First Place All-Church Short Story Contest

Brad Andrews wiped his hand against the frost on the window, a cold numbness spreading through his fingers. He could barely make out the street below, silent under the mist of snow, dark but for the muted ball of yellow light on Bishop Anderson’s porch. He supposed the bishop was working late as usual at the ward. In any case, the green station wagon wasn’t on the corner in its usual spot. Vaguely, Brad wondered what time it was and, pressing the dial close to his eyes, tried to make out the digits on his watch. Twelve-fifteen. Pushing the filmy curtains shut, he lay back on his bed, wrapping his arms around his pillow. He could still feel the bulge of the envelope hidden under the sheets. Closing his eyes, he gently touched the mound with his fingers, the envelope’s sharp corners dulled by the linen cover.

He was still a little afraid that his mother had seen him sneak to the mailbox that morning; she had looked at him so oddly. No, she would have said something for sure if she had suspected his call had come. She had probably been too busy fixing Mike’s birthday package to notice anything. She always worried that her packages would take too long to get there, even though Mike always seemed to get them early. Still, Italy sounded so far away.

A cough echoed from somewhere deep within the house. Probably his father. Slowly, Brad sat up and wiped his eyes, then turned to look around the room. When he was little he had been afraid of monsters hiding in the corners (that was what Mike had always told him to watch out for), but tonight he knew what made every shape: the guitar with the broken strings, the oriental lamp the Wilsons had left when they moved, the copper etching of Westminster Abbey that his father had brought home from his mission, the tapestry Mike had sent home for Christmas. … He couldn’t believe his brother had been gone a whole year.

They had stayed up all night talking, shortly before Mike got his call, guessing where he’d go on his mission. Mike had dreamed he would go to Tonga the night before and was intrigued with the idea of going to the islands. Brad, however, was sure it would be Europe.

“France or Italy,” he had said. “You look like you’d fit in there.”

“Maybe I’ll go to Wyoming, like Alan Brockbank,” Mike replied, yawning.

Brad shook his head slowly. “No, I don’t think so.”

Mike picked up a record album absently then turned to Brad. “You know it shouldn’t really matter where I go on my mission. I mean, it’s not like it’s a vacation or anything. Still, it would be neat to go out of the country. Anyway, I wish it would get here.”

Three days later Mike had rushed into the house with the envelope.

“It came, it came!” he had shouted.

“Don’t open it yet,” his mother had said. “I want everyone to be here.”

“Let him open it now,” Brad cried.

“Here’s Dad,” Mike said, tearing at the envelope, papers fluttering into his hand. “Italy—Milan,” he whispered. “You were right, Brad. It is Europe.”

Their father looked at them quizzically. “You know the important thing isn’t where you go.”

Brad stood up, shaking himself free from the sheets, and, pulling off his pajamas, began to dress. He had always known that the important thing about a mission call wasn’t which mission. He had heard people say that for years. He was just afraid he might be disappointed anyway. He knew he was going out to serve others, not himself. It was just that everyone said they thought he would go to a foreign country. Hadn’t he had five years of German? He just wished he could be sure he would accept his call no matter what it was. He knew it would be to the right place; he’d been praying about that for three weeks.

Pulling on his harness boots, he stood up and grabbed his parka from the end of the bed and put it on. The wailing of a siren broke the stillness. Trembling, he pulled the envelope from the sheets and put it in his pocket. Quietly opening the door, he hurried down the stairs.

The cold air stung his face as he closed the back door and walked out into the snow piled on the sidewalk. The bent old pine that had been their Christmas tree lay molting in the gutter, thin strands of silver still tangled in its branches. Looking up at the sky, he searched for the moon along the clouds, wishing for the comforting glaze that was usually reflected on the snow. The houses on the street stood dark and sullen but for the light still gleaming from the bishop’s porch. Dragging his feet deep in the snow, Brad walked up the street.

He could remember how he used to hurry down this street every day when he was just in elementary school. He and Mike would always wait for Alan Brockbank at the corner and then all three of them would run the rest of the way in order to get a tetherball pole. Now he was the only one still home and Alan would finish his mission in a couple of months. It still seemed strange that Alan wrote more often than Mike. Brad supposed it was because he’d never had any brothers. Perhaps it just seemed like he wrote more since his letters only needed to come from Wyoming and they always got there so fast. In any case, Alan seemed happy with his call.

At first Alan wouldn’t tell anyone where he was going to go, but Brad had overheard Sister Peterson telling his mother all about it.

“Wyoming,” she had said. “Just to Wyoming.”

“Well, they need missionaries, too,” Brad’s mother had said.

“Oh, I know,” Sister Peterson responded. “It just seems a shame. Why, Sister Davis told me that he got the highest score on the language aptitude test out of anyone in this stake, … and he did have four years of Spanish.”

Two headlights swept the road as a car pulled forward, then came to an abrupt stop. One of the doors banged open and a tall figure emerged.

“Brad, is that you?”

“Oh, hello, bishop.”

“How come you’re out so late?”

“Just takin’ a walk.” Brad stared up at the thin man standing in the snow. He usually looked so alert, but tonight he seemed tired.

“I thought you must be gone somewhere,” Brad said. “I could see your porch light from my window.”

“Oh, I was at the hospital. Brother Giles had another attack tonight and wanted a blessing. My wife always leaves the light on until I’m home safe. It’s like she wants it to guide me home.”

“You look like you need some rest.”

The bishop smiled faintly. “I most certainly do. Don’t stay out too late, Brad. I don’t want you catching pneumonia just before your mission.”

“I won’t.”

Brad watched as the bishop slowly mounted the stairs, opened the door, and disappeared inside. The porch light bristled against the ice on the steps.

Brad had always liked Bishop Anderson; he was somehow different from everyone else. The day he was sustained, the bishop had seemed so large and Brad had secretly wished that he, too, might be a bishop some day. It seemed so glamorous to conduct meetings and have people call you father of the ward, just like going to Japan or Switzerland on a mission. But there wasn’t much glory when the bishop answered the call that night; he had looked so alone. Brad supposed that his mission might be like that. After all, he would probably tract in the rain anywhere he went. Perhaps Alan had learned that when he wrote that he was really happy in Wyoming.

Slowly Brad sat down on the steps of the bishop’s house, the wet snow seeping through his clothes. Drawing the envelope out of his pocket, he carefully tore open one end. Gently he shook the papers into his hand, then held them up to the steady yellow light.

[illustration] Illustration by Parry Merkley

Joel D. Chaston, a graduate student in English at the University of Utah, is a Sunday School teacher in the University Third Ward, Salt Lake City.