The church council was made up of three men and two women. They sat around a parish hall table in silence with the heavy humidity of a late June evening blanketing them. They’d just finished an hour of heated dispute over whether to use their remaining fiscal year capital expense funds for parking lot repairs or a new organ. Both were badly needed, so much so that the pastor excused himself to avoid influencing their decision. The parking lot was littered with cracks and potholes; an usher damaged his front axle driving into one the previous Sunday. And the organ was so old that several keys were stuck in place and others only made a weak blaring sound. With the factory town in decline, the congregation dwindled to half of what it was a decade before. Tithing was significantly decreased and funding was scarce.
One of the women on the council was the church’s organist, who’d hammered away in an escalating fashion for her predictable preference. Her husband sat next to her glaring and muttering his strong agreement. The portly owner of a grocery store and a school teacher wearing a floral print dress had argued vociferously for the parking lot repairs. An old man named Ned, tall and thin, who’d been coming to the church all his life and had retired as a librarian a decade before, hadn’t said a word. The discussion had risen to the point of shouting and banging on the table. Now, they all sat without speaking, mostly fuming, under the white glare of a neon ceiling light as a stand-up fan in the corner moved back and forth blowing hot air across them. Arms were crossed, jaws were clenched, scowls hung on faces.
Several more moments of silence passed before Ned reached into his satchel on the floor and took out a green apple, a handkerchief, and a pen knife. He laid the handkerchief open on the table in front of him, smoothed it, set the apple in its center, and unfolded the pen knife. His movements were unhurried, deliberate. Gradually, grudgingly, eyes turned his way. Ned’s own eyes behind his rimless spectacles were hooded and downturned at the outside edges, gentle, kind. The others watched him slice the apple in half, then quarter it. Next, he made adjoining diagonal cuts in each section and removed the cores. He set those away in a neat stack on the edge of the handkerchief and used another portion of the handkerchief to wipe the blade of the pen knife before folding it closed and putting it back in his satchel. Then he looked slowly from one face to another before pushing a section of apple in front of each of them. The fan whirred away; except for an occasional car passing in the street, it was the only sound in the room.
Ned licked the apple’s juice from his fingertips and said, “Yum.”
The grocer licked his own lips, then took the first bite from his section. The organist’s husband followed next. Ned had returned the balled-up apple cores in his handkerchief to his satchel before the two women followed suit. He let them chew away for a moment before he said, “Now, how about if we start over on this? See if we can find some common ground.”
The grocer took another bite of apple and grunted. The organist did the same, but in a milder tone. The teacher shrugged. The organist’s husband made short nod.
Ned folded his hands in front of him on the table. He looked at each of them in turn, then said, “Maybe fix the worst potholes. Try another repair on the organ.”
No one spoke. They continued chewing their apples, stealing glances at one another as a siren wound off across town. Ned waited for them to all finish eating before saying, “What do you say?”
The grocer looked at the teacher, who raised an eyebrow and sighed. The organist pursed her lips, then cocked her head and showed her palms. When her husband saw a tiny smile crease her lips, his own did the same. The ceiling light flickered and the fan wobbled on its stand. Its breeze was tepid, but when it rustled their hair on its pass, it gave them each a moment of unacknowledged relief.
William Cass has had over 190 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as December, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a couple of Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.
Copyright © 2019 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.