This is Chapter Three of the novel, Eminent Domain. The introduction and the first two chapters can be found under the heading at the top of the page, Fiction Projects.
Matthew Price peered out the window of his kitchen through the swirling snow. It wasn’t letting up, and it had been snowing and blowing and howling for almost an hour and a half. He took the lid from the soup pot that was simmering on the back burner of the stove, and the window fogged up from the warmth. As he wiped the window with the kitchen towel in his hand, he could see a glimmer from the building across the road.
“Someone must have left the light on in the church. Darn — Keener, won’t you go out and check the light for me?” Since Ruthie had died two years ago, he had gotten into the habit of talking to his old yellow lab, Keener.
Although Keener sometimes talked to Matt, he was too comfortable on his blanket to make much of a reply tonight. He opened his dark eyes when he heard his name, but even when Matt put on his coat, the dog didn’t move.
“Too cold for both of us, old boy,” Matt stooped and petted the farm dog’s head. “I won’t make you come with me. This time.”
He wrapped a knitted scarf around his neck and pulled on his warmest barn gloves. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, you come and get me,” Matt told him, and pulled open the door. A burst of winter came howling into the warm kitchen, and he shut the door quickly before too much precious heat was lost. Keener put his head back down on his paws and was asleep before Matt was halfway down the walk.
It was slow going in the blizzard, and Matt pulled his scarf up over his nose and mouth. Living across the road from the church was convenient most of the time; he’d served on the deacon board for the past six years, and he was used to checking on things — going over early to make coffee for meetings, checking on stray lights, turning the furnace up or down, on or off. Especially the past two years, serving made him feel useful. Not that he was bored or had nothing to do. Ruthie had been the township tax collector, and when she had gotten too ill to keep the records, Matt had taken over. After she died, he kept at it and ran for the position on his own last fall. It kept a little money coming in, plus his social security. He still helped Ethan up at the barn with the cows, and last year they had added on a small hog barn — just big enough for three or four pigs.
Stamping his feet at the door to the fellowship hall, he tried the door and found it unlocked. Surprised, he pulled it open and called out, “Anyone here?”
A familiar voice answered him from the hallway, and it was followed by the appearance of the tall, lanky pastor, Burton Stewart.
“Burton, what are you doing still here on a night like this? I didn’t see your car — with no meetings tonight, you should be long gone home,” Matt scolded him. “I saw the lights on and came over to turn them off.”
“Matt, what would we do without you?” Burton smiled his slow self-effacing grin. “I thought I’d study up and write my sermon today, since I wasn’t likely to have any interruptions. But then it got later, and I saw the snow getting worse, so I thought I’d just wait for it to finish its work before I fought my way home. I called Denise, so she wouldn’t worry.”
“Well, come on over and have some soup,” Matt said. “I’ve got a pot simmering and some homemade bread that Lucy brought over yesterday.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that,” Burton said. “That’s the best invitation I’ve had all day. Just let me get my jacket. And come on back to the office, I have a book I’ve been wanting to give you to read. I’ve been thinking the Deacon board should read it together, and I want your opinion first.”
Matt followed Burton into his office and waited while the pastor moved stacks of books, magazines, and papers searching for the book. “It’s just a small book — Lord, Teach Us to Pray by Andrew Murray,” he said. “I sure would like to get our congregation invigorated about prayer, and the Deacons are a good place to start. Ah, here it is,” he said, and he handed the book to Matt.
“I sure could use a good instruction book,” Matt said. “I’ve been wearing my knees out praying for Reenie. And there has been no answer that I can tell. She seems just as hard-hearted as ever.”
Burton nodded. “It’s hardest when people we love don’t believe. But we never know what seeds have been planted, or how long it will take for them to sprout. Look at Ethan. His faith is steadily growing — its good to see your grandkids on Sunday. Praise God for that and keep praying for Reenie.”
Matt sighed. “I am grateful about Ethan’s new faith. If it took Ruthie dying for it to happen, then so be it. ”
“Ah, Matt, many of us have death bed scenarios that play over and over in our heads for years. Yours is one of the best.”
The men paused in their conversation, lost in the quietude of memory. “I left that evening when Ethan came in,” Burton mused. “I could see he’d been crying, and I wanted to give you some privacy. I waited downstairs for awhile, hoping to see him and maybe talk when he came out…”
“Ethan came in and just knelt down next to her bed and sobbed.” Matt looked at Burton. “You were there … she had a light in her eyes that evening that hadn’t been there for a long time.”
“She looked and acted better than I’d seen her in weeks,” Burton agreed. “I didn’t really think that was her night to leave us.”
“She touched his hair, his cheek, lifted his chin and made him look at her. ‘Don’t cry, my Ethan,’ she said. ‘I know where I am going, and I’m excited to leave this worthless body. It will be the journey of my life.’ Then she touched her finger to her lips and then his lips — it was their Mom and son kiss — and she closed her eyes with that peaceful smile on her face. She never woke up. I tell you, Burton, I felt God’s presence in that room that night.”
“And so did Ethan,” said Burton. He hugged the older man. “We never know who or when or why God calls. People don’t like mysteries, you know, especially involving our own lives.”
“Well, I’d like it better if she were still here with me,” Matt smiled. “But God’s timing is His own, and that’s one of the hardest things for us impatient creatures to understand.”
Red flashing lights outside the window interrupted the men’s conversation. “That’s not just a snow plow,” Burton said, as they put on their coats and walked to the door.
“Goodness, there’s at least three vehicles,” said Matt. “Must have been an accident. In this weather, it would be hard to keep a car on the road.”
The two men bent into the wind and made their way over to the police car that had turned off Rte. 492 onto Churchill Road and stopped. A firetruck and an ambulance were stopped on the main road blocking any cars from going further west. The state policeman was just getting out of his car. “Evening, gentlemen,” he said. “We’ve got a serious accident down the road, and a woman is still trapped in her car. We’ve got to set up a road block here to divert traffic down Churchill Road.”
“Through the Game Lands on a night like this!” Matt spoke his thoughts out loud.
“Can’t be helped. No one can get through yet — the accident is still on the road.”
“I’m the pastor here, Burton Stewart.” Burton stuck out his hand. “Can I help in any way?”
A large dark pickup truck pulled up next to the trooper’s car, and a man in an orange snowmobile suit jumped out. “Just let me get my lantern, and I’m ready wherever you need me,” he said. Another pickup turned in, and Matt motioned for him to pull into his own driveway.
“Let me get these boys situated, and I’m heading down,” the state trooper said. “Pastor, you can come along, though it won’t be pretty.”
“Sure, I’ll ride down with you. I’m not forgetting that bowl of soup, Matt. I’ll need it when I get back.” Burton walked toward the state trooper’s car.
“I’ll have it warm and waiting,” Matt shouted. He turned and trudged back up to his house, saying a silent prayer for a woman still trapped in her car.