Chapter Four

Iris and Lloyd

Iris took Lloyd Sutton’s creative writing class as an undergraduate English major.  She had read all of his books, and could hardly contain herself when he asked to see her after class. It was the end of the fall semester, and she had done well in the course.  Dr. Sutton had plans for a new historical fiction novel and needed an assistant. His wife had usually assisted with his writing, but since their nasty divorce, he had taken a break from writing and people altogether.  He had become impressed with the nineteen year old who sat at the front of his noon class.  She was always early, always present, and always attentive.  He offered her a job working as his assistant over the Christmas break, and she readily accepted until he explained she would live in his home for the duration of the break.  Iris was uncomfortable at the news, but when he explained that Ruth, his middle aged housekeeper also lived there, she reluctantly agreed.

What was intended to be a holiday job of three weeks turned out to last for ten years– the rest of Lloyd’s life.  Iris became Lloyd’s research assistant, traveling companion, friend, dog-walker, and anything the eccentric little man needed. He was like a father or uncle to her.  When he isolated himself to write, she was the only person he allowed to enter his solitary confinement.

Iris thought solitary confinement was harsh phrasing for a man who loved writing so much.  Lloyd, however, informed Iris that he hated writing as much as he loved it, that often words were both his ailment and his antidote.  Like the wheelchair in which he sat, Lloyd’s writing got him where he wanted to be, even in his crippled state.  His confinement helped him stay focused on the story and its characters.  Brimming with shelves and shelves of books, solitary confinement was Lloyd’s playground.   It was a room that looked like fall year round, with piles of books from the floor to the arm of his overstuffed leather chair, where he read his chosen classics like, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, The Sun Also Rises, and Sherlock Holmes.  The pile near the burnt orange upholstered chair consisted of The Bluest Eye, Paradise Lost, and The Three Musketeers.  When he read, Lloyd was always in one of the chairs.  Often the piles of books would spill onto the floor when he was in a reading frenzy.  They obstructed Lloyd’s navigation; at these times Iris was allowed to come in and clear a path for Lloyd to move around and make his way, in his wheelchair, to the sleek Macbook Pro he liked to have positioned smack dab in the middle of the huge curved mahogany desk.  The desk was as intimidating as it was inviting, with its curves and bends.  Lloyd had it made special; now, Iris owned it–this gift from Lloyd that kept on giving even after he died.  She situated the desk across from the fireplace in grandma Maggs’, no her–Iris’ study–just the way Lloyd had arranged it in his own study.

Other times, Iris would enter Lloyd’s solitary confinement to bring him food, on a plain silver tray.  He didn’t ask for much:  a turkey sandwich, dry, with water; almond butter on toast; Sun Chips.  It was easy to see how others would think she was his glorified maid, or even an overpaid amanuensis; but Iris knew she was more than that to Lloyd.  She had been his confidant, his muse, and always his second set of eyes.  It was rumored that the unlikely pair—frail, temperamental writer confined to a wheelchair and a tall, curvy young student—were having an affair. Some even called Iris his “pet” or “Girl Friday.” Once, she had mentioned the gossip to Lloyd, and he smiled and said, “ Let them talk. They are simpletons who have never had anyone of any importance show any interest in them. Besides you do not work for free. You are invaluable to me, and I have compensated you well, but they need not know it. They are envious. That is all.”

Lloyd had compensated Iris well. The work she did on campus was paid for through the school.  For the work she did on the weekends and breaks, she was paid handsomely. After the two collaborated for a year, Lloyd began to pay her tuition and expenses. He called it a scholarship and never spoke of it again.

While Iris worked for Lloyd, he managed to write several books and sell the rights of three of them to movie producers.  Iris, Ruth, and Manny—the driver—were Lloyd’s family.  Upon his death, Lloyd left his vacation home in Big Sur, Shakespeare (his Scottish terrier),  and a sizeable nest egg to Ruth and Manny who had fallen in love during their employ. Lloyd had been an only child, his parents were deceased, and his failed marriage yielded no children.  He willed the rest of his estate to Iris.

The death of Lloyd Sutton—the famous mystery writer—made national news.  Ruth and Manny wed quietly and slipped off to start their lives together in Big Sur. Meanwhile, the tabloid reporters had a field day with Iris—calling her a gold digger, a child bride, and even a murder suspect.  She would have left San Francisco, but she had nowhere else to go.  She was just like Lloyd. That’s why Lloyd took care of her. He had been a “college orphan” as he had put it.  Iris’ parents had divorced when she was a baby. Her mother was dead, and her father had moved to Italy with a girlfriend. The only family Iris had was her father’s mother—Maggie Murphy– who lived in Sweet Fields, Georgia.

Iris located her grandmother and made a trip to Sweet Fields to visit her.  Iris returned to San Francisco to take care of some business transactions and had planned a longer stay with her grandmother, but Maggie died before Iris could return.  Maggie, having fallen in love with the granddaughter she hadn’t seen since the girl was five, changed her will to include Iris as the sole beneficiary—not St. Andrew as she had originally intended.

“So,” Iris sighed. “Here I am with no family, no friends, and more money and stuff than I know what to do with.”

“That explains why there are so many whispers about you.” Locke said gesturing to the server for another mimosa. “The pastor and the finance committee knew of Maggie’s initial will, so you can imagine their surprise when they learned of the new one leaving YOU everything.”

“I had no idea!” Iris gasped. “Should I give the church the money?”

“NO! Absolutely not! Not yet anyway. Just calm down and sit tight. You can help St. Andrew alright, but the timing has to be perfect. We have a number of things to do, you and I.” Locke said in a loud whispered. “The first of which is getting rid of that Jackie Black.”

“Get rid of? What do you mean?” Iris asked eyeing the plate of croissants the server had placed in the center of the table.

“There’s something about that woman that disturbs me.  She has the demeanor of some of the headhunters I’ve encountered on my travels.  She’s on a mission.”  Locke shivered, “She’s hunting for heads, and she has one candidate in her sights.”

“You mean a fortune hunter?”

“I know what I said. She’s a headhunter. She’s looking for a husband. Not just any man will do. She’s looking for a pastor, and right now, our own reverend is in her crosshairs.” Iris opened her mouth and stared at Locke. “And don’t ask me how I know. I just do. Pay special attention to her.”

