Chapter 8 - The Pastor and his Daughter
It all started as a beautiful and gorgeous, bright and sunny day. The kind of day that was awe inspiring, without a single hint of a cloud, the sky painted a perfect hue of blue akin to the great oceans of the Earth as viewed from space. Though for all of this sight and wonder splayed out for anyone and everyone to see stood in plain contrast to what was an otherwise mundane day-of-the-week.
The normal routine for Jesse each and every morning was to get dressed, make sure his daughter was off to school, fiddle around in his home-office while having breakfast, and then finally, off straight to work. He thought of it mostly now as work because that’s what it had become – a drudgery.
Leaving his modest, two-story house sitting atop a small hill, he drove the half acre which it sat upon toward the bordering gate, slowly. It’s not that he dreaded to go to work it was more so that he really didn’t want too. As he passed a large piece of granite with the words “Welcome to Miracle, West Virginia” etched above a picture of a crossed pick and shovel, he sighed. It was the same thing, every day, for the last five years. On his left he would first pass the liquor store and post office, then on the right the always busy convenience store and gas station along with the town’s one-and-only run-down motel. Because the town was so small (population, 3,000) the main road he drove on was the “major road” as well.
Stopped at the town’s only street light, Jesse’s mind wandered. His thoughts turned to getting out of this jerk-water, hick town and doing something else. But what?
Things had not been the same for him since he lost his wife, Sara, six months ago. Dying in a horrible car accident (a semi took a blind corner too wide crashing head-on into Sara’s car) Jesse was now a widower and a single parent not sure who was dealing with his wife’s death worst, him or his daughter, Missy.
Mother and daughter were so close many had mistaken them for sisters, so it was truly no surprise to Jesse how his daughter had changed over the last few months. Missy had changed her hair color and style, started hanging out with the less desirable crowd at the high school, and became what she called ‘emo’ or was it ‘goth’? Jesse could not remember, but whichever it was, it was too weird and disturbing for his taste.
Someone behind him honked, instantly snapping him back from his musing. He shook his head and quickly pulled away from the intersection, now feeling worse even more than when he left the house.
Arriving at work finally, he drove straight into his parking spot – the one with the faded and bent sign labeled ‘Pastor Only.’ He trudged to his office almost miserably and after reaching his desk Jesse went through his daily, mechanical motions. He checked his voice mail, including messages from parishioners asking him to visit sick members, or reminders to attend church-ladies or -gentlemen luncheons later in the month. He attended to the mail and other church business, then finally arrived at the task he had been dragging his feet on every week for the last several months, and this week was no exception – the sermon.
Pastor Jesse Fisher was the seventh preacher in forty-two years of the First Presbyterian Church of Miracle. Until recently, many considered him the best preacher to have ever graced the modest and little church. So good in fact that many of his parishioners had come from neighboring towns. Although it also helped that his wife was the perfect pastor’s wife, there being none better in any recent memory. Sara had organized the Sunday school, coordinated an afterschool program for single mothers, ran the committees of the church for Jesse, and the list went on and on. But all that help, all that love, disappeared like a puff of smoke in the wind the day she died. The enormous hole Sara had left behind no one had been able to fill, not any of the well-meaning church members or elders and not even Jesse himself.
This week’s sermon would focus on family, when Jesse knew full well should it focus the increasing drug and alcohol problems of Miracle. That’s what had made listening to Pastor Fisher so uplifting, never was he afraid to tackle serious problems in his sermons, literally giving advice he expected carried out – advice his mostly conservative flock agreed with and tried their best to take. But those days were long gone. Jesse now kept his sermons simple, ‘The Animals and Noah’s Ark,’ or ‘Directing Prayer to God.’ Nothing controversial and nothing really needing him to work at all, he just did not have his heart in it anymore.
Reaching a point where the words stopped flowing, Jesse decided to clear his mind with a little manual labor. He entered the sanctuary and swept up dust and dirt from the floor, and picked up trash along the pews. Going outside, he cleaned up the play area of forgotten toys from Sunday, shaking his head unhappily at the on-going condition of the swing set’s disrepair. One of the toys he was about to return to a battered cubby caused him to pause for a moment and think of his daughter. It was an old style telephone with a faded-red handset, a big smile, and googly eyes that turned to the left and right as a child would pull it along by string. The ringing it had once proudly sounded was gone, replaced by the squeaky noises of its tattered wheels. Jesse remembered when Missy played with her own smiling telephone-on-wheels, bringing a small grin to his face. But the good feeling was quickly replaced when the image in his mind of how Missy looked today washed away the visage of the once precious little girl. He soured so quickly he almost put the toy into the garbage bag he was carrying with him. Thinking twice, he put the innocent object into the cubby and tried to forget he ever saw it. He then heatedly tied the garbage bag shut and carried it to the trash cans behind the church. Lying there on the ground, right next to the trash cans (to worsen his mood even further) was a drunk.
