In which Claire calls on the Hills
As Claire pulled up to Bill and Gladys’ house, she remembered how much she loved that space. If I were sick, I would want to recover here, she thought.
“Claire! Thank you so much for coming over. Come on in.”
“Thanks, Gladys. I appreciate the invitation.”
“Not at all. Between us, I think Bill has been wanting to talk with you but he wasn’t sure how to make the first move. This is perfect.”
Claire went in, and found Bill sitting in a beautiful Stickley rocker in the front room.
“Hi, Bill. It’s good to see you.” That wasn’t exactly true; Claire was glad to see Bill but he looked a bit worse for the chemo treatments he was undergoing.
“Claire, you’re my favorite liar. Have a seat. Glad? You joining us?”
“Do you want me to?”
“There are no secrets between us.”
And so they talked. They talked about Meri and Junie. They talked about the house. They talked about Gladys and Emma’s baking adventures. They talked about St. Rahab’s things, funny stories, sad stories, good pastors, bad pastors, crises and celebrations. And after a good hour, they started talking about Bill’s cancer.
“As you know, Claire, the lung cancer I have is one of the bad ones. It moves fast and it’s hard to treat. I’m doing the chemo because I’m not ready to give up, but I know the odds aren’t good. Glad and I are trying to make sense of what it might mean if this is my last six months. We’ve told the girls, of course – no sense in keeping it from them. We will do what we can, but there will be no heroics here. I have had an amazing life, and my faith is stronger than ever.”
To her embarrassment, Claire found herself choking up. Bill was such a decent man, and as she had discovered, his bark was much worse than his bite. The thought of losing that decency, and his kind truthfulness, was a bit much.
“Bill. Oh, Bill, I am so sorry you have this cancer but I have to tell you, the way you’re dealing with this is inspiring.”
“I just don’t believe we make the world a better place when we hide the truth about things, especially about the hard things. When I was first diagnosed, Glad and I talked about not telling the girls right away, and keeping it from our friends at church, but that just didn’t feel right. I can’t undo this cancer, and you can’t undo this cancer. I’m going to feel worse before I feel better, if I ever do feel better. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make some good come out of this.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Stop by and visit – but for God’s sake, not every week. My girls know I hate hovering. Keep me in your prayers. Bring Emma by now and then for Glad. Hell, for me too. That’s a great kid you’ve got there.”
By the time Claire left the Hills, she knew she was done for the day. “Trystene? It’s Claire. Say, I’m going to call it a day, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, Pastor Claire. How was Bill Hill?”
“He’s doing just fine.”
“If anyone can beat cancer, Bill Hill can. That man is determined.”
“You’re sweet to think of him, Trystene. Have a good night.”
“You too. Bye.”
Claire resisted the temptation to take a nap, knowing that would mess up the good night’s sleep she was hoping to have. She took Rex for a walk instead, and when they got home, she saw she had a voice mail.
“Claire, dear, it’s Alice. I think you and I should probably sit down and have a good chat. I’ll invite Bill Carr, too. Maybe we could do lunch at the Steel Horse Diner – get Sandy to join in the conversation. I’m hoping you’re available Wednesday. Give me a call, dear, and let’s get something on the calendar. We have a lot to talk about.”
Now she owed both Martha and Alice a call. Who was next –Toledo? Would Frank the copier repairman request an audience with her?
True to her word, Claire made dinner that night, an inelegant scrambled eggs with toast and jelly. As she did the dishes after dinner, she started thinking about her conversation with Bill and Gladys. She’d never been very good at first impressions, and she was glad that Bill Hill proved to be a very different sort of man than the one she’d first met. He was not the first of her parishioners to face cancer; she’d lost count of how many of her people had lost their hair and gotten the sores. Some lived. Some didn’t. Some faced their illness with courage and some went any way but gently into that good night.
She thought about the integrity of Bill and Gladys’ marriage, and they way they cared for each other and had courage together. I’d like that someday, Claire thought. If I ever marry again, it will be for that. Otherwise I’d rather be alone.
She stood at the sink, her hands deep in soapy water, and thought about the honesty with which Bill dealt with his lung cancer. And then it hit her. Of all the virtues that Alice and Bill Carr and their merry band of spies extolled, honesty was not one of them. In fact, their entire operation was founded on one big deceit.
She dried her hands and called Alice.
“Hi, Alice, it’s Claire. I got your message and yes, we should definitely talk. I’m not available for lunch on Wednesday. Could you come by the office on Thursday afternoon? 1:30? I will tell Bill Carr myself. Thanks. I’ll see you then.”
The knots in her shoulders loosened just a tiny bit more.