Chapter Seven

In which Claire catches up with her best friend

Claire’s best friend, Martha Goode, was the life of every party and the cheerleader of all. She couldn’t be called pretty but there was a vivacity to her that made head turns and people smile. She and Claire met when Claire moved to Minneapolis. They were both first-timers at a yoga class that acquaintances of each had raved about. When they walked in, the instructor was a stringy guy with Weird Al Yankovic hair tied in a ponytail wearing something that looked like a cross between a Speedo and a diaper. Claire and Martha rolled out their mats next to each other, simultaneously stifled a laugh the first time Weird Al Diaper Man farted, and promised to go out for coffee instead of yoga the next week. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Martha worked for the State Department. When Claire asked her what she did, Martha was vague.

“Would you have to kill me if you told me?”

“Something like that.”


Martha had never married, and had made peace with that. She would be gone for stretches at a time every few months, but Claire knew better than to ask where she had been or what she had been doing. Once when she was over at Martha’s, she saw her passport lying on the kitchen table. She thought about sneaking a peek, but decided her desire for friendship outweighed her curiosity, and let it be.

One of the things Claire most appreciated about Martha was that she was not a member of the congregation. Pastors need people in their lives who don’t hear their sermons, don’t get prayed over, and aren’t really interested in the sometimes Byzantine machinations of working in a church.

“I do believe in God. I’m spiritual and a little religious. I pray. I read holy scriptures. I go to church on Christmas and Easter, and temple on Yom Kippur. I meditate. But church – no thanks, sweetie. I’ll leave that in your capable hands.”

When the moving van left with everything they owned but the Civic, Claire, Emma and Martha stood in the doorway, trying to delay the inevitable. Finally Martha said, “I guess it’s time. I love you both. Travel safely. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Don’t forget who you’re representing. Make sure you have a clean handkerchief. Don’t pick up any hitchhikers. And for God’s sake, call me every night.”

Martha hugged them, got in her car, drove off, and Claire promptly dissolved in sinkhole of tears.




Two days after Claire and Alice had lunch, Claire texted Martha.

Is this a good time?

I’m in the loo. Give me five minutes.

“Oh my God, Martha, it is so good to hear your voice. Do you want to Skype?”

“No, because that way you can’t see me multitasking although of course you are my number one priority, next to my parents’ visit tomorrow that is necessitating that I actually recycle my collection of newspapers and run a dust rag over the horizontal surfaces. So how are you? How is Emma? Has St. Claire slain the dragon Bill Hill?”

“I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s see. Emma is doing fine in school and has made two friends who do not appear to be heroin addicts with Hepatitis C. One has blue hair and the other lives in a house with six cats, but I can manage that. She seems to have settled in fine; the circle she hung out with in Minneapolis dropped her last spring and she floundered a little. I think the move is a good new start, but it’s had its ups and downs.”

“Has she threatened to tell people what the M stands for?”

“Of course. But she hasn’t. Not that I know of, anyway.”

“I love your kid but I really want to know about you.”

“So… it’s going fine. The church has money and volunteers and they seem to be accepting me. I’ve found a grocery store and dry cleaner but my hair is way overdue for a cut and color.”


“Everything’s unpacked and I got rid of a couch that didn’t fit. I’ve taken care of all the change of address stuff, registered my car, got a new driver’s license. I’m fine.”

“Mm-hmm. That is very interesting,” Martha said flatly.

Claire knew exactly what her friend was getting at.

“Okay, every night after Emma goes upstairs I bawl my eyes out. I miss Minneapolis. I miss you. I miss my house. I miss my old congregation. I miss the market and the hairdresser and my morning walk. I am so sad so often. I worry that I made a mistake in moving. I worry that I’m going to fail. I have days when I am so bored with ministry and days when I don’t think I can take one more freaking committee meeting and days when I never want to retire. I fantasize about a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. I’m just keeping my head above water, not letting people and especially not letting Emma see how miserable I am.”

“That’s better.”

“What should I do?”

“How the hell would I know? All I know is this: you have moved before, with Emma; you are a loving and talented pastor. The church would not have offered you the job if they didn’t think you could do it. Finding a hairdresser and friends and a walking trail is easy. Figuring out who you are in the midst of everything around you being new is the hard part. But you have to do it. And accepting and loving Sad Claire is a part of it.”

“Why don’t you move here? Leave the State Department. I’d hire you in a second.”

“As if. Now how is the man scene there?”



That night, for the first time in a long time, Claire did not cry herself to sleep. She sat in the chair by the window, and looked out on the street for a long time. She thought about Emma’s dad, just for a minute. She thought about Emma, who brought a new depth of love to her heart, and vowed to be a little easier on her, remembering what she was like when she was fifteen. She thought about the weird dream she’d had after lunch with Alice. All of a sudden it hit her: they needed a dog.



On Saturday Emma woke up at an early 11:00.

“Morning, sweetheart. Can I make you some breakfast?”

“How about I make some scones instead?”

“Twist my arm.”

As they sat at the table eating scones, Claire opened the paper to the want ads.

“What are looking for?”

“I’ve decided we need a dog.”

“Really? Oh my gosh, that would be so great. I would totally take care of him, take him for walks and give him baths and trim his toenails and everything. Oh, Mom, thank you! Can we get one today?”

“Let’s look at the ads.”

That evening Rex Maximus came to live with Claire and Emma. He was the runt of a litter produced by a Yorkshire Terrier and a Poodle. He was, Claire and Emma decided, the cutest thing either of him had ever seen. Big brown eyes, brown with a few white and gray markings, ears meant for a larger dog, and sharp puppy toenails. He peed in the house just twice, and Claire left Emma alone with Rex while she ran to the store for puppy pee pads.

It was movie night, and after they ate their pizza and began “The Princess Bride” for the thousandth time, little Rex stood on Emma’s lap, turned three times, and curled up till the movie ended.

“Can he sleep in my room? Please, please, please?”

“Sure honey. Now go upstairs. I have to get some sleep before tomorrow.”

“Love you, Mom.”

“I love you too.”

Neel family 13-126