The paper won’t close, Dave, the managing editor, said on Monday. “We mean too much to the community.”

Dave, Nan thought, would believe anything.

Kelli followed her into her cubicle when Dave finished, wanted to know if she’d be eligible for unemployment? Yes, Nan said, wondering why Kelli didn’t just look it up. You’re getting laid off, not fired. As, in a just world, Nan said to herself, thinking of Kelli’s struggles with affect and effect, you would be.

How much will I get, that’s what Kelli needed to know.

Nan wrote a blog and syndicated column on personal finance that paid more than twice her salary from the paper, wouldn’t need unemployment. “It’ll come to about half your check.”

“Oh, I can’t live on that,” Kelli said, as if proud of her spendthrift ways. She got calls from creditors sometimes; Nan had heard her pleading with them. “With my experience I could be a journalism professor.”

Perhaps Kelli believed students would be deferential, saw them gathered around her after class asking questions. “Don’t you need a masters to teach?”

“They’ll respect my boots to the ground experience.”

If they don’t need journalists they don’t need journalism teachers. “I’m going to interview that minister whose daughter is so sick,” she told Kelli, glad to get away.

Kelli was intrigued. “That’s what I had.”


“The other one. Bulimia.” In middle school, she said, when she was doing gymnastics.       Nan was surprised. Kelli presented herself as free from self-doubt, expressed polite astonishment whenever Dave corrected one of her stories.

Nan didn’t want to encourage confidences, but she said she was sorry, asked if Kelli was all right now.

“Oh, sure. I learned I don’t have to be thin to feel good about myself; I’m not my weight.”

Nan was fat, morbidly obese.

When she was young she’d dieted without success. Once, in high school, she’d done sit- ups for more than an hour, as long as she could stand it, thinking how ridiculous she must look. Damp, gasping. Flopping mounds of flesh squeezed together. When she was done she saw she’d broken a blood vessel in her right eye. The dark red spot didn’t fade for a month. She’d worn a patch, was pleased when a boy in chemistry class said it made her look like a pirate. She’d smiled at him. “I’m pretty dangerous, all right.” He looked away, exchanged glances with another boy.

The fat flattened any suggestion of femininity from her body. She owned three pantsuits now, wore them in rotation. Black, brown, gray. Kelli was cute and crisp. She’d be disgusted, Nan thought, if I told her we had something in common.

The church was on top a hill, new, big, meant to tower, to soar. The effect was diminished by the tract houses across from the church parking lot at the bottom of the hill.

On Sunday mornings parishioners rode up to church in golf carts driven by volunteer church members. Nan walked, avoiding the icy patches.

She stayed outside for a moment when she reached the top, to catch her breath, wipe the sheen from her face. From here, the town didn’t hold the interest it had for her close up. The buildings looked banal, the streets narrow and laid out in no special pattern. The doors to the church flung open, just as she reached for a handle, and she jumped back to avoid being hit. The pastor sprang out, took her hands in his. “Welcome! Welcome to Grace.”

Pastor Will Sasson. Courtly in the even-handed way men whose work is mostly with women often are, perhaps in an attempt to please without exciting jealousy. He helped her out of her coat before she was ready to give it up. “You’ll want to see the sanctuary.”

He took hold of her elbow, as if certain his touch was welcome. The useless winter sunshine coming through the stained glass windows reflected pools of oily color onto the carpet.

“Beautiful.” Nan thought of the church she’d attended as a girl, the altar dusky in the twilight, gleaming with candles.

“For the glory. We wanted something reflective of our joyous relationship with God.”


“It was a big decision, putting in the sound system. But God has rewarded our efforts tenfold. We were always a robust, welcoming community but now our congregation has doubled in size.” So not tenfold. “Come see us Sunday. Our praise team will knock your socks off. And, gosh, we’d be glad to have you!”

Nan was accustomed to hyperbole; she’d written the religion stories since she started at the paper. No one else wanted them. Back then it was roller skating nuns, harmless stuff.

“But come,” he waved her into his office. “You’d like some coffee on this cold day.”

