“Have we any apricot jam left?” Alex called from the breakfast table.
“No, dear heart,” Jean called from the kitchen. “I’ve put what we have left out on the table for you.”
Alex stared at the two jars. “Green Fig Conserve.” What is that? he thought. He recognized the other jar: Jean’s rose-hip jam. Pushing the jars away in disgust, he buttered his toast and ate it quietly as he logged into his email account.
A week had passed, and things were already moving. As he had made clear to Craig, they needed to take their time.
Tanner was in, just as Alex had expected him to be. All it had taken was a subtle appeal to his vanity, the same way it had with Craig. Most people were pretty easy, weren’t they? Alex understood human nature, and he prided himself on being unmoved by such things, though heaven knows others had tried many times. But he wasn’t in it for personal glory–though there had been quite a lot of that, he had to admit–no, it was only the glory of God and the progress of truth that mattered to Alex.
The note from Tanner was predictably long, his enthusiasm and apparent anger rising with each sentence. Good, thought Alex. People make mistakes when they’re angry. Perhaps Craig had been right to invite Tanner first.
There wasn’t much of interest in the email, mostly Tanner pledging his loyalty and cursing their enemies, but buried in all that had been a couple of sentences Alex had almost missed:
“My friend has a tentative identity for Sidious, a name and address, though he has not yet confirmed this information. Be assured that, if my friend is correct, Jared Richards of Sandy, Utah, will wish he’d never crossed us.”
Alex smiled. That bit of good news might even get me through sacrament meeting, he thought.
Later, Alex sat with his phone and thought how best to reply to Tanner’s message.
Jean nudged him sharply with her elbow. She whispered, almost hissing, “Put that away, and pay attention! Sister Niekirk has put a lot of effort into the lesson.”
They sat in the Relief Society room, where a large woman stood in a frock that was obviously designed for someone much younger. She was clearly nervous, her carefully sprayed hair starting to wilt a little while tiny beads of sweat forced their way through what Alex imagined were several layers of makeup. On the table in front of her, several pages of notes were spread out, along with a tattered lesson manual. In the midst of the sprawl stood an elegant crystal vase holding several pink roses carefully arranged.
Typical, Alex thought, smirking. They never get to the meat of the doctrine, but at least they have their floral arrangement.
“… the meek: for they shall inherit the earth,” she was saying.
It was a nice thought, Alex had to admit, but the meek always ended up like Arlen Compton. People who want light discipline are unlikely to inherit the earth, he chuckled to himself.
He had once felt meek, though it was more fear than meekness. At 19 he had dutifully submitted his mission papers and had been called to, of all places, Córdoba, Argentina. He had spent two months in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, USA, where he had felt completely disoriented. Most of the missionaries were kind to him, but others could sense his fear. They mocked his accent, apparently mistaking him for a posh Englishman. But mostly he had just been overwhelmed. He had thought he understood the doctrines of the church, but the others, mostly from Utah and Idaho, seemed to belong to a different religion than the one he had known in South Africa.
Each week they had walked up the hill to the temple, where he once again recoiled when he had to pantomime having his throat cut or his heart torn out as “penalties” for not keeping the temple covenants secret. The food did not agree with him, and the long hours had exhausted him mentally and physically. And, no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep up with the others in learning Spanish. At a low point, he had heard his instructor tell his companion, “Just try and encourage him. He just doesn’t have the talent or intelligence to pick up the language or the discussions easily. Keep him in your prayers.”
When he arrived in Argentina, his American companion had told him, “I’m out of here in a month, so don’t give me any crap.” They had done very little missionary work, and Elder DuPlessis had spent most of his time memorizing the discussions. But with almost no interaction with real Argentinians, he hadn’t really learned the language. When he did give a discussion, he rattled through it quickly, leading some investigators to laugh at him. “¡Mirá, hablá castellano, che!”
Early on, he had felt humiliated by Catholics and Evangelicals who obviously knew more about the Bible than he did, and he had sputtered angrily when he could not counter their attacks.
“Don’t worry about it,” his companion had said. “You’re not going to convert anyone by bashing.”
No, but he would never let them get the upper hand again. The rest of his mission he had worked harder than he had thought possible, and eventually he could carry on a conversation in Spanish, though some people still made fun of his accent. But no one could touch his knowledge of the gospel. He had pored over the scriptures, reading them through twice in English, twice in Spanish, and every siesta, while his companions had slept, he had systematically studied gospel topics according to the official, church-published Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary. He had even managed to get a full set of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation.
He had come home with a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the gospel and a fondness for dulce de leche and yerba mate.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” Sister Niekirk’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Sometimes he thought the Savior must have had MIC in mind when he had said those words on the Galilean mount two thousand years before. Alex and his fellow-defenders had been sorely persecuted, but he knew that a great reward in heaven would await him if he could just endure to the end.
He looked to his right and saw that the two sister missionaries, both American, were staring into their scriptures. He wasn’t entirely sure, but one of them–definitely the better-looking one, he thought–looked as if she were sleeping. She didn’t have Jean’s elbow to keep her focused.
After priesthood meeting–a yawner about magnifying your calling–Alex had made his way out to the carpark, where Jean and the boys waited next to the car.
“I don’t know why you lock it,” Jean said, obviously unhappy that she’d been made to wait in the heat. “No one is going to steal a ten-year-old Ford.”
Alex started the car in silence.
As they rounded the corner onto Walter Sisulu Road (the name still irritated Alex), Jean turned and said brightly, “Wasn’t that a lovely Gospel Doctrine lesson from Sister Niekirk?”
“Oh, yes, lovely,” he agreed absently.
“What was your favorite part?” Jean asked.
“So much of it was wonderful,” he lied. “I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. What part did you like best?”
“That last part about loving our enemies and doing good to people who hate us. The world would be so much better a place if we could all learn to do that, don’t you think, dear?”
“Yes, yes,” he said, thinking. “I am convinced that we show our love best when we combat hate and error with truth. Standing boldly for the truth, no matter the consequence–that is the greatest love we can show.”
Jean shook her head, “No, Alex, I don’t think that’s it at all. We are to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. Jesus never said anything about fighting back.”
“Allowing people to remain in ignorance of the truth is not love,” Alex said, glaring at his wife.
She sat silently for several minutes. As they neared the last turn before the gate, she smiled brightly. “Weren’t those flowers beautiful? Sister Niekirk said she’d be happy to give me a cutting. They’re a lighter shade than the Love Knot but darker than the new ones your friends sent us. They’ll make a perfect transition between them.”
Alex braked to a stop at the gate.
“Hello, sir! Glorious day, isn’t it?” Zanoxolo said, grinning broadly. “And you, Ma’am, you’re looking radiant this afternoon!”
“Just open the gate,” Alex said, staring straight ahead. Jean gave him a dirty look, but he pretended not to notice.