Now, Morris Graver might have been expected to react in any number of different ways. In such a dire situation, he would assuredly have wanted to speak to his mother, or he might have painfully relented to going to Fen Sloughheart’s home, which was, of course, what Sloughheart wanted. He might have been understandably enraged enough to have gone to Sloughheart’s fully intending to fight, whatever the outcome, even death for one or the other or both of them. When he hung up the phone, he might even have called his new friends in sheer desperation. In sheer desperation, he might have harmed himself, or worse. This would have been explicable, especially since he struggled so deeply with depression, but one’s reaction in an awful state of affairs is certainly not always explicable or even sensible.
What Morris ended up doing seemed like utter lunacy, in fact, but Morris was like a cornered dog. The cornered dog will often, though not always, fight simply because it is his only and last option … but even though Morris was like a cornered dog, he was not, in fact, a canine. He was fully human, which meant he was fully capable of doing the totally insensible with the complete determination of a madman. It just so happens, though, he was not only not a dog, he was not insane, either, and what he ended up doing, as seemingly inexplicable as it was, happened to be just the right thing to do. As he stood in front of room 103 at the Grand Oak Hospital late that Sunday evening, however, Morris didn’t feel like he was sane, but he couldn’t turn away either.
Just as inexplicable, really, was the small but terribly important fact that the first nurse he met in the hospital so blithely gave him Joy Brighterday’s room number. She wasn’t supposed to, of course; it was illegal. Nevertheless, the nurse answered with the room number without so much as slowing her pace down the hall, and this left Morris standing where he was standing now, staring at the mostly closed door. Would the Reverend Brighterday be awake? Likely not, so would he wake her? He would have to, but what in the world would he say? Morris didn’t know what he would say, but he did know he couldn’t turn around. Point in fact, it was quite physically impossible for him to turn around and walk away. He just couldn’t do it. No, he had to go in.
Complete and overwhelming desperation drove him to the hospital room of the woman he shot. Why? Morris could have turned himself into the police. That would have been easier for him, and surely better for Joy Brighterday. Why had he driven like a maniac to Grand Oak? Why had he practically run into the hospital? Why did he feel so compelled to see her? What did he expect from his victim? And what about his mother? How in the world was this helping his mother? How was this helping anyone?
At the moment, Morris felt like he’d be better off sitting in a prison cell anyway. No, this didn’t make any sense, but there he was … the cornered young man, not dog, fighting back in absolutely the best possible way he could, and Fen Sloughheart would never have expected it in a million years, which is precisely why he was standing in front of room 103, although he didn’t consciously realize this. Sometimes, though, in very dire situations the instinctive subconscious takes over and wisely moves one in a manner beyond the grasp of human reasoning or rationality and it ends up being life-saving. Of course, Morris felt like his life was over as he gently pushed back the door and stepped inside.
No one deserves grace, otherwise grace would not be grace, and he didn’t expect grace. Morris didn’t know what to expect. He definitely did not expect the Reverend Brighterday to be awake, but she was and he suddenly wished she wasn’t, but it was too late now. He was in and he couldn’t leave. He felt totally paralyzed. Joy Brighterday kind of felt the same way as she looked at the somewhat tall, lanky young man who’d shot her. She did recover her demeanor enough to smile slightly, though, and she even managed an affable “hello,” which was more than could be said for poor Morris Graver. He just stood there with his jaw hanging open, shocked, almost like it was Joy Brighterday bursting in on him in his room instead of the other way round. Now he really did feel crazy. Unforeseen and awkward could not begin to describe the situation.
“Come and … please sit down, Morris,” Joy said in a faintly raspy voice. “It’s … o.k., Morris.” Joy wondered if it really was but she pushed on. “There’s no reason to be afraid.” She was a bit afraid, though. “Come on… You’re here now, and … I’m glad.” Morris inched forward to the chair beside her bed. At least she had a private room; that was one point of relief.
“I umm…” Tears started welling up in his eyes and his chin started quivering. Now he felt like dying. He wanted everything to just end. “I’m … so sorry. Oh my God… I know that sounds pathetic… I know I should die. I … don’t even know…”
“Hey, hey.” Joy reached out her hand and laid it on his shoulder. Painfully, because it was the arm on the side where she’d been shot. “O.k. Shhhh… Hey, look at me,” she breathed quietly.
“Reverend Brighterday, please, I’ll call the police right now.” Streams were making their way freely down his cheeks now. “It was stupid for me to even…”
“No. No, Morris … it’s not stupid.” Joy felt an unusual surge of energy now. She was thankful. “You know, early today I called my friends to let … ooh, hold on a minute.” Joy had to withdraw her hand. She felt a burning sensation in the bullet wound. “Wow … it’s no easy business being shot,” she laughed lightly. Morris did not. “No, like I was saying … I called my friends at Moxie Keener’s house … to let them know I’d been released from ICU to a regular room. Anyway, Blue Poorman told me that he … ooh, oh my.” She was tempted to press the little button for the pain med pump but resisted. “He and Moxie and Able came by to see you.”
“Oh my God,” Morris started sobbing. “Do they know, too?”
“You know what, Morris?” Joy looked at him and smiled. “Actually, they do. No concrete evidence, mind you … but they knew in their gut. They came to apologize and visit you anyway … because they care. And you know what else?” She paused as Morris looked back up into her beautiful eyes again. “I care, too. And I told them when I was on the phone with them that I’d already forgiven you… Now I’m telling you, Morris.” Her voice had gained some strength. “You’re forgiven. I hold nothing against you. Zero. Nada. Zilch.” She laughed again, a bit more robustly this time. Morris just looked shocked again. He was trying hard to choke back his tears so he could say something, anything coherently.
