He was an older gentleman, in his late 60's early 70's. Not quite 6 feet tall with an average build, he still favored wearing suits & ties to church every Sunday. Today he wore a dark blue one with tight, faint pinstripes & a dark tie. The man staring back at him in the mirror had short white hair, cut close & neat like a man in his 20's. Brown eyes met brown eyes. He was tired this morning. An average nose perched above a pair of pale, thin lips. He caressed his beard (trimmed & white), put on his glasses & whispered a prayer.
He was the minister of a small non-denominational church. He'd been doing this for years. He brewed his coffee strong (hoping it would wake him up) & sat down with his tattered Bible. He had some time before service & was looking forward to reading something profound. The dog started barking. The minister got up from his table & set the dog free in the backyard. Rescued as a puppy, this fox terrier had grown to be a wonderful companion. The man, never married, was thankful for this dog. He was sure it had saved his life. He shut the door & let the dog go about his business.
He settled himself into his chair once more & took a sip of coffee. It was slightly bitter, much like the people of his congregation.... much like his own life had been. He put a couple sugar cubes onto his spoon & lowered them just enough to watch them dissolve. He imagined them jumping ship or shape shifting like some sci-fi organism to escape approaching danger. He lowered his spoon into the cup & swirled it around, clanking it against the sides as it made the circuit, one, two, three times. The sugar was doomed from the get go.
He dismissed reading his Bible & picked up yesterday's paper instead. The city was retro-fitting buildings downtown. The local quilting club was having a bake sale at the Elks. War was still happening around the world, governments were crumbling or being reformed... A parrot escaped from a pet store after attacking a customer who kept trying to get it to say "Polly want a cracker?". Minor injuries were reported. No charges were filed. A long time resident of Sunny Oaks Nursing Home died from congestive heart failure. It was strange to see her familiar face in the obituaries. He hadn't talked to her in months. He thought to himself "I'll send my condolences". The dog started barking again. The minister got up with his coffee cup & opened the back door. He glanced at the clock in the kitchen & realized he'd better get going.
His congregation numbered 75 on a good day. He stood behind the pulpit & looked over the faces. He thought of the dissolving sugar cubes... each face melted into an indistinguishable mass, his heart along with them. He prayed that God would lower His spoon into this cup & stir them up. They were meant to sweeten this bitter life, not melt to the bottom of it & congeal. The minister paused for a long time, looked down at his Bible open to Numbers 18 & closed it. He took off his glasses & stepped from the platform. He got a resolute look in his eye & began speaking from his heart. The atmosphere in the room suddenly changed. There was a tangible sense of apprehension, the kind that makes one stop & tremble. This was not the norm. He never left his pulpit. He never preached without rustling through the pages of his Bible & he certainly never struck fear in the hearts of the congregation. But they were doomed from the get go. God was about to stir the cup...