She was dry from exertion, craved water, but she accepted a cup. After he’d placed a chair for her in front of a cherry veneer desk Nan would have liked for herself, he handed her a large, framed photograph. “My little family.”

His wife, Susan, was pretty in a way that suggested effort. She’d wanted to thank Nan personally for coming, Will said, but money was tight, and Susan was working at Noah’s Ark Daycare to help out. “She’s got such a heart for the little ones.”

Will pointed to the young girl between him and Susan. “My daughter. Haley.”

Haley, Nan saw, wore bright clothes like her stepmother’s, had the same trappings of prettiness: fluffy blonde hair, big smile, a light touch with make-up. Haley was more covered up, perhaps to conceal how thin she was. Her face, though. Shiny skintight on the cheek bones, sharp chin, dry eyes.

Nan remembered her father’s face in the months before his death, the last bit of flesh melted off his face, taking away the curves suggesting humor and intelligence.

His daughter, Will said, smiling ruefully, “was the result of an unfortunate affair when I was a young man.”

Haley’s teen years were difficult and her mother couldn’t handle her. He and Susan had been glad to take her in. “We wanted our home to be a place of healing for Haley.”

She’d been eighteen when she came and there’d been some difficulty with her accepting their authority. Haley didn’t like rules, resisted the loving structure they provided. Haley’s mother had allowed her to drop out of school, but they’d insisted Haley do something productive, and she’d become, he didn’t like to brag, the favorite babysitter of the young church families. When she was able.

She’d made friends her own age too, with members of the youth group. “Great kids who really love Jesus.” He and Susan had thought things were going well, “But we didn’t realize how much weight she’d lost, had no idea how insidious the illness is.”

Will, Nan saw, was trying not to look at her. “Of course. And more serious because of the diabetes, I understand.” Medicine was another of Nan’s areas. Still soft news, when she started.

“Haley almost died.” Will said, holding out his hands, palms up. “Our precious child. God’s precious child. It’s the nature of the illness. The therapist has helped us understand Haley’s need for control. I won’t lie; we were tremendously angry about her deceit. Hurt. But, with God’s help, it’s become an opportunity for us to grow. To learn the true meaning of forgiveness.”

Which is, Nan knew, that it isn’t deserved and can’t be earned.

Haley was diagnosed with Type One diabetes when she was six, Will said. She’d started worrying about her weight as a teenager, thought she was fat. He smiled at this foolishness. “That never mattered to us. But Haley was determined to be thin. When she found out she could eat and still lose weight by neglecting to give herself insulin, the temptation was too much. She’d weighed 92 pounds when she was admitted to the General. She almost died. She still could.”

There was a practiced feel to his words. He’d said this before, Nan believed, to other, friendlier, audiences.

“Words fail me,” Will said. “Words simply can’t express what we feel. The love our congregation showed us last month when Haley was in the coma. The prayers, the casseroles. I can’t describe it.”

Gave it a damned good try, anyway.

“We all breathed a collective sigh of relief after they moved her out after the ICU.” Nan handed the photograph back to Will. He looked at it for a moment before returning it to the shelf. “After the three longest days of our lives. But our congregation held us in their love.  Even now that Haley is recovering they’ve been with us every step of the way. But Haley’s battle isn’t over. The therapist and the hospital are recommending long term inpatient care. And we have very limited options with our insurance. The state hospital. Warehousing her there, we’d feel as if we’d abandoned her.”

Yes, you’ve already done that once, Nan said to herself. “The state hospital doesn’t treat eating disorders.  They’re not medically equipped for that level of care. Does your insurance cover the program at Mother Cabrini’s? It’s well thought of, I understand.”

He blinked. Perhaps he’d intended to be the only source of information. “Yes. I believe it’s an excellent option. I’m glad it’s there. Such a need. But there is a program in Arizona Haley’s therapist is recommending. Agape, it’s called. Which refers to God’s unconditional love for His children. And charity, the highest form of love.”

Cold as charity, Nan’s father used to say, rubbing his hands, coming back from starting the car on winter mornings. He wanted it warm for when he drove her to school.

