Sunday, June 29, 2008

White Board Heat

Hear the story read by author Douglas Eboch

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. It’s a quiet little church…or so it seemed until she walked into his office one drizzly gray Monday morning. She looked like trouble with her white-gold curls and her floral print dress. “We’ve got a problem,” she said, confirming his fears. She was Tammy Billings, church secretary, and she was about to drop a family size can of worms in his lap. Who was he? O’Donnell. Pastor O’Donnell.

“The white board in the choir room is missing,” Tammy told him. “And we need it for the Finance Committee meeting tonight.”

O’Donnell supposed the white board could have miraculously grown legs and decided to relocate to nicer digs on its own. Only problem was, O’Donnell didn’t believe in miracles. Okay, actually he did, but not when it came to ambulatory furniture. No, he was fairly certain this inanimate object had flesh and blood help vacating its premises.

The solitaire program on O’Donnell’s computer would have to wait. He had a more dangerous game to play.

O’Donnell’s first call was to the choir director, Shane Reed. The kid had a voice like an angel but that didn’t mean there was a halo over his head. O’Donnell wanted to see what kind of song he’d sing.

“The white board was there after the service yesterday,” Shane told him.

“Was the door locked when you left?” O’Donnell asked.

“No,” Shane said. “Walter’s stuff was in there. He said he had a few chores to take care of and he’d lock up after he was done.”

Walter was Walter Tibble, the church organist. During the week, he made his nut by teaching piano to squirrelly kids. O’Donnell reached him at home where one of the animals was murdering a long dead composer in the background. That particular tune was not music to O’Donnell’s ears.

Walter said he couldn’t remember if the white board was still in the choir room when he locked the door. “Did you see anyone unusual at the church when you left?” O’Donnell asked.

“The only people I saw were the women’s group. They were having their monthly tea.”

A few members of the women’s group definitely qualified as unusual. O’Donnell also suspected he knew what Walter’s “chores” were.

“What kind of cookies did they serve,” O’Donnell asked.

“Chocolate chip and peanut butter,” Walter said without thinking. Suspicions confirmed.

Tammy was a member of the women’s group and would have remembered if they borrowed the white board for their meeting. He asked her who else attended. As she went down the list, one name jumped out at him like a cat in a horror movie: Jill Boyer.

“Were her girls with her,” O’Donnell asked.

“No. I think Kevin was watching them downstairs,” Tammy said.

Jill and her husband Kevin had two little girls, Susie, age two and Mary, age four. Mary and O’Donnell went way back. At least as far back as you could go with a four-year-old. She had the face of a cherub and the personality of a sociopathic anarchist. They say good things come in small packages. Mary was proof that chaos comes in a pretty small package as well.

O’Donnell placed a call to Kevin. Kevin told him that he let Mary and Susie play in their Sunday school classroom during the Women’s Group meeting.

“Were you watching them the whole time,” O’Donnell asked?

“Of course,” Kevin said.

It had been quite a while since O’Donnell took a tumble from a truck of turnips. “Are you sure,” he pressed.

Kevin cracked like a glass trampoline. “Well, I was in the room right across the hall. There was a baseball game on the radio and the girls were being really loud. They didn’t break anything too valuable, did they?”

“Not that we’ve discovered yet,” O’Donnell told him and hung up.

The classroom was just two doors down from the choir room. Even Mary’s short legs could make that journey in less time than it took a professional ball player to round four bases. O’Donnell went to investigate.

The classroom looked like a couple bombs had gone off in it. O’Donnell guessed these bombs were named Mary and Susie. They’d constructed some kind of fort in the middle of the room out of desks, chairs and blankets. Apparently, the defenses were good enough to repel anyone who had asked them to clean up after themselves.

O’Donnell grabbed one of the blankets and pulled. Just as he suspected – the central support for the construction was the choir room white board.

