Excerpt of the novel 'Under the Altar of a Cutter' by Janet Ross-Pilla
She drove for 18 hours straight across one state and part of another to get to the best of little towns and meet the agent representing endless possibilities. Saint, her Malamute dog, made the journey and helped to keep her awake.
When they arrived and met the agent at the church building, Saint received dispensation to walk at her side through the space of perpetual potential.
The inside wood was beautiful, as promised, but even beautiful can be overdone. The striated panels of all ranges of browns and all shades of olive were everywhere: walls to peaked ceiling and half-way covering two ends of sanctuary. She was neither repulsed nor overcome with its distinct presence.
It was Saint’s reaction she cared about most. She watched her companion as he took in all aspects of the split-levels: the small closet-sized rooms on the lower level that had been used as classrooms or quiet rooms during services; the kitchen/common area with its avocado green oven and harvest gold refrigerator; the two-gendered, handicapped-accessible bathrooms; a small office/coatroom; and a lift for the wheelchair bound. She wasn’t sure what it would look like if Saint showed signs of disapproval or concern, but she was sure she’d know it when it happened.
Saint didn’t speak; her parrot, Bird, did plenty of that for the three of them. But she could read Saint’s body and his ice blue eyes spoke volumes to her. He was an old soul of the canine spirit world. She didn’t know what she’d do without him.
“What do you think, boy?” She asked. The agent watched her pet with hopeful anticipation. The agent rightfully sensed Saint’s importance. Saint woofed—he could speak of sorts. The agent gleefully clapped his hands: [i]yeah! A commission!![/i] “That was good, right?” He confirmed.
“Well, it’s more about the wag of the tail, but yes, that’s good,” she answered.
The closing on the church took place two weeks after that first journey. She even had pocket money to spare. The agent handed over the keys to the church and shook her hand in congratulations. She thanked him knowing his commission was no more than gas money but his enthusiasm seemed endless.
Saint had been waiting patiently outside the title company while the humans did their business. Opening the door for her, the agent asked, “By the way, what’s your dog’s name?”
“Saint,” she said. The agent’s mouth opened and closed: His eyes went round.
“Oh,” he said and blinked several times.
“Thank you for all your help,” she said. She and Saint walked to her travel-worn car leaving the man standing at the door of the title company to figure out if it was a joke on him or not.
It had been about having limited funds and the need to move on. Yet, the irony that she of all people would own a church wasn't lost on her. She had denounced any supreme being before any of her pleas for her child’s life had begun and gone unnoticed. What else could or would a mother have done except beg and plead to the universe to not be cruel and heartless? Doesn’t everyone wonder, [i]what if?[/i] when their heart is breaking from grief? And, as she feared, no god intervened. No mortals, no matter what initials came after their names, had been of help either. She could count on no one--human that was.
So now she wakes every day stretching her arms in unconscious emulation of a cross that had once hung above her headboard. If she looks close, the outlines of the four wooden blocks, used to give dimension to a crucified Jesus, are clean in contrast to the rest of the wall.
The wall of unpacked boxes that fill the sanctuary, turned living space, overwhelm her. She looks to her dog for answers, for comfort. Saint meets her eyes for a moment, then pads his way toward the lower level where the avocado green oven and harvest gold refrigerator hold the secrets to life.
She follows, stepping over the sleeping god to begin another day.
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