She Who Hath Ears

First Place Winner, 1988 Short Story Contest


The organ music plays a gentle ocean as I slide into the pew. I feel its music ebb and swell under my feet.

This is the hour I try to stuff eternity into my brain.

We sit where the children can see Daddy. Jeremy and Andrew aren’t used to seeing their father up front, and they smile shyly as they point and wave. In their ties, they both look like miniature men, and I can hardly take my eyes off them. Melli sits quietly, her hands folded like sleeping butterflies. Jocelyn insists on my lap.

“Why can’t we sit up there, too, Mommy?” Jocie signs. “Only kings do?”

“Not kings, Jocie. The bishop and his counselors sit there.” I sign slowly, but she is already bilingual.

“Is Daddy bishop again this week?”

“Yes, Jocie, and probably lots of weeks.”

All around me the members are taking attendance of the heart. Sister Holbrook is in the hospital again, worse this time. Julie West’s oldest boy hasn’t come with her for a long time. I must put my arm around her today and remind her that I love her. Candice Rasmussen is here, poor thing. She must be two weeks overdue by now.

Opening song.

I can feel the voices filling the chapel, feel it like a holy wind, raising the hair on my neck and arms. Jocelyn becomes heavy and warm in my arms, and I rock her more to rock myself.

Invocation. I pray my own prayer. Here I am safe from the wise and weary eyes that fear this communion. Here I can believe in sanctification and miracles.

“Mommy, the Spirit told me that Andrew opened his eyes during prayer,” Jeremy signs to me, and I hush him and fold his arms in front of him.

I haven’t yet found the right moment to talk to Richard about my visit to the doctor two days ago. So many people wanted his hand at the ward dinner Friday night. Yesterday there was an all-day service project he had to attend. He had fallen asleep last night before I even went to bed, and he rose early this morning for meetings.

My fingers clasp in sacramental prayer.

Bread. And water.

With leaven and fire, a loaf, and when broken, the staff of life, His life. And earth’s cool wine, earth’s clear blood, and His. I remember. I remember. Oh, that I may be worthy.

But the flesh is weak. I think now of all the moments that fall like pits and peels into my bucket of sins, my only offering to Him who has given me the harvest. And yet he accepts me. He enfolds me in the wings of his love.

Sister Bateman and her husband are speaking today. Richard signs for me as he sits there, sneaking in an “I love you” before the talk begins. At first, as he signed to me sitting up front as the new bishop, everyone watched him instead of the speakers, but now only the children watch. We have the most reverent ward around, everyone says.

Lots of people ask him how he met me. I know because he always signs as he speaks to other people, including me in the conversation. “On my mission to the deaf,” he will say. It unsettles some people, my knowing that they are asking about me, a third person. But Richard is kind about it, makes jokes, puts them at ease. It isn’t always strangers that hurt, but those that love us most, sometimes.

“Four children is enough, especially considering LaVon’s problem,” our families say to us, different ways, different times. Richard answers, but he usually doesn’t sign what he says. Once he asked me afterward if he had ever put any pressure on me to have more children. I couldn’t answer because I was wiping my eyes and shaking my head over and over.

It is a harder thing for him than most men, being a father. I keep the radio or TV on a lot and spend two days a week with my children in a daycare; but the burden of providing our children with verbal stimulation lies with Richard. Still, Richard says they are quiet children, often playing silently, like kittens.

Brother Orville Bateman shuffles to the stand, a sheaf of untidy papers in his spotted and wrinkled hands. His age is venerable, his wisdom no less so, and I feel a longing to learn from him. Richard signs his sermon about seeds and stony places and thorns and fruit an hundredfold. “He who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Richard’s hands are brown and beautiful and his style sparse. Soon it is no longer him I see, but the pictures he paints. My heart closes around the promise of the parable.

Richard says we were one long before we met. I never had to ask him what he meant. Funny, how we love each other so deeply and yet are so different. He loves to garden, loves to put his hands in the warm soil, treating each vegetable or flower as if it had a soul of its own.

I like to paint. I paint skies: morning skies that nest in layers of opaque orange and frayed lavender, their only egg a round golden sun; night skies, sugared with stars and a maiden moon; skies like a great metal lid put on our city-pot, the trees still, the clouds pregnant with electric water, behind which the sun waits to be born.

One evening last week Richard rushed in, the dirt still on his knees and feet, and motioned urgently for me to come out. He wanted to show me an incredible sunset filled with brilliant pinks and purples.

“Paint it,” Richard signed to me. “Paint it now.”

“I can’t,” I signed, “There never was a painter’s brush that could paint such a sunset. Surely not mine.”

“Why?” he asked.

“No one would believe it,” I said. “What is lost is the glory, the texture of infinity behind the clouds. Not even the human mind can capture, hold it.”

Like you, my secret, my unborn child, the fifth and a gift all the more. I have written you in my journal, but when I reread, where the miracle is strung out in a curly blue line of ink, something is lost. It is the glory, the sense of eternity beyond the moment.

Closing song.

Brother Holbrook and I sing a duet today, for tears brim his eyes and he cannot sing with his voice, but only with his soul.

I will Richard to look at me, holding his eyes with my own, and make a round motion over my lap.

For a moment I am unsure, wondering how he will react, feeling silly for telling him now, here, in front of everyone.

But he smiles and signs, “I knew it this morning … as I prayed.”

The hour is almost over, the hour in which I try to stuff eternity into my brain. But now I realize eternity is there. It has always been there. It is the finite I cannot comprehend.


[illustration] Illustrated by Stephen Moore