Someone had made a spray paint stain on the second floor landing in the stairwell of Building B, and Maria couldn’t get it out. It was brick red and shaped like a slumping letter ‘M’. Clearly, some idiot had put down two pieces of semi-overlapping newspaper and gone all the way to the edges and accidentally over, staining the concrete floor. She tried a variety of cleansers but only managed to fade it a bit.
She mentioned it to Craig when he got home from a study session.
Does it pose a danger to any of the residents?” he asked.
“Will it scare off potential renters?”
“Then let it go, Maria. You and I can only do so much.”
“You’re right.” She kissed his cheek. He was in the teeth of his grad program at Irvine and more of the job of managing the apartment complex had been placed on her shoulders. She didn’t mind it. They needed the rent break. Craig was right–she had done as much as she could.
Maria had just finished yelling at a resident on the top floor of Building C for trying to run cornhusks down the garbage disposal when she saw the stain in the stairwell. But, wait? Hadn’t it been in Building B?
Whatever. She didn’t need to deal with it.
She rushed down the stairs and bumped into the sister missionaries loitering on the ground floor, planners out, in deep discussion, clearly facing the eternal dilemma of all missionaries: what to do next.
“Hello, sisters,” she said.
“Sister Hughes,” one of them said. “How are you?”
“Fine. I was just checking on one of the residents. What brings you here?”
“We felt inspired to check on an investigator who hadn’t been contacted for a couple of years.”
“How did things go?”
“She’s not interested in the lessons, but we were able to talk her through a problem she was having at work.”
“That’s great! Well… see you Sunday!” Maria walked away quickly. She was not in the mood to have them over.
At dinner she mentioned the sister missionaries to Craig, also parenthetically noting that the spray paint stain was actually in Building C. As she ticked off her reasons for not inviting them over, Craig slurped ramen noodles, his eyes focused on the wall behind her. She was just about to snap at him when he said, “Are you sure it was Building C?”
“I could have sworn that I saw it in Building F.” He shrugged. “Anyway,” he said. “The sisters shouldn’t expect an impromptu invitation. You have things to do.”
The following week she ran into Sister Anderson, the Relief Society president, just outside Building F. Maria expressed surprise at seeing her and then inwardly cringed. Would Sister Anderson take it as an accusation that she didn’t minister much to the cluster of inactives who lived in the complex?
“I don’t know,” Sister Anderson said. “I just felt like I should reach out to a friend who I hadn’t seen in awhile–she’s not a member.”
“I’m glad I came. It turns out she’s battling cancer, and I’m going to drive her to some of her appointments. Isn’t it funny how the Lord puts us where he needs us?”
Maria agreed and said, “And your friend lives in Building F?”
A couple of days later, Craig said, “I keep forgetting to tell you. I found the spray paint stain. I was wrong before when I said it was in F. I must have misremembered. I think it’s actually in Building E. I definitely saw it there the other day.”
That was the day she had run into Sister Anderson.
The next evening Maria was watching television when she had the feeling she should take a walk. That was the last thing she wanted to do, but there was nothing good on anyway so she gave in to the feeling, grabbing her BYU sweatshirt on the way out in case there was a breeze.
As she neared Building D, she felt her feet turn towards it and before she knew it she was standing on the second floor landing looking at the spray paint stain. A weird feeling settled on her. It was like the Spirit but outside the realm of how she thought that it normally worked–an unsettling, raw compulsion instead of a warm nudge.
For all that God had his mysterious ways, she didn’t think a migrating spray paint stain was one of them. But if that wasn’t it, then what was happening?
More out of curiosity than anything, she knocked on the door closest to the stain. No one answered. She knocked again. The pinpoint of light from the peephole dimmed and then went light again. She shrugged and walked away. The sun had dipped below the horizon. She was too lazy to put the sweatshirt on so she clutched it to her chest and wrapped her arms around it.
She got halfway home before she turned around and went back to Building D. The stain was still there. This time she knocked on the other door. It opened. A thin young woman in a white tank top and denim shorts slouched in the doorway. Her blond hair was unwashed and her eyes were rimmed red. “I’ve paid my rent this month,” she said.
“I don’t handle the rent,” Maria was going to say. Instead she said: “Oh, that’s not why I’m here. I was wondering: do you need anything? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Nah, I’m fine.” The woman started to close the door.
“Wait,” Maria said. “Take this.” She thrust the BYU sweatshirt into the woman’s arms.
“Okay,” the woman said. “Thanks.” She closed the door.
Maria turned and glared at the stain. It seemed to lighten a shade under her gaze.
Maria was cold as she walked home. Cold, confused, and oddly joyful.