“Remnant” by Sarah Dunster

“Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees…”
-2 Nephi 20

You Scythians, you Legrees
of those whose shoes are sopping
from the Aegean, who drive my fair ones
to capsize in the wasteland, who watch
from hills as reunions crowd the
borders, broken;  who leave the
straightforward gifts unspoken who
say you will give but give only in token
grief will descend on you like  

the shutting of the Red Sea.

You who squander the birthright
of the remnant of my people,
who auction the virginity of my
children in exile, who set fire
to canvas steeples, who drive
women as cattle and men as
soldiers in a forced battle
you will be blown, lukewarm, from
the vein of Him who knows the grains  

on each pair of drowned feet.

You who have seen my gospel and yet
deny succor to the stricken, who dole
soured law and call it remedy, who have
let my flocks be trampled because
you say freedom is not free, you who
draw out the blood of  the bitten; You.
Who bear the vessels of the Lord yet
deny what is written You who
take crusts from the stricken—
On the day you shed your garment,
what color shall your issue be?

I will send him, says He who made them–
Send Him, a rod of indignation…
I will send him against the wiles of
a hypocrite nation.

“My Vacation on the Island of Santo Antão” by César Augusto Medina Fortes

Translated by Katherine Cowley. Read the original Portuguese version here

School ended on the tenth day of June. This brought us much happiness, for our vacation had officially begun. Our destination was Santo Antão.

We left our house very early, and we went to the docks of São Vicente. We caught master Custódio’s taxi, a Mercedes-Benz, white, with a little plastic dog on the dashboard that shook his head with the movement of the car. The car was brand new. Every newlywed couple requested it as their ride. As you can imagine, I was very happy to ride in the best-looking car on the island. During the trip to the docks, I could not sit still, watching as Mr. Custódio spun the wheel and took the turns. It was something incredible.

When we arrived at Porto Grande, a crowd waited in line to enter the ferry boat to Porto Novo. The sea was a little rough. Even so, there we went. The “ferry boat” was famous for making even the suitcases sick. There were people who became nauseous simply from hearing the name of the ship, and this was the case for Ti Jona. The boat rose and fell on the waves, and we weren’t certain it would return to the surface again. People were shouting, “There are no trees in the sea! There is nothing to hold onto, nothing for us to climb when the ship sinks!”

But we children were excited to arrive on Santo Antão. After an hour of turbulent travel, we arrived. The docks at Porto Novo had a hellish heat and there was nowhere to hide from the scorching sun. There were so many people that it created quite a bustle. Some were leaving and others were preparing to enter the boat in the direction of São Vicente. The docks were small for so many people and so many cars. Holding tight to our luggage, we walked in the direction of the truck that would take us to Chã de Igreja. A 1958 Bedford, of a green color, belonging to master Cuca, was already waiting for us. There we began the car trip that would last some three hours. On the docks, we saw people selling “sucrinha”—little milk candies—in the shape of a cone, as well as quince, apple, cheese, and many other traditional items from the island. The fumes from the truck threatened to make us sick once again. The adults sat in the seats and us kids sat in the truck bed with our suitcases. We left the docks, taking the turn to the main road.

We began the ascent to the Corda region.

As soon as we reached the Delgadinho mountain ridge, silence immediately overtook everyone in the truck. In that place we feared the cliffs on both sides of the road. We closed our eyes and we only breathed after we had traversed the most dangerous section. As we went through a brook, Old Bedford drove slowly, for he had to pass over rocks; it would be a long time before we reached Chã de Igreja.

Chã de Igreja is a small and beautiful village, which appears like a city in miniature. It is a land of polite people, with clean and orderly streets, a lot of sugar cane growing all around, high coconut trees, and the smell of mango everywhere. In the center of the village is a beautiful church, which gives its name to the village of Chã de Igreja.

We arrived at the house of my grandmother Ludovina, who we sometimes called “Vinha” or “Vine.” All of our family members came out to greet us and to help with the suitcases. Fátima was combing the hair of “Ti Tuda.” It was a happiness that encompasses everything. We hugged everyone. It seemed that our entire family was in Chã de Igreja. Our breakfast had fried cassava, mint tea, cachupa stew, and omelets. The smell was irresistible.

My grandmother’s house had many animals. On the next day, early in the morning, I picked up a brass mug and called over my oldest cousin, Aldevino, and asked him for a special favor. “Aldevino, could you please bring me a little bit of the donkey’s milk?”

As one of the “boys of Soncente” and in my holy ignorance, I thought that all the animals gave milk, even the donkey. But off went Aldevino and he returned with a mug full of milk. I drank the milk until all I was left with was a foam mustache. Our vacation was beginning in the best way.

