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Written with beauty and grace, award-winning author Shelley Bates pens the compelling story about the unstoppable force of the emergent self.
Written with beauty and grace, award-winning author Shelley Bates pens the compelling story about the unstoppable force of the emergent self.
The knock was so soft she would have missed it if the group of women helping her hadn't left the kitchen just then, loaded down with plates of rolls, neatly sliced vegetables, and casserole dishes.
She jerked open the door and stared at the man on the steps. He held a knitted cap in both hands, squeezing it as though it were a washrag. The harsh overhead light gave his skin a yellowish cast under a ragged beard.
A stranger. With a jolt of fear, she stepped back and swung the door nearly closed, its comforting weight between herself and him.
"I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am," he said softly. He had some kind of foreign accent, but Dinah was too frightened to take the time to identify it. "I wonder if you'd have a bite to spare a hungry man."
There were enough bites in the front room to feed an army of hungry men, but food given to a stray off the street deprived one of God's chosen, who could use it for God's work.
"This is a bad time." The words came out rushed, almost under her breath. "My father was buried this afternoon, and everyone is here for the supper. I'm sorry."
The gentle hope that had filled his eyes drained out of him as though he'd been punctured. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said. "Sorry to trouble you." He bent his head and turned to go. Her loss? Her heart began to pump painfully as she hesitated between fear and pity. "Wait."
He had been looking down the road for the lights of the next place, but there was nothing down there except the Hamilton River, swollen, brown, and rushing with spring runoff. At the thought of what the river had come to mean to her, and what it could mean to a sad, hungry man who was obviously at the end of his own resources, Dinah felt a chill of apprehension.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Let me get you a plate." He came back up the steps as cautiously as a deer. A starving one, in whom fear had been brutally displaced by hunger. "I don't want to be any bother."
"This house is full of food. You're no more bother than any of the rest of them."
Leaving him on the steps, Dinah shut the door and snatched two paper plates off the table. She stacked them one on top of the other and loaded the reinforced result with vegetables, hamburger casserole, pasta salad, and bread, taking a bite for herself between every spoonful for him. She filled a plastic bottle with cold water. The man looked dehydrated. Ready to drop. And Alma Woods's casseroles were notoriously salty.
She shouldered the door back open and handed him the plate, fork, and bottle. "Don't let anyone see you." "Thanks, ma'am. Bless you."
Dinah restrained herself from telling him that he had nothing to bless himself with, much less anybody else, as he faded into the darkened yard. She supposed she'd find the water bottle out there somewhere in the morning.
She turned back to the kitchen and removed the plastic wrap from a tray of sausages, stuffing two into her mouth as she did so. It wouldn't be so hard if Tamara were here. She should have been allowed to come back to help during the crisis, to handle their mother with her particular knack. But instead, at the age of seventeen, her sister was as one dead. Still struggling to finish high school, she'd been put away for her sins, and Dinah was on her own.
One of the women came back for more food, and took the plate from her. "How are you holding up, Dinah?"
Just for a moment, Dinah thought about telling her the truth, but she was in the service of God, separated unto himself, with a veil drawn between herself and even his people, the Elect. She had to remember that. It was the only thing that kept her going on days like today, when fear painted the future in dismal, watery shades of gray and black.
She swallowed the last of the sausage. "Pretty well," she said. "Better than Mom, I think."
The woman's expression teetered between sympathy and disapproval of someone who would admit in public that she wasn't grieving her father's death as much as her mother was. Then again, Mom had chosen Dad.
The woman settled on sympathy as being more appropriate to the occasion. "Why don't you go out front, dear, and be with your mother. I'll hold the fort and see that everything gets set out."
What if the vagrant came back? He looked like he could tuck away three plates of food and still be hungry, but she had sensed a painful politeness that wouldn't let him ask for more. Dinah didn't want this crowd of clean, well-fed people to know she'd spoken to him. "Touch not the unclean thing," they'd say, and they'd wonder what on earth she was thinking, to let an outsider- someone potentially dangerous-anywhere near the door.
She was a vessel filled with love. Or so said Phinehas, the senior Shepherd over God's flock in the State of Washington. She had grown up in the one true way, whose people gathered in house churches instead of in worldly temples made with hands, and whose Shepherds went out in faith and love, caring for the flock unencumbered by a permanent home, belongings, or salary. But one should demonstrate love by encouraging people to hear the gospel, not by giving them handouts that only made them dependent on charity instead of on God.
"It's okay, thanks," she told the woman who, after all, was just being kind. "I know where everything is." And if she had to acknowledge one more expression of sympathy, she wasn't sure she could hang onto her composure.
