Safety is of the lord's was printed in three-foot-tall red letters, stretched high and wide across the back of the transfer truck that pulled out in front of Charlotte as she drove Highway 85 heading toward Chapel Hill.
"Jesus!" was all she said as she slammed on brakes and swerved onto the shoulder to avoid hitting it. And then, "Shit." It wasn't until after the word had spilled out of her mouth, loud and unmistakably clear, that she remembered a church member was sitting next to her. She turned to her right to see if Beatrice was okay.
The older woman was pale but certainly fine, having reached out in front of her, bracing herself for the collision. White-knuckled and rigid, she softened as the car rolled forward and finally stopped. Since the near miss was over, she blew out a noisy puff of air. Seconds later she loosened her grip and released her hands from the curved black plastic, touched at the hair on her forehead, and asked, "My God, is that from the Old or the New Testament?"
There were prints from her fingers still showing on the dashboard.
Charlotte had pulled off to the side of the road and put the car into park. She closed her eyes and dropped her chin to her chest. Her heart was pounding. She hadn't had such a close call on the highway in a long time. It unnerved her and she knew that she needed a few minutes to get herself together. Other vehicles flew past them, almost lifting the little car back onto the road. Finally, Charlotte turned to Beatrice, remembering that she had asked a question.
"Is what from the Old or New Testament?" She was still rattled.
"That sentence." Beatrice smoothed out the front of her dress and tugged at her panty hose.
Charlotte was confused. She shrugged her shoulders as if to signal that she wasn't following Beatrice's line of thinking.
"On that truck. It said 'Safety is of the Lord's.' Is that from before or after Jesus?"
Charlotte then remembered the sign on the truck. She shook her head at the question while putting the car into gear. She signaled and pulled onto the interstate slowly. "It's from a psalm, I guess." She looked in her rearview mirror and watched as the cars behind them moved into the left lanes, allowing her space to merge.
"It's nice, I think." Beatrice lowered the visor and began studying herself in the mirror.
Charlotte started to mention the irony of such a quotation on a vehicle that had almost crushed them; but as she turned to say something to Beatrice, the older woman already seemed to have forgotten what she'd said. She was reaching down on the floorboard to open her purse. She took out her lipstick and painted her lips bright pink, as if the near wreck had reminded her to do what she usually never forgot, "be ready." She flipped up the visor, smacking her lips together, and offered the lipstick to Charlotte, who raised her hand and politely refused.
"No, of course not, pink is not your color." Beatrice put the cover on the lipstick and stowed it in her purse. She took a breath.
"Have you seen the Mary Kay samples for fall? There's some lovely corals and mauves that I think would match your fair skin and dark hair nicely. And I believe we can find some eye pencils that will draw out that gold in your eyes."
Charlotte did not reply.
For some time now, Beatrice had been trying to help her pastor "find her colors" and "perk up her wardrobe." She seemed satisfied that Charlotte no longer needed a hobby or craft to occupy her time, but she continued to struggle with the idea that the young woman acted as if she did not care about her appearance.
Louise told Charlotte that Beatrice had found an article in some magazine she picked up on her honeymoon that said that failure to show interest in basic grooming skills was a sign of depression. Louise had told her that if that were the case, then depression might come in handy for Charlotte, who she knew was trying to save money, since blush and eye shadow could be quite expensive; and that Louise, in her entire life, had never worn makeup and she did not consider herself depressed. But Beatrice wasn't worried about Louise. She was worried about Charlotte.
In the last few months, the young preacher seemed to have folded within herself in a way that was subtle but still noticeable. She continued to do her work, preach, visit, all the things that were expected; but there was a distance in her conversations, a lack of focus that even Margaret had observed. She, of course, had said to let it alone, that Charlotte would discover her own way through this, but Beatrice was convinced that she could find something in her cosmetic bag that might help, even if just a little.
Charlotte picked up speed. The late morning sun poured into the car and she began to get warm, so she increased the volume of the air conditioner and turned the vents toward her, hoping the noise might also limit any further conversation.
Unlike Beatrice, she did not think of herself as depressed. She did not think she had changed. She knew that she felt more tired than usual, a little uninterested in things at hand. But she only thought she was overworked, called her lack of energy and her sleeplessness the result of too many appointments and a crazy schedule that recently had included late-night emergency calls to the hospital, three summer weddings, and now this, another suicide attempt by Nadine Klenner.
Since the accident and Brittany's death, Nadine had become broken and unhinged in a way that seemed completely hopeless. Nothing nor anyone was able to help. Her spiral down into despair started with the use of Valium and other prescribed drugs ...
- paperback: 225 pages
- Publisher: Harper San Francisco
- ISBN-10: 0062517473
- ISBN-13: 9780062517470