Jacaranda Plains

Chapter 24

“It reached the toiling city folk, but few there were that heard --
The rattle of their busy life had choked the whisper down;
And some but caught a fresh-blown breeze with scent of pine that stirred
A thought of blue hills far away beyond the smoky town”

From “The Wind's Message” ~ Banjo Patterson

Jemimah’s black night dawned to a morning of greyness, the emptiness in her stomach a physical manifestation of the emptiness in her heart. Ashamed at her melancholy, she took her Bible with her when she dragged herself through to the kitchen for breakfast. Other people had real problems. She didn’t have any real suffering to feel miserable about. She just had … nothing.

She opened up the Bible with a sense of guilt, as she sat down with her cereal. She hadn’t even looked at it since Tuesday night, at the Bible study. After hearing what Matt Gordon had been saying about her and her beliefs, she just didn’t feel like opening it up again. Or like praying. It was kind of like her heart had been stood on, and felt too bruised to find joy in anything.

Her cereal was finished before she’d decided on any passage to read. Pastor Turnbull had made a passing comment about the importance of systematically studying the Bible, reading the Scriptures with purpose and not just flipping through them, but nothing appealed to Jemimah. Right now the Old Testament seemed too dry, the New had too many hard things to grapple with - and she didn’t want to learn anything else that would make life even harder.

She thought over the letter she’d written to Matt a few days ago, apologising for the misunderstanding, and trying to explain again what he didn’t seem to understand - that she hadn’t been rejecting him or his friendship, just that she hadn’t wanted to see him alone. It was the hardest letter she’d ever had to write. It was one thing to hold to principles from the Bible, and another thing entirely to stick to them when you knew how much hurt they could cause.

Angie had reminded her that Jesus had said that he hadn’t come to bring peace on earth but rather division
Luke 12:35 but Jemimah wasn’t really very comfortable with that part of following Jesus’ example - she would much rather never have to offend anyone.

Footsteps on the path outside made her jump, and she only breathed again when they’d passed by. In her heart she didn’t really expect Matt to reply to her letter, and she dreaded running into in him in town the next time he came - knowing she would have no idea what to say or do. No-one had ever been angry at her like this before, and it made her stomach churn every time she thought about it.

Realising that thinking it over and over again wouldn’t get her anywhere, Jemimah left the Bible where it was and got up to do the dishes from the night before. Already the sounds of her neighbours were filtering through the walls - another day of life in the confines of her flat. It seemed even smaller and greyer and more suffocating than ever, yet she didn’t dare go outside for fear of running into anyone. There was no point putting on music to compete with the stereo next door, no point reading books she’d already read before, no point in anything …

The dirty water gurgled down the drain, leaving Jemimah feeling as grotty as the plates were clean. She wasn’t going anywhere, wasn’t seeing anyone - but since she had nothing better to do, she headed through for a shower. Just as she stepped into the bathroom though, her telephone began to ring. Jemimah hesitated only a moment, then closed the bathroom door behind her. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, anyway.

When she finally turned off the shower, she heard the phone again and was immediately seized by guilt. What if it was her parents ringing? Or her sister? She usually spoke to them on Sunday nights after church - if they were ringing now, perhaps there was something terribly wrong?

She threw on her nightie and raced through, only for the phone to stop the moment she reached out for the handset. Hair dripping down her back, she decided to get dressed and then ring home to check if everything was okay, but she’d just finished buttoning up her dress when the phone rang again.

“Hello?” she answered breathlessly, her heart nearly stopping when she heard the sound of a long distance call. It must be her family.

“Jemimah - Michael Turnbull here.”

Michael Turnbull not Pastor Turnbull. The sound of Michael’s voice was so unexpected that she couldn’t answer, and found herself sitting on the carpet, her knees buckling of their own accord.

“I didn’t wake you, did I?” he asked after a few moment’s silence.

Jemimah looked at the clock, and smiled at the idea of still being in bed. It was past nine o’clock. “No, I was just in the shower,” she asked, managing to answer his commonplace remark, “Was that you ringing earlier?”

“Yes, I’m sorry - I hope I’m not disturbing you, it’s just …” he hesitated, and with the depth of empathy in his voice that had completely unravelled Jemimah when he’d spoken to her in person, he went on. “I was talking to Nan on the phone last night. She told me you’ve been having a pretty hard time this week.”

A feeling of cold misery spread over Jemimah. So Michael knew all about it. All about the mess she’d gotten herself into. What was the point of ever wishing that one day he’d see something worthwhile in her?