The woman nodded and laid the plate of sausages on her inner arm, then picked up a platter of vegetables in one hand and dip in the other. As soon as the hem of her black dress flicked out of the kitchen, Dinah opened the door and peered out. The backyard was quiet and utterly dark beyond the circle of familiarity cast by the bare bulb mounted on the wall over the lintel.
"Are you still here?" she asked the dark in a voice that was closer to a whisper than a call.
Something winked near her feet, and she glanced down. The empty water bottle stood on the top step, the fork laid neatly beside it. The latter was as clean as if it had just come out of the dishwasher. Had he wiped it on his shirt?
"Hello?" But no one answered.
"Dinah, is someone out there?" Her mother came in with a couple of empty trays. "The boys aren't parking the cars back there in the dark, are they? They'll never get them out of the mud."
"I was just checking." It wasn't quite a lie. She'd been checking the vagrant's whereabouts, hadn't she? "Mom, you're not supposed to be serving. These people are all here for you."
Her mother looked so fragile that the trays drooped in her hands. Her hair was beginning to come out of its neat bun, and she hadn't bothered to wipe away the tracks of tears on her face. Not tears for her husband's death, which Dinah was perfectly aware was God's will, but tears of gratitude for the kindnesses of others.
"I hope not. They're here for Morton. Out of respect. And don't put the sliced roast beef out yet. Save it for when Phinehas comes."
"Phinehas is coming?" The blood halted in Dinah's veins, and then began to crawl, slowly, pumped by a heart that had momentarily forgotten how to work. "When?"
"He was in Spokane when he called. Missions might be very successful there at the moment, but when he heard of our need, he practically dropped everything. He should be here anytime." Anytime. After two months away from Hamilton Falls, overseeing other congregations, encouraging lost souls to God with his preaching, he would be coming back. Tonight.
Her knees twinged, their usual ache prodded into urgent life, and she grabbed a handful of carrot sticks, crunching into them as though someone were about to take them away from her. She'd thought the waiting bad enough before, when she didn't know when it would end. The waiting was the worst. But suddenly she realized that time could be compressed into short, painful bursts when the end was finite, and the waiting could actually, physically hurt.
PHINEHAS ARRIVED AT seven o'clock, parting the crowd near the front door like Moses at the Red Sea. At the sound of his voice, sonorous and as full of authority as Moses's must have been, Dinah ducked back into the kitchen. The kitchen was women's territory; the closest Phinehas got to it was her father's chair at the head of the dining room table.
Better yet, she thought, as the women who had been washing up the dishes dried their hands and smoothed their hair before going out into the living room to greet the Shepherd of their souls, she could step outside and check again to see if the vagrant had gone.
She pulled on a flannel work shirt with a quilted lining-the one she covered her dress with when she fed the chickens. It wasn't that she wanted to talk to the homeless man. He could be a prison escapee, or a burglar, or any one of the things that people became when God wasn't in control of their lives. But somehow she had the feeling he was too weak to burgle, and too malnourished to attack.
No, she just wanted to make sure he was no longer on the property. The last thing she needed was another man to deal with, with his needs and demands and authority laid over her like a suffocating blanket. She'd had twenty-four years of it, of being taught that women were created to serve God and others first and themselves last, and special women like herself were created to love. That didn't mean Dinah needed to take on the responsibility of another needy person. Her mother filled that department all on her own.
He wasn't in the yard. The gravel Dad had laid down last year crunched under her shoes. In the barn, the truck stood empty, too, though it would have made a comfortable place to sleep. What would they do with a practically new work truck now? It wasn't likely either she or her mother would be hauling firewood or feed or even the animal trailer, though they could if they had to. Maybe they could sell it. It might bring enough to pay for her tuition at the college.
College. A dream as far off as the Promised Land. At this rate it would take her forty years to get the rest of her two-year degree.
Sheba, her darling and the solitary joy of her life, murmured sleepily when she let herself into the part of the barn they used as a chicken coop. She caressed the hen's feathers, enough to comfort but not enough to wake her completely.
The truth was she didn't care where the vagrant was. Nobody would think to look for her here.
She settled onto the plastic lawn chair she kept near the roosts, and Sheba and the other chickens fluffed their feathers and went back to sleep. As far as they were concerned, she was one of them. She let the undemanding acceptance of the birds and their soft, reassuring murmurs calm her as she sat in the dark.
Until, behind the bales of hay, somebody snored. She leaped to her feet and snatched the flashlight from the niche near the door where she kept it. The snores didn't miss a beat as she played the narrow beam over the sleeping form of the vagrant on the other side, curled in the hay like a calf. He had moved into her space, the only place that was utterly hers on the whole planet.
