by Travis Perry -
Elsa studied the grim face of her pastor, Elihu Simmons.
“Elsa,” he said with the raspy wheeze of the early stages of ash lung, “You know I don’t get paid hardly a thing by the congregation, that I hunt bugs to make my living, just like you.”
She stood at the entryway to his cave. He leaned on the chiseled doorway as he spoke with her, looking down at the ground, his face tinged with red, framed by his ash-flecked beard and graying mane of hair. His gaunt wife in the room behind him cast uneasy glances her way.
“That’s why I haven’t asked you before now, Preacher. I know our church isn’t rich—we’re lucky to have a church at all in this place. The rich churches build their universities and cathedrals but don’t do anything for us—”
“Give ’em credit,” he interrupted, “They send travelling ministers on a regular circuit. And give out things. Like old clothes and such—”
“But you live with us. You’re one of us and share our troubles. That’s why I’ve always respected you, Preacher. That’s why I’ve been a faithful member of your congregation. And never asked you for any help…until now.” Tears clouded Elsa’s eyes.
Simmons cleared his throat, still looking down. From somewhere behind his wife a baby began to wail. “Sarah,” he said after turning his head back. “Please fetch all the bug legs we’ve got on the shelf. I can always go back out for more.”
His wife’s eyes showed the whites of her astonishment, but she arose without a word. In less than a minute she was at the doorway, handing them over to Elsa in a rough sack woven from the long fine bristles that line the legs of powder bugs. The sack held six scrawny legs.
“Thank you so much, preacher. God bless you,” sang Elsa.
Pastor Simmon’s face flushed a deeper red. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t give you more, Elsa. Very sorry. Would you like to come in for some tea?”
“No thank you. Have to get back to feed the grandkids! They haven’t eaten in three days.” On an impulse she kissed his cheek. The pastor’s face somehow looked even redder, glowing like the ruddy sunshine during a dust storm. His wife first was astounded, but then she smiled—perhaps because she saw no threat in a woman more than twice her age.
Elsa turned away, striding back toward her home. She knew there wasn’t much meat in these half-dozen gangly legs. But it was more than a day’s worth, which was more than she had any right to expect. For the Lord had taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”