Read Catch Me When I Fall Online

Authors: Westerhof Patricia

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary

Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall

Patricia Westerhof

For my parents.

What you see
is one version of love, but there are many.
—
Diana Brebner

Contents

Unfailing Mercies

Holy Earth

You in Your Small Corner

How Lovely Are the Feet of Them

God's Laughter

The Whole Field

Probability

Shepherd's Pie

Killdeer God

Love's Austerities

Poplar Grove

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Unfailing Mercies

GRIPPING HIS NEW
cordless microphone, the minister stood in front of the pulpit and hollered, “CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD!” his voice as gleeful as if he had just won the Stanley Cup. “HOW DO WE KNOW? BECAUSE OF ALL THE PEOPLE WHO
SAW
HIM.”

A lot of people believe they've seen Elvis too, Sarah thought, though her fellow congregants seemed rapt. Behind her, Marisa DenZeldon grunted approvingly. Sarah leaned over the purse on her lap, nudged her wallet and a new pregnancy test kit to the side, found some peppermints and unrolled one.

“THE WOMEN AT THE TOMB. THE APOSTLES. EVEN THOMAS BORE WITNESS WHEN HE SAW THE HOLES IN CHRIST'S HANDS.” Reverend Dykstra held his palms out as a visual aid. They were hole-free.

Sarah moved her purse to the floor. Reverend Dykstra, still sounding like a
Hockey Night in Canada
announcer, called out, “NOW SHAKE HANDS WITH YOUR NEIGHBOURS, SAYING, ‘THE PEACE OF THE RISEN CHRIST BE WITH YOU.'” The congregation looked at one another uneasily. Mr. Kemp, on Sarah's left, crossed his arms and shifted slightly away. Reverend Dykstra was new to them. He was from
PEI
, a very friendly province if you believed their travel ads. Sarah did, because Reverend Dykstra got his high expectations from somewhere. Asking Albertan farmers and farmers' wives to greet one another in warm evangelical language—well, he might as well ask them to clean the church toilets.

Sarah especially didn't want to wish such a mouthful on Marisa DenZeldon. Not today.

They stood up slowly, bums and backs rigid. School-photo smiles. Sarah greeted Helena Steenstra to her right and the Bouwens in front of her. Their son, Danny, still seated, was drawing a creepy-looking bird of prey on his bulletin, and he reluctantly proffered his hand when his mom jabbed his shoulder. Sarah turned and waited while Helena, who had her two-year-old daughter, Zoe, balanced on her hip, took Marisa DenZeldon's hand as if it were a potato bug—she'd been wound up since Marisa sorted the nursery toys and threw out Zoe's favourite tractor. “Marisa's not even on the nursery committee,” she'd complained before the service.

“Since when would that stop her?” Sarah had asked.

Marisa, legs planted like stone pillars, leaned toward her now and reached with barbeque-tong fingers. “Peace,” she said.

•  •  •

Sarah used to believe she became a Christian because of Marisa. Marisa lived on a pig farm down the road—you could smell it when the breeze was from the east. The two girls played together a lot, especially in the summer when they'd ride their bikes out of the calling range of their mothers, who had overflowing buckets of peas for them to shell and oceans of beans and lettuce to weed. One sunny August day they cycled to Gull Lake. Although prohibited from swimming without an adult, they dug trenches on the beach and climbed the monkey bars and bought Popsicles from the general store by the cabins.

As they pedalled home past canola and barley fields in the slanted late-afternoon sun, Sarah heard a metallic crunch and her bike lurched to a stop. “Chain's off,” she yelled to Marisa, who was ahead of her. She pulled the bike far over on the dusty gravel shoulder close to the barley, in case any traffic came along. Sweating, she struggled to tug the chain back over the sprockets.

Marisa, tall and sturdy at ten with dark brown curls and wide cheekbones, had wheeled her bike back toward Sarah. She watched for a while, then said, “You should pray for help.” Even then, her manner was imperious.

“But my family—we don't really believe in God.”

“Oh, Sarah. You don't have to believe what your parents believe. Do you want to go to hell when you die?”

She wanted to get home by suppertime. “What do I say?” The only prayer she knew was Marisa's dad's, spoken in a rush before meals:
Fatherwethankyouforyourunfailingmerciesandforthisfoodamen.

“You just talk. God can hear you wherever you are. Like this.” Marisa folded her hands, bowed her head, and closed her eyes. Looked pious and devout, like the Precious Moments figurine in her living room. “Dear Father in Heaven,” she said, “Sarah's chain fell off and we can't get it back on. Please help us.”

She glared at Sarah. “Did you have your eyes closed?”

“I will.” She folded her grease-stained hands and closed her eyes tight.

“Pray.”