The compassion Jesse once had for the weak-willed he no longer felt in his heart. Letting out a sigh of disgust and impatience, he tried putting on his best and most caring face reaching to turn the hooded person over. When he did, his face lit up in surprise finding this was not your ordinary drunk. It was a beautiful, young woman who had platinum-blonde hair hiding underneath the hood of an out-of-place robe. She wore white clothes covered with dirt and soot as though she had been cleaning a chimney, and looking at her closely, still in shock, he noticed her hands had reddish, burn marks.
Jesse bent over and checked to see if she was still alive…feeling the warmth of her skin and the pulse on her neck told him that the young girl was indeed far from being dead. Acting quickly, he carefully picked her up and took her to the vestibule, placing her softly on an old and frayed couch. Running to his office for a cup, he returned with cold water from the fountain outside the sanctuary. Cradling the woman’s head, but before offering any water, he tried to wake her up.
“Young lady, young lady,” said Jesse urgently, “are you alright? Can you hear me?” He shook her ever so gently.
The woman moaned.
“That’s it, wake up.” Jesse put the cup closer to her mouth.
She opened her eyes and looked dazed, tried to sit up, then suddenly shuddered and jerked back scared.
“It’s alright,” said Jesse, standing up and giving her some space, “you’re safe, I’m here to help you.”
The young woman glanced at her surroundings, fear written on her face. Sitting up, she watched Jesse carefully acting like someone afraid of being attacked.
“Wh-Where am I?”
“Listen, there’s nothing to be afraid,” said Jesse, moving to place the cup on a neighboring credenza then holding up his hands. “You’re in church, the First Presbyterian Church and I’m the pastor, Jesse Fisher.” He paused for a heartbeat and added, “And what’s your name?”
“Church?” She said the word as though she was vaguely familiar with it. The woman looked around at nothing in particular and said, “A church…you praise the Almighty here.”
“Yes that’s right,” returned Jesse. He was starting to think the woman was crazy when what she had said and how she had said it caught his attention. It sounded so heartfelt, and strangely enough, loving. “We praise God here every Sunday, I’d like to invite you, but I don’t know your name.”
She opened her mouth to answer then closed it. The young woman stared at the floor anxiously and said, “I—I—I don’t know. What’s my name? I can’t remember.” She sounded afraid.
“You can’t remember your name?” Jesse asked. “Do you know how you got here?”
Thinking for a second she replied, “No. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. I know I’m in a church, and…I feel safe here, near the Almighty…but where am I?”
There it is again, thought Jesse. She sounds so sincere. If she’s been to this church, I just don’t recognize her. He then said, “You’re in Miracle, West Virginia. Do you know where that is?”
“No, I don’t.” Her eyes watered and she choked up. “Who am I? Where am I supposed to be?” She began to sob.
Jesse slowly approached and sat next to her, letting the woman cry on his shoulder.
“It’s alright,” he soothed, “we’ll help you get over this. You didn’t just appear out of nowhere.” He smiled putting her at arm’s length. “You’re probably from here and someone’s missing you. We’ll find out.”
She whimpered, “Uh-huh.”
“We’ll go to my house – ” the young woman looked at him warily “ – No, it’s not what you think. Remember, I’m the pastor of the church – ” he had waved his hands in the air “ – it’ll do you good to get cleaned up and my daughter will be home soon. Maybe she might recognize you, or maybe you might recognize her. In the meantime, I can call for help.”
The beautiful, young woman collected herself. She appeared to think off in the distance, then said, “You’re a man who worships the Almighty, leads others to worship Him, correct? You do this with steadfast faith, complete loyalty, correct?”
The questions took Jesse aback, “Well, yes—of course.” The way she said it, this time, sounded as though she preached to him.
“Then I know you will help me because you are a man of faith. Pastor Fisher, I put my trust in you and my life in your hands.”
Wow, thought Jesse, for not knowing who she is, she speaks with such authority. He timidly replied, “That’s one of things I do as pastor, I help people. Let me get my keys and we’ll head on out, okay?”
The drive to Jesse’s home was uneventful.
Although he took a couple of detours showing her around the town of Miracle, nothing she saw jogged her memory. Much to Jesse’s chagrin though, he did notice some of the town’s women point his way as he drove by the convenience store. No doubt they figured, the way he had been acting, it looked like the pastor was up to no good.
Once at the Fisher house he showed the young woman upstairs, then gave her a bathrobe, towel, and wash cloth, and finally pointed out the shower. Before she closed the bathroom door Jesse suggested one thing.
“Until we find out your real name, how about we call you ‘Jane?’”
“Jane? Why Jane?”
“You know, like ‘Jane Doe.’ Just until we find out who you are.”
“Trust me. Go ahead and get cleaned up, take all the time you want. You’ll feel better after your shower.”
“Thank you, and bless you.”
Jesse’s heart melted a little. No one had said that to him since his wife died, and before that, it was Sara who had said it almost every day.