“Forgive me?” He was flabbergasted. “Why? Why in the world would you forgive me? I mean … we’re barely neighbors. We’ve never said more than ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ a few times…”
“And that’s my fault, Morris. I’m sorry, because … well, we’re more than just barely neighbors, after all. I mean, I know our houses don’t sit side by side, or even directly across the road from each other, but … umm, my gracious.” The pump looked even more tempting. “We’re still pretty darn close, and I should’ve done more than bring a casserole by when you guys moved into your home. Sometimes…” She paused and looked very intently at Morris. Here was an invaluable, precious human being right on the verge of having his whole life totally fall apart. Joy felt the weight and magnitude of that truth. “Sometimes I get so caught up in work that I think is important, I miss the most important work of all: Befriending and loving.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Morris sputtered out. “You’re actually saying these things to me … after I shot you?” He shook his head and wiped the back of his right hand across his cheeks, first one, then the other. “Are you sure that maybe you’re not on an awful lot of medication now and just talking out of your head?” Joy really laughed at this and her face beamed delightfully. It seemed as if the whole room suddenly grew lighter, freer, safer and more congenial.
“Thank you for that, Morris!” She actually giggled, which was not something Joy Brighterday liked to do, but it came out anyway, an honest-to-goodness girlish giggle. “Oh heavens! Maybe I am medicated, but I promise you I still have my wits about me. If you need to, you can ask the RN on duty, or call Dr. Sage Wiseman or Lucent Keener … or Blue Poorman, for that matter. Any one of them will vouch for me. I’m not out of my mind.” Joy smiled broadly at Morris, drawing him into her deep and kindly, somewhat mysterious eyes. He felt like he was looking into her soul, and what he saw was… Ah! Beauty! The beauty Able, Moxie and Blue Poorman were talking about that day. Joy Brighterday had that Beauty! She was possessed by Beauty!
“Morris? You’ve suddenly gone contemplative on me. What are you thinking … if you don’t mind sharing, that is.”
“Oh,” he looked down and shook he head. “Reverend Brighterday, I think I just had what’s called an epiphany, but I swear I don’t think I could explain. Besides, it would be embarrassing.” He looked up at her again. “On the other hand … well … you’re an extraordinarily beautiful person.” His face flushed as soon as he said it, so he quickly added, “I mean, inside and out … both. You know, not just… well, I mean…”
“I think I know what you mean, Morris.” Joy held his gaze. “And thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you… But you know what, Morris? You probably won’t believe this, not right now anyway, because I know you don’t feel this way, but… when God looks at you, God sees one very unique and beautiful child, and God not only loves you – yes, I know that’s extremely difficult to swallow right now – but God is actually madly in love with you… Amid all of the seemingly senseless pain and suffering and agony … and so much in this dark and tired world that doesn’t make sense, with all of the unanswerable questions… Despite all of that – and it is real, so there’s no use trying to blind and deafen ourselves to it – but despite all of that, there really is God, and this God really does love you … and so do I, Morris.”
Morris really didn’t want God in the picture right now; he was not on good terms with the divine. However, as he looked at Joy, he had no problem in believing in an angel of mercy. In the space of what was still a relatively short conversation, he felt like his whole life had just been turned right side up and out. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Then he suddenly remember his mother again.
“Reverend Brighterday, I know I’m in trouble, and I should be; I fully accept that,” Morris intoned calmly. “But not my mother… Reverend Brighterday, my mother’s in trouble, terrible trouble, and I don’t know what to do… I’m afraid I might do something drastic; I’ll have to.”
“Whoa! Wait a minute,” Joy stopped him. “Let’s start this carefully from the beginning, o.k.? First of all, where is your mother right now? Is she safe or in danger?”
“Ha! In danger … already. This oh-so-loving God you’re talking about seemed to miss her being hog-tied, so to speak, and dragged into Fen Sloughheart’s lion’s den to be… Jesus Christ! My own mother!” Morris yelled. “That fat bastard had her in his home this afternoon. He called me. He was laughing. He even knew Blue, Able and Moxie came over. He said my momma finally understood and I could ask her myself. She was right there! The son of a bitch had ‘straightened her out,’ I guess, like he ‘straightened me out.’” Morris couldn’t stop the tirade. “He called me a pathetic twink, like a scared rabbit, weak… I know he wanted me to come over, and I know why: To keep me on the straight and narrow, especially since I hadn’t been in church that morning.”
“Oh my God, Morris!” Joy put her hands up to her mouth, shut her eyes and grimaced. “Dear Jesus, I knew Fen Sloughheart had to be in the picture somewhere, but I never imagined…”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, too.” Morris’ face was red and smeared with tears. “I’m sorry ‘dear Jesus’ didn’t see fit to protect an innocent, honest, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth woman, like my mom … and probably thousands upon thousands of others… But, please … I need help. My mom needs help! Please, I’m begging you for her sake! She’s never done anything wrong. I know I’m going to jail, and there’s nothing I can do from there … if I could even do anything by myself out of jail. Please, if there’s anything, anything at all you and your friends can do…”
“Of course, Morris.” Joy opened her eyes and looked at him again. “There’s no question about that; we’ll do absolutely everything we can … beginning now, tonight.” She paused and thought. Here’s what I need you to do now. I need you to call to find out if she’s made it back home.”
Morris slowly, apprehensively picked up the phone by Joy’s bed and prepared to dial. For her part, Joy immediately started praying – dialing of another sort – hoping beyond hope Someone would pick up without delay. Now’s the time, God. Now’s when we really urgently need you to pick up your phone and help!