The pair left the café and rode in silence for a while through Sweet Fields.

“Why didn’t you eat a croissant? You wanted to.” Locke asked without looking at Iris.

“I try to limit my bread. I tend to have high glucose levels, and eating bread elevates it.”

“Ah. I see. I would say you need some meat on your bones,” Locke paused, “but I don’t eat much meat myself.  Anyway you have plenty of meat on your bones. Deacon Hughes noticed it. Especially the meat on your backside.”

“Who? Noticed what?” Iris asked shocked.

“Deacon Hughes. He’s the tallest man on the deacon’s board.  He’s tall just like his daddy. His father, Big Hughes, was a good-looking tom cat in his day, but he married Edie who’s almost as tall as him. William is their son; he is good looking like his father and clumsy like his mother.  When you were at the front of the church, he couldn’t take his eyes off you. He studied you from head to toe. He’ll come ‘round to your house this week, I suspect. Let me know when he does and what excuse he gives to call on you. You have to be careful of those long-legged Hughes men.”

Iris said nothing.  She had noticed the man Belle was talking about. She had made a mental note of how handsome he was, but she had missed the man’s inspection of her.  She hoped Locke was wrong about him coming to visit. She wasn’t ready for romance.  When Locke slowed to a stop in front of Maggie Murphy’s former legendary Bed & Breakfast, Iris released her seat belt and reached for the door handle.

“Iris, we need to go to bible study on Wednesday night early. I need you to help me get rid of this Jackie Black creature. Now, will you be able to focus or are you already over the moon about William Hughes?”

“I’m not interested in William Hughes.” Iris snapped.

“Good. But he’s going to come sniffing around, as he is surely interested in you…or your money. Call me with any new developments. Especially if members of St. Andrew pay you a visit. Right now, you’re a pretty pink piggy bank; the wrong people will be coming to smash you to bits and take what’s inside. The genuine people, though, won’t utter a word—because they won’t know you from the girl at the Piggly Wiggly.

“Thanks, Locke. For everything.”

“No, Iris. Thank you. Tetta!”

Later that day, Iris answered a ringing doorbell and found Jackie Black standing on her porch.


Chapter Three

Shoes cont..

Genevieve waited for them on the other side of the green velvet curtains in a cozy parlor warmly decorated in tapestries and lace.  She brought iced tea, sherry and mimosas in crystal pitchers with crystal glasses on a silver serving tray.  She gestured for them to sit in the upholstered armchairs and gathered their handbags—Locke’s brown MZ Wallace satchel and Iris’ black Kate Spade crossbody—and hung them carefully on a nearby coat rack. While the ladies sipped their sweet tea, Genevieve brought out boxes of shoes and placed them on a nearby table. She brought Locke a pair of exquisite handmade shandals first. Then, she brought Iris a pair of nude Louboutin pointed toe slingbacks. When Iris smiled and sighed, Genevieve smiled and nodded.

“Oh! These are beautiful!” Iris giggled. “Did you tell her what I like?”

“No. That’s Genevieve’s power of deduction. She’s mute, you know. But she can read a woman’s feet like a book. The more she gets to know you, the more she will amaze you by discerning your likes, dislikes, and what will look and feel good on you. ” Locke said nodding her approval to Genevieve.

The forty-year-old French woman with waist length hair gathered the boxes and set them aside. She refilled Iris’ glasses with sweet tea, poured Locke a fresh glass of sherry, and disappeared behind the curtain again.

“You can only shop with Genevieve by appointment.  I’ve been knowing her and Jean Paul for years.”  Locke sniffed awkwardly.  “My Clive was Genevieve and Jean Paul’s investors, you could say.”

Genevieve returned with two smaller boxes. Sandals. She opened the box for Locke and slipped the leather thong on her foot. Then Iris, but Iris had already opened her box and was sliding her foot into the shoe. Genevieve smiled and nodded.

When the appointment was over, Genevieve had sold Locke a pair of RED shandals and a pair of Daniel Greene slippers.  Belle Lynne Locke had also consumed several glasses of sherry.  Iris noticed how Locke fumbled just a little with the little pink gloves.  Genevieve had sold Iris two pair of Louboutin sling backs—in nude and black and a pair of white leather thong sandals.  Iris was just as drunk with the wine of shoe buying.  Shoes were the one purchase Iris preferred not to make over the internet.  Here at J & G’s Dolce Chaussures, she knew no one else had ever put her foot in the shoes she’d purchased.  The ladies paid for their shoes, hugged and gave both Jean Paul and Genevieve air kisses near their cheeks.  They stepped out into the sunny sidewalk.

They walked next door to the café and had a light lunch, al fresco. Iris’ lunch consisted of a Caesar salad, while Locke nibbled on chicken salad served on a bed of lettuce.  As they chatted, Jackie cruised by in her red convertible. Her eyes fixated on Iris and Locke as she slowed while passing the cafe’.

“Alright. What’s her story?” Iris asked peering over her sunglasses. Belle Lynne Locke looked back at Iris, and her lips curved into a teasing smile.

“Before we talk about Jacqueline, I want to talk about you.”

“What about me?”

“I want to know whatever it is about you that has everyone whispering.”

Iris knew it was going to come up sooner or later. She was glad for the opportunity to talk about it.  She had been quiet for so long.  She had hidden for so long. She might cry. Just thinking about Lloyd made her cry.  She sighed and removed her sunglasses, smoothed her black cigarette pants over her thighs, and touched the diamond pendant resting at her neck.

“Well, what do you want to know, Belle?” Iris asked calmly.

Locke moved her chair over an inch or two, leaned in, and said quietly “whatever you want to tell me, but I’d prefer if you start at the beginning.” She smiled and Iris relaxed a little. She had to tell someone. Right now, Locke was the only friend she had. So Iris sipped at her mimosa and started at the beginning…

Chapter Three


Iris woke up to the urgent ringing of a doorbell. She frowned and covered her head. “Oh my God! Who the devil is it?” she growled rolling out of bed.  She murmured and blasphemed the ringer of the bells as she slipped on a robe and stomped, barefoot, down the stairs.  The wood floors were cool against her feet.  She snatched the massive oak door open and yelled through the screen door “what?!” She saw no one. She looked to the sides of the porch and found Belle sitting in the porch swing.  Belle looked as if she’d been sitting on the swing for hours, as if it were her home.  She had on gloves.

