PROBLEMS WITH THE MOON
a coming-of-age novel
by Willa Grey
a coming-of-age novel
Some of you may not be aware that I finished a novel last year. It was a fantastic experience and I'm very proud of the result. Unfortunately, the recent twists and turns in my life had postponed my sending it out to publishers, but now things are starting to settle, and I hope to have the book published in a years time. Until then, here is an excerpt of the novel, featuring my intrepid heroine, the seven-year-old Charlee, and her twin brothers, Aden and Jude.
I sat cross-legged under the flickering fluorescent lights with a dozen of my peers, listening to a woman with a high, breathy voice and feathered-out bangs give our Sunday School lesson. Today Miss Belinda was wearing a floor-length denim skirt and a billowy blouse covered with flowers bigger than my head. She sat on a three-legged stool in the front of the room with a blue flan-o-graph balanced deftly on her knee, illustrating the story of Noah. Her smile was undisturbed by the narrative, like the smiles of the cutout characters she pulled one by one from the wicker basket and pressed onto the fuzzy board.
I picked at a loose thread in the builder-grade carpet and unraveled it, focusing on the straight black line it left in its wake—anything to distract myself from Miss Belinda’s sing-song sentences. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, but her baby voice made my spine seize up, so I stared at the star chart on the back of the door to distract myself while she talked. My brothers and I were beating everyone else by about twenty stars, and our columns had been extended to display all our achievements. The rest of the class didn’t know too much about the Bible—and neither did Miss Belinda, for that matter—but that made sense, because none of them were preacher’s kids like we were.
Miss Belinda continued with unbroken cheerfulness as the ark made its entrance and the genocide loomed closer, “Finally, Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Jacob entered the ark with their families…”
I rolled my eyes in frustration. She was always making mistakes like that. It’s Japheth, not Jacob. Jacob was the patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel. How was she allowed to teach this class?! I exchanged glances with my brothers and heaved a weary sigh.
We’d been with Miss Belinda for a very long month now. I’d begged Dad to let me sit in the adult class where I could actually learn something, but Dad said I couldn’t, because they were talking about Sodom and Gomorrah. That story was “sect-tu-al”; I knew it because I heard a grownup say that in the church lobby to her friend, and the way she said it and raised her eyebrows made it sound much more interesting than Noah.
I wondered if Dad was going to use a flan-o-graph.
Our previous teacher was Miss June. She knew her facts, but didn’t like a lot of questions. I guess my brothers and I overwhelmed her with our discussions about the serpent in the creation story, because she quit, and that was when we got stuck with Miss Belinda. After we'd lost Miss June, Mother had grounded us from talking in class until further notice because she was tired of finding new teachers. That hadn’t kept the three of us from giving Mother our scathing reviews of Miss Belinda’s Bible knowledge. Mother decided to sit in on the class a few weeks ago to see for herself, and since then, she’d been trying to get Miss Belinda to step down.
It hadn’t worked yet. Last week, she’d pulled Miss Belinda aside to praise her for her dedication to the church and gently suggest that she might take a bit of a vacation from her hard work, but Miss Belinda just smiled sweetly and shook her head. She put one hand on my mother’s shoulder, the other over her own heart, and fluttered her large Bambi eyes with a sudden gush of sentiment. “As the good Prophet David says, ‘Let the little children come to me.’” She emphasized the last words with a long look and a gentle shake to Mother’s shoulder, releasing her at last with a sacrificial sigh to tie on her head scarf and float out the church doors, leaving Mother speechless.
After that, Mother lifted the talking ban. She didn’t give us a clear reason why, just said something about how she’d been wrong to ground us, and that teachers who couldn’t handle the difficult questions were in the wrong calling.
I shook myself out of my reverie to check the story’s progress. There they were, the ark and family safely aground with smiling heads of animals poking out, apparently none the worse for wear.
Miss Belinda continued in her breathy, high voice, pressing a rainbow over the last humans on earth, “And God put the rainbow in the clouds as a sign to us that he would never again destroy the earth by water.” She beamed at each of us in turn and scrunched up her nose and her shoulders towards her ears, baring her upper teeth as if she’d just said something delightful. She put the flan-o-graph down and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “So class, what do we think? Any questions?”
Yes, there were. I raised my hand.
Miss Belinda beamed and called on me. “Yes, Charlee?”
I knew she wouldn’t have the answer, but at least I could get this one off my chest. “Miss Belinda, how do you think God will destroy the earth next time?”
Miss Belinda’s eyes grew wide. “I’m not sure I understand. What do you mean, ‘next time’? The story says nothing about a ‘next time.’”
My classmates looked at me curiously.
“Well,” I began reasoning, “God only promised not to destroy the earth with water; he left himself a loophole.”
Her blank look compelled me to use a real-life example.
“It’s like promising not to draw on the walls with a crayon. Technically, you could still keep your promise and draw on the walls with a Sharpie.”
My classmates nodded. They knew all about loopholes.
Miss Belinda kept a deliberately patient look on her face as she listened, and I trudged on. “God could have said he wasn’t going to destroy the earth again. That would’ve been a better promise, but he left himself a loophole. Usually people who do that sort of thing have a reason for it.”
Understanding dawned on her face, and the heads of my peers bobbed up and down around me in agreement. They looked fearfully at Miss Belinda as I came full-circle. “So…my question was, how do you think God will destroy the earth next time?”