Months passed, and October drew to a close. Vacations were over. It was time to return to São Vicente. On the eve of our departure, we stayed up late, talking about what a wonderful vacation we had had. The next day, our friends from Chã de Igreja came to send us off. When the car was about to round the corner, we turned to face what we had left, and with lumps in our throats and our eyes close to tears, and our hands raised high, we said goodbye to our grandma Ludovina, our beloved “Vine.” With a sad face, she waved to us until the car disappeared down the street.

Inside the truck the smoke fumes were intense. After a few minutes on the road, we fell asleep. When we arrived at the docks of Porto Novo, the heat made it seem as if the ground had caught fire. There was a mess all over the dock with negotiations over a shipment of vegetables. We realized that we were to go on the same boat as before, and we began to feel sick. Some of us even threw up, yet even still we were thrilled to return to São Vicente after such a great vacation.

What I did not know was that my mother had taken us on this “marvelous vacation” with the intention of abandoning us with our grandmother and then moving to Italy, because life on São Vicente was not easy. Many years later, she told us the whole story, explaining that she gave up her trip because during the day we laughed with joy, and at night, she shed tears of sadness at having to leave her children behind, to be raised by other people. She had already purchased the ticket for the journey, but she felt compassion for us and did not travel. She set aside her dream of a better life for both the harsh realities and the joys of living with her children. I believe that she did not regret the decision she made that day. Even now, we still thank our mother for this wise decision.

That was the best vacation of our childhood.

“As minhas férias na ilha de Santo Antão,” César Augusto Medina Fortes

Read the English translation here

As aulas terminaram no dia 10 de Junho. E para a nossa alegria, as férias tinham começado. Santo Antão seria o nosso destino.

Saímos de casa bem cedinho, e fomos para o cais de São Vicente. Apanhamos o táxi de nhô Custódio, um Mercedes-Benz, branco, com um cãozinho de plástico no tablier, que mexia cabeça à medida que o carro andava. Era novinho em folha. Todos solicitavam para transportar os noivos. Como podem imaginar, eu estava muito feliz por andar no carro mais bonito da ilha. Durante o trajeto para o caís, eu não parava quieto, observando como nhô Custódio girava o volante e trocava a mudança. Era algo admirável.

Quando chegamos no Porto Grande, tinha uma multidão esperando na fila para entrar no ferry boat “Porto Novo”. O mar estava um pouco revolto. Mesmo assim lá fomos nós. O “ferry boat”, tinha fama que fazia enjoar até as malas. Tinha gente, que só de ouvir o nome do barco já ficava enjoada, como é o caso da Ti Jona. O barco subia e descia as ondas, sem termos certeza se voltava para a superfície outra vez. Pessoas gritavam: “Mar não tem árvores, vamos afundar.”

Mas nós crianças, estávamos animadas para chegar à Santo Antão. Depois de uma hora de viagem turbulenta, chegamos em Santo Antão. O cais de Porto Novo tinha um calor infernal e não tinha nenhum sítio para se esconder do sol abrasador. Era tanta gente que a azáfama era grande. Uns descendo e outros preparavam-se para entrar no barco em direção à São Vicente. O cais era pequeno para tanta gente e tantos carros. Segurando as nossas tralhas, caminhamos em direção ao camião que nos levaria à Chã de Igreja. O Bedford de 1958, de cor verde, que pertencia à nhe Cuca, já estava a nossa espera. Lá iniciamos a viagem de carro que demoraria umas três horas. No cais, víamos pessoas a vender “sucrinha” em forma de cone, marmelo, maçã, queijo e muitas outras coisas tradicionais da ilha. O carro fazia muito fumo que prometia fazer-nos enjoar mais uma vez. Os adultos sentaram nas cadeiras e nós, as crianças sentámos no fundo da caixa, juntamente com as malas. Saímos do cais, fizemos a curva e entramos na estrada principal.

Iniciamos a subida para a zona de Corda.

Chegámos na zona de Delgadinho e de repente o silêncio tomou conta do camião. O lugar mete medo com os precipícios dos dois lados da estrada. Fechamos os olhos e só respiramos depois de termos atravessado aquela parte perigosa da estrada. Na ribeira, o velho Bedford, ia devagar, pois andava em cima de pedregulhos e iria demorar até chegar em Chã de Igreja.

Chã de Igreja é uma pequena e bela vila, mas que parece uma cidade em miniatura. Terra de pessoas educadas, com ruas limpas e organizadas, com muita cana à volta, altos coqueiros, com um cheiro de manga por todo o lado. No centro da vila existe uma bonita igreja, a qual dá o nome à vila de Chã da Igreja.

