The day Audrey took a loaf of homemade rosemary-potato bread to Cora Jean Hall was the day the fog broke and made way for spring. Audrey threw open the curtains closest to the dying woman’s bedside, glad for the sunshine after months of gray light.
Audrey moved quietly down the hall into the one-man kitchen, where she sliced the bread into toast, brewed tea, then leaned out of the cramped space to offer some to Cora Jean’s husband, Harlan. He refused her without thanks and without looking up from his forceful tinkering with an old two-way radio. Over the past month, his collection of CBs and receivers had overtaken the small living room. His grieving had started long ago and was presently in the angry stage. Clearly, he loved his wife. The retired pharmacist dispensed her medications with faithful precision but didn’t seem to know what else to do. If not for the radios, Audrey believed, he might have wandered the house helplessly and transformed from smoldering to explosive.
As Audrey arranged the snack on a tray, one of her earrings slipped out of her lobe and clattered onto a saucer, just missing the hot tea. She rarely wore this pair because one or the other was always falling out, but Cora Jean liked the dangling hearts with a rose in the middle of each. The inexpensive jewelry had been a gift to the women of the church on Mother’s Day last year.
She put the earring back in her ear, then carried the tray to Cora Jean’s room, settled onto an old dining room chair by the bed, and steered their conversation toward happy topics.
Cora Jean was dying of pancreatic cancer, the cancer best known for being unsurvivable. Audrey sat with the woman in the late stages of her illness for many reasons: because she believed that people who suffered shouldn’t be left alone; because she was a pastor’s wife and embraced this privilege that came with the role; because Cora Jean reminded Audrey of her own beloved mother.
She also went to the woman’s home because she couldn’t not go. In the most physical, literal sense, Audrey was regularly guided there, directed by an unseen arm, weighty and warm, that encircled her shoulders and turned her body toward the Halls’ house every week or so. A voice audible only to her own ears would whisper, Please don’t leave me alone today. It was no pitiful sound, and Audrey never resented it, though from time to time it surprised her. In these moments she thought, though she had never dared to try it, that if she applied her foot to the gas pedal and took her hands off the wheel, her car would take her wherever God wanted her to be.
This five-years familiar experience had not always involved Cora Jean, but others like her, so Audrey had long since stopped questioning how it happened. The why of it was clear enough: Audrey was called by God to be a comforter, and she was glad for the job.
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