On his way down the steps, he replayed the things this strange, but beautiful woman had said. They were so personal; it was as though she knew his secret – his loss of faith. And it was not only what she had said, but what stuck in his mind more, was how she had said it. It had a caring but commanding tone, at times surprisingly loving but always sincere. The earlier reaction of dreading to help her was completely replaced with a warmed heart of concern. Jesse admitted to himself that the words alone and how she said them were not the only reason his feelings had changed to want to help ‘Jane.’ There was something about Jane herself, and no, it was not her incredible beauty. Something about her radiated outward and softened his heart, he truly wanted to help her, he wanted to see her back with the love ones she no doubt had and just as certainly missed her.
Jesse entered the kitchen with a renewed sense of purpose. It was something he had not felt in quite a while and until this moment believed he never would again. Searching through the utility drawer for his address book, he fished it out and flipped to the phone number for the sheriff.
“Yes, Doreen, it’s Pastor Jesse. No, I haven’t forgotten, ladies dinner is next week at the lodge. I’ll be there. Now please, can I talk to Sheriff Sanders?”
He waited while the receptionist transferred him.
“Hello,” said the deep, craggily voice, “Pastor Jesse, how are you sir?”
“Good, good, Tom, and you? How’s Tammy and the kids?”
“Very good pastor, thanks for asking. So, how can I help you?”
“Well, I know this might sound strange but,” said Jesse sheepishly, “have you had a report of a missing person?”
The sounds of keys on a keyboard clicking, “No. Nothing like that. Heck, I haven’t seen a missing person’s report in years. Why ya ask? Do you know of one?”
Jesse hesitated, “Oh, nothing really, ah, something I overheard at the convenience store, ah, about a missing person, but I didn’t catch it all. You know, I got to thinkin’ about it and, ah, just though I’d check with you.” When he was done, Jesse made a sour face and closed his eyes tight. It had to sound like Jesse was making up the story.
The sheriff remained silent for a few obvious seconds, then said, “Okay—pastor. I’ll keep an ear out. Anything else I can help you with?”
“No, nope. Nice talking to you Tom. I’ll see you Sunday?”
“Like always, Pastor Jesse. Have a good rest-of-the-day.”
“You too, bye.” Jesse hung up the phone, shook his head and sighed. What do I do now?
The front door slammed.
Jesse walked to the entrance finding his daughter dropping her backpack to the floor. Glancing at his watch quickly, he was surprised to see that it was time for her to be home.
“What are you doing home so early?” Missy asked gruffly.
There stood his daughter. The once pretty, little girl with curly, brown hair and light-hazel eyes had transformed herself into a dark creature. Wearing tight, black jeans and a red t-shirt underneath a faded hoodie, half of her face was hidden behind a long, pink-colored bang while the other side of her bob-like hairstyle swept drastically to one side.
“I was surprised at church today—” started Jesse.
“Oh my god!” Missy interrupted, her eyes glaring past Jesse to the steps. “You just didn’t…”
Jesse turned to find Jane standing halfway down the steps. Her platinum blonde hair was still wet, and for all appearances, she was simply dressed in the peach-colored bathrobe he had given to her earlier.
“Oh, no,” laughed Jesse, “it’s not what you think. This is what surprised me at church today.”
Missy’s glare turned deadly, slowly she said, “That woman is wearing mom’s robe.”
“I know honey,” returned Jesse, becoming defensive, “but you keep your door locked all the time. I very well couldn’t offer her one of yours, now could I?”
“Tell her to take it off.”
“Missy!” Jesse said, embarrassed. “Now listen, I found this woman unconscious behind the church and she doesn’t know—”
“I don’t want to hear your story,” said Missy angrily. “I don’t care, whatever you did, you did.”
Grabbing her backpack, Missy stomped to the stairs and then stormed up them.
“Young lady,” called Jesse after her, “you will not talk to me like that!”
Missy ignored her father as she reached Jane.
The beautiful, young woman looked at the teenager with sadness. Somehow she understood how Missy felt, but did not know why. Watching the girl fight with her father put something into perspective in Jane’s mind, but again, she was not sure why. One thing did come to mind and she shared it with Missy.
“Honor thy father.”
Missy became furious. She pushed by Jane and continued up the steps. At the top, she turned around and hissed, “None of your business, lady!” The last thing heard from her for the evening was the slamming of her bedroom door followed by barely muffled music blaring loudly from inside.
The statement from Jane did not go unnoticed by Jesse. Again, there was something about the way Jane said it that fascinated him – for someone so young she spoke with such a tone of authority it belied her age.
“I apologize,” said Jesse, glancing down at the floor, “ever since her mother died, she hasn’t been the same. They were really close and she hasn’t gotten over it yet, neither of us has. As you can tell it’s strained our relationship. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“No need to apologize,” said Jane, “I think I understand. The anger she feels, it seems familiar to me...”
Jesse eyebrows raised, “Well, maybe something good will come out of that scene.” His tone then became fatherly, “Why don’t you get yourself into some clothes? You can find some in the other bedroom, just search through the walk-in closet and grab anything you like. I’ll get dinner ready and we can talk some more. Maybe this is the start of you memory coming back.”
“Okay, thank you Pastor Jesse,” said Jane. She turned and walked up the steps hoping beyond hope that he was right.