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“Should Have Prayed For a Canoe” by Julia Jeffery

As soon as Brother Gardner opened the door, Shelley held out Sister Black’s old flip phone to him. “Do you have anything bigger or better than this?” she asked.

“Something you’ll trade us?” Abbie added.

Brother Gardner took the phone and looked to me with raised eyebrows.

“It’s a game the youth are playing,” I said, feeling our time limit tick nearer. “For their activity tonight.”

“Is that so?” Brother Gardner beamed at my three charges: a Mia Maid, a Beehive, and a Deacon. Then his eyes lit up. “I have something much bigger. Wait here a tick.”

Much bigger? From an eccentric like Brother Gardner, that could mean anything.

Dear Heavenly Father, I prayed, please don’t send us a canoe.

We waited an eternity under the weak porch light. Planes coming into Seattle blinked in the darkening sky and vanished behind the tops of the evergreens. I wished he’d hurry. If we arrived late at the stake center, we’d lose points.

Finally, Brother Gardner shuffled up the hall carrying a golden poster frame. My mouth relaxed into a smile, then tightened when I saw what the frame contained. Some sort of black and white minimalist deco painting. Of a nude woman’s back.

I was about to decline (and maybe ask for a canoe instead), but Shelley took the poster.

“Cool,” she said, turning it this way and that. “It’s artsy.”

The three kids jogged back along the walkway to my car. “Come on, Sister Bigsby,” David called.

I stammered out a thank you to Brother Gardner and hustled after them. Shelley wedged the poster frame into the back seat, and we all hopped in.

As I pulled out of the driveway, Abbie brought up a map on her phone. “We’re going to Bishop’s next?” she asked.

With that? Like heck. My fingers sweated on the steering wheel. “Is there anyone else on the way? How about Sister Redding?”

“I heard she moved,” said Shelley from the back seat.

I frowned. “That can’t be right.” Who up and moves after growing roots for fifty years?

“She’s not listed in the ward directory,” said Abbie, looking at her phone.

If a computer mistake left me off the directory, would they think I’d disappeared? “Don’t worry,” I said. “I know the way.”

I also knew I couldn’t turn up at the bishop’s house with that poster.

I followed the curly suburban roads to Sister Redding’s, where we piled out of the car. David unwedged the poster. It dwarfed him. At least we couldn’t get anything bigger.

Besides a canoe, of course.

Abbie knocked, and a middle-aged man wearing a wife-beater answered the door. A son-in-law, maybe? “Is Sister Redding here?”

The man stared. “You looking for a nun?”

Shelley stifled an attack of giggles. “She did move! Oh my gosh, he’s not a member.”

I started to apologize, but David spoke up. “We’re from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and we’re playing bigger or better.”

“Oh, gotcha,” said the man. “You’re trading that poster?”

“Yep.”

He took the frame from David and smiled. “I got something way better. Hang on.” As he disappeared into another room, I eyed our little missionary with mingled pride and aggravation.

Soon the man returned with a plant in a plastic pot. The plant had green, seven-pointed leaves.

Honest to goodness marijuana.

“We can’t take that,” I said. Did this guy miss the part about a church, or the fact that giving drugs to minors is a felony?

But David already had the weed in his hands. He looked up at me. “Why not?”

The man scratched his head. “Is there a rule against living things?”

“No, but that’s—” I sputtered, “isn’t that—”

“A Japanese maple sapling.” Abbie brought her face right to the pot. “They’re really neat trees.”

“Yeah,” said the man, nodding. “I grow them as a hobby.”

Hobby. Recreation. Sure.

“Thanks, nice person,” Shelley said, waving as she headed for the car with the others. The man closed his door before I found my voice again.

Why not a canoe! At least then I wouldn’t be risking my soul on a preteen’s knowledge of botany.

“Now to Bishop’s?” Abbie asked as I climbed into the driver’s seat.

With “Mary Jane” possibly riding in the back? Bishop could never know about this. I’d have to swear the kids to secrecy.

Or would that constitute a secret combination?

“We don’t have time anymore,” I said, not consulting my watch. I drove toward the church. “Who can we stop by on the way back?”

“Um, there’s the Petersons.” Abbie tapped at her phone screen. “Turn left up here.”

Thank goodness. The Petersons could give us something normal. I checked my mirrors for blue and red lights all the way to their house. As we arrived, the motion-sensitive garage light blazed like Judgment Day. We went to the door and knocked. No answer.

Someone had to be home, though. A baby was screaming  upstairs.

A minute limped by. Then footsteps approached, and the door opened. Sister Peterson stood before us wearing pajamas and a quavering smile. A wet-eyed baby boy sat on her hip.

“Hi, Sister Peterson. We’re playing bigger or better,” said Shelley. David offered the suspicious flora.

Without hesitation, Sister Peterson took the plant and placed her baby in Abbie’s arms.

I stared.

I could handle nude posters.

I could deal with drugs.

But kidnapping?

I should have prayed for a canoe.

David clapped. “We’re winning this thing!”

“Are you sure, Sister Peterson?” Abbie asked as the baby grabbed at her nose.

Sister Peterson produced a diaper bag and a car seat from behind the door. “Absolutely. Where are you headed next?”

“The church,” said Shelley.

“Perfect. I’ll pick him up there in half an hour. Is that all right, Sister Bigsby?” Half-pleading in her pale blue pajamas, Sister Peterson looked to me.

I laughed.

Kidnapping it was.

I hefted the diaper bag. “Sounds great.”

And maybe better than a canoe after all.

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