Outside the church secretary’s office there were screams, the thunder of automatic gunfire. Frail in a blue flowered dress, she jumped at each sound. Sweat running down her thin neck soaking into her slip as she waited for the gunman to find her. Talitha covered her mouth to stop screaming.
Frozen, she crouched beneath the heavy metal desk. Her back bent. Her hands clenched. Her lids shut tight. Talitha prayed.
Her mind was dulled trying to think what to do, where to go. She had been practically raised here, this sacred place was home, her safe place. This was her parents’ church. She remembered her daddy’s proud face as watched the trees he’d planted in front of the church bloom. She remembered when that lot was full of cars every Sunday, when the pews were full of families. Her heart beat quieted to the images of dances and picnics, jumble sales and Christmas pageants, soup kitchens and fried oyster dinners. She saw herself helping her momma in the kitchen when she could barely see over the lip of the big double cast iron sink. This church was the steam rising off hot sudsy water and the laughter of women. Talitha wrapped herself up in the memory of her mother’s arms.
Outside in the sanctuary, it was quiet. She held her breath straining to hear. The sound of her heart filled her ears. Now barely forty heads bowed here once a week. So many families had moved away, children she had taught during vacation bible school were grown and gone. Her church sat dark except for Sundays and AA meetings. But this church was still Talitha’s.
This Sunday had started like so many others. As she fished for her big bunch of church keys she could hear the choir practicing, a handful of children playing up in the old nursery. She had popped into the church office early to try to pay bills, robbing Peter to pay Paul. The new pastor was good but young and she liked to be around to see there weren’t too many changes. Suddenly the shooting began. Talitha wiped at her tears.
Outside in the church hallway, the sound of steady, deliberate footsteps echoed. Under this roof, she met her dear Samuel at a dance, they had been married here, and she lay down flowers for his homecoming. She had seen enough taken from her. Under her desk, her tiny body steeled. Adjusting her hat and dusting off her knees, Talitha stood tall.