she was about to open a present on Christmas morning, she’d play with the wrapping paper out of nervous tension.
“So tonight I happened to hear a deeply sad soul begging for mercy. This person wanted to be out of pain and prayed for forgiveness. Forgiveness for what he had done and forgiveness for what he considered doing.”
Bryant’s mouth went dry.
“And this person,” she continued, “wanted Jesus to take care of his family up in Heaven. His wife and daughter.”
Bryant was staring now, his fingers trembling.
“You see,” she said, “this man was married for fifteen years. And every day before work, he kissed his wife goodbye on the cheek and said he loved her. Every day without fail. Until one Tuesday morning, after a squabble over who got to choose the breed of dog they were going to get, he purposely chose not to kiss her or say he loved her. He simply left for work without as much as a goodbye. It was such a little thing, but it bothered him the entire drive. He felt so bad about the snub that he called her to apologize as soon as he got to his office. Unfortunately he was ten minutes too late. By that time she was already gone. She and his daughter were killed by a drunk driver.”
Bryant felt his stomach surging up the stale sandwiches to his throat. His heart pounded while his mind raced. He had studied the neurological phenomena of telepathy in college. It was widely known to be a myth.
When Margo looked up at him she was glossy-eyed. “That’s why I was crying, Doc. I could feel your pain from across the room.”
Bryant wiped his moist eyes with his shirt sleeve. “But how?”
“But . . .” he swallowed. It wasn’t possible, yet there she was crawling inside his head. Bringing up images that he was so careful to bury.
Margo rubbed his back. “It’s true, Doc. This is no myth.”
He took deep breaths to steady himself, while Margo tried to console him. With a dry tongue, he said, “You really are—”
“Yes,” she said. “I really am.”
Bryant took a deep breath.
A grey cat appeared in the pew and approached Margo. She curled her body around Margo’s leg.
“Is that your cat?” he asked.
Bryant had to work at keeping his heart rate stable.
Just then, the lights flickered in the church.
“Aliens?” Bryant said without thinking.
“No,” Margo said. “That wasn’t aliens. There aren’t any around tonight.”
Bryant looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“Because,” she said, looking at the cat maneuvering between her legs. “I can hear them too.”