Chegámos na casa da minha avó Ludovina “Vinha”. Todos os nossos familiares saíram para cumprimentar-nos e ajudar com as malas. A Fátima estava a pentear o cabelo da “Ti Tuda”. Era uma alegria total. Abraçamos toda a gente. Parecia que a nossa família inteira estava em Chã de Igreja. O pequeno-almoço tinha mandioca frita, chá de hortelã, cachupa guisada e omeletes. O cheiro era irresistível.

A casa da minha avozinha tinha muitos animais. No dia seguinte, de manhã cedo, apanhei uma caneca de latão e chamei o Aldevino, meu primo mais velho e pedi-lhe um favor especial:

– “Ó Aldevino, bô podia trazeme um bocadim de leite de burro, de favor?”

Eu, como “boys de Soncente” e na minha santa ignorância, pensava que todos os animais davam leite, até o burro. Mas lá foi o Aldevino e voltando com a caneca cheia de leite. Bebi o leite todo e até fiquei com um bigode de espuma. As férias estavam a começar da melhor forma.

O mês de Outubro chegou ao fim. As férias terminaram. Era tempo de voltar para São Vicente. E nós, na véspera da partida, ficamos até tarde, a falar das maravilhosas férias que tivemos. No dia seguinte, amigos de Chã de Igreja foram nos despedir. Quando o carro já ia dobrar a esquina, voltamos a cara para trás, com um nó na garganta e quase chorando, com a mão bem alto, fizemos adeus para a nossa avó Ludovina, a nossa querida “Vinha”. Ela, com uma cara triste, ficou a acenar-nos até o carro desaparecer no fim da rua.

Dentro do caminhão o cheiro do fumo era intenso. Já com alguns minutos na estrada, começamos a dormir. Quando chegamos no cais do Porto Novo, tinha um calor que parecia que o chão estava pegando fogo. Era uma confusão em cima do cais com o negócio de verduras. E lembrar que íamos no mesmo barco, começávamos a ficar enjoados. Podíamos até vomitar, mas estávamos muito felizes a caminho de São Vicente depois de termos passado umas boas férias.

Só não sabia eu, que a minha mãe nos tinha levado para essas “maravilhosas férias” com o intuito de deixar-nos com a nossa avó e depois partir para a Itália, porque a vida em São Vicente não estava fácil. Anos mais tarde, ela contou-nos toda a história, explicando que desistiu da viagem porque, enquanto de dia, nós ríamos de alegria, ela, à noite, chorava de tristeza de ter que deixar os filhos para trás, para serem criados por outras pessoas. Ela já tinha até o bilhete de passagem comprado, mas sentiu pena de nós e não viajou. Deixou o sonho de ter uma vida melhor para ter a realidade e a alegria de viver com os filhos. Creio que ela não se arrependeu da decisão que tomou naquele dia. Nós agradecemos a nossa mãe por esta sábia decisão até hoje.

Foram as melhores férias da nossa infância.

“The Hills of Heaven” by Scott Hales

Ane Kristine knew Jakob was dead when the moon turn blood red over Utah Lake. Her fear was confirmed the following night when she saw his ghost standing along the creek just outside of camp. He was dressed in the same dark suit and black leather boots he always wore to the stone church in Onsøy. His hair was neatly trimmed and long around the ears. His face was pale.

Pregnant with another man’s child, Ane Kristine almost did not stay to speak to him. She had been married to Abraham for over a year, and she had not written to Jakob about her marriage. His last letter to her had convinced her he was no longer in love and would not follow her to the Valley.

Still, seeing her now, only weeks away from her confinement, would surely confuse him. In life, Jakob had never been a jealous man. But how would he be in death? Had he appeared at the creek to punish her for leaving him? Or did he come seeking forgiveness? Ane Kristine shivered in the warm night air. She wanted to run back to her tent and hide beneath her quilt. But then Jakob called her name.

“Why are you here?” she whispered back. She began walking towards him, almost against her will. Jakob held out his hands, and she reached for them. Her fingers intertwined with his, as they had always done in Norway, but this time she could not feel his touch. Startled, she pulled her hands away and looked into his gray eyes. He had no pupils.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said.

“What happened to you?” Ane Kristine asked.

“I died. After you left, I became sick.”

“Why are you here?”

“I came for you. Come with me.”

“I have a life here,” said Ane Kristine. “I’m going to have a baby.”

“I’ve been to the other side and seen the hills of heaven,” Jacob said. “Nothing here matters.”

“I can’t,” said Ane Kristine. “I won’t.”

