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illustration by the author The Town Cryer
by Marcus Del Greco

       How few will ever know besides myself, or even get a peek at, what in Godís great earth went on in that house.  Praise Jesus.  Give us all the strength to love what we cannot understand.
        In the rectory, where I live as envoy minister (which I will explain), I have a picture book of the Ivy League Colleges.  The widow Brunerís house looks exactly like those photographs: as though it could be dragged down to Hell by those vines.  As long as I can remember, though Iíve only been in town for seven years, the Bruner house has been a shrouded hall of learning.  My fascination with the widow began with the sight of this house, and this story is how I learned of the bridge between fantasy and affection.
        Within the house, as everyone in town knew, Mrs. Bruner wrote, laid out, and published her independent bi-monthly The Town Cryer.  This was something of a dark joke to the community, the case being that the old womanís articles on anything from town politics to transcendentalism bordered on such self-pitying drivel that you could actually picture her crying as she wrote.  But the fruit of her literary labors was marked by an undeniable erudition that nearly excused her misery.  Her mansion house was a sad academy.
        I myself am a man of the Spirit, not of the intellect, but I admit a slight fetish for the Ivy League world within my picture book, a world I would have joined had I not decided to become ordained.  Higher learning and Faith can go hand in hand, I am convinced, when science is viewed in the light of Godís many wonders.  What brought me to the mysterious house of Mrs. Bruner, however, was an article of noted intellectual language which assaulted more than the Faith.
        Donít think that Iím the variety of minister who harasses atheists and agnostics out of twisted duty.  In truth I am as committed to the 1st Amendment as I am to the Faith.  As I would be committed to a wife, if I had one.
        I became involved because Mrs. Bruner had the propensity to name individuals in the Cryer.  I was visiting the house on behalf of two sisters who attended my services, and who had been insulted in print by Mrs. Bruner.  They were, of course, far too afraid of the old dwelling, and the old widow, to call on her themselves.  They had both imagined Miss Havisham in a wedding dress lurking somewhere behind all those vines.
        Their vision, it turns out, couldnít have been further from reality.  First of all, it was understood that Mrs. Bruner and her late husband had shared four decades of relatively contented marriage.  They were known to take summers in upstate New York.  They were even social.  The oddity of Mrs. Brunerís publishing efforts, however, and her mental decline into hermitage sparked the town to fabricate gothic stories of her secret life.  The only person whom she ever visited was the pharmacist, Mr. Leer, who doubled as a "medical therapist" for many in town who desired his mood elevators.  He required half-hour "therapy sessions" in order for a customer to receive his wares.  It had to do with his certification somehow, a formality.
        People often asked him about Mrs. Bruner.
         "Doctor-patient relationship," he would say, honoring his contract with lip-service, but then screwing his finger around on his temple as if to add, "Loony as a jaybird."
        The drivel Mrs. Bruner had published in the Cryer about the two sisters I reluctantly represented accused them of being religious zealots.  You could imagine Mrs. Bruner weeping as she lamented the horrible rumors the "prudes" had been spreading about her.  Undoubtedly she was right, as the sisters were known as gossips.  But they werenít gossips in print, as Mrs. Bruner had the power to be, and by evoking such smoky curiosity the widow certainly got the whole town to read her paper every two months.
        And she had torn the sisters to shreds.
         From the article: "The Age of Reason, I had previously taken comfort in assuming, had precluded the existence of such people who fantasized on the lives of others and believed their fantasies.  But to these credulous prudes I suppose any conjuration is believable."
        Which, I knew, was a veiled criticism of my ministry.  I was (and am) an "envoy minister" because my predecessor left town under questionable circumstances.  I was sent as a replacement with my lingering "envoy" title to assure my salary wouldnít grow.  The connection between Mrs. Bruner and my predecessor is perhaps the highlight of town gossip about the widow.  The theories are many, and mostly sordid, but nobody knows for sure.  The only thing thatís sure is that impending scandal drove the minister from his post, and abruptly.  Mrs. Bruner has scorned me since the day I arrived, sometimes in the Cryer.