Miss Belinda’s smile stayed strong. Miss June had probably warned her about us. When she answered, her voice dripped with patronization. “Charlee, though that is a very interesting question, what really matters is that we must do our best to be very good like Noah and his family so that even if God does choose to destroy the earth again”—frightened murmurs broke out, and she raised her hands for silence—“and I’m not saying that he will, but if he does, you and your family will be saved.” She paused and straightened her smile, pointedly ignoring my unsatisfied expression. “Now, then. Anyone else have any questions?”
Our classmates looked at us apprehensively, nervous that our grounding was apparently over. Two kids raised their hands. Miss Belinda was about to call on one of them when Aden lifted his hand coolly. They looked at him and lowered theirs.
Miss Belinda raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Uh, Aden, I guess it’s your turn.”
Aden’s dark eyes looked up beneath deeply furrowed brows. “Miss Belinda, is it wrong to kill someone?”
Her face widened in shock, “Aden, of course it’s wrong to kill! Very wrong. It says so in the Twelve Commandments.”
My jaw dropped. Twelve Commandments? This woman was unbelievable. Before we could correct her, Jude’s hand shot up and she pointed to him.
The tension in the air was growing.
Jude hugged his knees to his chest, looking puzzled. “If it’s wrong to kill, then was it wrong of God to kill all those people in the flood?”
The class was silent. They whipped their heads back to Miss Belinda, who looked stunned. She opened and closed her mouth like a codfish. It was obviously the first time she’d thought about it.
She started to flounder. “Well…class…that’s not…” then stopped, confused, and looked towards the ceiling for help.
My friend Brian groaned and started rocking back and forth in the corner. He hated discussions. I looked back to the front and noticed Miss Belinda’s hair was going flat. When she spoke again, her voice was strained and thin, like something being squeezed. “Nothing is wrong for God; he makes the rules, and he can break them without it being sin, like it would be for us.”
That didn’t sit well with the class.
Abby with the large pink hair bow raised her hand. Miss Belinda called on her hopefully. “Yes, Abby?”
Abby spoke up timidly, “Miss Belinda, that would be like my parents telling me I couldn’t hit my little brother because it was wrong, and then turning and hitting my little brother themselves ’cause they felt like it.” She looked over to me for solidarity; I voiced my agreement. The kids began to murmur and sway, looking confused and unhappy. Eight more hands shot in the air at once. Miss Belinda looked frazzled; her eyes darted from person to person, not knowing who to call on first. After a few moments everyone began talking and arguing, pointing fingers and quoting scriptures angrily at each other, just like the grownups did.
Aden waited until emotions had reach a boiling point and rose to his feet, proclaiming with all the fervor of a street preacher, “How can we call Hitler the wickedest man that ever lived and not call God wicked when God drowned more people in a week than twenty Hitlers?”
All was lost.
The class panicked and voices swelled to mob-like intensity, as everyone chose sides and defended or argued against God frantically with their neighbor. Brian moaned and covered his ears with his hands, and I scooted over and patted his back as my eldest brother led our classmates to their first ever full-fledged crisis of faith.
Just then, a sharp knock added to the noise and the superintendent’s bald head peeked around the door. His thin face stretched with shock and his black eyes narrowed and scanned the room quickly for the source of the trouble. He spotted Aden, still standing in the center of the room, and set his lips in disapproval with a look towards my brother that read unmistakably, You again! I should have known. Aden meekly took a seat and pretended to be interested in his hands.
“Time to go back to the sanctuary,” he said. His words were drowned out by the chaos; he moved closer to Miss Belinda and added sharply, “when you have collected yourselves.”
She nodded, looking shell-shocked. The door closed, and the superintendent’s thin head bobbed up in the aquarium-like window in the classroom wall.
Miss Belinda rose to her feet. “Children,” she began shrilly. No one listened. “Children!” she nearly shouted, and clapped her hands sharply. The noise subsided. Brian sniffed.
“I know we all have very interesting questions about the story, which is all well and good”—her eyes shot daggers at the three of us—“but in your questions you must remember one thing.” She raised both her pointer fingers like a conductor. “God is good…” She looked at us, and waited expectantly.
The class mumbled back with noticeable stragglers, “All the time.”
Mustering more enthusiasm, she chanted, “All the time…”
“God is good,” came the mechanical answer.
Miss Belinda smiled, but it didn’t touch her eyes. “That’s what I want you to take away from today.” She brushed the damp hair wearily off her forehead, and I realized with a start that she was sweating. For a moment I felt bad for her, then she lined us up and insisted we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as we filed back into the sanctuary, to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the parents. I hated cutesy stuff like that.
The children broke at their respective pews with their families, Brian still rubbing his eyes with his fists, and I slid in next to Mother. She watched in wonder as Miss Belinda brought up the rear of the line and staggered heavily to her seat. Mother leaned her head down towards me and whispered, “How did class go?”
A loaded question.
I thought about it and whispered back, “Most of it was pretty boring and inaccurate, but the discussion at the end was interesting.”
Mother looked at me searchingly, and I busied myself with pulling out the hymnal. She glanced back up at Miss Belinda’s heavy breathing and said nothing. The corners of her mouth began to twitch.
After the final amen, we filed back up the center aisle and headed home.
And Miss Belinda took her vacation.
*This novel is coming soon. Subscribe to my email list for updates!