It is not to be published, circulated, or distributed in any fashion without the prior consent of the author.


A novel

By Alison Longstaff

Copyright 2000
 Kitchener, Ontario


 This is a work of fiction.  All of the main characters, their families, and friends are entirely fictional.  Occasionally, a real live human being will walk onto the pages and interact with the characters, but in each of those incidences it will be with the full consent of the live individual, and with full thanks recorded in the acknowledgments.
 Cliffside New Christian Community exists nowhere but in the author's mind.
Its inspiration is drawn from an existing Swedenborgian community in the Kitchener area,
with certain homes and the actual building of worship used as settings for this novel.
Past that point, the similarities rapidly drop away.

Alison Longstaff




     "Do you have his health card with you?" asked the receptionist.
     The woman in front of Sue shuffled through her purse.
     Sue shifted restlessly, in an agony of frustration.  She scanned the crowded waiting room, wondering if perhaps her husband might be there.  He had had an accident, they had said. 'Come right away.'
     "Oh!"Sue's exasperation burst out of her.  She turned to look for someone else to ask.  Another worker was doing paperwork behind the counter.
   "Excuse me,"Sue called to her, moving up to another section of the counter.  When the woman looked up she said, "I'm sorry, but my husband is here.  They told me to come."
     The woman said, "What is his name?"
     "Duncan Rennie.  He's tall, blond, wire rim glasses. . . ."
     "Just a minute, please,"replied the woman, with calm serenity.  She looked through some forms, didn't find anything, and moved over to speak with the first receptionist.
     Sue felt a wave of panic. Grand River.  They had said Grand River Hospital, hadn't they? What if she was in the wrong hospital?
     Now the first receptionist was looking at her.  "Mrs. Duncan Rennie?"she asked.
     "If you'll go through those doors, Mrs. Rennie,"she said, "a nurse will meet you on the other side." Sue did as she was told.
     The nurse took Sue into her care, leading her down the hallway.
     "How badly is he hurt?"asked Sue.  They entered a quiet room that looked like a library.
     "The doctor will join us in a moment,"said the nurse.  "He can tell you everything."
     What?  Did they have to amputate a leg or something?  Sue had a flash of Duncan's long, strong legs, and a memory of how it felt to be picked up and carried in his arms.  Sue felt suddenly weak.  She sat in a chair, but was up again as a doctor swept into the library.
     "Mrs. Rennie?"
     "Mrs. Duncan Rennie?"
     "Yes!  What's happened?"
     "Let's sit down,"said the doctor.
     The sudden weakness in Sue's knees scarcely let her do otherwise.  Maybe both legs, or brain damage. . . .
     The nurse took a chair close to Sue and the doctor sat facing her.
     "Mrs. Rennie, your husband was in a serious car accident.   It appears that a pickup truck in the oncoming lane lost control in the snow and spun into your husband's car.  Both vehicles skidded over toward the verge and a steep embankment.  Your husband's car rolled several times. . . ."
     Sue drifted into a peculiarly numb place.
     The doctor went on, " . . . jaws of life . . . still conscious. . . .  Broken ribs. . . ."
 Oh, Duncan.
 ". . . punctured lung . . . chest tube . . .  ruptured aorta. . . ."
     It was as if something was beating high in Sue's chest.  She noticed that she couldn't swallow properly.
     "We did everything we could to save him. . . ."
     No, thought Sue. No.
     "He died at 7:03pm. . . ."

     Four years ago today, she mused staring out at the grey November day.  She wasn't seeing the frost-edged grass or brooding sky though.
     Dry eyes.  She didn't cry as often as she used to.  Life did continue, just as her friends had said.  Somehow, she had kept going.  But it was the little things . . . the twins' first school play, the day the kittens were born, a rainbow bright against a dark sky, when she would turn to share a smile with Duncan, and he wasn't there.
     Sue Rennie sucked in a deep breath and straightened her back.  A wry smile touched her lips.  "Here goes another day!"she admitted to the empty kitchen.  She swallowed her last drop of coffee and shouldered her purse.  Grocery shopping this morning.  She had to be back by eleven o'clock to volunteer at the twins' school.
     It's just another day to everyone else, Sue thought as she backed her old Toyota down the sloping driveway and out onto the silent street.  Heading north on Mount Chapel Avenue, she gazed again at the leaden sky.  Looks like snow, she worried.  It had been a freak early snowfall, battering the whole of southern Ontario, that had caused Duncan's terrible accident.  Their twin girls had only been three and a half. . . .
     "Snap out of it, Sue,"she muttered, shaking her head as if she could shake off the memories.  She reached down and switched on the radio.