O’Donnell returned the white board and went back to his office. He put his feet up on his desk and poured himself a shot of herbal tea. He doubted this would be the last time he’d be cleaning up after one of Mary’s messes. But that’s just the way the sugar cookie crumbled in the mean halls of the little church. He drank his tea. Case closed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Photo Directory

by Douglas J. Eboch

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church on the corner of Wilson and Elm. Every few years they do a photo directory of all the members. A company sends a photographer to take everyone’s portraits. The photography is free, the company making their money by selling portrait packages to the participants. The whole process takes three long Saturdays.

Church secretary Tammy Billings was in charge of signing everyone up for a time slot. She met the photography people at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday with a neatly printed schedule for the day. The photographer this year was an energetic young man named Marcus. He was accompanied by a considerably less energetic young saleswoman named Kelly.

Marcus asked Tammy to pose as a stand-in on the stool while he set up his lights and backdrop. He took his job very seriously, as though he was shooting the cover of a national magazine. Kelly, on the other hand, simply set her laptop on a folding table and began playing computer solitaire. As Marcus was trying different colored gels on the backlight, he told Tammy she had lovely bone structure and asked if she’d ever been a model. Tammy giggled and reminded herself that she was a married woman.

At 9 a.m. the first subject arrived. Marcus declared himself ready to start shooting at 9:30.

Tammy liked Marcus’s spirit. She did not like the fact that he was an hour behind by 11:30 a.m. The lounge was filling up with people waiting for their turn.

The Boyer family had been scheduled at 11:00 a.m. They arrived twenty minutes late, which would have annoyed Tammy if everything weren’t already so far behind schedule. Tammy informed Kevin and Jill Boyer of the delay and asked them to take a seat.

They sat next to Henrietta Miggins, age 69, who was scheduled just ahead of them. Henrietta did not like to be kept waiting and she was not the type to keep her displeasure to herself. Approximately every five minutes Henrietta went to Tammy’s check-in table to ask about the delay.

The Boyer girls, Mary, age 4 and Susie, age 2, were not good at waiting patiently either. Mary decided to amuse herself by poking Susie in the arm. Susie did not find the game nearly as amusing. Jill separated them and begged them to sit still and not mess up their nice clothes before the picture could be taken. She also had to throw an occasional beg Kevin’s way as he fiddled with his tie.

Without a little sister within striking distance, Mary became fascinated by the fake flowers on Henrietta’s hat. She suggested Henrietta put perfume in them to make them smell pretty. Henrietta gave the girl a severe glare then went to check with Tammy on Marcus’s progress again.

Missy Moore had been there longer than any of them, but she waited patiently and cheerfully. Missy was excited to have her picture taken. She’d worn her favorite pink dress and was in the bathroom reapplying her make-up for the third time that morning when the Boyers arrived.

Missy loved kids, though she had none of her own. When she came out of the bathroom and saw Mary and Susie, she squealed with delight. “Oh don’t you two just look precious in your pretty little dresses!” she exclaimed and gave them a big hug, one wrapped in each arm. Henrietta rolled her eyes, though she was thankful for the relief from Mary’s attentions.

Marcus finished taking Walter Tibble’s portrait and said he was ready for Missy. Kelly the saleswoman salivated as Missy checked herself in the mirror one last time. She suspected this woman would order lots of pictures.

Missy beamed as Marcus complimented her rosy cheeks and cheerful smile while he posed her atop the stool. He stepped back and said, “gorgeous.” Missy blushed.

Marcus went behind the digital camera and took hold of the shutter release cord that allowed him to take a picture without jostling the camera. “Big smile,” he said. Missy smiled her biggest. And just as Marcus depressed the shutter, a naked two-year-old girl ran past.

Susie had taken advantage of a distraction caused by Mary inadvertently yanking one of the fake flowers out of Henrietta’s hat. Susie slithered out of the frilly yellow dress her mother had wedged her into that morning and made a break for the door.

