Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 24
Marly Lewis

[p.248]Marly was not surprised to find the bishop on her doorstep, though happily surprised that he came alone. He explained that both his counselors were visiting hospitalized members, and that he had just dropped by to see how she was. Marly smiled politely and let him in.

She knew why he had dropped by and why he seemed nervous. At the bottom of her last sacrament meeting memo regarding his parishioners she had typed, “Release Marly Stevens as organist pronto.”

She wondered how he would broach the subject without mentioning the anonymous memos. After a few minutes of small talk, she found out.

“Sister Stevens,” he said, softly, “someone told me that you need to be released from your position as organist. I hope that’s not true.”

“Yes, it’s true,” Marly said.

After a pause he said, “Well, that’s a problem for me. You see, there’s really no one competent to replace you. I suppose being an organist is rather a thankless job, but it’s extremely important. We do appreciate you a great deal; maybe we haven’t expressed that as we should.”

[p.249]Marly had lived in the ward long enough to know that at least two other members played the organ. However, Brother Engles covered his fumbling for keys and pedals by slowing the tempo of every hymn until it became funereal. And Sister Brochen had a martinet’s sense, driving out two choristers in a year’s time. It must be tough staffing a ward with volunteers, she thought.

Marly smiled at the bishop. “Oh, I don’t feel neglected. I love playing the organ.”

“Then why—” he began, adding humbly, “if I’m not intruding.”

The previous bishop, Marly knew, would have added a few sentences about his jurisdiction in performing the Lord’s work, but this bishop behaved like a regular person. Still, she must not tell him about her pregnancy. Caitlin had warned her of women she knew who had entrusted their bishops with their secrets only to have the wrath of God descend upon them. “I just feel it’s time,” she said, adding lamely, “it’s a health concern.”

Now he looked worried. “I wasn’t aware you’d been ill,” he said. “I can arrange for you to be given a blessing. Do you need help with medical expenses?”

Marly could stand it no longer. “I’ll be better in six and a half months,” she said, “and it will be a girl.”

The bishop grinned automatically, looked shocked, then reached for his composure. “I see,” he said, trying not to overreact. “That kind of health problem.”

Questions followed, lots of them, but Marly had no trouble answering. She wouldn’t give him Paul’s name: he wasn’t a church member and he didn’t know about the baby. No, she wouldn’t tell her lover about the baby—she didn’t want to disrupt his family life. They had been friends; they had understood each other. The bishop’s face grew even graver, yet also gained sympathy as they talked. Finally he stood and walked over to the [p.250]dining room windows, gazing north at the semaphore for several minutes. Marly sat quietly, stroking Lennon who purred vigorously, as if purring could fix everything.

Finally the bishop turned. “Who in the ward have you told about this?”

“No one but you.” She flushed then, realizing she had (as Caitlin would say) blown her cover. The bishop realized, too, and began chuckling, shaking his head at her. “Marly, Marly, Marly,” he said, and sighed. “So you are my informant. How do you know these things about people?”

Marly shrugged.

He turned back to the window, but she thought she heard him mutter, “My little helper.”

“Glad to do it,” she said, but he didn’t respond.

After several minutes he sighed deeply and turned toward her again. “You aren’t dating anyone else?” he asked.

“No,” she said, shocked. “I’m not promiscuous.”

He nodded. “And you have no plans to be with anyone else, at least until after the baby’s birth?”

She nodded, though her eyebrows rose a bit. Did he have a secret stable of princes wearing blue suits, mounted on white steeds?

He turned back to the window for another few minutes, then walked back and sat down opposite her. She heard his voice as half bishop and half friend as he explained that although the sin of fornication was grievous, at least she had made the right decisions since then. She hadn’t broken up a marriage. She was carrying the baby to term—“and you plan to care for it yourself?” he finished.

“Oh, yes,” she said, and let her joy show in her smile. He smiled back and took her hand.

“You have a gift, Marly,” he said, “and not just for playing [p.251]the organ. I’m going to have to put you on probation as a member of the church. That means you must continue to put your life in order to re-enter full and worthy membership at a future time. However, you should continue to attend church, partake of the sacrament, and fulfill all your responsibilities.” He paused as she nodded. “And I’m hoping you’ll continue as organist.”

“Of course,” Marly said, “if this won’t be a problem for you?” Her cheeks flamed as if she visualized Heather Prynne wearing her scarlet letter before the crowd.

“If any questions arise, just tell people you and I are working on this together. Period. It’s under the bishop’s jurisdiction and, therefore, confidential.”

“Right.” She couldn’t stop smiling. “Thank you very much.” He stood and offered his hand. “Can’t I offer you some herbal tea?”

He shook his head. “No, I really have to be going, but it’s been an enlightening conversation.”

Marly walked him to the door wondering if she should ask about continuing to send him memos—would that seem too presumptuous? He let her know on his way out, when he touched her shoulder and said, “Keep up the good work.” He winked and she winked back before she remembered this was God’s servant.

Marly closed the door and spun in an ecstatic circle, snatched up Lennon and hugged him until he yowled, then went to call Caitlin. “You may have gone to Henry’s hogan,” Marly crowed, “but I have a Mormon medicine man.”

“Tell me fast,” Caitlin said, so Marly did.