Reverend Joan (Part Four)

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 27th Dec 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>General Fiction

Until the day when this is realistic fiction -- though perhaps without the arson -- Peace.

In Case You Missed It

Part One (Introduction)
Part Two (Pizza and Confessions)
Part Three (The Children Came)

And on to part four -- the conclusion of Reverend Joan.

A Night Without Sleep

Saturday night of the last weekend in July, we went to church as usual and then out for pizza. Joan was having lots of after-Mass invitations these days, so we left her to her own devices with waves, smiles, and see-you-later’s. I’d started a new writing project, so it was a good time to unwind. After eating, we went home to bed early for a change.

But I could not sleep. At one o’clock I swore I smelled something burning. I tried to ignore it, but minutes later I got out of bed, put on my slippers, and checked the entire house. Jordan and Jaime were fast asleep. The stove was off. No lights or lamps had been left on. The air-conditioning unit, sometimes known to its own temperament, was working properly. I stepped outside and walked to the edge of the driveway. It was too hot for people to be lighting fireplaces. I saw no chimney smoke. There was nothing unusual at all. Yet, I still smelled it – smoke rank with oil and paint and old building materials. But there was no reason for it. Quietly, I returned to the house and my bed. But I tossed and turned for hours. I thought I would never get to sleep, but I was sleeping so soundly the next morning that my husband got the phone when it rang.

“Hello?... Fire?... Fire where?... The rectory?! Omigod! How’s Joan?... What do you mean, ‘she’s not there’? Where is she? Hang on. We’ll be right there --”

In a sleepy haze I ask, “Honey, what’s wrong with Joan?”

I felt I would have known if something had happened to her. God wouldn’t let anything happen to her. I wanted to take that for granted. Joan had already been through so much, and the parishioners were finally starting to accept her.

It took a while to get to the church because we didn’t want to tell Jordan or Jaime anything until we knew more about what had happened. But, bless his heart, Lucas drove to the church like a madman and we got there in less than half the time it normally took us. And when we got there, the fire was out, but the rectory was unrecoverable. I looked in the garage. Joan’s little bug was still there -- green paint burned away, windows busted. Parishioners were standing around in their Sunday best – it was about 9 A.M. and first Mass started at 8:30. Many were crying. Firefighters were trying to keep everybody away from the rectory, which they said would be a complete loss.

Fifteen Minutes Later

At 9:15, they came out with a body, burned beyond recognition. It would have to be sent to the state capitol for autopsy. Would there ever be enough water to put out the fire that blazed around Joan and women like her?

Chris ran up to me and asked, “Where’s Joan? We thought she must have stayed with you last night.”

“She never accepted our invitation.”

“She must have been somewhere else! Anywhere else!”

Unable to check himself, Chris looked away. I reached out and hugged him and he gripped me tightly, shoulders wracked with sobs. Jordan pulled on my pants leg.

“Momma, why is he sad? And where’s Joan?”

“I’m not sure, sweetie. Chris is sad because he misses her already. And so do I.”

“I miss her, too, Momma."


Jordan sucked in a breath that might have hid a sob, then shouted, "Momma! Oh, Momma. There she is, there’s Joan, getting out of that yellow taxi car!”

Sure enough, there was Joan, trying to pay the cabby, who insisted he didn’t take money from people on church business. Then, she turned and looked at everyone who milled about – many sobbing, a few slowly realizing she was there. It was as though she had just come back from the dead.

“What’s going on here? Sorry I’m late. Had a call last night to visit a patient at the hospital... I’ll tell you all inside – ”

Shocked as I was, I couldn’t take my eyes off the cabby. He looked like he really could have used the fare money. Scruffy, dirty. And old face but probably not that old. And then I could have sworn he winked at me! I looked around, to see if anyone else saw it. All eyes were focused on Joan or the rectory. Then, he tipped his hat to me, I’m sure it was to me, backed out of the driveway and pulled out into the street. I had never seen him before, and yet he looked strangely familiar.

Questions to Ask, Questions to Answer

Meanwhile, Joan was just noticing the rectory. “Oh, dear, what happened? Did I leave the gas on?”

The fire chief came up to her and asked, “Are you Reverend Joan Cutter?”

“Yes, chief, I am.”

“Did you have anyone staying with you last night?”

“Save the Lord God, no.”

“Well, our preliminary inspection points to arson. The body may be that of your arsonist. Can anyone prove where you were last night?”

Dazed, Joan replied, “Uhm... let’s see. There was a nurse on the night shift who saw me. I’m sure there were other people in the hospital who saw me coming and going. Oh! The cab company I called last night. They would remember me. I called them from my cell phone...”