“You will,” said Jakob. “Meet me here tomorrow night. I can take you there.”


Ane Kristine awoke the next morning to Diana shouting. Ma Smoot had said something to offend her, and now Diana was taking it out on Abraham. Ane Kristine was still in her tent, so she could not see what was happening. But she could hear everyone well enough. The camp was small, the quarters close, and no one in the family but Ane Kristine knew how to be discreet.

“I can’t live here,” Diana cried. “I’m going back to my mother.”

“Your mother won’t take you,” Abraham said, his voice weary. “She knows your home is here.”

“It ain’t my home,” Diana said. “I need—”

“What you need to do is pray,” said Abraham. “The Lord will help you.”

“I’ve tried to pray!” Diana said. “It don’t ever work!”

Ane Kristine heard shuffling outside her tent, and in a moment Diana burst in and sat down on the ground beside her. “Oh, Annie,” she said. “I can’t do it no more. I can’t.”

Ane Kristine placed her hand on Diana’s knee and patted it gently. She and Diana were around the same age, and they had become pregnant around the same time. But Ane Kristine did not have the same tenderness for Diana that she had for Ma Smoot and Emily, Abraham’s other wives. Diana only spoke to her when no one else would listen—and only then because she thought Ane Kristine did not know enough English to scold her.


Later that morning, Diana wrapped herself in a shawl and went to her mother’s tent in another part of camp. Ane Kristine remained in her bedroll, feigning sickness. She did not share Diana’s feelings about their husband or his other wives. They had given her a home and family when no one else would take her in. But now that Jakob had promised to bring her to the hills of heaven, she wondered if she too needed to leave. Seeing Jakob standing beside the creek, his face the shade of moonlight, had reminded her of evenings along the river in Onsøy. The memory hung on her like a shroud of gloom, and she felt as if her grave was already dug. She did not regret coming to Zion. But she did regret coming without Jakob.

An hour past sundown, Ane Kristine found Jakob beside the creek. He did not greet her when she approached him. Instead, he pointed to a rope that hung from a tree branch over the creek. Knowing what he wanted her to do, Ane Kristine removed her shoes and began climbing the tree. When she reached the rope, she pulled it up until she held its end in her hands. The rough cord felt as crisp and light as lace.

“What do I do next?” she asked.

“Make a loop,” he said, “and tie a knot.”


“Your hands will show you.”

Ane Kristine formed a loop and watched as her hands twisted and pulled the rope into a tight noose.

“Like that?” she said, holding it out to Jakob.

“Yes,” he said. “Now put it around your neck.”


When Ane Kristine opened her eyes, she saw Diana kneeling over her, muddy water dripping from her hair and dress. Startled, Ane Kristine turned her face toward the creek. “Where’s Jakob?” she cried.

Diana placed a calloused hand over Ane Kristine’s mouth. “Hush,” she whispered. “I saw what you done, but don’t worry. I won’t tell no one.”

Ane Kristine shook her head. Let me go, she wanted to say. Nothing here matters. But the words felt heavy and shapeless on her tongue.

“I got so afraid when I saw you in that tree,” Diana said. “You’re all I have here, so I just prayed to God to break that branch.” A tear formed on her cheek, and she wiped it away with a filthy sleeve.

“And He heard me, Annie,” she said. “He finally heard me.”

“The Investigator” by Jeanine Bee

The missionaries were on their way to a dinner appointment when they noticed the spacecraft.

In fairness, though, it was hard not to notice the spacecraft. It landed on the highway right in front of them. At first, the roving spotlights and downward gust of desert air led Elder Mulholland to believe that it might be a helicopter. His instinct was to leave his bike and run out into the New Mexico desert, crouching down amongst the sagebrush with his head tucked between his knees and his hands over his neck. But Elder Caldwell was the senior companion, and he just stood in the middle of the road, watching the dome-shaped ship hover over them. So Elder Mulholland did the same. He’d only left the MTC three weeks ago, and for all he knew this was a common experience for the residents of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The ship lowered itself carefully to the ground, tipping a little to the left, then to the right, before touching down on the road right in front of the two missionaries. Whatever engine was powering the machine cut out and left the two Elders standing in the hot silence of dusk in north-eastern Carlsbad.

Finally, Elder Mulholland spoke.

“Caldwell? What’s going on?”

Elder Caldwell adjusted his belt. “Not really sure, Elder. Looks like a spaceship of some kind, don’t you think?”

Mulholland looked at the spaceship, then back to his companion. “Yeah. I’d say so.” He paused. “Does the mission president have any guidelines for what to do in this situation?”

“Not that I’ve been informed of.”

