The hot Southern California sun radiated down on the small house that
sat behind some green hedges next door to the church. In the back yard
some jaybirds were chasing a crow from the bird feeder. “Vi, are you
home?” a female voice called through the front screen door of the
parsonage. “C'mon in! I’m here in the kitchen!” Rev. Viola
Flowers called to her sister Lettie from the back of the house. Her
bright clean kitchen overlooked a back yard full of flowers and fruit
Rev. Viola Flowers, an attractive woman in her early fifties, was the
pastor of the Church of God & Spirit, the church next door. Her
visitor was Lettie, her younger sister, who had dropped by as she often
did after work.
“Why the long face, Sis?” Lettie asked Viola soberly.
“Maxine was here earlier, and we had a big fight,” Rev. Flowers said
irritably, speaking of her grown daughter. “I don't know what to think
of that girl. She's so selfish. She thinks only of herself. It's so
aggravating at times.”
“What did you two fight about?” Lettie asked, as if she didn't know.
“Was it about Calvin?” she then asked needlessly.
Lettie knew Rev. Flowers and Maxine had been quarreling a lot lately
over Maxine's repeated rejections of her longtime boyfriend Calvin's
marriage proposals. Rev. Flowers felt it was time for Maxine to settle
down and start a family, and like everyone else in the family she liked
Calvin and believed he would make Maxine a wonderful husband. “He's a
nice, responsible, hardworking young man who loves children,” was how
she described him to friends. But Maxine simply refused to talk about
it. On the topic of marrying Calvin she was like a stubborn mule.
“Yes,” Rev. Flowers answered Lettie, “She came over here today
crying that he's threatening to break off their relationship because she
won't marry him. Then she stormed out of here blaming me. The nerve of
“You are to blame, Vi,” Lettie said coldly.
“Me? To blame for what?” Rev. Flowers said with wide eyes. She
stopped what she was doing at the kitchen sink, squared her shoulders,
and faced her sister with an obdurate look.
Maxine and her Aunt Lettie were very close and shared secrets, going
back to when Maxine was a small child, which Viola Flowers saw as
natural and healthy for a niece and aunt to be buddies and share
secrets. When angry at her mother as a small child, Maxine would pull
Lettie by the hand into her bedroom and closed the door, and then she
would complain bitterly about her mother. On the other side of the door,
Vi would only smile, thinking it was rather cute.
“Calvin wants a family but Maxine can't give him one. That's why she
won't marry him,” Lettie said bluntly.
“Lettie, what in the world are you talking about?” Viola said in a
rising voice, her eyes now not only wider but fearful.
“Maxine can't have children.”
“What do you mean she can't have children? Who says she can’t have
children?” Viola blasted back as though Lettie had lost her mind.
“Maxine's sterile and she blames you.”
“Sterile! Who says she's sterile?” Viola gasped, her face hard and
her eyes narrowed into tight slits. “What's going on, Lettie?” she
demanded to know, folding her arms crossly. She was upset that something
very serious had happened to her daughter that she hadn't been told
about, and she held her sister Lettie responsible.
Lettie read her big sister's angry face, so she pulled out a chair from
the kitchen table and sat down for the difficult discussion to come.
Viola took a seat opposite her, clasping her hands before her on the
tabletop like an ill-tempered judge at a judicial hearing.
“Do you remember the time when Maxine ran away from home, and I had to
go out and find her?” Lettie said.
“You mean that time in high school when she ran away because I
grounded her for staying out late, and you found her staying at a
friend's house in El Monte?” Viola answered. El Monte was a small town
near Los Angeles.
“I lied to you, Vi. Maxine wasn't at a friend's house in El Monte. It
had nothing to do with her being grounded. Furthermore, I didn't have to
go out and find her. One of her girlfriends called me and told me where
she was.” Lettie paused nervously, dying for a cigarette but knew her
big sister didn't allow smoking in her house.
“Go on,” Vi commanded sternly.
“Maxine was pregnant and was afraid to tell you about it,” Lettie
said, “She knew how strongly you felt about abortions. Somehow she got
the name of an old woman in Hollywood who did abortions cheap. She and
her girlfriend Pam checked into a nearby hotel, and went and saw this
woman. After seeing the woman and the filthy place she worked in, Pam
tried to talk Maxine out of it, but Maxine wouldn't listen to her. She
was too terrified of you. So Pam called me to come right away and stop
Maxine. But I got there too late. Maxine had already gotten the
abortion. That poor girl. The old woman had blotched things badly. I got
there in the nick of time to check Maxine into a hospital before she
bled to death. The doctor at the hospital told her that she would never
be able to have children. This so upset Maxine that the doctor had to
give her a sedative. The next day she was all right, so the doctor
Glassy-eyed Viola Flowers just sat there stunned by what she had just
heard. Her eyes began to fill with tears.
“The real tragedy of it, Vi, was that only one block away from that
old lady's house was a free women's health clinic where Maxine could've
gotten a clean safe abortion at no cost at all,” Lettie said.
“Sweet Jesus! Sweet Jesus! Sweet Jesus!” Rev. Flowers moaned over
and over as she sat there at the kitchen table blaming herself, her eyes
closed, her head in her hands, rocking back and forth like a spastic
person. “My poor baby!” she bewailed over and over.
“Vi? Are you all right?” Lettie asked with alarm at seeing her big
sister all broken up like that. Normally Viola was as strong as granite.
Now she was like a crumbled graham cracker.
Viola Flowers just sat there, stunned.
That night being unable to sleep Rev. Flowers got up in the middle of
the night and went into her study and read her Bible. She wanted to find
stronger evidence that she had been right in her unyielding stand
against abortions. To find stronger evidence that she was only doing
God's will. But her biblical search was futile. The Holy Scriptures now
didn't seem as unequivocal as in earlier readings.
“Please help me, Lord,” she asked God repeatedly as she tried to
reconcile the clashing texts in the Bible. In the countless hours she
had studied the Bible over the years, she had never wrestled harder
trying to make sense of God's words. She begged God to help her
understand Maxine's predicament without having to think about all the
choices that might have produced a different result.
“There was only one choice, right, O Lord?” she pleaded. Then she
cried herself to sleep over what she did to poor Maxine and over the
grandchildren that she and Albert would now never have.
The year was 2000.
Excerpted from "The Reverend Viola Flowers: A Novel" by Will Gibson. Copyright © 2012 by Will Gibson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.