“We’ve talked to their team and we’re convinced it’s the right place for Haley. It has so much more to offer than a secular program.”

“But Mother Cabrini is administered by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

“I meant the program in Arizona is Christian, based on Scripture. And what appeals to us is, it isn’t an institution. The young women stay in family style cottages on the grounds and do chores as they’re able, contribute to the community. They share meal preparation and eat together. Of course the cottages are fully staffed by nurses and counselors but they aren’t cold and clinical. The staff are mothers and sisters in Christ. Role models. For someone like Haley, who’s new in her faith, it’s ideal. And it’s what she wants. So there’s that buy-in.”

Buy-in. The therapist would have called it that.

“It’s a working ranch.” Nan pictured sick girls on cattle drives. “The patients are surrounded by the glories of God’s Creation.” He handed her a brochure with a picture of a desert sunset on the cover.

“Because it’s a new program, we’re responsible for paying the entire cost of Haley’s treatment before she can be admitted into the program. It’s expensive. Ninety thousand dollars. But we believe this program offers the best chance for Haley to heal. You can appreciate the urgency.” Nan had looked at the church website before coming. They’d raised $53,000.00.

“The hospital told us many families have taken out a home equity loan so we did that, of course. Any father would do as much.”

“What is the amount of the loan?”

He seemed surprised, then smiled as if to assure her he wasn’t offended. “I suppose people like to know, don’t they? Make sure I’m doing my part. My little community here, though, pitched in. No questions.” As if she’d done wrong to ask. “They wouldn’t want to embarrass me.”

Nan said nothing.

“Well, we didn’t have much built up. I wasn’t conscientious about my child support when Haley was younger and I owed quite a bit of money. Nothing I’m proud of.” He peered into her face, as if to see the effect this had on her. “And, like so many of our generation, Susan and I are saddled with huge student loans.” He paused to give her a chance to chime in. But Nan’s parents had paid for her college, a summer in Europe, other things. The money she’d inherited from her father was the foundation of her current financial independence. “And, if I may make an embarrassing confession, I haven’t been as good a steward of the Lord’s gifts as I should be.”

He smiled again. “Our contribution was ten thousand dollars. It was all we had.” The median cost of a home in their community was one hundred and seventy thousand dollars, Nan knew, and Will would have bought himself something better than that. “But I don’t see why that needs to be mentioned.”

The silence made him nervous as Nan had hoped. He began talking again about how much he appreciated her coming. “Because we want to give people a chance to help Haley.”

“Where is Haley now? Is she still at General?”

He looked flustered. “No, fortunately. She recovered so quickly. For which we are grateful. But that makes the situation more urgent. We want to get her to Arizona as soon as possible while she’s still invested in her recovery.”

“She’s at home?” Because of the severity of her attempt Haley could be detained if she refused treatment. Involuntary commitment, danger to self by reason of a mental illness. Nan didn’t believe the hospital would release Haley to her parents’ care. Too much liability.

Pastor Will was not a practiced liar. “For now.”

“A big responsibility.”

“I’d never turn her away.”

Not what she’d asked.

He was cordial when she left. “It’s important work you’re doing, bringing truth.”

Nan refused his offer to drive her down to her car.

In the newsroom everyone was at their desk, staring at their computer monitor. Polishing resumes, maybe, or hoping the semblance of hard work would stave off the inevitable.

When Nan started at the paper people talked to each other more, sat together. Nan wasn’t included at first but that changed over time and she believed she earned their respect. Her cubicle had come because of a promotion; she’d have preferred to still be in the newsroom.

The friendly feeling ended when the layoffs started.

Dave came out of his office, greeted her with enthusiasm. She’d heard him calling her Buoy Butt, not to her face, when she first started, though his only contact with the sea was the Disney cruise he’d taken his children on in an attempt to make things right when he was first divorced.

Nan had been offered the managing editor position first. It would mean writing less so she’d refused. She hadn’t told anyone, but the owners would have been sure to tell Dave he wasn’t their first choice.