Mulholland nodded. “Right. So this is new then. Never seen anything like this before?”

Caldwell shook his head slowly.

Mulholland took a sharp breath. “Caldwell, I think we should leave. Now.”

“Hold on, now.” Caldwell pulled a worn handkerchief out of his back pocket and used it to wipe the sweat from his brow. “Weren’t we just praying this morning for guidance as we knocked doors today? For the spirit to lead us to those homes and hearts that were open to the gospel?”

Mulholland felt his jaw drop. “You’re not going to—”

But Caldwell was already walking towards the ship. He looked back and opened his arms wide. “Ask and ye shall receive, Elder! We asked and the Lord delivered the door to us!” He slapped his chest triumphantly. “We can’t say no to this!”

“We can, though.” Mulholland started to jog to his companion, ready to physically drag Caldwell away from the ship. “We can say no!” But before Mulholland could reach him, Caldwell was already knocking on the panel of the ship that he assumed to be the door.

There was a loud click, and the panel began to slide open. As the doorway grew, the missionaries caught their first glimpse of their new investigator. He was lit from behind, and the gloom of dusk obscured the details of his features, but his form looked eerily human, and his bright, gum-drop-shaped eyes stood out from his face in what seemed to be in a state of perpetual amusement.

Caldwell extended his hand. “Hello!” The investigator took a step backwards, and Caldwell raised his hands to show that he meant no offense. He clasped them together respectfully and started again. “Hello. We’re missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do you have a moment for us to share a message?”

The investigator blinked and tilted his head. Mulholland grabbed his companion by the sleeve and started to pull him away from the door. “Elder, we need to go!” he whispered urgently.

Caldwell smiled at the investigator. “Please, excuse us for just a moment.” Then he turned and scowled at Mulholland. “What is wrong with you? We have an opportunity here!”

“This is not an opportunity, Caldwell. This is an emergency.”

Caldwell rolled his eyes. “You’re too green, Elder. We were called to share the gospel to everyone on this earth.”

“Everyone on this Earth, Caldwell! All the humans! This is not a human. There’s nothing in the handbook about this. Nothing in Preach my Gospel.”

“Elder, this is straight-out-of-the-bible stuff! John 10:16. Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold. It’s our duty to find those sheep and bring them to Christ!”

“It’s not even a sheep.”

“You’re overreacting, Elder. Now, please, join me as we talk to this nice gentleman.”

“Not a man.” Mulholland shook his head. “Not a person!”

But Caldwell was already facing the investigator again. “Do you have a family, sir?”

The investigator just stared, with what Mulholland believed was a look of confusion.

Then Caldwell began to teach the investigator about eternal families, pantomiming the words he was saying with the hope of bridging the language gap. He crouched low for some words and reached up high for others, translating his message into the language of movement. He became an interpretive dancer cloaked in the ethereal glow of the spirit. Mulholland watched with awe, touched by this great work of Caldwell’s faith—a testimony borne without words.

When he had finished, both missionaries looked up at the investigator, Caldwell breathing heavily from the effort and Mulholland breathless in anticipation. The investigator turned back to the interior of the ship and uttered a few sounds in some guttural, clicking language. The engine started back up again.

“Wait!” Caldwell called, reaching into his backpack. He pulled out a Book of Mormon and placed it in the investigator’s hand-like-appendage. “Please, just read it.”

Then the door closed, and the ship was gone.

In the silence the crickets began to chirp again, and Mulholland turned to his companion. “Why did you give him a Book of Mormon? He doesn’t speak English.”

Caldwell’s face shone with giddy exhilaration. He smiled knowingly. “The spirit knows no such boundaries.” Then he picked up his bike and deftly lifted his leg over the frame. “Hop on, Elder. We’re on God’s time, and we’re already late for dinner.”

“The Seven Deadly Housewarmers” by Emily Harris Adams

Gluttony was the first to pay a welcome call. I was in the kitchen sorting the dishes into cabinets when the bell rang. I opened the door to find her holding a pan of cinnamon buns. Glaze dripped onto the carpet as I invited her inside. She stayed about a half an hour, telling me about the local restaurants and grocery stores. Between the two of us, we finished the rolls. I had three. The glaze
left sticky patches on my fingers, lips, and chin. We exchanged numbers and she promised to treat me to coffee sometime.

Pride came a few hours after with the HOA rules and regulations handout. Not the welcome packet. Just the rules and regulations. He also warned me against planting daffodils, calling them, “pedantic, though not forbidden.” Pride is not on the HOA board, I’ve found. However, he has won the neighborhood “Best Yard” award ten years running.