Ruth MacIntyre and the teen group had presented Joan with a cell phone a short while after the festival. It seemed no one could get through to the rectory anymore. Ruth and I still had our differences, but she had made peace with Joan. I could live with that.

“... and the cell phone company keeps a record of the calls I make and the minutes I use. You can check with them.”

“What about the cab driver?” The chief pressed.

“I don’t think he was from around here.”

The Mass Must Go On

Rev. Joan led us back into the Church and led a prayer for the “deceased soul” whose body had been found at the rectory. Then, she declared we should have Mass, since that’s what most people had come for, and told us she would say more about it and give us time to talk as well in lieu of a homily.

“It was weird, actually,” she started. “Kind of surreal. I got a call about one o’clock last night that there was this patient and would I come see him because he didn’t have any I.D. and said he had no friends or family, but could he please see a priest. So I said ‘sure, I’d be happy to come,’ got dressed again, got into the garage, and got in my car. But you know how my bug is temperamental,”

Guilty titters, not quite laughs, could be heard through the crowd. I thought then to look at the front pew. No Franklin Cotton. I dismissed the thought I was forming. Even Franklin Cotton can sleep in every once in a while. Maybe he decided to go someplace else to church. His absence did not mean anything. ‘All bark no bite,’ wasn’t that what his brother had said?

“and anyway, it refused to start. So I get out my cell phone, and -- lucky for me, I’ve got the cab company’s number programmed into it already -- call them up, but the lady tells me that a car is already there waiting for me. That someone called and requested it earlier. And I’m just going with the flow here and I say, ‘OK, thanks,’ look outside and sure enough, there is a cab sitting in the driveway. The driver takes me to the hospital – I don’t even remember telling him that I needed to go there – and we chat about what a nice night it is and ... well, we must have talked the whole way there, but I don’t remember what all we said, but when we got there, he refused to take any fare money. Thinking he intended to drive me back and just get a larger fare, I told him that it would be a long night and I’d just call back when I needed to get home. He said OK, but he was still there when I walked outside at eight thirty this morning.

“The patient told me his name was Mark. He said he’d been here a long time and he was ready to go home, but he just got scared for a minute and would I stay with him until he wasn’t scared anymore? I asked him if he wanted Last Rites. He said yes. So I absolved him and gave him Last Rites and then I just held his hand.

“Usually, I talk to people or read from the Bible or something, but it didn’t seem right this time, so we just sat there. We listened to the sounds of the hospital and listened to the sounds of the room and after a while we tuned everything else out and just listened to the silence. Mark died at four this morning. Normally, I would have left shortly after, or would have spent my time talking to his family, but since he didn’t have anybody I just stayed.

“Around eight o’clock I decided I needed to drive back over to give Mass, and I had forgotten that I didn’t drive myself. So I walked out to where I normally park and there was the cab instead, the driver still inside. It didn’t even look like he’d dozed or anything, and he acted as though I’d been gone minutes instead of hours.

“‘Ready to go back, Reverend?’ He said with a friendly smile. And we talked all the way back here. As all of you saw, he wouldn’t take any fare from me. And you all know how expensive fare is in this town.”

The congregation laughed. From the high school to the grocery five miles away was a 20-dollar fare. And most drivers didn’t make change. We had never heard of anybody getting a free ride. It was 15 miles from the church to the grocery store, you couldn’t get cabs in advance, and it took them an hour to get to you wherever you were. That’s why we always called on friends if we needed to be driven to or from the airport or if our cars were broken down. My thoughts returned to the cab driver. Old face. Scruffy. Dirty. Hobo. That wink.

“Does anyone have anything they’d like to share?” Joan asked. I decided to keep my wild-running imagination – about Mr. Cotton and the cabby – to myself.

Chris went first. “Rev., I’m so glad you didn’t die. I mean, at first I wanted something bad to happen to you because everybody said you were going to be all mean and stuff and that you hated guys and you weren’t a real Catholic or anything. But then when you caught me and you were just worried about me and what my parents would say and you were always kind to me. And then I felt bad that I ever wanted something bad to happen to you. And then I got scared ‘cuz I thought something bad had happened and it was my fault ‘cuz one time I wanted it too...”

Another teen said, “My Dad said not to trust you because, well, because you were different and all that. But I knew if a woman like you could throw a ball like that, you had to be OK in my book and I’m glad you’re OK now.”

An older couple stood together, but only the man spoke. “We didn’t know what the world was coming to, letting you come here and all. We didn’t much care as you were a woman, but we minded our business. But we knew some wasn’t too pleased about it and we’re just glad you’re OK. God Bless You.”

“Amen.” Several others said.

“Anyone else?” said Rev. Joan. No one got up to speak. “OK, then. Let us pray.”

