S T I L L††† W A T E R S
By: Millard Murdock
Jonah Callahan waited inside the vestibule while the congregation finished singing Amazing Grace.† The words, "that saved a wretch like me," floated back to him, and his eyes filled with tears.† That used to be his favorite song.† And he was a wretch.† Why else would he come sneaking into church with his thirty-ought-six deer rifle while services were going on.† Only a wretch would do that.† But he was on a mission.
He peered through the window of the double doors leading into the sanctuary.† He knew most of the people inside by name and wouldn't hurt any of them, except one: the man that had been messing with his wife.
The singing stopped.† He watched the choir file from the loft and scatter among the congregation.† He wanted everyone seated before he made his entrance.† More dramatic that way, and his prey would have less of an opportunity to escape.
When they were seated, he pushed against the double doors and stepped inside.† In a fierce voice, he called, "Which one is he, Clara?"† He waved the rifle first to one side of the sanctuary, then the other.† "Which one is he!"
He relished the horrified look on Clara's face when she turned and saw him.† He pointed the rifle in her direction.† "Which one of these bastards have you been screwing behind my back?"† Clara jumped to her feet. The hymn book she had been holding fell to the floor.
"Jonah!† What are you doing here?† Take that gun out of this church!"†
Jonahs lips curled in a knowing snarl.† He pulled a packet of letters from the pocket of his hunting jacket and waved them at her.† "I found these, Clara, and I read them.† I've suspected for some time that you've been seeing someone, and now I have proof!"† His keen eyes scanned the sanctuary, checking the men's faces for signs of guilt.† "I know he's in here somewhere.† These letters talk about the two of you making love."† He pointed the rifle toward the lighted cubical behind the pulpit.† "In the baptistery of all places, Clara!"† He tapped the letters against the barrel of the gun.† "But I don't know his name, Clara.† All these letters are unsigned.† So, who is he!"
She was squirming now, just as Jonah had intended.† One hand flew to her mouth, and her eyes began to fill with tears.† "Can we talk about this at home, Jonah.† You're scaring everybody with that rifle."
"No!† Weíll talk about this right now!† What's his name!"
*† *† *
I recognize the letters as the ones I had written.† Thank God, I had the common sense not to sign them. I wouldn't have written them at all, but Clara thought it would be romantic.† Thank Goodness, I had burned the ones I received from her.
I keep my eyes on Jonah and his wavering rifle.† If he points that gun at me, I'll have to make a break for it.† I don't want to die just yet.
A figure slithering down the aisle catches my eye.† Itís Eric Wheeler, and heís moving toward the back exit.† I hope he makes it before Jonah sees him .
*† *† *
Eric Wheeler crawled on his stomach toward a door at the back of the church.† He intended to slip through that door and out a side exit and bring back help.† He moved slowly and deliberately.† When he reached the door, he glanced toward Jonah.† He was still talking to his wife.† Eric grasped the knob and eased the door about a quarter of the way open.† A shot rang out before he could open it further.†† A stained glass panel above his head shattered and fell to the floor.† Eric stopped cold.
"Stand up!"† Jonah shouted.† Eric slowly rose to his feet, his hands high above his head.† "You must be the one, trying to sneak out like a yellow dog!"†
"I didn't have anything to do with your wife.† I was going for help."
Eric turned his head.† His body braced for the impact of the bullet he was sure would come.†
"Stop!† He's not the one!"† When Eric looked up, he saw Clara Callahan standing between him and Jonah's rifle.† "It's someone else!"
*† *† *
I hold my breath.† I thought for sure I was going to witness the murder of Eric Wheeler.† And he's not the guilty one.† The rifle should be pointed at me, for I am guilty.† But I'm not going to step forward.
But will Clara tell him my name?† I don't think she will, but I don't know her too well.† I certainly don't know how sheíll react in a situation like this.† I've only been seeing her for a couple of months, not long enough to really get to know her.
I look around at the men on the floor and hope some of them will try to overpower Jonah.† I see Deacon Miller getting to his feet.† Good man, Deacon Miller.† Maybe he'll be able to persuade Jonah to leave the church.
*† *† *
Deacon Harvey Miller rose to his feet.† He didn't want to approach Jonah, not after the shattered window, but someone had to stop him before he killed somebody.† He took a few steps toward Jonah.† Jonah looked toward him, but kept the gun trained on Clara and Eric.
"That's far enough, Mr. Miller."
Deacon Miller cleared his throat.† "Jonah, don't you think things have gotten a little out of hand?"† He took another tentative step.† "I've known you for a long time, and I know you don't intend to shoot anybody with that gun.† So why don't you just put it down, and we'll talk about your problems."
Jonah glared at Clara but addressed Deacon Miller.† "Itís not me with the problem, Mr. Miller.† It's the coward that's been screwing my wife.† When I find out who it is, then he's going to have to deal with me and old faithful here."† He patted the rifle.
"But you don't intend to shoot him, do you, Jonah?"
"He deserves to die, Mr. Miller."
Deacon Miller kept inching toward Jonah.† "I don't think you'll do that, Jonah.† You just came in here to scare him, didn't you.† Well, you've done that.† You've scared us all.† I don't think the guilty party will continue to see your wife."