When Lust came a week later, I began to notice the pattern. It was near midnight when I answered the door. Lust was wearing a Speedo and proffering a Bikini. It dangled from his pinky finger. It was a small. I’m a medium, but from the way Lust was looking at me I am pretty sure he’d already guessed that. He told me that he and Envy were having a little hot tub party and I was invited. I declined even after he leaned in close and whispered that he could do things to me that would turn Envy green. He left the Bikini anyway.

The next day Envy came and told me she has dibs on Lust. As she turned to leave, I counted the other homes on my cul-du-sac. There are seven.

Two-weeks later, after a coffee run with Gluttony, I came back to find Greed stealing my garden gnomes. I called out to her as she sprinted away in panic. One of the gnomes slipped from her hands, smashing on the pavement outside Pride’s home. I asked Gluttony how Greed thought she could have gotten away with the theft since she lives just across the street. Gluttony shrugged as she munched on a cheese scone. We all have our blind spots, I suppose. I went inside to get a
broom, but by the time I got the chance to clean up the shattered gnome, Pride had already swept his lawn pristine.

The next day, I received a violation notice from Wrath, the president of the HOA. Garden Gnomes, it seems, may only be displayed at Christmastime due to their overwhelming resemblance to Santa Claus.

I’ve yet to meet Sloth, but I know which house is his. The lawn gives it away. I’m sure it hasn’t been mowed in weeks. Wrath talks to me about it anytime I see him out-and-about with his dog. The worst, Wrath says, is that Sloth’s always late in paying his violation fees. Greed tells me that if I ever want free flowers I can always go to Sloth’s yard and clip some, because he’s too lazy to call the

Part of me wonders how long I’ll have to live here before I can gather enough equity on the house for moving to make sense. Another part of me is just relieved that, strange as my new neighbors are, they are much better than the four horse ranchers who live near my sister.

“The Casting Out of Spirits” by Jeanine Bee

I don’t know why they’ve asked someone else to play the organ.

I’ve been playing the organ in this ward for forty-eight years. When I first learned to play, I had to pump the air through the pipes with my feet on bellows, up and down, one and then the other. My calves rippled through my stockings like an Olympian. I played when I was placed on modified bed-rest during my pregnancy with Ellie, and George had to push me up to the rostrum in a wheelchair and help me onto the bench. I played at George’s funeral, when my fingers creaked with the beginnings of arthritis and tears blurred the notes on the page. But I walk into church with my book of music, feeling better than I have in years, and what do I see? Little Julie Nielson sitting at the organ, fumbling her notes left and right.

After the initial shock, I decide to sit in the front row so I can lock eyes with the bishop every time the Neilson girl plays a wrong note. But when I reach the pew, I keep walking. Up the steps. To the organ.

I stand behind Julie for a while, watching her play. She isn’t using the foot pedals. Most people don’t these days. But there’s a little button on the right-hand side that says “BASS CUPL,” and if you toggle it, it takes the voice programing from the bass line and plays it in the lower half of the keyboard. So I try to be discreet. I sit down on the bench next to her and whisper, “You need to enable the bass coupler.”

Of course, she can’t hear me—the organ is far too loud for prelude music. So I push the button myself. She looks a little confused at the change, but keeps her eyes on the music. Then, since this is sacrament meeting and not a Janis Joplin concert I lower the volume myself with the foot pedal.

It seems like everything is under control, so I stand up to leave. But then Julie starts playing “Called to Serve.” As prelude music. Can you believe it? With that bass line thumping along. Bum bum bum bum. It’s atrocious. “Be Thou Humble” is a much better prelude hymn. And in the key of C, she’s not likely to miss many notes.

So I turn the page. Julie stops playing and whips her head around.

“What are you—”

She looks confused. Maybe I should be more sympathetic. It’s not her fault that someone asked her to play the organ. So I try to smile. “I’m not here to take over for you. I’m just giving you a few pointers.”

Julie turns back to the hymn book. But she must realize that my song choice is better, because she starts plodding through “Be Thou Humble.”

I’m starting to head down to the pews when Bishop Clements stands up to begin the meeting. Julie stops playing (right in the middle of the verse with no resolution to the musical phrase or anything), so rather than call any undue attention to myself, I sit down in the choir seats next to the organ.

The opening hymn is “The Spirit of God.” I’m quite familiar with the song. I know that it should be played on the ninth preset with the 4’ Clarion and 8’ Dulciana voices added to the Great manual to really give the melody that great ringing emphasis during “We’ll sing, and we’ll shout!” It should feel jubilant! Alive!

When Julie starts playing on the fifth preset—one I use for the quieter sacrament hymns—I audibly groan.