“That preacher just called, wanted to know if I couldn’t assign someone else. A Christian.”

Dave often described his efforts to defend the reporters from criticism. Nan believed he expected appreciation in return.

“That would be fine.”

“Nonsense. I told him no. You’d probably already got it done.” Dave read over her shoulder. “Looks fair to me.”  She’d described Haley’s illness and the pastor’s account of what the money would be used for.

“Actually, I am a Christian. A member of the Emanuel Lutheran Church confirmation class of 1979.” She’d been thirteen then.

Her parents spent Sunday mornings in their bedroom. When they emerged, at noon, they were at their best, silly and affectionate. They’d take her to a restaurant on the lake, closed now, but fashionable then, where their high spirits and generosity made them popular with the waiters. Between courses, Nan walked with her father by the shore. He’d take her arm, lay his hand over hers. When they returned for their lemon chiffon pie or rainbow sherbet he’d tell her mother how smart Nan was, how she’d made him laugh, just blew him away.

Church was Nan’s idea. She picked the one across from their house where she’d seen excited brides and grooms running down the stairs in front of the church to their car as guests threw rice. Her parents were surprised when she told them. She didn’t know how to explain about the light spilling from the church into the winter dark or the sweet colors at Easter. “I’d like to know more about it.”

She’d expected teasing but her father was respectful. “Maybe we should have been doing something like this for you all along.” Did he hear longing in her voice? “It just wasn’t really something I enjoyed growing up.”

“It means a lot to some people,” her mother said in a tolerant tone. Nan thought she was looking down on her and the friends she’d wanted to make.

They offered to take her, at least the first time, but she said she’d be all right alone. “Since you obviously don’t want to go.”

Her parents exchanged smiles at her censorious tone and kept their long Sunday mornings.

“That’s something I didn’t know,” Dave said. “You don’t talk about yourself much. I wish you would.”

Would you, Dave? Would you like it if I told you I try to time my bowel movements for home because I can’t adequately clean my butt cheeks in the space provided in public stalls?

Church was a disappointment. Fatty, fatty, two by four. After a while, she’d stopped going, told her parents it was boring.

They’d accepted her explanation. Now, Nan wondered if they’d known. She hadn’t liked telling them when she was hurt and they didn’t press, may have thought their sympathy would make things worse.

She told Dave she’d like to work on the story a little longer, make some phone calls.

“You think he’s stealing? The pastor?” Nan remembered how Will had told her he wouldn’t lie. “That would be a scoop.”

He’d be saying “stop the presses” next. “Nobody gets excited about stuff like this anymore. They’ve already heard it.”


Grace was a big outfit, two associate pastors, an outreach worker, a youth pastor, a senior choir director, a children’s musical director, more. Nan was surprised to see Pastor Will had listed his home phone number on the church web site.

She guessed it was Susan who answered. Nan, trying to sound like a young girl, breathless, hesitant, like Kelli, asked if she could please speak to Haley, please.

“Who is this?”

Tiffany, she told her. Tiffany Rich.

“Haley doesn’t have any friends named Tiffany,” Susan said flatly. “And, if you were really her friend, you’d know she’s in the hospital. Fighting for her life. In Arizona.”

Nan wondered what Haley thought of the Arizona facility now that she was actually there. Sugar-free gum and diet sodas weren’t allowed because the girls used them as appetite suppressants. She’d never be alone; at night the staff did rounds to make sure the girls weren’t exercising in bed. The modest privileges they could earn, listening to Christian rock music, a phone call, a visit to the gift shop, were easily lost by, for instance, failing to disclose in group. If a girl was suspected of purging or had an unexplained weight loss, a staff member accompanied her to the toilet.

The girls’ own actions were what brought them there, Nan reminded herself. Just as Will had done what he did. Maybe, if Susan guessed Nan had been the one who’d called, it would be a warning. Will could claim a misunderstanding and return the money. Or, more likely, he’d panic, defend his lie.

Her story could make things worse for Haley.