Man's Work; God's Work

The state examiner identified the burnt remains as belonging to Mr. Franklin Cotton. Criminal Scene Investigators showed how Mr. Cotton started the fire in the cellar, hoping that the fresh paint and old construction materials would catch everything quickly. They showed how he must have cut the phone line so she couldn’t call for help – unaware that the line had been cut months earlier. Then, they speculated, he must have heard Joan trying to start her car and eventually leave, so he must have gone up to make sure her car was still there, which it would have been, and then to make sure she was still inside. But the building was very old, and he’d underestimated his own talents. The building was consumed before he’d had a chance to get out. Fairly fresh paint on the walls – covering up the earlier graffiti – undoubtedly enabled the fire to spread as quickly and thoroughly as it did.

Some people claim though, that it was the deceased Mr. Cotton who had called the cab company. Some say it would have been his get-away car. Others feel he had a slight change of heart and wanted to help her to safety. I, on the other hand, feel that there was something very special about that cabby. I still remember his wink. At least, that’s what I think it was.

Change is Constant

Plans are underway to raze the building and put up a new rectory. And Joan is getting ready for her new assignment. All they’ve told her so far is “Middle East/Orient.” She promises to write. Can priests make a promise like that and not keep it? Wouldn’t it be a sin or something?

Her replacement is anything but new. Late seventies, white hair, male. Reverend Angelo will not be able to play ball with the kids. He’ll be lucky to make it to the altar for each opening procession.

“Are you going on strike again?” she asked me. “You know, since you won’t have a female priest again.”

“Times are a changin’, Sister. Or, should I say, Reverend? And who knows? Maybe Cottonmouth will have another female priest sooner than they think.”

Joan gave me a look.

“No. I’m not volunteering!”

“God’s will be done,” she intoned.

And like two schoolgirls, we fell into a burst of giggling.

Reverend Joan: Four Part Series

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4 -- This Page

*All images are courtesy of


I hope you've enjoyed the four part installment of Reverend Joan. When I was first inspired to write about an alternative self and Joan (as another alternate self) back in 2003, I hadn't figured out a lot of what I wanted for myself in terms of religion. I had been Catholic. I had been a liturgical minister. I had married a non-Catholic. In previous relationships, I had expected that the boy would convert to my faith. I never seriously dated a boy who was Catholic. Maybe if one had been a feminist, or at least as uncomfortable with traditions and history as I -- but I didn't find that guy. Instead, I found my husband of nearly 12 years. Since then, and since the birth of my only son, I've become more comfortable as I am, as an Unchurched person. I also like the old term "Transcendentalist," which Louisa May Alcott and others used very well but now seems a more New Age term than something that's been around for as long as it has. Perhaps it is.

Whether or not you've agreed with my premise, I do hope you've enjoyed the mini adventure I've laid out here. And I wish you peace.


Catholicism, Hate, Men, Persecution, Perseverance, Religion, Sexism, Women, Women As Priests, Women Discrimination, Women Of Achievement, Womens Issues

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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author avatar madugundurukmini
28th Dec 2013 (#)

great God

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
28th Dec 2013 (#)

If by your comment you mean "God is good," I absolutely agree, madugundurukmini. Thanks.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
28th Dec 2013 (#)

well done sure have been through a lot of lifetimes in this one..and come out of them as a really super person...xox

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author avatar Oddling
28th Dec 2013 (#)

Life is full of awe and wonder....

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
28th Dec 2013 (#)

Awww, thanks, Carolina!
And thank you Jacob. I think so, too!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
28th Dec 2013 (#)

Good morning, Phyl; excellent on so many levels. This series was a pleasure to read; however, more importantly, it was a pleasure to reflect on and react favorably to many of the experiences you wrote. Thank you for sharing this and I'll share now, too. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
28th Dec 2013 (#)

Thanks, ma'am!

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
30th Dec 2013 (#)

I can relate with my own thoughts and experiences that look similar when people are dogmatic in their thinking. Change is the only constant in the creative process and we should make it for the better. Thanks Phyl for an interesting, philosophical series with a message too - siva

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
31st Dec 2013 (#)

Thanks, again, Siva!

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author avatar Kingwell
10th Jan 2014 (#)

Well done! Change comes slowly. Thank you for a good read.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
10th Jan 2014 (#)

Thank you, Kingwell!

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
24th Apr 2014 (#)

Very well, written, Phyl. I see your Catholic background coming out because Catholics say Mass, while most Protestants say service. It reminds me of the anecdote attributed to Henry of Navarre. He was a Huguenot and had to convert to Catholicism to become King of France (as King Henri IV). He said, "Paris is worth a Mass."

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
24th Apr 2014 (#)

Catholics aren't the only ones who say "Mass" for "service," but this was definitely a Catholic-intended piece. Well noted, LR. Thanks for stopping by.

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