Falling toward Heaven
by John Bennion

Chapter Eighteen

[p.287] Emily sat in the chair at the corner of the bishop’s desk. He wore a plaid shirt and wool pants; he had just come in from feeding his cattle. His hair was white, cropped short; when she had first met him, it had been longer, brown. From his face she knew he’d be firm with her again.

“I’m glad you finally called me,” he said. “This business about Sherryl’s accusations has been a real hardship—for all of us.”

“We’re older now. Everything is a hardship.” He leaned forward, but before he could speak she said, “Remember when I married Walter? They put you and him in the elders’ quorum presidency.” Brother Jenkins, who had bought Walter’s farm, had been the other counselor. The three couples had met to make plans. They decided that the best thing they could do was to have a barbecue every month. “We had every single elder and prospective elder in Rockwood out to our parties. Weren’t those good times?”

“What do you want to talk about specifically?” he said.

“I need to sneak up on it,” she said.

“When you talk about what good friends we are,” he said, “I feel like you’re sneaking up on me.” He didn’t smile. “Like maybe you’re giving priesthood blessings again?” He clasped his hands before him on his desk. “I don’t know what to do with you, Emily.”

[p.288] “I have been so discouraged,” she said. “In the beginning I didn’t plan anything. It just seemed to happen.”

“You know I’ve had several meetings with Sherryl. She told me she drove to Salt Lake, and you prayed with her in your apartment.”

“What did she say to make you mistrust me?”

“Nothing specific,” he said. “She was so worked up, she couldn’t remember if you put your hands on her head. She just said your prayer made her feel calm.” He rubbed his palm against the side of his face. “I wish I’d never been called to be bishop.”

“Gerald,” she said. “You’re going to have to make up your mind to trust me or not.” She felt that the office was as small as a coffin and she would suffocate if she didn’t get out soon.

“You promised me,” he said.

“Yes, I did. Once should be enough.”

“Right,” he said. He stood and walked to his window, which looked out across Ralph Stringham’s fields. His hands were clasped behind his back. “I’ll act on that trust,” he said finally. He walked back to his seat.

“Thank you,” she said. “I held her hands. I did everything you suggested. I made sure it was nothing like a priesthood blessing.” She felt as if the room had suddenly opened outward, and she found tears standing in her eyes. “But I sure shouldn’t have called Samuel Fitch, even if I’m convinced he did abuse Sherryl.”

“That’s probably right,” he said. “It’s stirred up a real hornet’s nest. I don’t know who to advise to do what.”

“So Sherryl’s parents and Samuel are both talking to you?”

He nodded.

She folded her arms across her chest. “What are you going to do?”

“It’s odd that no other girls had any trouble from him. I’m sure I would have heard from Sherryl’s parents if anyone had spoken up to the state people.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve read about young women who imagine cruelty so clearly that it becomes real.”

“But you’ve talked to her?”

“Yes.”

“Can you still think she made it up?”

[p.289] “No,” he said. “You’re right. I can’t say with good conscience that she’s made anything up.” He shrugged. “You know one thing you’ve done to me?”

“What?”

“You’ve made it so I can’t talk without second guessing myself. I was interviewing with Sherryl and most of what came to my mind to say to her either cast doubt on her story or was encouraging her to forgive and forget. So I just kept my mouth shut and listened.”

“You are a wonderful man, Gerald. I’ve always thought that Susan would help you turn out all right.”

Finally he smiled. “I’ve talked to a dozen people in this office who want me to stop you from going ahead with this home for women. They don’t want that kind of women in town.”

“Women whose husbands beat them? That kind of woman already lives here.”

“Who knows that better than me?” he said. “You don’t need to convince me. It makes no sense, but some of them connect this mess with Sherryl and Samuel with the home—as if abuse will happen more here if you establish this house. At the same time, they somehow don’t see Sherryl as one of those women.”

“Well, it’s all so new to them,” she said. “No wonder they’re confused. After these women come to church a while, people will change their minds. They’ll see them as people.”

“Come to church?” he said.

“Yes, I intend to encourage them to come to attend our ward. It can be part of the healing.”

“Oh, Emily,” he said. “You’re hopeless.”

“Hopeful,” she said. “You owe me something.”

“Me owe you?” He grinned, then the smile flickered away. “What do you want now?”

“Let me explain,” she said. “When I blessed those women, I was filled with warmth. Such a clear strong feeling.” She looked at him. “It was no different than the feeling I’ve had when others have blessed me.”

“I don’t understand how that can be,” he said.

[p.290] “But I have promised you I would give it up,” she said. “I’ll never bless another woman by anyone’s priesthood as long as I live. It was a mistake.”

“Someone might say you gave up what you had no right to in the first place.”

“Yes,” she said. “I want you to do me two favors.”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“I’ll tell you, whether you ask or not. First, I want you to support me in this home.”

“Can’t I just stay out of it?”

“No,” she said. “You don’t need to say anything to anybody, in church or out of church. You just need to help me, paint or pour cement, anything. If people see you working on it with me, they’ll gradually change their minds—without any of the confrontation that would happen if you try to convince them with words.” She paused. “And you know it’s a good thing.”

“I’ll do it,” he said. He looked relieved at getting off so easy.

“Second. I want you to pray for women.”

“I pray for women all the time.”

“That we will one day receive the blessings,” she said. “All of them.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. She watched him and waited. He moved to the window and looked out again. “Maybe. Maybe I can do that.”

“Thank you, Gerald.” She stood. He offered his hand, but she gave him a quick hug instead. She left his office grinning; for months, maybe years, she hadn’t felt so happy.