Now what was she supposed to do? Shake him awake and order him off the property? He might be dangerous if he were wakened suddenly, and no one knew she was out here. Not only that, they were two miles from town. There was nothing out here but the river and the mountains and the cold March wind. Their nearest neighbors were worldly people, unlikely to provide a haven for a homeless man.
Dinah realized with an uncomfortable start that the Traynells were just as unlikely to do so. It gave her pause. What did it say about God's chosen people that they would sooner brush this man off the back porch with a broom than give him a place to sleep? Because of the way he looked, she had automatically assumed he was reaping the fruit of a wicked life, and had judged him without thinking. What did it say about her that she had so little compassion, that she saw him as a problem to hide rather than a human being in need?
The poor man deserved his rest in a place that, thanks to a hideously expensive building contractor, was airtight and warm. She backed away as quietly as she could and got an old blanket out of the tack room no one used anymore. Gently, she shook it out and laid it on the thin form. Slipping out of the barn, she went around to the back, the side that faced Mount Ayres.
She'd come to a pretty pass when simple compassion became an act of rebellion. But she refused to send that man out into the night just because of the raised eyebrows of a flock of old crows. It was just a fact that the Elect looked inward in doing their charity, following the Shepherds' advice about keeping themselves separate from the world. In it but not of it. There were plenty of worldly churches to take care of worldly people, so God's chosen took care of their own.
Maybe this sleeping man was dangerous. Maybe he was a lazy, dishonest person whose own actions had brought him to this. But at least for tonight, his fate was up to her. Right or wrong, she could take control of something for once, could make a decision and act on it, and no one would be the wiser.
With that thought, she tucked her skirts between her aching knees, bent over, and stuck her finger down her throat. Soundlessly, neatly, she purged herself into the bucket that stood against the wall.
Excerpted from Pocketful of Pearls by Shelley Bates Copyright © 2005 by Shelley Bates . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 9, 2008
Pocketful of Pearls is an AMAZING book! I definently recommend this book. I could not put this book down. Shelly Bates is a wonderful writer. She allows the book to relate to the reader and feel what the characters are feeling.
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Posted February 24, 2009
great summary on back of book. part of a series. can be read w/o reading the previous book and understood. educational w/respect to twisted religion and the damage it can do. isn't totally negative.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2009
I don't like to tip off the reader by telling the entire story in advance, or there is no point in reading the book. But I will say this... Be prepared for a page turner when you pick up this novel. It isn't a warm-and-fuzzy feel-good read, but it is powerful and will make your heart swell to unbelievable proportions as you rejoice and cry with the heroine. (Can you tell I write fiction, LOL!) Also, the author's ability to lure the reader into the mind of someone raised in a cult is SO on target. I've worked with abused women for nearly 18 years and I can tell you for certain that she has the internal thoughts and struggles of the victim down to a science. What can I say? I REALLY loved this story. Unlike most novels dealing with the harsh subject of childhood abuse, Pocketful of Pearls offers the reader grit, but served with a whole lot of bravery and hope. The characters are realistic and not super-human, yet strong in their own ways. This is a must read for people who want to get sucked into a novel and experience emotion by traveling the journey with the hero and heroine. Great plotting, too. I can't say enough wonderful things about this story. Again, I won't destroy it by sharing too many details, but rather than being a depressing story, Pocketful of Pearls is a healing one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 25, 2005
I really enjoyed this book! My husband thought I had lost my mind when...out loud...I would laugh or cheer Dinah on! My favorite..when she took control of her life. When she stood up to her mother and her abuser and brought the truth to light. I finished this book in one day..very hard to put this book down!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 25, 2005
Extending Christian charity to a drifting vagabond goes against the teachings of her strict 'church', yet Dinah does so, never guessing that one act will change her life forever. Matthew's entry into her life is the seeming catalyst to a chain of events that will turn her world on its ear. Even before he arrived, the pangs of upheaval had begun with her father's death. Now, she dares to want more than what the Elect will allow her. Her sister's sudden return from exile, just long enough to drop off her baby into Dinah's care, exacerbates things, especially when she learns that the baby is the child of the man who raped all the women in her family. Unable to stand the spiritual and physical abuse anymore, Dinah realizes that her life has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with a sick and twisted charlatan. Though she risks losing everything she has ever known, Dinah is forced to make a stand for truth. ....................... **** Seldom does one find a hard hitting Christian novel; the norm for the genre is sweetness and light. Yet, this book defies the standard to deliver a compelling story that shines a light on cultic activity that diverts just a shade off of true faith. This is a wonderful book that illuminates II Peter chapter two. ****Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 5, 2009
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Posted December 27, 2009
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