The brochure confirmed what Will had said. The family was responsible for the unpaid portion of the bill before the girl was admitted. Because of the “cutting edge” aspect of the treatment not all insurance companies would cover it, but Agape, recognizing that the expense of effective, high quality medical care could be a burden, was willing to work with families, advise them on how to raise the money, prior to admission.

When she called Nan spoke to the Agape CEO, an affable fellow. Anything she wanted to know, he said, just ask, his pleasure. “Though if it’s about treatment I’ll have to put you through to the clinical staff. They’re the brains of the outfit; I’m just the money guy.”

Absolutely not, he said. They never admitted anyone until full payment had been verified. “That’s just good stewardship. If we didn’t, we’d have to raise our rates. Why, did someone say we did?”

Oh, no.

“It breaks your heart having to turn anyone away so we’re more than happy to help families organize fund raising campaigns. GoFundMe has been a blessing for many of our families. And there’s been a promising new development. Some of the states, not all, are willing to cover our program when the young lady is eligible for state insurance.” Haley was nineteen.

“Even if she’s covered under her parents’ insurance?”

Funny she’d asked, he said, because recently they’d been able to give a family some very good news. “From your state, I believe.” If the primary insurer declined but the girl was eligible for state insurance, and the state determined treatment was medically necessary, the state would pay the entire cost of treatment. “But that’s a mouthful. I just call it a God thing.” Seventy-five thousand dollars. The cost of the sixty-day program, the most intensive one. “But you can’t put a price on a life.”

Like shooting fish in a barrel, Nan’s father would say when he beat her at cards.

She called the Department of Health Services. People who receive services, what they used to call welfare, have little right to privacy. The workers can’t report a diagnosis or where a client is receiving services, but they can say if a person is enrolled, as Haley, it turned out, was.

Yes, the worker told Nan, the Agape program in Arizona has been approved for treatment of eating disorders and soliciting funds for a service DSHS has agreed to cover is fraud.

“Good stuff,” Dave said, admiring the preponderance of details and the studied refusal to draw any conclusions about Pastor Will and his possible motivation. Nan had drawn attention to the discrepancies and inconsistencies without making accusations, leaving the reader to determine Pastor Will’s culpability.

Kelli had wandered over, looked at the story too. “Of course it’s very well written.” Dave was fond of holding up Nan’s stories to Kelli as an example of what she should aspire to.

Nan thanked her.

“Sure. But I just don’t understand what’s the big deal. People do it all the time. Get crowdfunding to pay for their wedding or make a down payment on a house. But the money is theirs to do what they want with.”

Will lied, Dave told her with exaggerated patience.

Nan thought of the painters who, regardless of skill, continued to paint in the old academic way after the Impressionists had changed everything, because they couldn’t learn anything new.

On Thursday, Dave gloated. The church web site had replaced Haley’s page with a statement that all funds collected on her behalf would be returned. Which, he said, proved the paper was still relevant.

Which, Nan thought, proved, how little the owners thought of Dave, not telling him what was happening.

She could spend more time with her mother after the paper closed, Nan thought. Movies on weekdays, drives in the country, take all the time they wanted at lunch. They’d both like that.

She was working on a long story for the Sunday paper, the kind she liked. The nurses at Mother Cabrini had been close to striking and the challenge was explaining the significance of the concessions the hospital had made in the new contract while still holding her readers’ interest.

She looked up from her computer when she heard raised voices. Pastor Will was bearing down on her, Dave walking fast alongside him. “You can talk to me if there’s a problem. But we’re standing by our story.”

Will wore a camel hair overcoat. Expensive, Nan guessed.

Two of the security officers from the agency the paper contracted with, walked, at a more leisurely pace than Dave’s, across the newsroom towards Pastor Will. Rent a cops, the reporters called them.

Nan stood up when Will approached. “Did you come to see me?”

His eyes were glassy with fatigue. “Please.”

She took his coat, hung it up.

“A foolish purchase,” Will said, looking at the coat, not her. “I told Susan our prosperity would attract others to our congregation.”

He sat down in the chair beside her desk. Bruce, the older officer, sat a few feet from Will, out of his line of vision.

