By Mary J. Breen.
“Nancy? Nancy! Where are you?” Edwin found her on the back porch wrestling with a sheet in the March wind. “Ah, here you are, my dear,” he said, “setting an excellent example for our congregation. Saving the earth.”
Nancy reached for another sheet. “The dryer’s still broken, Edwin. I’m not saving anything. That’s your department.”
He smiled. “I must remember this for Sunday’s sermon—reduce electricity use for the sake of God’s good earth.” He stopped to scribble something in the notebook he always carried in his breast pocket. “But listen,” he went on, “I’ve had the most splendid idea. I’ve been encouraging some of our older parishioners to write their memoirs—memoir writing has such restorative powers, and—”
Nancy headed inside with Edwin at her heels.
“So—are you listening, Nancy—so, I’ve decided to write my memoirs too! I think my life over the past twenty-five years would serve as an excellent illustration of God’s grace in our lives, both for the boys and for the congregation. I’m sure you’d agree.”
Nancy began rinsing the breakfast dishes.
“I’m especially thinking of the boys. It won’t be long before they start getting married, and I know a thing or two about marriage counseling. So, what do you think?” He didn’t wait. “I’ll call it My Extraordinary Journey With God.”
Nancy gave him a wan smile before turning back to the sink. Edwin was beaming as he headed for his study.
Edwin began spending all his free time writing. One morning when Nancy was dusting his office, she bumped his computer mouse and the screen lit up. There was the chapter about his years at Bible college before the boys were born. Of course she began to read. At first she thought he’d made a mistake, saying he’d earned a divinity degree not a diploma, but then she saw he was claiming Southern Baptist as his alma mater, instead of his small insignificant college in Nebraska. He’d also neglected to mention that his wife had put him through that small insignificant college by working long hours in the cafeteria. Nor was there anything about his drinking, or his devotion to “ministering” to the town’s “fallen women.”
And so, every morning, while Edwin was out on his run, Nancy read his tale. The day he finished writing it, she finished reading it. She wasn’t surprised that Edwin would paint a glowing picture of himself, but she was shocked that he’d miss a chance to show that even someone as honourable as he could stray, however briefly, from the path of righteousness. Furthermore, apart from her unnamed role in helping him produce four sons, his vapid account had omitted his wife.
That night, Nancy found herself too angry to sleep, so with Edwin’s snoring as an excuse, she moved to the spare room. She began an email to her sister on her laptop, but when she realized what a long story she had to tell, she abandoned the email, opened a Word document, and began to type. The light of her laptop didn’t show under the door, and for several nights in a row, Nancy wrote undisturbed before falling asleep. Soon she too had discovered the restorative power of writing her memoirs. She moved her laptop—now password protected—to the dining room table so she could also work in the daytime. When Edwin asked what she was laboring over, she said she was collecting family recipes for the boys, and Edwin declared it “an excellent project.”
In early November, Edwin arrived home with two bulging bags. “Look, Nancy! Look! Here they are!” Nancy wiped her hands on her apron and came towards him. “And here is your very own copy, with my love.” He bowed as he handed it to her with both hands, reverently, as if it were something holy. “I have to say the gold print on black does look rather splendid!”
Nancy accepted it, put it on the counter, and turned to the broom closet. There she retrieved a much smaller pile of red-covered books.
“What’s this? Ah yes,” Edwin said. “Of course, your little recipe collection. How appropriate for Thanksgiving. I hope you didn’t forget that squash casserole we love so much.” Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.
“No, Edwin,” Nancy was smiling now too. “Not recipes.”
“No? Then what? Prayers, perhaps?” Edwin began flipping through one.
“No, not prayers. You see, Edwin, I thought it would be appropriate if I wrote our story too, that is, my version of the last twenty-five years. You’ll see that I’ve filled in a few gaps.”
“Gaps?” His voice sharpened. “What do you mean ‘gaps’?”
“Well, for example, there’s those little DUI convictions, and your ‘friend’ Amanda, and, oh yes, the life and times of whatsername, your wife.”
“Nancy!” he said. “How could you? How dare you!”
“How dare you, you should be asking.”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “Who—to whom have you shown these?” His cheeks were flushing.
“No one,” she said.
She shook her head. “Not yet. But I plan to, unless you start rewriting.”
“You mean—surely you don’t mean—why, this is blackmail, Nancy! It’s not like you; it’s beneath you. I would never have—”
“Perhaps you should just think of it as another example of restorative justice. Surely it isn’t something that’s only for South Africans or people who survived those dreadful Residential Schools. I happen to remember a recent moving sermon on that very subject—especially the part about taking responsibility for harm done. That’s what got me thinking.”
“Well, yes but—” His face had darkened further.
“Perhaps, Edwin, justice should begin at home.”
Edwin gathered up his bags of books and strode off to the study without another word. When Nancy turned back to her pile of little red books, she realized that she didn’t feel any sense of victory at all.
MARY J BREEN’S fiction and nonfiction have appeared in national newspapers, essay collections, travel magazines, health journals, and literary magazines including Brick, The Toast, The Christian Science Monitor, ARS MEDICA, Boston Literary Magazine, and The New Quarterly. She lives in Peterborough Ontario where, among other things, she teaches writing.