“My, my. Aren’t we testy in the morning?” she teased smiling. “Where are your shoes?”

“What? Shoes? I was in bed asleep!”

“That’s the problem with young folk. They don’t take care of themselves. You should never walk around barefoot! It’s bad for the reproductive organs.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Mrs. Locke. What do you want?” Iris asked still frowning.

“I want you to go put some shoes on is what I want.  What I need is for you to get dressed and come with me downtown.”

“Downtown? What’s downtown?” Iris recalled the frustration of the downtown shops—Mom and Pop shops.

“My favorite shoe store. Dolce Chaussures.

“I see. But why must I come with you?”

“I need to get to know you. What better way to get to know someone than while shoe shopping? If you require more conversation about it, can you at least put on some socks?” Iris sighed loudly and went back inside and up the stairs. Belle remained in the swing.

Moments later, Iris returned to the porch to find Belle bending over the azalea bushes in the yard. “Mrs. Locke. What are you doing?”

“Beautiful Azaleas, Iris. Just beautiful. Your grandmother always did  have a  green thumb.” She stood up and realigned her long linen blouse.  “Did you know they were poisonous?  Just as pretty as they can be, but that kind of pretty right there,” Locke pointed at the azaleas again, “will kill you dead…come on. Genevieve is waiting for us.”  Locke skipped down the steps.  This surprised Iris, but not a lot.  Locke snapped her head around to Iris on the last step and said crisply, “And do not call me Mrs. Locke.  It’s either Belle Lynne or Locke for YOU.  For you, only.”

Iris slipped into the passenger seat of Belle’s special edition navy Cadillac CTS coupe. She admired the tan leather craftsmanship and said so.

“I absolutely detest Cadillacs, but Clive, bless his heart, insisted that I have one. Navy is my favorite color, so he made a special order. I can’t bring myself to do anything with it except drive it. My Clive…he was such a sweetheart.”

Belle’s voice got a little shaky when she spoke of Clive. Iris knew how that felt—to speak of a loved one and get choked up with tears. Iris, unsure of what to say, said nothing.  Eventually, the car glided soundlessly out of the residential area and onto Sweet Field’s main street. The historic downtown was home to many quaint boutiques, cafes, and shops. The clientele consisted mainly of tourists and upper crust residents. Most people shopped at the mall on the west end of town.  Sweet Fields Galleria was a good collection of the popular retail and department stores. Iris had visited the galleria mall once or twice and had been sorely disappointed.  She resorted to online shopping. It had never occurred to her to visit the Shops of Sweet Fields on Main Street.

Locke parked the coupe in front of a coffee shop, and the two ladies prepared to exit the car.  As Locke walked around the front of the car to join Iris on the sidewalk, she said “what in blue blazes is she wearing?”

“Who?” Iris asked looking around. Locke tipped her sunglasses, little round ones like John Lennon used to wear, and looked across the street at the Majestic Divine Dancers of Heavenly Bodies. Iris looked in the direction of Locke’s gesture and saw the tall thin lady from church emerging from a red Ford Thunderbird convertible.  Her long, graceful form was draped in a yellow chiffon duster over yellow leotards.  Her head and neck were wrapped in a yellow floral scarf.  She wore a black pair of round shades that nearly covered the entire top half of her face.

“That’s the lady from church yesterday. Who is she?”

“Trouble. That’s who she is.” Belle said grabbing Iris’ elbow.  She visualized the words “Bubonic Banana” along the side of Jackie Black’s body.

They made an odd pair, Iris thought—Locke in her mid-fifties and she in her mid thirties. Locke with her short, petite frame, and Iris with her height and curves.

“Jean Claude and his sister Genevieve  are lovely people. The customer service is legendary.” Belle said pausing in front of the store Dolce Chaussures.

A gentleman with a silver beard and curly mop of white hair opened the door as Iris reached for the handle.

“Ah! Belle! Bonjour! Comment êtes-vous?” the man said air kissing Locke. “Et qui est votre ami?” He said turning to Iris.

“Jean Paul, I am so glad to see you again! This is my new friend, Iris Murphy. Iris, this is Jean Paul Babineuax.” Locke said standing between the two. The Frenchman kissed the back of Iris’ hand and flashed her a brilliant white smile.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Iris. Any friend of Belle’s is a friend of ours.” Jean Paul said not taking his eyes away from Iris’.

“Yes, yes, Jean Paul. Stop flirting. She’s young enough to be your daughter,” Locke said rapping him lightly on his chest with her knuckles. “Where is your gorgeous sister, Genevieve?”

“She is in the parlor preparing for you. Please, ladies do go through,” he said gesturing towards a pair of green velvet curtains.

“Oh, we shall, Jean, but I want to show Iris your beautiful shoe boutique,” Locke said as she grabbed Iris’ elbow again with a pink gloved hand.

They perused the shoes on display. Iris was teeming with excitement. She noted the brands of the finely crafted leather shoes and decided right away this was her favorite place in Sweet Fields. The disadvantage of online shopping for Iris was that she couldn’t touch or smell the leather.  For her, that was one of the most exciting parts of shoe shopping, and she missed it.  Locke was telling Iris about her favorite shoemaker in the United Kingdom when they heard a woman’s voice address them.

“Well, hello, ladies,” said the voice. Locke and Iris turned to face the tall woman in banana yellow. Her eyes bulged anxiously as Locke and Iris took in the sight of her.

Locke spoke first. “Hello, Jacqueline. Don’t you look, er…like the picture of spring this morning.”

“Why, thank you, Belle. I shall value that compliment, as I hear they are rare coming from you.” Jacqueline turned to Iris. “I don’t believe we have met. I’m Jackie Black,” she said extending a slender hand.

“I’m Iris Murphy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“You know,” Jackie said trailing her fingers over a low-heeled pump on display. “I never knew this was a shoe store.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, dear. Most people visit the mall for their footwear. Only those with more discriminating tastes shop here.”

Iris watched Jackie fondle the shoes on the shelf in front of her. Locke noted the way Jackie turned each shoe over to check for prices.