      At the grocery store, Sue was awestruck by the barrage of Christmas paraphernalia waiting just inside the door.  She fingered some burgundy and dark green quilted place mats, and looked longingly at some delicate, fabric draped, treetop angels. She wanted an angel for her tree, but something blocked her from buying one for herself.  The blinking aluminum star that Duncan had picked out their first Christmas was still serviceable, if not to her taste.  It seemed disloyal to replace it.  Sue sighed and pushed her empty cart toward the produce.  She wrinkled up her nose as a Muzak version of  "Hark the Herald, Angels Sing"crackled over the speakers.
     As Sue was staring at the huge array of breakfast cereals, trying to remember what she had at home, one of the church matriarchs rounded the corner of the aisle.  Sue ducked her head, but Margaret Inquist (pronounced "Enk-Vist"as Margaret firmly corrected anyone so ignorant as to pronounce it "Ink-Wist in her hearing), Margaret had seen Sue and was headed her way.  "Well, if it isn't our fearless choir leader!"Margaret boomed in her cheery voice.
     "Well, hi, Miss Inquist,"Sue smiled bravely.
     Margaret parked her cart beside Sue's.  Her masses of ought-to-be-gray, helped blond hair was twisted into the inevitable two fat braids coiled over her ears.  "You know, I've been meaning to tell you,"she said, "I don't much care for those modern pieces you've been picking for us." She leaned in as if to share a secret.  "There is nothing like Bach, you know, to get the old blood pumping!  This modern stuff, it just doesn't have the same fire and majesty!"
     "Yes, I realize that, Miss Inquist,"Sue cut in.  "You've been a very good sport about some of the more contemporary stuff,"she lied.  A memory of Margaret announcing, "Well, if this isn't the worst piece of music I've ever seen!"in the middle of choir flitted through Sue's mind.  "I really believe in trying a variety of styles,"she persisted.  "Some members of the congregation really like the newer pieces."
     But Margaret wasn't listening.  "Maybe that new fellow will stick to the great old masters. Our church never made a wiser move than to hire a real professional!"
     Thanks for the support, Sue thought. Tactless old bat.  May the new music man have better luck pleasing both sides of the growing traditional/contemporary schism in their little congregation.
     "We're very lucky that he consented to come on such short notice,"Sue reflected.  "He has an impressive resume."
 Having had her say, Margaret Inquist patted Sue's shoulder.  "Well, I'll let you finish your shopping now.  Kiss those two sweet little girls of yours for me,"she concluded, and launched herself off toward the freezer section leaving a waft of the heavy scent of mothballs that seemed to follow Margaret everywhere.
     "Goodbye, Miss Inquist,"Sue said to the cereal boxes.
     Ah yes, Sue thought, defiantly grabbing something sugary and neon coloured, the new music minister, set to arrive any day now.  Sue herself had voted to hire the new assistant pastor, who would take on the job of music minister, even knowing it would make her obsolete.
     The Cliffside New Christian Church's struggling little congregation could do so much better with a professionally trained, official choir director and organist.  It was only logical.  It was the best thing to do for the congregation.  It was . . . possibly the end to the only thing beside the twins that had kept Sue going after Duncan's death.


     "Mommy, I'm home!" Andrea, burst through the front door, bringing a gust of crisp air in with her.
     "Hey, sweetheart.  I'm in here." Sue swivelled her chair around from the computer screen just in time to catch a bundle of fresh air and rosy cheeks.  A cold kiss was pressed to her face.
     "Ooh!"Sue gasped.  She took her daughter's laughing, brown-eyed face in her hands.  "You are freezing!  Where is your hat?"
     "Aw, Mom.  It looks dumb." Andrea stepped back and haphazardly pulled at her sagging knee socks.  "Can Rachel stay and play?  We wanted to work on our Barbie game.  We've almost got all of the dresses sorted.  Can she?  Please?" She slipped her backpack off, dropped it; her coat followed.  She headed toward the kitchen.  "Can I have a snack?"
     Just then, the phone rang.
     "I'll get it, Mommy." A pause, "Hello? . . .  Oh, hi Nana! . . .  Fine. . . ." Sue joined her elder twin by the phone.  "I think so,"Andrea was saying.  She turned her brown eyes up to Sue. "Are we having dinner at Nana's tonight, Mom?"
     "You bet, kiddo.  We always do on Wednesdays." Sue ruffled her daughter's hair.  "May I talk to Nana, please?"
     Andrea handed the phone over and headed off toward her bedroom.
     "Um, Andrea?"Sue stopped her daughter.  When the eager face swung back toward her, she said, "Not today.  Yes, apples or popcorn,"Sue answered her daughter's previous barrage of questions with practiced ease.  "And,"she pointed back toward the computer room, "your school bag and coat, hmm?"
     Andrea thought a minute, grinned, and skipped back past her mom toward the computer room.
     "Hi, Mum!  How are you today?"Sue spoke into the receiver.
     The front door opened and Alyssa walked in.  Sue tucked the phone under her ear and spread her arms to hug her younger twin.  Alyssa slipped into her mother's arms and clung, smiling.
     "Yes, Mum.  We'll see you at about six o'clock.  Shall I bring anything?" Sue stroked Alyssa's hair as she listened.  "O.K. then.  Yep.  Thanks for calling.  See you at six. . . . Bye." Still hugging her daughter, Sue shuffled toward the kitchen wall until she could set the receiver back in the cradle.  Alyssa giggled.
     "Hey, sweetheart, welcome home." Sue kissed her daughter's hair and then slowly extricated herself from the tight hug.  "How was your day?"she asked, grinning into the wide grey eyes of her daughter.
     Her girls were as different as autumn and spring.  Alyssa's honey blond hair fell in a cascade of curls down her back.  She had the fair colouring of the Rennie clan, but the shyness of the Benders.  Sue felt a pang as she gazed into Alyssa's eyes.  She looked so like her father.
     "It was O.K."Alyssa answered.  Her mouth curved into a wistful half-moon.  "I love you, Mommy,"she said.
     "Oh, I love you too, honey." Sue hugged her daughter close again.  She worried about this one.  Andrea had a way of charging through life chin first, and very little seemed to upset her.  But this one . . .  Alyssa seemed to feel everything deeply.  She was pensive, and a loner.  She liked to stay close to her Mom and didn't seem to have very many friends.  Again Sue felt that anguish, that maternal longing to shield her girls from the pain of growing up fatherless.  She was the only parent this little child had left, and Alyssa seemed to cling to Sue as if she was afraid her mom would be taken away from her suddenly too.
     "O.K. Pumpkin, we've got a lot of stuff to do before we go to Nana's for dinner.  Do you want to start with your piano or your homework?" Sue smiled mischievously down into her daughter's eyes.
     "Ugh,"Alyssa replied.


