Just three short months before they asked him to consider being on the short list for appointment as a deacon, Ray got into a habit of dropping into McGinn’s Wings on the way home from work. Although he had a more liberal attitude toward drinking than some in the church, it wasn’t about the alcohol. On about half of the days he went with a bottled grapefruit drink they served that was non alcoholic. It was more about having a buffer zone between work and home, though during the process his Sunday morning church attendance was starting to wane.
McGinn’s customers tended to walk around more than sit. There were some novelty pool tables, one sized extra long and the other extra square; not to mention some vintage pinball machines, foozball, and a prototype of a Wii-type game that never made it to market. There was also a red-haired woman who said her name was Blaine.
“Isn’t that a man’s name?” Ray asked.
“I’m all girl;” she replied, “Want me to prove it?”
Ray made a fist with his left hand and aimed it toward her. “See that? That’s a wedding ring. Don’t forget that.”
And then, two days later they would repeat the same dialog, almost word-for-word.
Ray’s wife Kallie was aware of all this. What was obvious by the smell of his jacket when he came home after 30 minutes at McGinn’s — a mixture of the hot sauce served with the chicken wings and the smell of beer — was also confirmed by Ray. He made no attempt to hide what he called his “new hobby.”
“What happens,” asked Kallie, “If someone from North Hills Baptist sees you coming out of there?”
Ray didn’t care. The pastor arranged for a joint meeting of the current deacon’s board along with all six people on the short list for serving the following year. Only three of those would be chosen, but they got to see an actual functioning meeting which dealt with a couple of budget issues, a few room rental requests, and the issue of a member who had written a rather strange letter to the editor of the local newspaper which, while it was mostly political, had the potential to do some damage.
Ray enjoyed the meeting and even made what all considered some good suggestions during a time when the prospective members could make comments; but the next morning he called Pastor Clements to ask that his name be removed from the short list and curiously, the pastor didn’t ask for a reason.
Ray made some friends at McGinn’s. He helped one guy move on the condition that it not involve a piano, and another was a mechanic and did some electrical repairs to his passenger side car window for free. They told him that Blaine was harmless, she actually had a different birth name which she hated, and every few years she came up with a new identity that she field-tested on bar patrons. Still, her flirting messed with his head, and she wasn’t the only woman at the bar who enjoyed playing mind games.
But several months down the road, McGinn’s closed. They were facing three civil lawsuits, there was a threat of a sexual harassment charge by a former waitress, some health code issues, and the proprietor was dealing with charges of federal tax evasion; though it must be said that the last item — the tax dispute — got cleared up really quickly when the owner sold the property to a condo developer for what everyone felt was far above market value.
Ray spent a week visiting other bars in town, but found them “shallow” and decided to go back to driving straight home from work. He also resumed a more regular pattern of church attendance.
Ray’s employer had a deal where if there were five Fridays in a month, they got the last one as a day off. So he was enjoying an extra hour’s sleep when Kallie informed him that she needed him to drive Claire Gibbons from her house to a florist shop to order the decorations for the women’s fall banquet.
“Why can’t you do it?” Ray asked.
“I’m on a writing deadline for one of the magazines.”
“The fashion one or the cooking one?”
“The parenting one. And I have some bad news, you have to take my car.”
“I can’t drive your car, my knees start killing me after two minutes in that thing. Did you tell Scott he could take the SUV?”
“No, you did.”
“Your car is too low.
Claire Gibbons was a weird blend of hipster and 1950s Baptist and you never knew which version of her you were getting at any given moment. Her contrasting themes ran through everything from her opinions on church matters to what she wore. Ray thought Kallie should be giving her some of the complimentary copies of the fashion magazine that were delivered each month, because her fashion style could best be described as contradictory.
The route to the florist shop from Claire’s house went by the former home of McGinn’s Wings. The windows were boarded up and there was a large ‘For Sale’ sign in the parking lot, even though the locals knew about the property selling to the condo company.
“Glad to see the end of that place;” Claire said.
Ray gulped. “How’s that?”
“Our Bible study group was praying that place would close.”
Ray took a slow, deep breath and asked, “Is that the group Kallie’s in?”
“No;” Claire offered, “She goes to Tuesday, I lead the one on Thursday.”
Ray kept his eyes on the road.
They were praying against the bar.
They were praying against the place where I spent my time.
A few minutes later the route took them by the home of a longtime member of North Hills Church.
“Look over there;” Claire said with much excitement, “Alan Richards got his car back.”
“I didn’t hear this story,” Ray responded, “What happened?”
“Alan got his license pulled when the eye doctor told him he couldn’t drive anymore until he got glasses, and the frames he wanted took six days to come in. In the meantime, his son borrowed the car and immediately heard and felt something not right. The mechanic found some kind of brake issue that could have been disastrous. I forget what they called it, something about –“
Ray had to slam on his own brakes when a dog ran out from nowhere, retrieved something from the road, and disappeared again.
Claire didn’t finish her sentence and Ray’s mind went back to Alan and his car.
His six day inconvenience prevented him from driving a broken car.
His inconvenience meant he was prevented from something worse.
Buds, Bulbs and Blooms, the florist shop was now in sight. Ray wasn’t sure where the women were getting the money to decorate the church multi-purpose room with expensive flowers, but the $28 they were charging the women for tickets offered a clue.
For her part, Claire noticed a silence had descended inside the car, and felt she should say something or do something, but she wasn’t sure what.
“Ray…” she began. But then she stopped unsure where she was going with this.
She started up again, “…We’ve been praying for you. Kallie told me about…” but then she suddenly seemed distracted as Ray pulled in the lot.
“Yeah;” Ray began, “I don’t know; I guess–“
Claire interrupted, “We’ve been praying since Kallie mentioned the thing about your knees. I really appreciate you doing this even though your son had your SUV. I don’t need a ride back, but you should park and walk around if they’re hurting.”
With that Claire hopped out and shut the car door.
They were praying for me.
They were praying for my healing.
Ray was deciding to where he could walk nearby and was just getting ready to shut off the engine when he noticed something.
His knees weren’t hurting at all.