“Oh no, dear. Jean Paul doesn’t disrespect his shoes by placing stickers on them. Surely you’ve heard the saying, ‘If you have to ask…’   I’m sure Macy’s has what you need.” Jackie whirled around to face Locke, but Locke had already turned away and was smiling at a woman near a curtained entryway. “Come, Iris.  Genevieve is ready for us.” As the two ladies walked toward the curtains, Locke turned to look at Jackie over her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry we can’t continue this little chat, but Iris and I have appointments.”

“Appointments with a shoe clerk? Belle, if I make you uncomfortable, I understand. You don’t have to make things up.” Jackie said with a smirk on her lips.  Jackie started to follow the women beyond the velvet rope and curtain of the shoe store.  She spun around dramatically, and the banana yellow chiffon whipped around as she turned to go through the curtains along with Iris and Locke.  Jean Paul met her twirl with a smirk and wink.

“Non, non, non, madame,” Locke said in a surprisingly spot-on French accent, “you, Jacqueline, may continue your window shopping out here, whilst we have our tea and select our shoes in privacy and comfort,” She and Iris disappeared through the velvet curtains. Jackie watched the bullion fringe swing until Jean Paul approached her.

“Madame, perhaps you would like to try the shoe?” he said looking at the leather ballet flat Jackie was bending and twisting in her hands. Jackie threw the shoe at Jean Paul’s chest and stormed out of the shop with her banana yellow chiffon scarf trailing after her.

This entry was posted on March 15, 2017. 1 Comment

Chapter Two

Locke cont…

The sermon and another choir song ended before Iris was able to collect herself.  She did not like crowds. She did not like strangers.  She did not like people intruding on her personal space.   Lloyd’s reclusiveness had rubbed off on her. She couldn’t help but smile a bit thinking about Lloyd Sutton.  She smoothed her dress and stood with the rest of the congregation when she realized the service was about to end.  She watched as everyone, or almost everyone, bowed their heads for the benediction. The small gray-haired, loc’ed lady was looking directly at her…and so was the big-eyed, long-legged, deaconess.

Iris gathered her clutch and bible and turned to exit her pew when a tall male usher put a hand to her elbow.

“Good Afternoon, Sister Murphy.  I’m Melvin Collier, head usher here at St. Andrew.  Won’t you join the pastor and new members in the ladies’ parlor for light refreshments?”  Melvin Collier held out a very official looking gloved hand toward a door in the wings.

“Oh. Thank you, but I will not be staying.”  Iris kept moving toward the church exit to make her point.

“The pastor insists, sister. Just stay a few minutes,” he said with a charming smile.   He moved slightly in front of Iris.  She followed the usher to a room furnished like a Victorian parlor—complete with tapestry wingback chairs, small mahogany tables, and lace curtains.   “This is the Women’s Ministry room,” Melvin announced.  “Make yourself comfortable. Refreshments will be served momentarily,” the usher said before leaving her in front of a massive ornate  bookshelf.  And there she stood.

Ladies wearing slim rectangular pins, which read, New Members Committee, on their suit lapels, entered through a pair of French doors.  They carried an assortment of petit fours, tea sandwiches, and drinks.  Other new members and visitors meandered in moving past her unnoticed. The room began to fill up, but Iris recognized no one. No one except the small lady with the hand sanitizer.

She watched her take a seat in a high-backed wing chair nestled in a far corner.  She rifled through her handbag for a moment before lifting her eyes to look directly at Iris. She smiled and nodded. Iris nodded back. As soon as Iris prepared to take a step out of her cozy place on the wall, she was blocked by a large pink hat.  The wearer of the hat turned to face Iris and said, “Oh! Theeeere are you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”  The woman’s voice was a high shrill C-minor.  She reached out with both arms and pulled Iris into a hug. “Your grandmother was one of my best friends.  I’m Luceal Baxter, but everyone calls me Ceal.

“It is nice to meet you Ms. Baxter.”

“No. It’s a pleasure to meet YOU. I’ve read—oh—I mean I’ve heard so much about you. I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity.” She was holding Iris’ hand tightly when she turned and yelled across the room. “Laura! Come here and meet Maggie’s grand!” Iris tried to pull her hand back, but Luceal tightened her grip.

“Oh! Ceal, she’s a pretty lil thang. Lil’ chocolate self!” the lady called Laura said. She was wearing a white shirtdress and deaconess’ hat.

“Iris, I want you to meet my sister, Laura. We’re fraternal twins in case you’re wondering.” But Iris was not wondering. She was only thinking, Oh no, there are two of them!  She did not want there to be two of them. Or one of them.  Nor did she want to meet any of these people. In fact, she had never said St. Andrew would be her church home. She merely said she would stay on in Sweet Fields since her granny had left her the house and everything she owned. Iris was on the verge of panic. She did not like crowds, strangers, or questions; she knew questions would be coming soon.

The one called Laura spoke first.  Her makeup was too perfect.  This is what made Iris nervous.  “Now, Iris. Your grandmother, God bless the dead, hosted all of our Tuesday Tea meetings and our Saturday Sewing Circle meetings. You know Maggie was the only one who had a house large enough to host such gatherings. We were hoping you would be willing to host next month’s meetings,” Laura asked leaning in but speaking rather loudly.  Laura’s voice went up on the word meeting, and the collar of her little white shirt dress vibrated with excitement and anticipation.  Laura’s perfectly manicured left eyebrow remained raised as she waited for Iris’ answer.

“I will not.” Iris said shortly. Tea? Sewing? What year were they in?  She would not have nosy biddies in her granny’s home to snoop and ask for things.   Laura’s eyebrow dropped, and Iris thought she heard the woman growl.  Iris reaffirmed her position about the manifold meetings the woman proposed. “Absolutely not.”  She arched a brow at the one called Luceal, the one who said she had “read” about her.  SHE most definitely was not coming into her Granny’s home.  While her sister, Laura, was much too made up to be comfortable with, Iris thought that the one called Luceal could use a visit from Clinton and Kelly of “What Not to Wear.”

“You’ve been here a month. We’ll give you another month to get yourself together, and we’ll talk about it over brunch. We know you’ve got to move your family down here with you.”