Nan expected reproach, for Will to tell her she’d ruined his life.

“I came to tell you I’m sorry.”

“No need.” Of all the people he’d lied to, she thought, she had the least claim to an apology.

“The church wanted me to come.” There was something humorous about how, in his resolution to tell the truth, he’d become so bald in his approach. His appearance too, unshaven, the shirt only halfway tucked in, the stale breath, was comical, as if he were an actor and the carelessness was to demonstrate how far he’d fallen. “They’re holding me accountable.”

Bruce, Nan saw, had settled in, seemed to have all the time in the world. She’s okay, Nan heard him telling Kelli. The guy just wants to talk.

It was wonderful, Will said. They’d forgiven everything.

The best day of his life, because he’d told them, the church council, everything. How angry he’d been with Haley, how she had thrown what they were doing for her into his face, how she mocked him, mocked Susan, how he couldn’t bring himself to admit his failure to anyone, how God had come to feel far away.

The church had refused the resignation he’d offered, forgave him fully.  The money was to be returned and there would be no charges filed, no jail.

Many of the church members refused to take back their money and he and Susan had met with the church treasurer. “He’s helping us achieve a firm financial footing.” The gifts were going to pay credit card debt, perhaps even reduce the size of their mortgage.

“It’s a beautiful thing they have done.” Perhaps in his distress, Nan thought, Will didn’t realize he was echoing what Christ said of the prostitute who’d bathed His feet in precious oil.

“I’m overwhelmed. It was so much more than I could have hoped.”

He looked at her desk, touched a finger to a paper clip canister in the shape of a matryoshka doll. Nan’s mother still liked to fill a stocking for her at Christmas; that’s where she’d gotten it. “You’re very snug in here.”

It seemed to Nan she was. She heard a buzz of conversation from the newsroom, about Will, she guessed. She wondered if Kelli would like the canister.

“I talked to Haley this morning and told her what I did.”

“That was brave.”

He shrugged. “I’d promised the church. Haley said she wasn’t surprised. She said everything I’d ever said to her was a lie.”

Nan had longed for a child once. Sometimes, even now, she’d picture herself holding a baby up to the window to see its first snow, reading stories to a cherished little girl or boy.

“You’re telling the truth now. Haley will see that.”

He shook his head. “It was a monitored call. To protect her. They’d cut me off if I lost control.”

That would bother him. Being told he couldn’t be trusted.

“I told her I’d do whatever it takes. I don’t want to lose her. Not again.”

Nan hoped he could be satisfied with incremental gains. She wasn’t sanguine. Will was accustomed to success in flashier forms.

“Well,” he said, standing up, “I wanted to thank you and I wanted to tell you what they’d done for me. That’s the real story. But I suppose to you it seems as if I’m getting away with something.”

“No. I don’t think that.”

Haley would be safe, she told herself. She wouldn’t be alone. At Agape, they’d always be having classes and groups.

She handed Will his coat. He held it for a moment, stroked the thick fabric.

“I’m glad you’re getting another chance.”

Will stared at her. “To fail again?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be that way.”

After Will left, she thanked Bruce for staying, wondering why he was still there.

No trouble, he said. “I never realized what interesting jobs you people have. Wanted it both ways, didn’t he?”

Nan became aware of the silence around them.

“Everybody’s upstairs.” Bruce said. “That’s where they’re telling them. In the conference room.”

As often as she’d heard the sky was falling it was still a surprise.

“They want us out today?” No final edition then. No one would read her story about the nurses’ contract; she’d never write about the mercy Grace Church was showing Pastor Will.

“I’m sorry.” If she wanted to just pack up and leave, Bruce told her, she could. He’d help her. “Only,” he looked embarrassed, “we’re not supposed to let anybody be by themselves.”

Nan, thinking of Dave and Kelli, asked him to walk her upstairs so she could be with the others. “I could use the company.”


Photography Credit: Jason Rice, detail

Jane Snyder’s stories have appeared in Bull, Cobalt, and Umbrella Factory. She lives in Spokane.