Changing voices in the middle of a verse is not recommended, but I can’t stand to sit through one more measure of this, so I lean over and toggle the ninth preset. The sound blasts from the pipes, and Julie jumps a bit at the change. But everything is fine until she starts to drag. I tap on the bench next to her, hoping to encourage her to play a bit faster. She doesn’t. And I know she can hear me because even the bishop looks back at the sound.

Finally, after four verses (and eight-and-a-half minutes), the song finishes. After the opening prayer, I decide I’m going to take over for Julie. I’m perfectly capable of fulfilling my calling. I slide onto the bench to excuse her, but before I can say anything, the bishop stands up again.

“We have just one item of ward business. We’d like to recognize our new ward organist, Julie Nielson.”

At this I’m so shocked that I stand up right there, my feet on the pedals, sending a great cacophony of bass notes ringing out across the chapel. I gather my wits quickly and sit back down. Bishop looks over his shoulder and Julie shrugs. But of course, I’m shocked! I was never released from this calling. I still have a stewardship over this organ and this congregation—or their ears, at least.

Bishop turns back to the congregation and clears his throat. “And we’d like to make you aware of the passing of Sister Eugenia Gordon. Funeral services will be held Friday.”

I should be playing at that funeral.

“Sister Gordon shared her musical talents with us for the past forty years—”

It was forty-eight.

“—and I know it’s not customary, but I think it would be appropriate for us to offer a vote of release, to thank her for her service on the organ. All those who wish to do so, please show by the uplifted hand.”

The hands are all held high, like the great wall of pipes in the tabernacle. And I feel a smile creep up on me.

Because now I know it’s time for me to leave. Let Julie have a turn on the keys.

But enough about me. Tell me about this place.

Do you need an organist?

“The God I Can Trust” by Gabriel González Núñez

Read the original Spanish version here

According to the prophet, God’s face is brighter than the sun
and His long hair is whiter than snow
and His voice roars like the rushing of a river,
and next to Him man is nothing.

At times I think of these things, early in the morning,
when the sun rises, and my mind is stuck
in dogmas and mysteries which I can hardly understand,
and I can only conclude that man is nothing.

According to the poet, God is greater than the priest imagines,
for His mercy is greater than that of all of beings,
for His light banishes the darkness in those who seek Him,
for man is nothing.

It terrifies me, when I contemplate this life and its toils,
to think that God is so far removed from our ways,
yonder in the distance, that His light might not reach us
and we will continue to grope about, for man is nothing.

According to my brother, God is found in the details,
not so much in the geometry of constellations,
not so much in the blue echo of the fathomless heavens,
and he claims this while knowing that man is nothing.

I confess I do not know whether God dwells in the valleys
or whether He moves about invisibly between dimensions
or whether He is simply our daily breath,
for I understand in defeat that man is nothing.

I wander around dressed in the rags of a roaming man.
I know I am ephemeral, a sighing in the night.

I am crushed as I realize that even I am nothing.
And only then do I fumble my way to a god I can trust.

And only then do I discover the God I can trust.

“Un dios en quien confiar” Gabriel González Núñez

Read the English translation here

Dice el profeta que el rostro de Dios resplandece
más que el sol y que Su larga cabellera es blanca
más que la nieve y que Su voz ruge con estruendo
como de un río, y a Su lado el hombre nada es.

Pienso en estas cosas a veces, cuando amanece,
cuando levanta el sol, y la mente se me estanca
en dogmas y misterios que poco o nada entiendo,
y sólo puedo concluir que el hombre nada es.

Dice el poeta que Dios es más de lo que el cura
opina, que Su piedad supera la de todos
los seres, que Su luz desvanece la penumbra
del hombre que busca perdón, hombre que nada es.

Me aterra, cuando pienso en esta vida y lo dura
que es, que Dios esté tan lejano de nuestros modos,
allá tan distante, que Su luz no nos alumbre
y quedemos a tientas, porque el hombre nada es.

Dice mi hermano que Dios se encuentra en los detalles,
no en la geometría de las constelaciones
ni en el eco azul del insondable firmamento,
y lo asegura sabiendo que el hombre nada es.

Confieso que no sé si Dios habita los valles
o si transita nebuloso las dimensiones
o si es algo tan sencillo como el diario aliento,
porque resignado entiendo que el hombre nada es.

Vistiendo harapos de hombre errante por doquier voy.
Me sé efímero como un nocturno suspirar.

Me aplasta cobrar consciencia de que nada soy.
Y recién así tanteo un dios en quien confiar.

Y recién así descubro al Dios en quien confiar.

