Writing Exercise

D. J. Cools

3/20/20203 min read

Father Andrew’s features assumed several complicated shapes in quick succession, one chasing another, finally settling into a frown of confused concern.

“But, why?” he asked in a lectern-trained voice of at least 30 years experience. “It’s not safe, you know that.”

“I don’t want safe, Father.” Laura put her hands on her hips. “I want interesting.”

“Well, I’m sure you do,” said Father Andrew, “but I really could not imagine you, Laura, out in the dark, in the cold, on the lookout for thugs. What if you were harassed? Or worse, hurt? We are dealing with real vandalism after all.” He gestured at the boarded-over stained-glass window to the right of the church entrance and the broken lamp above the double doors. “I wouldn’t be comfortable knowing you were out here alone.”

“I have taken self-defense training,” Laura said. “And I would have pepper spray, a cell phone, a flashlight, and a nightstick.”

Father Andrew’s frown deepened. “I see you have given this some thought.” His combed-over grey hair was slipping down his forehead.

“It’s been a year since my accident. I am tired of just reading books and setting up for Mass and watching Netflix. No one is going to hire me for a regular job, Father. Not right now. But I need something to do. I’m well enough to protect the church.”

The sun was warm on the steps. People flowed amiably around the robed priest and the middle-aged woman in her flowered skirt and sweater. She wore scuffed red pumps and her brown hair was streaked with grey. The air was still chilly, but spring was beginning to make itself known in the buds on the trees and new shoots of pale green grass between the flagstones that bordered the sidewalk. An after-Mass peace was in the air; the solemn work of paying attention to the sermon and wondering if one was prepared for communion was over. Everyone was smiling and relaxed. The line to shake hands with Father Andrew was growing.

The old priest looked over the woman’s shoulder at the pileup. “Ok, Laura, how about this: come by Tuesday morning, about 9 o’clock, and we’ll talk about it. This doesn’t mean I am giving you the job, mind you. I put the security guard position in the bulletin so I would have some options to pick from—and if some broad-shouldered young man talks to me about it between now and Tuesday, well… we’ll just have to see.” But his eyes were amused, even interested.

Laura thanked him, smoothing down her skirt, letting herself be borne away by the chattering couples and laughing children.


At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Laura sat at the tiny table in her apartment kitchen, sipping coffee and pushing an egg around her plate with a fork. She had spent an hour trying to figure out what to wear. Should she be dressed for an office interview, or in rugged clothes she would be comfortable wearing while beating someone over the head? And her hair? Brushed and moussed as usual, or pulled back and fierce? She settled on a pair of her brother’s Carhartt pants he had left behind for her to mend (which she had, weeks ago, and he still hadn’t picked them up), a plain black sweater, and a low, tight bun. Looking herself over in the mirror, she thought she looked conservative and serious; ready for anything.

Anticipation swelled in her chest like the growing spring around her as she walked the 12 blocks to the church. Following the accident she no longer drove, but she had grown to enjoy going everywhere on foot. Clouds covered the sky. The thin dry breeze pushing at her back was warm. She saw herself pacing the church porch under a night sky, clicking on her big flashlight in the direction of a suspicious shadow. Everywhere there would be the sights and sounds of the city after most people had gone to bed: squeaky delivery trucks, street cleaners, bakers and doughnut-makers rattling keys in locks and turning their lights on at 2 a.m. It was a magical image. People would come up to her after Mass and thank her for keeping the church safe from senseless damage. There would be less pity in the eyes of those who had stopped asking how her recovery was going, or if she had a date for Friday.

Turning the corner at 37th Ave, Laura walked under the spreading limbs of the maples in front of the church. Birds flitted overhead. Her wristwatch showed 8:55 a.m. Passing by the front steps, she followed the path around the side of the church and approached the office.

A note was taped to the glass door, signed by the parish secretary:


Father Andrew was called away on an urgent errand. He is sorry to have missed you, but he is not ready to reschedule your meeting yet. He will call you sometime.