“There is no family.  There will be no Tuesday Teas, nor will there be Saturday Sewing,” Iris said having finally snatched her hand from Luceal’s grasp.  Using that same hand, she smoothed the hair at the nape of her neck and looked for some salvation in the room.

“But why?” Laura wanted to know. “Maggie would have wanted it that way, don’t you think? You—her granddaughter carrying on her community traditions. “

“Oh quit harassing her, already Laura and Luceal.  And stand back!  Are you trying to steal her breath? Jesus!” Laura and Luceal stepped aside to reveal the small lady with the hand sanitizer.  “Let the girl breathe some FRESH air and get her bearings,” she said while taking a small vial from her neck and spraying the air around the twins.

The two sisters slunk away leaving Iris standing with the small, gray-haired lady.  Iris, already tall and wearing stilettos, stood head and shoulders over her.   For closure, Locke yelled at the twins’ backs, “…and how would you mewing cats know what Maggie wanted.  Just, please…”  Iris observed how the loc’ed woman threw those words at the women as if she were throwing out old pot liquor.  She had never felt more grateful since she moved to Sweet Fields.

“I’m Belle. Belle Lynne Locke. You may call me Belle.  I would shake your hand, but I don’t have my gloves on.” She said shifting her eyes from her hands to Iris’ hands. “No offense, dear. I’m rather particular about germs and such.”

“I am rather particular too,” Iris said, not explaining exactly what she was so particular about.

“I noticed. Now, those two sisters are trouble. Stay away from them, they are full of evil  germs. Don’t tell them anything. Not even the time.” Belle said, rolling her eyes in their direction. Locke began to walk in the direction of the two wing backed chairs, and Iris followed, almost dutifully.  “The stories I could tell you about the Baxter sisters will curdle your blood, but we’ll save that for another day,” she said turning to look at Iris full on. So, you’re Maggie Murphy’s granddaughter. Maggs and I were thick as thieves in our girlhood days.  She was a clever woman, your grandmother.  And it looks like you’re particular just like her.”

“What do you mean by that?” Iris asked arching a thick eyebrow.

“Oh calm down. I mean the way you kept smoothing your dress. Maggs did that all the time. She couldn’t bear to have lines or wrinkles in things—table linens, bed linens, clothes, kitchen towels, you name it. I also noticed you can be quite terse. You said ‘There is no family and there will be no teas or sewing’. Very short and to the point. And no contractions! I like that most. That’s how city people talk. Quick, sharp, and rude. I mean, by southern standards, that was rude, but you can’t be rude enough to the Baxter sisters. You keep that city-sharp tongue of yours ready. You’re going to need it.”

Before Locke could continue, Prentiss LeBeaux was at her side.  “Sister Locke.”  His voice smiled when he said Locke’s name.  He was warm toward her, and while he never once touched Belle Lynne Locke, his hovering way let Iris know they had history.  Rev. LeBeaux turned to greet Iris.  “Hello again, Sister Iris.  I can’t tell you how good it is to have you in our midst.  Now, if you’ll excuse Ms. Belle and me, we’re going to step away for a moment.  You don’t mind do you?”

“Oh no,” Iris breathed.  Belle Lynne Locke’s forwardness had made Iris uncomfortable, but she couldn’t help think about how relieved she was to see the stately little woman and her sanitizer during service and how thankful she was to be the recipient of her rescue mission afterward.  She watched Pastor LeBeaux as he walked away with Locke.  He bent his head down toward the small woman, listening tentatively. Iris noticed how his right hand hovered ever so gently under Locke’s left elbow, which was crooked just enough to allow her Louis Vuitton pouchette to dangle from her arm.  While the chatter of the gathering never stopped, all eyes were on the pair as they continued on in quiet conversation, as if no one else was in the room.  Long money, Iris heard her granny’s voice speak gently in her ear.

Later, Iris stood on the church steps, slid on her Kate Spade sunglasses, and decided to walk home through the park.  Pendleton Park was lovely this time of year. Though she wished they had been grouped by color, she couldn’t help but smile at the tulips that lined her path through the park.

The Pendleton was directly across the street from St. Andrew and her home—it still felt funny to call granny’s home hers—was just two blocks away. She strolled along carefully and admired her grandmother’s house when it came into view.  The large Victorian  sat on the corner of Magnolia and Cuyler. The olive green paint looked fresh and the whitewashed trim and fence, crisp. It was a beautiful house, and her granny was meticulous about its curb appeal.  She eyed the porch swing and decided she would have her Sunday dinner al fresco.

Iris  enjoyed the porch swing well into the evening. A few children rode by on their bikes. The adults walked by and waved to her.  She nodded in response afraid that a warm smile and hearty wave would be misinterpreted as a welcome for them to join her on the large porch. When the sun shined its final light, she turned to go inside and recognized the slightest flutter of curtains in the front window of the house across the street.  Her grandmother told her about him.   Bennett Banks, the man who watched all things and said nothing.  Iris decided that she would deal with him later, on an evening when she was not so sleepy and over worn from the day.

Just as she climbed into her grandmother’s California king-sized bed, the phone rang. She stared at the cordless phone blinking green lights at her for a long moment before answering.

“Hello,” she clipped out.

“That’s interesting. You don’t ASK ‘hello?’ like most people when they answer the phone. This is Belle. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“I am just getting into bed. How may I help you?” Iris asked flatly.

“I have a question for you. Did you notice the two ladies trying to kill each other during service today?” Belle sounded like she was smiling.

“Kill each other?” Iris asked while propping herself up against a mountain of pillows.

“Oh, yes. If looks could kill, the deaconess and the organist would be at the Willie Richmond’s Funeral Home.” Belle giggled.

“Oh yes! I did notice them. Did you notice how they both reacted when the reverend stood up?”

Belle cackled loudly. “I knew I was right about you. You don’t miss a thing! What do you think it’s all about?”

“Well, I don’t know any of them, but it seems like the ladies both want the reverend’s attentions. Is he married?”

“Rev. LeBeaux? No. He lost his wife of 20 years about five years ago. They had been married since they were 18 years old.  Clive and I had been married forty-three wonderful years.” There was a long pause. Finally, Belle continued. “I hear Jacqueline Black, the deaconess, is fairly new in town.  She came about a year ago. That woman is on a mission. You mark my words.”