Missy was so startled by the diminutive streaker that she nearly fell off the stool. “That’s okay,” Marcus said, “We’ll just take that one again.” Marcus repositioned Missy on the chair as Jill ran by in pursuit of her daughter, spilling apologies.

Marcus returned to the camera. “Got another one of those ravishing smiles in you,” he asked with a wink.

Missy grinned. Marcus pushed down on the shutter release.

And got a great picture of the backdrop falling on Missy.

Mary was standing on the other side, giggling. Jill ran up with Susie under her arm, looking mortified. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “Are you all right?”

Missy clambered out from under the backdrop. “I’m fine,” she assured Jill.

Jill turned on Mary and unleashed a tirade of anger on the rambunctious girl, saving a few choice words for her husband for not keeping closer watch. Missy stepped in before Mary started crying. “It’s okay, really!” Missy said. Then she knelt and pinched Mary’s cheek. “You’re just bored, aren’t you? This is no fun for a little girl like you. Maybe we can get you something to play with.”

“I’ve got something,” Marcus volunteered. He always brought toys with him to get his younger subjects to smile. He handed a plastic horse with a long pink tail to Mary, whose face lit up.

“Thank you,” Jill said, with as much relief as gratitude. “Come on, we have to put Susie’s dress back on.” She led the two girls away.

Marcus regarded Missy. Her precisely arranged hairdo had been completely undone by its encounter with the backdrop. “Would you like a minute to get yourself back together,” he asked.

“Oh yes, please.” Missy said.

Missy hurried off to the bathroom. Tammy suggested maybe they better go ahead and shoot the next person on the list while Missy cleaned up. “That’s me,” Henrietta said, striding over to the table.

Tammy peeked around her at the frazzled Boyer family. Mary and Susie were fighting over who got to play with the plastic horse. “Henrietta, do you think maybe we could let the Boyers go first?” she asked.

Henrietta fixed her with a steely gaze. “Who’s next on your list,” she demanded.

“You are,” Tammy sighed. Henrietta nodded triumphantly and strode over to the stool.

Marcus went to position Henrietta. “Don’t touch me,” Henrietta snapped. “You ought to show some respect for a lady, young man.”

“Okay,” Marcus said slowly. “Just put your hand in your lap then. And tilt your chin up.” Henrietta complied. “Now smile,” Marcus said.

Henrietta did not smile.

“Smile,” Marcus repeated louder.

“I’m not deaf,” Henrietta said. “I just prefer not to grin like a fool in my picture.”

“Don’t you want to look happy in your directory?”

“I’d rather look dignified.”

Marcus turned on the charm. “Come on, I bet you have a really pretty smile.”

“Mighty fresh, aren’t you,” Henrietta responded.

Marcus decided to try a joke. “What did the blue jay say to the robin,” he asked.

“I hate people who waste time telling stupid jokes?”

Marcus sighed. He was about to give up and take the picture when suddenly the plastic horse flew in and hit him in the groin. Marcus grunted and fell to his knees. Tears welled up in his eyes.
He looked at Henrietta who appeared as startled as he was. Then she bursts out laughing. Instinctively, Marcus pushed the plunger on the shutter release.

When the camera clicked, Henrietta stopped laughing. “Did you just take my picture?” she asked.

“Yep,” he said through clenched teeth. He checked the results on his laptop screen. Henrietta looked joyful and free spirited. Anyone who knew her would claim the photo didn’t capture her true nature at all.

“It’s great,” Marcus said. “Next!”

“Wait, wait,” Henrietta demanded, but it was too late. The Boyer family appeared and the two girls engaged in a game of tag around her. Kelly took Henrietta’s arm and led her away. When Henrietta saw the portrait, she was horrified.

“Would you like to order any photos,” Kelly asked.

“Certainly not,” Henrietta sniffed and walked out.

When the directory came out two months later, it contained the first picture of Henrietta smiling in church directory history.