A half smile, half snarl crossed Jonahs lips.† "I guess I've scared him all right.† But I've got to know who he is, Mr. Miller.† I may not shoot him, but I'd sure enough beat the crap out of him."
Deacon Miller had inched his way to Jonah's side.† He reached his hand toward the rifle.† "Why don't you give me the gun."† Both his hands grabbed the rifle.† Jonah didn't let go, but held tight.
"Someone help me here!"† Deacon Miller called out.† Avery Johnson rose to his feet, but he sat down again when the gun fired.† The barrel of the gun had been pointed upward, and the bullet went through the ceiling.† Jonah jerked the gun, and when it came free, he swung the stock of the rifle toward Deacon Millerís head.† The blow landed just above his left eye, and blood spurted.† He fell to the floor, and like a wounded animal, he crawled back to his pew.† Avery Johnson handed him a handkerchief, and he held it to his eye.
Someone started quoting the Twenty-third Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters..."
"Does anyone else want to be a hero!"† Jonah shouted.† No one answered.
* * *
Jonah is looking my way.† No, Jonah, I don't' want to be a hero.† I just want you to leave and take that gun with you.† His eyes catch mine for just an instant before he turns back to Clara.† I lie closer to the floor, trying to sink into the wood.† God, if you'll deliver me from this situation, Iíll not lay a hand on a married woman again.
* * *
Clara watched Jonah strike Deacon Miller in the face, and turned her eyes away.† Her tears increased, and she tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming.† She couldn't believe what was happening. This was the man she had married.† The man she had loved, and still loved.† She had tried to help Jonah with his drinking, pouring his whiskey down the drain when he wasnít around. She had encouraged him stop his drinking and go back to church.† But he would do neither.† He bought more whiskey and scoffed at the church.† Discouraged, she gave up on him, and soon turned to another man.
She watched Jonah's eyes.† They had lost some of their fierceness.† Maybe she could reason with him now.† She spoke to him in a calm voice.† "Jonah, don't you think thatís enough?† Look at all that blood.† You may have hurt him badly.† He needs to see a doctor."
"It's your fault, Clara. You should have told me your loverís name."† Clara watched beads of sweat roll down Jonahís face.† "Tell me now, Clara, before I hurt someone else."
Clara hesitated.† She looked at the shattered window, and at Deacon Miller huddled on the floor with a bloody handkerchief pressed to his head.† "If I tell you, what will you do?† Shoot him?† Beat him up?"
Jonah wiped the sweat away with his free hand.† "Maybe."
"Then what?† Shoot me?† Beat me up?"
Tears started in Jonahís eyes.† They mingled with the sweat as they rolled down his face.† "No.† I wouldn't hurt you."
"Why wouldn't you hurt me, Jonah?"
Jonah's tears flowed freely, and his speech was muffled.† Sarah could hardly hear him when he spoke.† "Because I love you."
"You love me?† You didnít pick a good way to show it, Jonah?"
Jonah nodded his head.† "I didn't know what else to do."
Clara moved closer. "You could go to jail for this, Jonah.† Is that what you want?"
Jonah turned away from her, looking first at the ceiling, then at the people sprawled on the floor.† He lowered the rifle.† "No, Clara.† No."
"Then what do you want?"
* * *
Yes, Jonah, what do you want?† If you don't want to shoot me, then what do you want?† Your precious Clara back?† Go on, you can have her.† I'm through with her.† I could never see her after this.† Go on, take her and leave.
* * *
"I want things to be the way they used to be:† me loving you and you loving me.† That's what I want, Clara."
Clara had moved to Jonahs side.† She put one hand on his arm.†
"You mean, you want things the way they were before you started drinking so much.† Before the plant fired you for drinking on the job.† Is that what you mean, Jonah."† Jonah bowed his head and put his hand over Clara's.† She opened her hand and gripped two of his fingers, and squeezed.† "Well, that's what I want too."
His eyes raised to meet hers. "Do you?"
Her body had stopped trembling, and her voice was soft, soothing.† She could see those on the floor straining to hear.† "Yes, I do.† But you'll have to stop drinking.† Can you do that, Jonah?"
"Yeah.† I think I can.† As long as things go back to the way they used to be.† As long as you're home with me every night.† Yes, Clara, I can."† He pulled her to him.† Some of the people got to their feet.
"Can we go home now?"† Clara whispered.
He nodded his head.† No one tried to stop them as they left.
* * *
Awkwardly, I rise from the floor.† My legs are cramped, but I move to the pulpit with as much dignity as I can muster.† It has been a trying day for all of us, and I'm not in a mood to preach a sermon, and I'm sure that no one wants to listen to one.† I'll probably have to deal with the sheriff later.† Maybe Jonah will go to jail.† Maybe not.† Either way, I won't see Clara Callahan again.†
I gaze out on the congregation, and my eyes find those of Laura Blankenship.† She's another lonely lady I've been offering comfort to lately.† Standing beside her is her husband, Don.† He's a good man, and he'll probably be elected a deacon next year.† He'd never come after me with a gun.† Yes, Laura Blankenship is safe.† Good riddance to Clara Callahan.
I raise my hands, and when all heads are bowed, I give the benedictory prayer.