Sarah hesitated. “Father in Heaven. We thank you for your unfailing mercies and for you to put the chain back on.”

“Amen,” Marisa prompted.

“Amen.” Sarah opened her eyes and eyed the bike. “Chain's still off.”

“God doesn't do it
for
you.” It was her you-are-an-idiot tone. “Let's try again.” She held the bike up, and Sarah clutched the slack section of chain. She yanked it up from where it had fallen between the gears and the frame and carefully arranged the top part of the chain over the teeth. She'd already tried this three times, and each time the chain tripped off when she'd turned the pedal, falling next to the frame, limp as a cooked noodle.

“Okay. Lift up the back wheel,” Sarah said. Marisa did, and Sarah gingerly turned the pedals forward. This time the chain rotated smoothly, aligning itself perfectly over the teeth as it travelled. “Wow,” Sarah gasped.

Marisa looked smug. She set the bike down and wiped her hands together, although she hadn't come in contact with any grease. She said, “See what God can do?”

•  •  •

Marisa found Sarah in the foyer where she was pulling on her coat after church. She grabbed her arm. “Russell didn't make it for Easter?”

Sarah stalled, fumbling with a button. Her husband, Russell, had been driving truck for an oil company since mad cow disease and tumbling beef prices. She'd told him to stay—“Not good timing this weekend,” she'd said on the phone. They were trying to get pregnant.

“He's home next weekend.”

“Oh.” Marisa looked impatient. She grew up large—one of those towering Dutch-Canadian women with a sturdy trunk and powerful limbs like a discus thrower. She favoured large floral prints that made her look like a walking sofa. Her nose flared briefly, then she flicked her trowel-sized hand. “Listen, Sarah. You need to make a decision about becoming a
GEMS
leader. Janice Kemp's baby is due in less than a month, so we need a replacement for her—pronto.”

She stopped, looming forward expectantly. Sarah moved back a step, feeling a pang at the mention of Janice Kemp's pregnancy. Maybe there was something wrong with her own body. She pulled her focus back to
GEMS
, and that caused another pang. If Marisa knew Sarah's thoughts during the service, if she knew the doubts Sarah harboured, Marisa wouldn't be asking her. “I'm not sure—”

“C'mon. What else are you doing on Wednesday nights?”

“I don't know if I'm the right person.”

“Of course you are. You like kids, you like crafts, you can read Bible stories.”

“Well, I—I'll think about it. I'll call you this week.”

She hurried to the parking lot, glad that her denim skirt and down-filled coat hung wide enough for striding.

•  •  •

When she was ten, it was
GEMS
—Girls Everywhere Meeting the Saviour—that gave her official status as a convert.
GEMS
was a Christian version of Girl Guides, close enough and bland enough that her parents said she could go. She liked the crafts a lot; they made sailboat pictures by pounding in nails on a board and winding string around them in a careful pattern; they assembled Christmas wreaths out of wire clothes hangers and cellophane.

Each meeting started with a Bible story and a short lesson about living as a Christian. The morals weren't that different than the ones her parents had taught her—be nice, don't steal, don't lie. But there was one big difference that drew her.

“You should try not to sin,” said Joyce, a favourite counsellor. Her eyes smiled even when her mouth was straight. “But you won't be able to live without ever doing anything bad, because we're all human.” Sarah fixed her eyes on Joyce. At home, when she spilled something or forgot to make her bed, her mother would flinch, then freeze, her thin body poised for emotion and action. Sarah wanted to run, the way she did outside when she saw tight black clouds barrelling toward the still-blue sky above her. “Sarah Thomas,” her mother would say, her voice a thick rumble. Sarah flinched when her mother's hand stung the side of her face, a sound like her father whacking jackfish to death at Buffalo Lake. Afterwards, her mother would wait for Sarah's father to come in from milking and then she'd cry as he washed up on the porch. “Ron, I've had it. I'm up to here with them!” Her arm punched upward on the “here” and then jabbed in their direction—Sarah's baby brother, who hadn't done anything wrong, and Sarah. “I can't cope anymore!”

“Lena, Lena,” he'd soothe. Eyes tired, he'd pick up the baby and send Sarah to her room, where she'd sit on her bed, listening to the call and response of this dance of theirs—her shrill complaints and his low-pitched replies.

“Even if you're bad,” Joyce said, “with God, you can know that He loves you anyway. Just as much as if you were perfect.”

•  •  •

At home she checked for eggs in the chicken coop. It was an especially wintry Easter this year, with big flakes falling and a temperature of minus eight. If it snowed enough, her neighbour, Jacob Boss, would plow her driveway. She trudged inside and changed into jeans and a turtleneck. Later this afternoon, she planned to visit Russell's parents in Leduc.

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