I see Reverend Barratry at the grocery store. Reverend Barratry is a tiny woman and I’m a tall man. I find myself bending so as not to tower over her. She asks where I’m playing these days. I see my reflection in her bifocals. I mention a couple of gigs. I do coffeehouses, bars—no place for an older person like Reverend Barratry. Nice of her to ask, though. We part ways.
Two days later someone from the church committee contacts me. Reverend Barratry has a sermon planned for next month. Might I have an appropriate song to complement her sermon theme?
Even though I’m a professional, this isn’t about me. I think: Service the sermon, the message. They tell me the theme. Right away, I know the perfect song. I send a link and lyrics.
Immediately, they respond: “Yes, this is perfect.” Everything is set.
I practice the song just to make sure I don’t mess it up. Over the next few Sundays, I envision myself up there supporting Reverend Barratry’s words of wisdom.
* * *
The night before the big sermon, I change the strings on my guitar. It sounds massive.
Sunday morning I show up a half-hour early to do a sound check. There's hardly anybody in the sanctuary, so I play a few fragments of popular songs just to warm up my fingers and voice. I also play a verse of the scheduled song. It's right there in the program: title of the song, the person who wrote it and my name. It's a story song and I've worked up a solid arrangement. I don't play too much of it—don't want to give away the ending. I'm supposed to play just before the sermon, according to the program, like an overture with words. Preamble.
While I'm singing and the tech is adjusting sound levels, Reverend Barratry enters.
I sing, "Hello, Reverend Barratry!"
She just ignores me and heads straight to the pulpit. She puts down her Bible with a frown, hunches over her notes. I finish the sound check and take my place in a pew. People are starting to fill up the sanctuary.
Reverend Barratry motions me back up to the stage.
She says, "We need to move this away." She's pointing to the microphone stands and my guitar. "The children need to sit here for story time." Even though there's plenty of room, I do as she says. I try to remember how the mic stands are placed, since that was the whole point of doing a sound check.
"Wouldn't you rather sing down there?" she says, pointing to the wooden steps leading up to the stage.
"Um, nobody will be able to see me," I say. "And I can't use the microphone."
"Yes?" I say.
"It's just...I'd like it to be less of a performance."
I consider this. She doesn't want the song to upstage the sermon—I get it.
"Okay," I say, grabbing my guitar. "Just point me to where you need me."
She escorts me to the back of the church.
"I'll have to sing loud," I tell her. "People will have to turn their heads to see me—but maybe that's the point. No performance, right?"
As if this has raised an additional problem, Reverend Barratry frowns again. She takes me through the door to the hallway. I strum my guitar in front of a bulletin board.
"Here?" I say.
Reverend Barratry sets a finger to her chin, contemplatively. She pushes open the door to the men's restroom.
"Really—here?" I say.
She opens the stall, points.
I comply. She closes the stall door. I hear her exit the bathroom. Inside the sanctuary, there's the gathering music, call to worship. The men's room door is open.
They say Reverend Barratry is due to retire this year. The committee already sent me an honorarium, which I cashed.
I bash out an E-chord on my guitar. The acoustics in here are incredible.
Robert Morgan Fisher’s fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review Soundbooth Podcast, 0-Dark-Thirty, The Huffington Post, Psychopomp, 34th Parallel, The Snake Nation Review, The Seattle Review, Spindrift, Bluerailroad and other publications. He has a story in the forthcoming Night Shade/Skyhorse Books Iraq War anthology, Deserts of Fire. Robert has written extensively for TV, radio and film. His music and fiction have won many awards. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, where he works as a Book Coach and Writing Specialist and teaches online courses. He often writes companion songs to his short stories. Robert also voices audiobooks. www.robertmorganfisher.com