Eddie Larocque had been going to Burrwood United Church for over thirty-five years, and he had been sitting in the same pew for at least thirty-four of those years. The pew, a gleaming high-backed oak number just like all the others, was in row five on the leftmost side of the sanctuary. He had been going to Burrwood United for more than thirty-five years, but it was not until that Sunday that he had looked over at Gladys McCormick in row three, just behind the Thatcher twins, and had fallen in love.
She was wearing her grey-white hair in the same tight bun with that old-lady black netting over it as always. Her floral dress was covered in the same colourful sunflowers that were her favourite. Her silver slipper earrings dangled the same way they always had. Not that Eddie had ever noticed her earrings before. In fact, he only had the vaguest sense that she had been sitting two rows in front of him every Sunday since he had begun attending Burrwood back in 1982. Of course, back then her hair had been brownish-red. But even then it had been bound in that tight bun with that old-lady netting enveloping it.
When Henry Morrison, his quiet pew neighbour for the past ten years, nudged him with the offering plate, it startled him. He had been thinking about how strange it was that Gladys’ long graceful neck had never caught his eye before. Was it the way the red and blue light from the stain-glass window to their left sparkled on the nape of her neck? Surely, like some kind of rare solar event, the light could only reflect off of her neck so perfectly on a Sunday once every ten to twenty years. He must have missed the last radiant neck in 2007 or 1997. Of course, back then, Rodney Vanderveldt had been taking up most of the real estate just in front of him with his wide shoulders and bushy hair. Rodney had left the church in 2008 after his favourite blowhard radio host, Kipp “the Lip” McCewan, had done a week-long series exposing the “soft underbelly of the leftist United Church.” The only soft underbelly in the equation, thought Eddie wryly, was the one hanging over Rodney’s stupid cowboy belt. He occasionally saw Rodney at the grocery store. He had married his dentist and was now attending a Unitarian church down on St. Charles.
What a beautiful neck.
He gripped the offering plate and absent-mindedly stuffed fifty cents of Canadian Tire money and a receipt for thirty dollars-worth of bird feed into an envelope and placed it reverently in the plate.
Eddie wore a yellow tie. He had seen it at Moore’s and had immediately thought of Gladys. He had bought it immediately and worn it expectantly that Sunday, hoping Gladys would notice. Despite walking past her twice during coffee hour, she had not noticed and little Daniel Kim had run into him full tilt and now it had a coffee stain.
Eddie had asked his barber to cut his hair to the “specifications on display in the advertisement right there.” He had pointed to a black and white picture of a grey-haired model with smoky eyes and pouty lips whose hair was shaved quite close at the sides and slicked back at the top. After asking if he were certain, Eddie’s barber had shaved the sides of his head and gently and carefully combed the thin white hair on top of his scalp backwards.
Eddie wore a hat to church that Sunday, only taking it off in the Sanctuary. The usually quiet Henry Morrison made a joke about a weedwacker that Eddie didn’t really like.
Eddie made conversation with Gladys. During coffee hour, he interrupted Beatrice Podolski and complimented Gladys’ hair. “Nice bun,” he said. She looked confused for a moment and then carefully checked the integrity of the bun before smiling politely. “Well, see you later,” he said as he escaped.
He went straight home and took a nap.
Gladys spoke to him that Sunday. “You’re standing on the handle of my purse.”
“Sorry,” he said and lifted his foot. She had set her purse down in order to sign up for the Saturday luncheon.
“Are you signing up?” she asked him with a smile. He nodded dumbly, took a sip of coffee and then shuffled off to talk to Henry Morrison.
She spoke to him again, “I didn’t see you at the luncheon, Eddie.”
He nodded gravely, “that is correct.”
“You should have come,” she gave him a smile that made his heart somersault in his chest.
Gladys was not at church. Eddie spent most of the service imagining he could jump from rafter to rafter in the high ceilings of the sanctuary. His imagination even took a brief foray into envisaging using his acrobatics to rescue a helpless Gladys, trapped on a rafter because of a horrible dusting accident involving a fallen ladder. His reverie was interrupted by an overly enthusiastic hug from James Bertrand during the congregational greeting.
“I noticed that you were not in the rafters last Sunday,” he told Gladys.
“The rafters?” she asked sweetly.
“I meant church, you weren’t in church and I noticed,” George said dumbly.
“I went to Hillvale United last week, my niece was singing,” she replied.
They talked about singing for about an hour and a half. Beatrice Podolski had to usher them out so she could lock up after coffee hour.
Eddie brought a sunflower pin and pinned it to his lapel. Then, after the service, he asked Gladys if she wanted to go to a choral performance by the Hill Street College Singers that Wednesday night.
“Yes,” she said, “but only if you wear that pin.”
He nodded solemnly, hoping to God that he didn’t lose the pin in the duration.