“How do you know all of this? I thought you were new to the church.”

“I am new…somewhat. This is my hometown. I grew up here. Got married here. Clive and I visited often, but I decided to come back for good when Clive died. “

“So how long have you been back in Sweet Fields?

“Not long. Today was my first Sunday back in church. You want to know how I could possibly know the goings on of St. Andrew if I don’t talk to people, don’t you? Well, I read lips. I don’t have to talk TO people to know what’s going on. I just look at them while they talk. I can stand at a safe distance—away from germs and viruses and STILL be in the proverbial loop.” Belle laughed an eery giggle. “Now don’t you go telling people my secret,” she chided.

“Your secret is safe with me.  You’re the only person I’ve had a conversation with since I’ve been here. I, uh, prefer to keep to myself.”  Even as Iris spoke these words, she wondered how was it that this woman had drawn her in with such a short exchange over the phone.

“I see. ‘You, uh, prefer to keep to yourself.’ Well, I think something’s made you that way; we don’t have to talk about it tonight. But we will talk about it  ‘cause I like to know who I’m friends with.”

“Friends? Who me? You don’t even know me.”

“Child, I know all I need to know for now. You keep to yourself. You tell it just like it is, and your eyes move ‘cross people faster than mine do. That means you see a lot that other people don’t see.” There was silence. Belle had read Iris like a book and in doing so shut down the conversation for a few moments.  Finally, Belle broke the uncomfortable silence.  “Well, Iris.  You know I like that name. It’s an old lady’s name, but you’ll grow into it. I’m going to bed. I will see you tomorrow.” And with a click of a button, Belle was gone.

Tomorrow? What was tomorrow? Iris had plans for tomorrow.  Apparently, Belle did too.

Commentary:  Had it not been for Locke, Iris would have been over taken by the Baxter twins!  It seems that church may not feel like the safest place for introverts like Iris.  Have you ever thought about how overwhelming it can be for new and introverted Christians to become a viable part of a church without feeling overwhelmed?  What should Iris do?  Or maybe the real question is, what can churches do to help introverts feel comfortable in their congregations?


Chapter Two


Belle Lynne Locke arrived at St. Andrew Church of Sweet Fields exactly twenty-seven minutes early.  She needed time to settle in.  It had been seven years since she attended worship services there and two years since her Clive had died.  Everything she was centered around Clive, and she liked it that way.  They were a pair who had done well together, in everything. The kind of couple that people didn’t think really existed.  Clive and Belle Lynne Locke, though they’d been married forty-three years, had always looked like newlyweds.  When they went out to eat, it was rare they’d finish their entire meal, because they talked the entire time.  Often, the salads would wilt and the soups would grow cold underneath the energy of their vibrant conversations.  Up until the last time Clive drove, he still made Belle Lynne wait inside the car while he made his way around to open the door for her.    Belle Lynne reached for the door of the church and paused.  She observed her hands, protected by a favorite pair of soft kelly green gloves. As she extended the right one to turn the knob, she realized that in all her years with her Clive, she never had to touch the door knob of St. Andrew the lever of her own car, or the first MACK truck Clive bought to drive across country.  Clive made that so.  Yes, he had his way, Locke thought, but he was good to her.

While during their early years of marriage, Locke was content to live happily in a small cottage with her small gardens and small pots of basil, parsley, and rosemary, Clive thought big.  He was a gargantuan man, with dreams to match.  Only seven years after they’d married Clive bought them a large Victorian home, three streets away from St. Andrew, and only one block away from her very best friend, Maggie Murphy.  He was determined she be near the most important things in her life.

Often Clive’s big dreams arrested Locke’s want to live simply.  He wanted not just to own one big truck to drive as a carrier, but an entire fleet of trucks “to put on the road.”   He wanted not one rental home, but a community of luxury row houses in downtown Sweet Fields.  He made not a few safe investments, but several risky leaps that yielded more money than even Locke knew they had.  Clive made their money long, even though his own life was relatively short.  He said he did it for her, but Locke told him he didn’t have to do all that.   No need to make such a fuss.  And for what? We have no children.  It was just me and you, Clive.  That is the way we wanted it, at first.  Me beside you in that stinking eighteen wheeler, bumbling around the country, with one of your hands on the wheel and the other on my lap.  Us spending time together.  All our time together.

“I have to spend a little time away from you now, so that I can spend a lot of time with you later.”  Her Clive had said.  And that he did.  “You’ll get sick of having me around.”  And that, she did not.

The doorknob of the church reminded Locke of what she’d lost.  But that same doorknob at St. Andrew would give Locke an opportunity to plug into life again and regain some semblance of usefulness.

Locke had never really thought of herself as useful, until Clive died.  She took care of him, even before the colon cancer.  She made sure he ate well, even though he would sneak away and eat pounds of choice cut beef and slabs of pork ribs.  She cut his hair.  She ordered his custom made shoes–the ones that did not rub his right pinky toe and make him walk funny.  What use was she to anyone, now that her Clive was gone?

Locke mourned Clive’s death deeply and for a very long time.  Yes there were suitors, but their advances annoyed her.  The men who came to call looked their age.  Often they would have to take an extra quick step to climb the stairs leading to her front porch, a wide span of bamboo floors, cushioned rocking chairs and aromatic plants in exotic looking pots.  The men who attempted to woo Locke shuffled and grunted.  They farted without discretion, following each wind breaking with awful laughter of the heh, heh, heh sort.  Clive never “heh, heh, heh-ed,” Locke thought.  His laughter was a big round cloud.  He threw it into the air where it exploded and filled the room.

But these men, they tried to hang on to hair that should have long been shorn away.   They ate bad meat and probably took Viagra. Clive had never taken Viagra.  After a year, the men stopped calling and Locke was content to sip mint julep tea, make strong cherry wine, and watch Lawrence Welk reruns on the large flat screen TV she’d had Pastor LeBeaux mount on the sun porch at the back of her home.