She leant her head in her hands. A mumbled “Yes,” was all she could reply. She knew she should say something positive about how God was carrying her through and everything … but she had nothing like that to say, and discovering that made her feel even guiltier.

“I won’t keep you,” Michael continued, perhaps sensing how uncomfortable she felt, “but this morning I was reading Psalm 86, and it just put me in mind of you. Have you got time for me to read it to you?”

When she agreed with a murmured “Uh-huh,” he began to read, Heart Notes with external link.

Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.”

“In the day of my trouble I call upon you, and you answer me.” Even though Michael continued to read, Jemimah heard only the rich music of his voice, as that one verse went around in her mind. “In the day of my trouble I call upon you, and you answer me.” I haven’t called on the Lord … how can I expect him to answer me? Can I really trust him to answer me? I don’t even know what to ask …

She returned her attention to the words Michael was sharing with her in time to catch the last few verses of the Psalm.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant.
Show me a sign of your favour,
that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

Could I say that God has helped and comforted me? Could I dare ask for a sign of his favour? she questioned herself. Is that why Michael had rung, because he knew I’d forget about God at the first difficulty?

“Well, I’ll be praying for you too, Jemimah,” Michael said, when her silence drew out uncomfortably long, “You are in good hands, you know.”

She managed a tiny “Thank you,” and after his goodbye, listened intently to the silence on the other end until she eventually heard him disconnect the call.

Her legs felt stiff when she finally unfolded herself to hang up the phone, and she dropped into her chair beside the Bible that she’d abandoned earlier. She turned to the Psalm he’d just shared with her, hearing his voice in her mind as she read the words of encouragement.

It was deeply humbling that the person she most longed to impress had had to do for her what she’d not even bothered to do for herself - yet ashamed as she felt, Jemimah was incredibly thankful for the gift Michael had given her in reading her that Psalm.

She was not the only one to have felt miserable and abandoned - but at least the Psalmist had known to turn to God for help. And if he dared ask God to gladden his heart, why shouldn’t she?

A couple of hours later, Jemimah pulled a tray of steaming scones from the oven. Satisfied they were cooked to the perfect golden shade, she set them on a wire rack to cool and returned to the open Bible on the table.

She didn’t know how many times she’d re-read that Psalm that morning, as well as several of the other Psalms before and after it. They were a comfort to read, although she just wished she had the faith to believe that God really would lift her up, to show her she wasn’t utterly despised for trying to follow him - despite the way everything had gone since coming to Jacaranda Plains.

Jemimah had done her best to drag herself out of her despondency - doing all the housework she could think of and then baking for church supper - yet she still felt no peace with her situation. Trapped in her little flat, she felt like someone waiting out the eye of a cyclone, aware that the swirling winds of uncertainty and difficulty were just outside waiting for her to open the door.

Just then three sharp raps sounded on her door, and Jemimah nearly jumped out of her skin. She crept over to the door, this time peering through the curtain of the front window first. A large, white Land Cruiser was parked by the footpath - and she was relieved, although very surprised, to recognise it as the Hart’s.

Letting out her breath, she swung the front door open, to see Mrs Hart beaming down at her from the top step.

“What a lovely surprise.” Jemimah stepped aside as Mrs Hart bustled in. “Do come in. What brings you to town?”

“Mr Hart had some things to pick up at the Ag. SuppliesAgricultural Supply Shop, so I thought I’d come in for the run and see how you were getting on.” She divested herself of her sunglasses, hat and voluminous tote-bag, and made a thorough survey of the small room.

Jemimah, feeling acutely self-conscious of the inadequacies of her flat, was relieved that Mrs Hart neither gave any false compliments, nor asked how she was enjoying living there. That morning, Jemimah would have been stretched to give an honest answer.

She was about to ask her unexpected guest to take a seat, when Mrs Hart remarked on the wonderful smell of the scones.

“Yes, I’ve just taken them out of the oven. They’re for tomorrow night, but I was just thinking I ought to test one or two,” she answered, thankful for the prompt that got her over her awkwardness. “Do you have time of a cup of tea and a couple of hot scones?”

“That would be just lovely,” Mrs Hart plonked herself down at the dining table and smiled up at Jemimah, “You’re a good girl baking when you’re just on your own like this. I sometimes think it’s a lost art. I love cooking and would have liked to have passed it on to my daughters … but the Lord blessed me with sons instead. And Marlene hasn’t got the time or inclination to fuss about making anything fancy …”

Jemimah nodded her head as she fetched down two of her best china cups - originally her great-grandmother’s. “Gabi enjoys cooking though, doesn’t she?” she asked.

