Richard Zowie’s Writer’s Digest Your Story #19 submission: From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

The prompt was to write 750 words about a woman who’s allowed to travel through time to correct a mistake. This is what I came up with.

While the story focuses on my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, it is safe to say PCC is not the only Christian college where young women and men go to find future spouses. Perhaps this even goes on at state colleges to an extent. An associate pastor who attended another Christian college told me once of a roommate of his who flat-out told him: “I’m here to find a wife.”

I will say, though, this story is very loosely based on a couple I knew of at PCC. They shall remain unidentified.

And, of course, Los Patos, Texas is as fictional as the story itself. In Spanish, it means “The Ducks”.

From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

By Richard Zowie

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

Elizabeth McCandless, 29, moaned as she slowly woke from a foggy dream. 3:30 a.m., according to her digital clock’s bright red numbers. She yawned, threw on a bathrobe, slid her feet into slippers and trudged toward the front door. It was probably Jake, her husband and pastor of Los Patos Baptist Church. He was returning from a San Antonio hospital where one of his parishioners was hospitalized.

But instead of seeing Jake’s gangly, six-foot, three-inch frame through the peephole, she saw Steven Martinez (her husband’s associate pastor and best friend) along with two police officers.

She stared for a moment, now wide awake, her heart galloping as she opened the door.

The officers were grim. Steven’s eyes were red and his face tearstained.

“Ma’am, I’m Officer Applegate and this is Officer Garcia of the Los Patos Police Department,” the older one said in a slow Texas drawl. “This, of course, is Pastor Martinez of Los Patos Baptist Church. Are you Elizabeth McCandless?”

“Yes,” she said. “Is everything ok?”

“You are the wife of Jacob McCandless, correct?”

She nodded and swallowed a big lump in her throat.

“Ma’am, there’s been a terrible auto accident on Highway 181 near Karnes City involving your husband and another driver,” Applegate said, his quiet voice calm and emotionless. “Your husband was killed instantly. We’re terribly sorry.”

Dead?…an, uh… accident?” she sputtered.

Applegate nodded. “The other driver, who had veered into your husband’s lane, is hospitalized in stable condition. He probably will be charged with DWI and vehicular homicide.”

Her mind raced, trying desperately to process this. Dear God, this can’t be happening!

“Beth,” Steven said gently, his voice soft and hoarse. “We’re here for you if you need anything.”

Tears flooded down Beth’s face as the future, a frightening black abyss, glared mercilessly at her. She hadn’t worked since college, where she’d majored in home economics (or, as many jokingly called it, an “M.R.S.” degree), a formality since she’d attended college to find a husband. How would she get a job with that background? How would she take care of their two daughters? And there was no life insurance, since Jake didn’t believe in it and insisted it showed a lack of faith in God.

She sobbed, the tears soaking her bathrobe sleeves.

Dear God, how I wish I could go back and—

Immediately, as fast as an eye blink, she was again a freshman at Pensacola Christian College. Beth found herself in a room, the night before registration, where counselors helped students make sure they were taking the right classes. Startled, she looked around and recognized a few students who were English and commercial writing majors: Jane, Sammy, Andrea and Neal.

Maybe she’d passed out and the police would soon wake her. Her dreams always were foggy with muffled, distant sounds and without smell. But now, everything was bright and clear. She could hear the students’ chat about what Freshman English teachers to avoid; Sammy’s brash laugh echoed in the room. She could smell Chaps, worn by another male student who, still developing social skills, failed to grasp that overusing cologne didn’t equal a shower.

A few moments ago, she’d sobbed inconsolably. Now, she was calm, confused.

Maybe God’s allowing me to right a wrong so my girls and I will be prepared for the future, she thought, looking at her class schedule. From here she’d get a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in English from the University of West Florida and then pick up a teaching certificate. It would take about six years, unless she took 18-hour semesters and post-term classes. Teaching wasn’t necessarily a high-paying job, but it was in demand and would provide some sort of financial security. Maybe she could even run a tutorial business out of her home.

She remembered she’d meet Jake in a few weeks, and he would simply have to understand her need for her education. She’d tell him the tragedies she’d heard in Christianity over the years, such as the woman who became a widow with four children when her evangelist husband died unexpectedly in a plane crash. Or the respected church deacon who left his wife for his secretary; college-aged girl was younger than his own daughter.

Jake, though, was the abrupt, assertive type who never understood life’s what happens when you’re making plans.

She wondered, What if Jake tells me he won’t wait for me to finish my education?

But the answer came back quickly: Then he isn’t Mr. Right.

© Copyright 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.*

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