        All these thoughts were my companions as I stood on the doorstep of Mrs. Brunerís residence.  The doorknocker was perfect; it reminded me of one I saw on a monastery door during a retreat.  Behind this doorknocker was organ music, I was sure.  I had no organ music at my services, but a small folk choir, two guitars, and a tambourine.
        I knocked.
         Mrs. Bruner was not happy to see me.  The feeling was mutual, but I was taken aback by her youthful appearance.  She was, in fact, a striking woman the likes of which normally wouldn't see fit to hide herself indefinitely behind closed doors.  But I had come to express the thoughts of others and truly had no personal issue.  The widow, despite her printed attacks, was a curiosity to me and I was frankly grateful for the interest that her presence gave the town.  And I respected her.  She lived in a hall of learning.
        She just stood at the door.
         "About the sisters?" she asked.
         Perhaps she knew there would be repercussions from her article.  I hadnít thought she would have cared.
         "Come in," she said.
         This, of course, was the coveted invitation that everyone in town had dreamt of, feared, and never, ever, expected.  I certainly hadnít anticipated actually getting to see her living space.  Nobody ever had, since I had come to town.  My obsession with the widow may have been in empathy for her isolation, or a response to my own.
        So details competed for my attention in a fierce Olympics of discovery.  I admit to being a bit sheltered as an envoy minister in a small town, but I had neglected to admit to myself how eager I was to unearth the fact or fiction of the gossipersí tales.  The details flooded in, however, with the same lack of explanations of a rain storm.
        A portrait, presumably of her late husband, large, in the living room.  Oriental rugs, also very big.  Candle holders.  That gothic smell fostered by some of my contemporaries in the clergy, who never air out their rooms for fear their faith will blow out the window.  No organ music, though.  Against one wall, in the "study" I suppose it was where she led me, in relief against all that antiquity, sat the computer from where she published the Cryer.
        And next to that, a box of tissues.  So that much was true.
        "I expected you might call," she said, "but on the phone."
        She seated herself with much groaning ado, and that was when I understood how old she was.  In years, maybe sixty or sixty-five, but in aesthetics she was forty-something..  It was there my pity turned for the first time to admiration: this woman was an enticing outer triumph over the human condition, at least.  I was also surprised she had a phone; who she spoke to I knew not.
        "I didnít know the best way to handle this," I told her, "I am here under obligation, as you know."
         "Oh, I know.  Youíve been putting it off."
        Odd; the article I had come there about was only then a few days old.  The response from the sisters was instant.  I made her understand that I did not understand.
       "Thereís a lot of history between us.  You could have contacted me much earlier.  Iím surprised you didnít," she said.
        "Youíve never been to services," I said, trying to erase any tone of accusation.
        "Thereís reasons for that," she laughed, and coughed, and coughed for awhile, and made me feel the pity again.
        She recovered from her coughing spell and squinted her eyes at me as she detected my confusions.
        "My husbandís been gone for a long, long time," she said, "He was a genius.  A person gets lonely after an intelligent person decides it's time to die and leave you."  This was some sort of explanation.
        "Surely it wasnít his choice to pass away," I said.
        "Oh, no.  Nothing like that.  He loved life."
        "And you loved him very much."
        "More than I remember," she said, "I moved on out of necessity, and that is all.  I never wanted-"
         She reached into the big desk her computer rested on, and I again thought "how odd" about the computer and the phone.  She was a modern widow, a woman with the air of Victorian England who lived behind bricks and ivy, typing away on a word processor.
        This would disappoint the people in town, if I ever told them.
        From the desk she pulled a purple sash, of all things, inscribed with the monograph L.L.W. in yellow.  I didnít think it then, but these were the initials of my predecessor.  Lawrence Langley Welsch was his name.  The town knew him as "Langley" in the parlors of gossip where he now existed exclusively.  Who knows where he is now.
        "Langley is in Washington State.  He has a new ministry," she revealed as she handed me the sash.  "He wanted you to have this."
        To me this was high intrigue.  A man I had never met intended a gift for me, a man of my own order who was somehow defamed and then decided to flee.  What did he know of me?
        "He pities you," she said, slouching.  But slouching almost sexily, I thought. What was going through my mind?
        "Why?" I had to ask.
        She straightened up for this proclamation: "Out with the Old, in with the New.  Thatís the way it goes.  Iím sure you have heard that Langley loved me very much.
        She then crossed her legs in the most dainty fashion.  Completely prudish, but completely not.
        "He said I was the only woman in town a minister could ever love."

Marcus Del Greco has been writing for the page, stage, and record since 1992. He founded in 1998 and continues as editor and developer of this domain and a small network of other creative websites. He lives in Alton, New Hampshire.



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