So Locke grieved hard, and even Pastor LeBeaux thought she may grieve herself to death, but Belle Lynne Locke never did anything to death.  It was not her way.  Still, Pastor Prentiss LeBeaux didn’t know that.  He tried to mother her.   She was one of the reasons he came to Sweet Fields in the first place, and his investment in her livelihood was almost a necessity.  Payback.  On their many trips to New Orleans, Clive and Locke visited Pastor LeBeaux’s church, and after he lost his wife, they were the first people he called, even before his own father.  The Lockes saw Pastor LeBeaux cry.  They saw him become infantile in his grief, his sufferings from separation anxiety.  They supported him after he handed his church over to the associate pastor.  They called him when St. Andrew of Sweet Fields needed a new pastor, new blood to help rejuvenate the church after a scandalous split.

Locke took a quick deep breath, but it didn’t slow down the beating of her heart.  She tugged at the thick bun of gray locks at the nape of her neck.  Yes, every strand is tucked and tethered, she thought.  She planted her gloved palm on the knob, gripped it and turned.  She heard the suction of the door opening and sighed in relief as she looked at the empty sanctuary of St. Andrew.

She walked down the center aisle toward her seat .  The church’s smell had not changed, and the carpet was still plush under her feet.  Locke abhorred floors that were not made to dampen the sound of footsteps.  She reverenced God’s house, almost to the point of obsession.  In God’s house, even your footsteps should be sacred, quiet.  This carpet, the carpet I chose, added sanctity to every footstep, Locke thought.

Locke was pleased.  One, two, three, four, five.  To the right.  End seat.   The brass plate flanking the side gleamed.  “Clive & Belle Lynne Locke,” it read.  That was the only inscription the Lockes wanted on the pew.  Locke thought it unnecessary to make such a fuss over words.  The name was enough.

Locke pulled out a vial of sanitizing spray from her purse (it was her own customized concoction, made special to accommodate her unique immune system), sanitized her seat, and stood for a moment to allow the air to settle.  Members began to file in; they were surprised to see Belle Lynne Locke, and her standing at the end of the pew, looking at almost invisible droplets of liquid descend, gave them pause.  But Locke remained unaffected by her audience.  She would not move until she was satisfied that her seat had been properly consecrated by the sanitizer.  After Locke was pleased with the sanitation, she gathered the wide legs of her brown linen pants, slid between the pews, and sat down, confident that no one would attempt to shuffle by her, grazing her knees and stepping on her toes, once she’d sat down; they knew better.

She did not pray.  She’d made it to church, just as God moved her to do.  But, Locke was still a little mad at God for taking her Clive.  God understood the beauty of their love.  He made it that way, so Locke didn’t understand why He’d take that from her.  She was disappointed in God, and sometimes, when she felt God’s spirit upon her, she would tilt her head upward and say out loud, “I am still pouting,” to make Him go away.  She and God had worked out a unique and special relationship.  They had deep roots, ones that left room for a little bit of pouting.  God would not go away and neither did she.

Across the aisle in the fifth row sat a new woman–a self-assured woman who almost belied her own confidence, as she looked as if she would fold up into herself.  She was pretty enough, especially her hair which looked like it had not been touched by a hot comb in quite some time.  The lady’s hair was black and thick with dense coils throughout.  She wore it like an afro, but with shape and moisture.  The heavy bangs fell across neatly arched eyebrows that framed a set of deep brown eyes that never stopped scanning the church and it’s inhabitants.  The woman had a healthy head of hair, and though the curls were dense, the slightest turn of the woman’s head allowed the hair to greet its audience with a small wave.  The woman was fit but not in a hard way.  She still held onto some of her softness.  Locke thought that all women, no matter how hard their lives, should hold on to some of their softness.  This woman had, and while her dewy brown skin almost blended into the taupe shift she wore, Locke considered her a classic, like her when she was young.  But then again, the new woman looked like, Maggie, her one true friend–the oldest and the dearest.  Surely, Locke thought, it couldn’t be.

Locke’s thoughts about the new woman were interrupted by Pastor LeBeaux’s voice.  In that gentle way, that sometimes annoyed Locke, he babbled on about something.  For God’s sake what was he talking about, now, she thought, I’ve told him about extending service unnecessarily with information he should put in the church newsletter.  Then reluctantly, the new woman rose from her seat.  She kept smoothing her clothes and hair and looking back at her spot on the pew, as if her seat would up and run away.  Locke could see the moment when the new woman shook off her anxiety and walked up to the front of the church with a cool confidence that covered her anxieties well.  That’s a good girl, Locke thought.  “Never let them see you sweat.  Or they will make you sweat.”  Locke said out loud.  So, it was, Maggie Murphy’s mysterious granddaughter.  Locke looked toward the ceiling and said, “I may be alright, now.”

Readers, what could Iris and Locke possibly have in common; I mean would you befriend a strange woman like Locke or an introvert like Iris?  Let us know in the comments what you think of this odd pair, so far.

This entry was posted on March 1, 2017. 2 Comments

Chapter One


Iris sat primly on the end of the fifth pew in the middle section of St. Andrew Baptist Church—the oldest African American church in the state of Georgia. She smoothed her taupe sheath dress on her lap once more and adjusted her clutch at her side. This was her first service at St. Andrew since her grandmother, Margaret “Maggie” Murphy, died a month earlier.  Iris had decided to stay on in Sweet Fields and live in the large Victorian house she inherited from her grandmother.  Now, it was time for her to join the community, and attending a church service was the first step. A pupil of human behavior, Iris couldn’t help but observe and analyze the congregation of her granny’s church.

A motley collection of twelve women in white shirtdresses and white hats with scarlet trim sat to the far left of the pulpit.  Each wore a magnolia on her lapel to further signify her affiliation with the deaconess board.  A few were fanning themselves, and two elderly ladies were already nodding off, even though the service had just begun. Others were enjoying the choir’s lively rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon.”