     Wow.  It really feels like Christmas, Sue thought as she hurried her girls through thickly falling snow flakes which had already accumulated enough to muffle the sound of the cars out on the road.  They walked the three-hundred meters or so from their house to her mother's house.  Nana saw them coming and opened her door to welcome them in.  Sue and her girls crowded into the little front hall, stamping their boots and shaking snow out of their hair.
     "My goodness!"Sue's mother exclaimed.  "It is certainly coming down out there!" She welcomed her granddaughters with big hugs and carried their damp scarves and mittens off to dry on the radiator.  Sue struggled out of her boots and hung her coat up gazing into the warm kitchen of her childhood home.
     "Oh, welcome, sweetheart,"Mrs. Bender said, coming back and gathering Sue into her arms. She held Sue even tighter than usual, and then stepped back.  "How are you?"she asked, her eyes full of knowing.
     "Actually, I'm O.K.,"Sue answered, a little surprised.  "It seems to get a little easier each year.  I wasn't horribly aware the whole stinking day today.  Maybe there's hope for me after all."
     "Of course there is!"Mrs. Bender scolded.  She drew Sue into the living room where a fire was dancing cheerfully in the wood stove.  Andrea and Alyssa were busy with the stuffed animal collection Nana kept on the love seat.  "Now tell me how it went at the bank today."
     "Oh, so smoothly,"Sue sighed and flopped down into one of the overstuffed chairs.  "I don't know what I would do without Terry." She arched her back and stretched her hands up over her head.  "He's so good with the investments." She let her arms drop back down.  "He's been such a support.  Duncan left me all that money, but Terry has helped so much tracking the investments and helping me figure out how much to withdraw for me and the girls to live on.  The bank had no trouble renewing the mortgage when they saw the numbers Terry had come up with."
     "How is their baby doing?"Sue's mom asked from the kitchen.
     "He has been sick a lot since she weaned him,"Sue replied watching the twins as they played. "He's such a cute kid.  But Terry says he's been crying a lot lately.  It's tough on the both of them."
     "What is his name again?"
     "William,"said Sue. "They call him Will." She rose from her chair and told the twins it was time to wash up.  "Yeah, I haven't seen much of Jenny lately,"she added.  "I should go visit her."
     "She's one sweet girl,"her mom said, bringing a casserole to the table in mitted hands.  "I'll see if I can drop in on her too.  It can be really hard to be alone all day with a crying baby."
     "Gosh,"Sue said.  "Look at that snow come down. . . .  It reminds me. . . .  Are you and the girls going to be O.K. going back to the house?" She carried a bowl of salad to the table and then took a seat.
     "I haven't lived in this climate for fifty-eight years and not learned how to deal with a bit of snow, sweetheart.  If it makes you happier, I intended to walk them home, not drive.  The girls and I will be fine.  You just concentrate on that wonderful choir of yours." Mrs. Bender set a dish of steaming carrots on the table and sat down.  "I am so proud of what you've done with them. Honestly, dear, it is the least I can do to watch the girls for you so you can do that."
     The twins rushed up to the table and took their seats.  They joined hands around the table. Andrea's little hand was still damp from washing.  They bowed their heads.
     "Dear Lord,"Sue's mom began, "thank you for this good food, and for the precious gift of each other.  Bless Sue's work with the choir tonight, and help her find peace and healing.  Amen."
     "Amen." A hand squeeze passed around the table.  Alyssa giggled.  "Who is Peason Healy?"she asked.