“Separation” by Mark Penny

The bridge collapsed, the car fell in the river, the mother unfastened her seat belt and clambered into the backseat to free her five- and three-year-old, and the father rolled down the windows, but a bus slammed on top of the car and crushed the roof. The car filled with water, sank away from the bus, and glided to the silt. The parents gathered their children and each other in their arms, and one by one, eyes wide in the murk, the family breathed, the mother last of all.


Waking up was weird. She felt light: limbs, organs, breath, pulse almost nonexistent, like memories after too many drinks. She was floating, but not in water or air. Her senses were empty: no sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. She seemed to be nothing but thought.

This was a relief, as if she’d coughed out a smothering fullness in the lungs and started from the grim end of an inconsistent dream.


The pleasure of silence, stillness, and solitude wore off. She felt alone. The loneliness threatened to drown her.

There was someone nearby. A voice: “We can see you now. Keep going.” A touch: on her wrist. “I can feel you now. Try seeing.” Light, shadow, shapes, colors—blurry like through a wet windshield. “Your eyes are open. Now breathe.”

Her lungs—the idea of lungs—opened out. Smells, tastes, the sense of life poured through her mouth and nose. She remembered all, and a shuddering, sobbing blackness took her.


“It’s hard,” said the voice—an old woman dressed like an eighty-year-old from ten years before.

The mother looked past the old woman to the fields and trees around her. Everything was beautiful and clean and a little too close to her preferences.

“How long was I hysterical?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t know how long. Time doesn’t chop into bits here. I had a lot of different thoughts about a lot of different things while you fuzzed out.”

“Fuzzed out?”

“Smudged. Swooned. Blanked out. Melted. Phased. Shifted. Deshaped. Dissolved. Diffused. Disintegrated. Pick a synonym. You’ll see when our next tragic arrives.”

“How often do tragics arrive?”

“Too often, poor things. But you mean when will you see one. Too soon. I can’t give you a figure. It’s not like clockwork. It happens when it happens. We seem to be dealing with a new one most of the time. It takes a while for them to adjust. Sometimes there are batches.”

Batches. The others must have survived somehow. She almost fuzzed out again.


It maddened her that there was no objective way to tell time. There was a sun in the sky, but it was always where she happened to expect it to be, and there was no night. With effort, she could make a sunrise or sunset, but these were effects only she could see unless she convinced the old woman to share the events with her. Even then, when they compared descriptions, it was plain they were not seeing the same display. Colors, shapes, and locations were always a little bit off. This principle extended to the flora and other elements of the landscape. Representations adjusted as they pointed things out to each other, but each began with her own set of images with their own content.


After what must have been days, the mother asked, “Why are there only two of us here?”

The old woman smiled. “There are thousands. You just haven’t been ready to see them.”

“I’m ready now. Where are they?”

“Here, there, and everywhere.”

“When can I see them?”

“They are in plain sight for those who have eyes to see, and in plain hearing for those who have ears to hear.”

“Why are you talking like that? Where are the people?”

“You will see them when your eyes are opened.”

The mother scanned every corner of the meadow she was picturing. She saw nothing but grass and flowers at first, with trees in arcs and circles on the slopes above, beside, and below her. She closed her eyes and tried to be open to seeing, then looked again. Now she saw blurs and shimmers, some near, some far. She repeated the process and began to see faces and physiques, still blurry and featureless, like shadows in frosted glass, but human and individual, many acting in ways incongruent with the environment, responding to their own visions.

“Do you see them now?” asked the old woman.

“Almost. They are unformed.”

“Because you have not met them. When you touch and hear them, you will see them, but not as they are: as they think they are.”

“Will that change?”

“When they change. Most of us see ourselves as we were at death. I walked around in my nightgown for what must have been years.”

“How do I present?”

“As you see yourself. A woman in her early thirties, dripping wet. You drowned, I presume.”

“Yes. With my family: husband, two little ones. Where are they? Are they here? We should have come in the same batch. Unless they survived. We were in our car, at the bottom of the river. We all breathed in. I saw them all breathe in. Where are they?”

“Were you sealed?”


“You’ll understand when you get to that lesson.”

“Why can’t I go to them, find them?”

“Look as far as you can. What do you see?”

“An ocean.”

“I see a wall. It surrounds us. My wall and your ocean are the same thing: a barrier we can never pass without submission and sealing. I’m still working on submission. When I succeed, I will go to my family, but there is one I will never see again, one to whom I could never be sealed. I will miss her forever.”

The mother looked down at the ocean, shifting and blue—and vast. She felt a tear, or the idea of a tear, but whether of sorrow or rage, she couldn’t yet tell.