In which Claire tells a secret
“Claire?” Trystene buzzed from the outer office. “Alice Weston is here.”
“Thanks, Trystene. Have her come on in.”
“Good morning, Alice. How are you?”
“Oh, dear, I’m fine, but my heart is heavy every time I think about Glad and Bill. How are they?”
“They’re ok. I’m sure you know they’ve put Bill in hospice care, but they’re facing in it with the grace and humor and honesty they always face things with. It breaks my heart and uplifts it at the same time, if you know what I mean.”
“I know. I know.”
They sat for a few moments in silence, and reached for tissues at the same time. Alice laughed, and Claire smiled.
“I suppose we should get on with it then. What was it you wanted to talk with me about?”
“I’ve decided to tell the congregation about the saints.” Another silence followed, this one without tears, laughter, or tissues. Alice set her lips firmly together, and tilted her head in a way that reminded Claire of one of Rex’s favorite moves. “Alice? Any response?”
“That was a fairly definitive statement, dear. I’m not sure I could say anything that would change your mind.”
“I have thought about it quite a bit, Alice, and yes, my mind is made up, which is not to say I’m not interested in your opinion, reaction, concern, or advice. I know this will change things for the Saints. I also believe you all have been working in the dark for too long. It’s time to let your light shine, as the saying goes. It’s time to inspire others to join in your work. And it’s time to stop lying.
“You should probably know that Emma and Trystene know about the Saints. I’ve told Martha about my decision to tell the congregation, so Toledo probably knows too.”
Alice sat there, head still tilted, lips still pursed. Claire waited. And then, without a word, Alice got up and left.
That went well, Claire thought. Not. She looked at her watch, and realized it was time to go visit Gladys and Bill. No time like the present, she thought.
When Claire arrived at Bill’s room, she gave Gladys a hug and squeezed Bill’s hand. Gladys had pulled up a chair for her on the other side of the bed and Claire sat down.
“How are things today?” she asked.
Things were okay; Bill was growing mighty tired of jello and was so grateful for Emma’s brownies that he ate two right away. “Tell that daughter of yours she can run away to us any time,” he said. Claire winced a little, but was grateful for the opening.
“So there’s something I want to talk with you about that has nothing to do with the Hills or cancer or hospice, but if you’re not up for it, it’s nothing that can’t wait.”
“Oh Claire, we would be grateful for any diversion! Staring at these walls is making us both a bit crazy, and there’s only so much Jeopardy and CNN we can watch,” Gladys said.
“Well, this should be a pretty good diversion, so I’d like to share a story with you, and then hear any advice you have to offer.”
She started. She started with Emma and the driver’s license, and Emma’s dad. She talked about Martha, her best friend, and Martha’s pointed comment about Claire’s hypocrisy. And then she told them about the Saints, about Alice and the Prune Drop Cookies and the messed-up bulletins, and Bill Carr, and the tunnels, and the secret room, and Toledo and Frank and Sandy and the whole lot.
As Claire went on, Bill and Gladys took hands, and then began to smile. By the time Claire finished, both were grinning broadly.
“I have to say that is not the response I was expecting.”
Bill and Gladys laughed, and Claire was oddly grateful that her story had inspired some levity for the two of them, given all that they were facing.
“Claire, I’m a pretty cut-and-dried kinda guy, as you know. We once had a business retreat where we all took the Myers-Briggs test, and I came out an ESTJ. I like people and I like facts and data. You could say that I don’t have much of an intuitive side.”
Gladys chimed in. “You could say he has no intuitive side.”
“Fair enough. Anyway, as I said, I’m not much of one for hunches or weird feelings, but I’ve always had a weird feeling about St. Rahab’s. I mean I love the place; I love the place more than I can say and in a lot of ways it has been the center of our lives. But it always felt like something was just a little off, like it was a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing.
“And maybe it’s the chemo or maybe it’s being closer to death than I’d like to be, but yesterday Glad and I were talking about the church and the people there we love, and the community, and that led to coffee hour which led to Alice’s goddamn Prune Drop Cookies and I said, I bet she hates those cookies as much as the rest of us. I bet there’s some hidden meaning to them, like they’re the Book of Revelation for St. Rahab’s, a code, a symbol. I was damn close, wasn’t I?”
Claire didn’t know what to say. Finally she smiled and shook her head and said, “You two are amazing, you know that? So here is my dilemma, and I would appreciate any advice you’d like to offer. I think I need to tell the congregation about this work that is being done secretly in their midst. I think that for all the good the saints have done, the deceit needed to accomplish the work is, well, it’s wrong. It undoes some of the good somehow.
“Plus I think the work that they are doing is work we should all be doing if we’re going to say we follow Jesus. We might not have the international connections they have, but we should all be bringing love and joy and hope to the world and to our community every day. Am I wrong to want to bring them into the light? Will it ruin them – are Martha and Alice right? I know you have a lot on your plates right now, but I value your collective wisdom so much.”
Bill looked thoughtful, and Gladys watched him. Finally he spoke. “Oh, Claire, Claire. I wish so much that I would be around long enough to see all of this play out. But the fact is – and you know how much I like facts – I really don’t have that much time. If I’m still alive at Easter that will be miraculous. I’m having a good day today, but most days are hard and a struggle. So there’s a part of me that thinks I should, for once, keep my big mouth shut. If I give you advice that you follow, and I’m not here to stand by you…. I trust you, Claire.
“I am, though, very interested in what my brilliant wife has to say.”
Claire turned to Gladys, who was softly crying. Bill squeezed her hand. Claire was about to say something, when Gladys cleared her throat and began.
“Claire, I – I won’t apologize for crying. Bill is the love of my life and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when he’s gone. But I don’t want him – you, darling – to suffer and this cancer is not going away. And like Bill, I trust you implicitly, if only because you have been so honest with us about your struggles and because you have been present to us in the midst of all of this.
“I know that if I’m going to give you advice, then I need to stand by you if you take it. So here’s what I would say. Tell the truth. Tell the truth about the Saints, about the good they do. Tell the truth and bring them into the light. Didn’t Jesus say something about not hiding our light under a bushel?
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in this horror of cancer, it’s this: we have to be honest with the people we love. Honest about how we love them, and how they make us crazy or disappoint us or encourage us or make us proud. We have to be honest about death and dying. We have to be honest about the way that faith both holds us up and sometimes seems like such a lie when things go south.
“Bear the truth, Claire. You’ve seen in your own life what happens when you hide the truth. I suspect you and Emma still have some mending to do, and I will be there, and my house will be there, if you ever need us. Bear the truth in your home and in the church. I’ll take truth over a lie any day. So that’s my two cents’ worth.”
Tears welled up in Claire’s eyes, in part because of Gladys’ words and in part because of the way Bill beamed at his wife. She smiled at them, and reminded herself that if she every married again, she would have a partnership like the Hills’.
“I’ve been here long enough and have used up enough of your energy. Thank you both, so very much. Bill, I’ll let you know what happens as long as I can. You both know I’m just a phone call away. May I say a prayer before I go?”
And so she prayed, and so she left.