During his sermon some three months after taking over the pastorate, Harry noticed a woman who was not a regular member of the congregation. She was about thirty, slender, of auburn hair, well dressed, but otherwise quite ordinary. He gave no more thought to her.
When he concluded the service, he stood as usual in the door of the entrance hall to speak to his parishioners as they left the sanctuary. The woman was in the line.
When the woman reached him and held out her hand, he recognized her for the first time.
He was speechless, but she spoke up. “Harry, the last time I saw you, you were not a reverend.”
“Years ago, Zelda…”
“Twelve, to be exact…”
“I didn’t know you lived here…”
“I’m your typical old-maid schoolteacher. It just dawned on me who the new pastor was. I’ll see you around…”
He let out a sigh of relief when she was gone.
He certainly couldn’t tell Marge about Zelda, about his fling before divinity school when he spent his undergraduate summers as a counselor at the youth camp in Vermont.
Zelda was a girl from the town near the camp. He’d met her at church, taken her to the movies, taken her to camp activities, and met her family. Then there were the torrid trysts in the woods on Sunday nights.
This had gone on for three summers. They wrote love letters to each other while he was back at school, and they’d vaguely hinted at marriage when he finished his studies.
But then there was Marge, the daughter of a divinity school professor.
And then an ominous letter from Zelda when she learned of his marriage to Marge!
He pondered the odds against her turning up in the very town where he’d so recently taken over the church in this affluent suburb.
Harry kept office hours at the church, but he was seldom disturbed by visitors in the summer – women with their children out of school were too busy to come calling on the pastor. Mrs. McNulty, his secretary, took her lunch hour from twelve to one, and when she returned, he’d leave for his own lunch, after which he’d go on afternoon visitations. During the hour when Mrs. McNulty was gone, he usually watched CNN news.
It was in such an hour that Zelda showed up at a quarter till one. Harry was at his desk in his office when she came in unannounced. She was carrying a handbag that resembled a basket.
“Harry, you ruined my life!”
“Zelda, I’m sorry. I was young and willful, and what I did was detestable…””
“True, Harry, so true. But now I’m going to ruin you!”
While he remained at his desk, she pulled her cotton dress over her head and discarded it. Then she removed her slip. After stepping out of her shoes, she peeled off her panty hose, then her bra and panties.
Harry bellowed, “Zelda, you can’t do this. We can’t…”
The now-naked Zelda calmly said, “Can’t do what? Can’t do what we did in the woods when you were talking about marrying me? Oh, no, Reverend. What you got then was probably better than what you are getting now…but, no, you’re not getting that!”
As he stared, she put on her slip, her dress, and her shoes. Her under-things she put in the handbag she had brought. However, these things in the bag were scarcely concealed, with the bra hanging over the side of the bag.
From where the stunned Harry sat at his desk, he could hear Zelda at the front door saying, “Oh, good afternoon, Mrs. McNulty! I must hurry and get out of this heat…”
Later Mrs. McNulty would admit to the obvious underwear in the handbag (this was seen by others as Zelda strolled down the street), but she denied actually seeing the two of them together. No matter, rumors flowed like the Nile.
A special August school board meeting was called to discuss Zelda’s continued employment, but Charley Swanson, a board member who was also a deacon, said he’d spoken to her and that she had adamantly refused to admit she had committed adultery. And, given Zelda’s excellent performance record, the board’s legal position was shaky.
Zelda attended church services regularly after that, always sitting close to the front where few people sat. Eyes throughout the congregation constantly shifted from a serene Zelda to a continually more frustrated minister, and then to the choir loft and a glaring Marge.
This siege went on for weeks and then ended rather abruptly. Marge took the children and went to stay with her mother. The district superintendent granted Harry leave of absence, and then transferred him to another district. There were rumors that Marge had asked for a divorce, and that Harry was leaving the ministry.
And Zelda continued to attend Sunday services, but she no longer sat in the seldom-used front pews. Instead, she sat with forty-year-old widower Charley Swanson who had heretofore resisted the efforts of local matchmakers to find a replacement mother for his two teenaged daughters.