As Iris scanned the faces of the congregation, one face demanded her attention.  A pair of active bulbous eyes sat beneath a dramatically low blond widow’s peak.  The woman with the eyes was the color of vanilla custard, and she glared at Iris as if she were interrogating her.  She held the carriage of a deaconess, an influential deaconess.  Iris’ suspicion of the big-eyed woman’s position was confirmed by the magnolia.   The custard colored woman also wore a shirtwaist dress like the other deaconess members; however, Iris noted that her dress was noticeably shorter when she walked into the church.  The dress stopped at a dangerous height, several inches above the knees, revealing the longest pair of bird legs Iris had ever seen.  The legs were covered by thick flesh tone stockings, the kind that dancers for football teams often wore underneath their small shorts.  Her eyes continued to question Iris.   Not one to back down, Iris returned the woman’s glare and eventually slid the corners of her mouth upward into a dry smile that did not fully reach her eyes.   She smoothed her dress again and turned her attention to the choir.

It had been a long time since she had heard the song they were singing.  The organist, a robust woman with a large dark burgundy colored bouffant looked straight ahead as she played.  She paid no attention to the director or the choir. Odd, Iris thought.  Did the choir sing the song so often that the director and organist need not communicate about its nuances? Iris tried to follow the organist’s gaze; it looked as if the organist and the large-eyed deaconess were glaring at each other.   But the organist was no match for the deaconess, as the organist eventually looked away first.  She banged on the keys with more gusto when the showdown came to its disappointing end.

Iris weaved a story in her head about the two ladies. They both looked to be about the same age—early to mid forties. In a fist fight, Iris’ money would be on the organist. She was a large woman, solid—not soft and pillowy. In a battle of wits, Iris would put her money on the large-eyed woman.  She seemed clever; her eyes never stopped moving and taking in information. It was a man, Iris figured.  It was always a man.  Was one the wife and the other “the other woman?” Or were they both single and after the same man? Did this man attend the St. Andrew? Yes. Most likely. Anyone who was anyone attended St. Andrew.

Iris scanned the deacon’s board.  About twenty men of all ages sat in their Sunday’s best suits and ties, clapping and singing.  Perhaps the object of the women’s affections sat on the deacon board. But which one?

Iris had begun an analysis of each man but was interrupted on the third gentleman when she was distracted by the pastor who was approaching the podium.  The pastor, Prentiss LeBeaux, was tall and broad-shouldered with a thick mustache. He was an attractive gentleman with an athletic build, honey-colored skin, and thick wavy hair sprinkled with touches of gray throughout. The honey wasn’t just in his skin; it was also in his voice. Iris was sure he had used the combination of his baritone and long-lashed gray eyes to charm countless women.  She let her eyes trail the pastor’s frame from the shoulders of his navy suit down to his fingers.  His fingers.  They were not adorned.  No wedding ring, but still a visible quarter inch indentation of commitment.  That explains the slight droop of his neck, and the way his large hands dangle from the wrists–lonely hands, Iris thought.  His shirt collar was neatly tucked, except for a slight puckle of white at the neck, on the back right side.  Iris knew what this meant.  There was no one at home to tuck and dust him–to be sure his collar was completely tucked and the small bits of lint were dusted from his back and shoulders.  She was almost sure of it.  He was the man.

 Iris glanced at the thin frog-faced woman just in time to see her eyes alight with admiration and respect onto the pastor’s distinguished figure. There was something Iris saw in the bulging eyes, a wildness restrained by fetters too loose. There was wildness and something else.  Iris looked at the woman’s mouth and saw her tongue peak out to subtly lick her lips–top and bottom.  The woman then pressed her lips together into a slight pucker. Lust. That’s the other thing Iris saw in the deaconess’ eyes.  Iris shot a glance to the right of the pulpit at the organist who had stretched her lips into a wide, toothy grin. Right. Of course, it was the pastor.  The two women were vying for the attention of the pastor of St. Andrew.  Who wouldn’t be? He was very handsome, and from what Iris heard from her grandmother, the pastor was quite charming too.  Grandma Maggs had called the pastor, “a very nice man, nice to his own detriment.”

Throughout the service, Iris continued her survey of various people in the sanctuary. She noticed a small lady tucked into the pew across the aisle from her. She repeatedly sanitized her hands after every handshake, hug, or touch.  Iris was content to watch the little lady with the gray sister locs, but someone whispered for her to stand.

“We’d like to welcome Mother Murphy’s granddaughter back to St. Andrew. As you know, Mother Murphy went to her heavenly reward last month, and don’t we miss her, church?” The congregation shouted hearty amens.  The pastor continued, “Well, her granddaughter, Iris, moved back to Sweet Fields and decided to make St. Andrew her church home.” The congregation clapped and shouted,  “amen.” Iris wanted to crawl under the pew or better yet, walk right out of there. It was, in fact, very hard for her to keep her feet planted at her seat.  I will not walk out.  I will not walk out, she thought.  She felt there was no need for this kind of public display, and hoped she was smiling as she smoothed her dress over her lap.

“Sister Iris, come up here so we can greet you and welcome you into the St. Andrew fold” the pastor urged. Iris did not move. She nodded and smiled. “Come on, dear. Don’t be shy. Everyone remembers you from the time you were knee-high to a grasshopper.” Iris stood and stepped out into the aisle. She did not walk out of the church, but she refused to look at any of the faces watching her. When she finally reached the front of the church, the pastor stepped down from the pulpit and pulled her into a bear hug.  His cologne filled her nostrils.  His large arms were squeezing her ribcage. She wanted to pummel his muscular back with her fists, but fought back the urge.  When he finally released her, she gasped for air, but the freedom didn’t last long.

Soon she was bombarded with unsolicited affections from men, women, and children—none of whom she knew. Hugs, handshakes, and, to her dismay, a kiss on the cheek! Who did that? How dare they! Finally, the parade of strangers was over. Iris did not run back to her seat at the end of the fifth row, like she wanted to. Instead, she regained control and took confident long strides back to her seat.  The little lady with the sanitizer stuck out a green-gloved hand as Iris passed her.  She did not look at Iris, only straight ahead.  Iris got a good enough look at the little lady to note her smooth walnut colored skin, her small triangular wooden earrings, and the hint of soft pink gloss on her lips.  The woman slipped a tiny vial of sanitizer into Iris’ trembling hands.  “Use this,” she said in a voice almost too loud for worship service.  Only then did the woman turn to take Iris in, fully.  Iris noted her quick nod of approval, the kind that only people with long money, as her granny would say, could give. The loc’ed lady then turned her tiny head toward the pulpit as if the exchange never happened.

This entry was posted on February 22, 2017. 4 Comments