“Uh-huh, but they’re going to be settling in Narrabri, near Ashley’s work. Maybe one day they’ll move back closer but …” Mrs Hart sighed, “Guess I can’t keep them all at home.”

Jemimah took great care arranging the scones on a delicate china plate, with tiny pots of jam and cream beside them, knowing that Mrs Hart would appreciate the touch. As she set them on the table, her effort was amply rewarded by the warmth of the older woman’s smile.

“I know it’s not a meal, but it’s such a beautiful spread that it makes me want to give thanks for it none-the-less,” said Mrs Hart, taking Jemimah’s hand and closing her eyes. “Lord, thank you for your abundant blessings, for the warmth of the love of your people, and for your guiding hand on all our plans and decisions. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Mrs Hart’s mention of “plans and decisions” caught Jemimah’s attention, although it wasn’t until they had finished their scones and Jemimah had returned to the table with a second cup of tea for Mrs Hart, that she found out what she was referring to.

“I’ve got a proposal for you, Jemimah,” Mrs Hart began, her eyes eagerly on Jemimah’s. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed the little cottages down by the river at our place? Marlene and the children are in one, but the others are all sitting empty … and we were wondering if you’d consider moving into one of them?”

Jemimah stared at her open-mouthed, as Mrs Hart continued.

“They’re nothing flash, but they’re neat and tidy. There’s a phone line, although it’d probably take a week or more to get reconnected, and you don’t have your own mail box or anything - although if you’d didn’t want your mail coming in with ours, you could get it held in the general store …”

“Truly? You’d have me come and live there?”

“I know it’s a long way out of town, as far as getting into work each day, but if you’d like a little peace and quiet,” Mrs Hart seemed determined to get all the details out as quickly as possible. “I really didn’t want to charge you rent, but Mr Hart said we should really do it all properly, but I’m sure we could still work out something so that even with the extra petrol it would be less that what you’re paying here. So, what do you think?”

Jemimah felt as though the world had just turned upside down, and was suddenly a beautiful place again. In her mind was the picture of those gorgeous little cottages with their tin roofs and wooden verandahs, dotted along the curving avenue of Jacarandas. Since she’d seen them that first Sunday she’d gone to the Hart’s with Gabi, they’d been a fantasy of hers - the perfect little homes amongst acres of grass that ran gently down to the riverbank behind them.

“I would love to! But … what made you ask?” A blush began to creep across Jemimah’s cheeks, wondering how much of Jack’s account of her misunderstanding with Matt Gordon had made it to her ears.

“I’ve been thinking for a while that it mightn’t be the nicest situation for a young lady on her own here in town,” she replied, waving her hand vaguely, “and when I was just chatting with Marlene this morning it came into my mind to see what you’d think of the idea.”

Jemimah smiled. “Did Marlene fill you in on our … evening last night?”

Mrs Hart sighed heavily. “I don’t know how you’ve been managing, my darling! I’d have asked you just to move into the big house with us, but Mr Hart said you really need your own independence, so then I thought of the cottages …”

The thought of sharing a house with the whole Hart clan made Jemimah immediately thankful for the intervention of Mr Hart, although after the week she’d had, she wasn’t entirely sure she’d have even knocked that offer back. Jack Hart might make her feel uncomfortable - but not unsafe.

“I can think of nothing more wonderful than living in one of your cottages,” Jemimah said, a little shyly, feeling it was too good to be true. “When were you thinking?”

“I had a peek in the first cottage - which is my favourite - this morning,” Mrs Hart told her. “And though it’s a little dusty, it’s fully furnished and certainly liveable. So you’d be welcome as soon as you’d like.”

“Okay. I can be round after lunch,” Jemimah joked, her head light with joy. “It won’t take me long to pack.”

Mrs Hart laughed too, then said, “But why not? I could let Mr Hart go home while I stay and give you a hand packing - and get him to pick me up when we’re ready. With both our vehicles there’ll be plenty of room for all your things without having to pack too carefully. Yes, let’s do it!”

Jemimah stared at her dazedly. She’d never done anything spontaneously in her life - yet this seemed so perfect that she wanted to grab it with both hands. She was sure she was meant to think through it all carefully and weigh up the pros and cons, but for once she didn’t care, and was ready to throw caution to the wind.

The thought of leaving the flat behind her forever was just too tantalizing.

© R. L. Brown 2007

Eos Development