Descending a steep and narrow flight of creaky, rubber-matted stairs, the pastor’s office is located at the far end of a dimly lit hall, the last door on the right—away from it all—unless someone dares to enter through the lower level fire exit: down, down, down an amusingly steep wheelchair ramp.
The red EXIT sign flickers in the distance.
Andrew will never forget the morbidly obese 82- year-old Bonnie Periwinkle—faithful to the end—peering over the formidable cement slant, trusting God and the skinny, brittle arms of her beloved husband and lifelong hero, 79- year- old Pauly “Pop” Periwinkle. It was the Sunday school hour immediately prior to Andrew’s first service as the newly installed minister of All Saints. He overheard happy voices just beyond his office. He rushed to open the door and greet his flock with a warm and welcoming smile; instead, his eyes widened with fright at a runaway chair screaming toward him, heavy with flailing flesh. The wheels were squeaking disturbingly fast, one lifting off the ground, bending, wobbling, tipping, threatening to spill the helpless passenger onto the bone-breaking, concrete surface. Andrew exclaimed, “Oh, Lord!” and braced for the impact. Fastening himself to the handicap railing, he lifted wide open legs. The metal arms of the wheelchair slammed against the heels of his hard-soled shoes, driving his knees almost to the chin. A terrified face smashed into Andrew, just below the belt, and almost bit into him. In the awkward seconds that followed, poor Mrs. Periwinkle—unintentionally obscene—pressed hard against Andrew’s crotch, as if his pants were a Kleenex, and wept uncontrollably, “Oh, Father! Oh Father!” Pinned tight against the wall, Andrew rested both hands upon the wigged crown of her head and, trying to comfort her, said, “There, there.” Other than a severe stomach ache, a bleeding and swollen tongue, and bright red lipstick smeared with snot all over his zipper, there weren’t any injuries beyond his own and those were easily hidden behind Andrew’s liturgical vestments.
That was almost two years ago, before the Periwinkles were buried side-by-side in Christ Walk cemetery, high atop the peaceful, grassy slope behind the church–very near to a God-forsaken ravine: the frightening Gehenna of All Saints.