(c) 2008 Douglas J. Eboch

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Work Party

by Douglas J. Eboch

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. A recent rain storm had done extensive damage to the basement classroom used by the “Guppies,” the pre-school Sunday school class, and the hall outside. So the church held a work party one Saturday to replaces some damaged dry wall, repaint and re-carpet the affected areas. Using volunteer labor from the congregation for such tasks helped the church save money. Nobody ever thought to consider the cost in emotional stress until after the events were over.

The work party had been listed in the bulletin and mentioned in the announcements during the three previous services. Pastor Henry O’Donnell had also reminded everyone he talked to during coffee hour the week before. Yet he was still not surprised when he showed up Saturday morning to discover only Ralph Billings, his wife Tammy, and Del Winslow in the lounge.

“Just us?” Del asked.

“Looks like it,” Ralph said.

“Are you helping,” Henry asked Tammy.

“Oh no,” said Tammy, who was the church secretary. “I’ve got work to do in the office.”

The three men started downstairs when a cheery, “Good morning” stopped them. Missy Moore strode into the room wearing brand new blue overalls, a pink tool belt, and a broad smile. “Is this where we’re meeting for the work party?” she asked.

The men looked at each other. They weren’t quite sure what to make of this development. “I brought donuts,” Missy added, holding up a box.

The men grinned. “This is the place,” Henry told her.

After fortifying themselves with a donut each, the first thing they did was remove all the furnishings and toys from the classroom. They moved everything upstairs into the lounge, carrying supplies and tools down on the trips back. They set up a staging area in a classroom across the hall from the Guppies’ damaged classroom.

The next task was to tear out the old, water damaged carpet. Ralph cut the carpet into four strips with a carpet knife. The floor under the carpet was cement so it had been glued down. Whoever did it had used liberal amounts of glue and hadn’t limited the adhesive to the edges of the room. Each of them took a strip and began peeling it back.

When Henry had about three quarters of his carpet strip free, he hit a particularly stubborn patch of glue in the middle of the floor. He adjusted his grip on the loose carpet and leaned back. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then, the carpet jerked up with a tearing sound - and Henry lost his balance. He fell back and his elbow went through the wall behind him.

“Are you all right, Pastor?” Ralph asked.

“Uh huh,” Henry said, yanking his elbow out of the wall.

“Good thing we’re doing some drywalling today,” Ralph said. “We’ll add that spot to the list.”

Perhaps because of this mishap, Ralph suggested that he and Del hang the drywall in the classroom while Henry started painting the hall. Henry might have felt insulted but the truth was he knew he wasn’t particularly handy. Painting seemed like something he could handle.

“What should I do?” Missy asked.

“Well,” Ralph said, “the legs of the furniture upstairs need to be cleaned off. Maybe you could start on that.”

Missy seemed a little disappointed, but headed upstairs to work on the furniture while Roger and Del began replacing the drywall under the window where water had leaked in. Henry, meanwhile, prepared to paint the hall.

Karen Winslow, the Sunday school teacher, had suggested painting the walls yellow and the baseboard and trim white to brighten up the classroom areas. Everyone agreed it was a good idea at the time. But Henry noted that Karen hadn’t shown up to execute her wonderful plan. It meant he couldn’t just paint over the water damage on the lower few inches of the previously white walls. He was going to have to paint the whole thing.

He was using a roller to apply yellow paint on the first section of the wall when Del came out of the classroom to get some more drywall nails. “What are you doing?” Del asked. “You should paint the baseboards and trim before you paint the walls. That way it doesn’t matter if you slop over onto the walls because you can just paint over it.”

“Oh. Okay,” Henry said. He put the roller down and got out the white paint and a brush. Del nodded his approval and returned to the drywalling.

Henry bent over to begin painting the baseboard and heard a ripping sound. He reached back and discovered his old work jeans had split in a most embarrassing spot. He was not having a good day. He found a carpenter’s apron among the tools and tied it backwards around his waist. Then his eyes fell on the donuts. He decided he could use another to lift his spirits.

While Henry enjoyed a jelly filled pastry, Missy came downstairs to check on the boys. When she entered the hall, she was shocked to see that Henry had stopped painting the wall before covering a complete section and hadn’t smoothed the edges of the paint or the drips. She grabbed a brush and did it herself so there would be no bumps or seams in the finished paint job. Then she noticed nobody had removed the switch plates or socket plates. Fortunately, she had a screwdriver in her tool belt and took care of that detail in no time.

By the time Henry came out licking jelly from his fingers, she had returned to the lounge. He didn’t even notice what she’d done as he returned to his work on the baseboards.

Then Ralph came out to get drywall tape. “What are you doing?” He asked. “You should paint the walls before the trim.”

“Del told me to do it this way,” Henry said.

“Del doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Ralph snorted. “Paint rollers create a fine spray. It’ll spot your trim if you do it last.”

“Oh. Okay,” Henry said. He put down the brush and returned to the roller.

About twenty minutes later Del came out. “What are you doing,” he started to say.

“Just let me do it my way,” Henry snapped.

Finally, Henry finished painting the walls. He figured he’d earned another donut and selected one covered in powdered sugar. Refortified, he returned to the hall licking powdered sugar from his fingers and began painting the trim.

Upstairs, Tammy was meeting a young couple who was considering getting married in the church. She took them to see the sanctuary, then asked if they’d like to meet the pastor. “He’s downstairs working on some remodeling,” she told them.

In fact, Henry had just finished with the hallway trim. He stepped back to admire his handiwork.
Unfortunately, he stepped right into the roller pan and his feet shot out from under him in the slippery paint. He fell hard on his rear, splitting his pants even more. The brush flew out of his hand, bounced off the wall, and hit him square in the face leaving him with a mouthful of paint.

It was the last straw. He spit out the paint and let loose with a string of profanity. He stopped mid-word when he looked to his left.

Standing at the bottom of the stairs were Tammy and the young engaged couple who appeared quite shocked at his monologue. O’Donnell opened his mouth but found he didn’t know what to say…which was uncommon for him.

Tammy had no such problem. “This is our janitor,” she said, gesturing at Henry. “I don’t see the pastor anywhere. Do you know where he is?”

Henry shrugged.

“Oh well, you’ll just have to meet him another time,” Tammy told the couple and guided them back toward the stairs. “Let me show you the bride’s room.”

Henry went to get cleaned up, then treated himself to a chocolate covered donut to wash the paint taste out of his mouth. He was just coming out licking chocolate frosting from his fingers when Del and Ralph emerged from the classroom.

“This man knows nothing about hanging drywall,” Del said.

“Me? I don’t know where you got your crazy ideas,” Ralph responded.

“Well, it’s done anyway. We were going to sneak out for a beer before we paint the classroom. Wanna join us, Pastor?”

Henry nodded. A beer sounded pretty good. They headed upstairs where Missy was finishing up with the furnishings.

“We’re going for a beer,” Del told her. “Do you want to come?”

“I don’t care for beer,” she responded. “But Tammy and I are going to have tea in a little bit. You go on and I’ll finish up here.”

The men headed out. Missy went downstairs to have a donut. She was surprised to find the box nearly empty. She also noticed that Henry had missed a few spots with his roller.. She grabbed it and smoothed over the paint job. Then she touched up some areas where he’d gone a little off course with his trim brush. Her father had been a contractor and she knew all about painting and drywall. She was a little disappointed her skills hadn’t been needed today.

The men returned after Missy and Tammy had left for tea. They stopped in the hallway and admired Henry’s work.

“Wow,” Ralph said. “You really did a good job.”

“Thank you,” Henry beamed.

Then they went to paint the classroom. Though first Ralph and Del had to argue for half an hour over whether to start with the walls or the trim.

(For Norma. Feel better soon.)