Michelle woke up to the quiet hiss of TV static and found herself curled up on the old, dank-smelling sofa, with the television still silently flashing its images against her squinting, sleep-deprived eyes. The morning was still dark, and the clock on the microwave glowed 4:47. Michelle got up, stretched the stiff muscles in her neck and shoulders and switched off the TV, casting the room into darkness.
She stood for a minute, embracing the gloomy darkness and silence. She walked, as if in a trance, toward the front window to watch the sun rise. Or at least to watch the sky turn a lighter gray. She did not know how long she stood, watching, half-asleep. A car that was parked across the road and a couple driveways down the street started its engine and drove past. Michelle thought it odd that she had not noticed anyone walking to it, or heard its door close. But the thought passed, and the sky brightened.
At 7:30, she heard her alarm sounding from her bedroom. Michelle sighed and left her post to go turn it off. She heard Brendan sigh in his sleep as she passed his room. Comforted by the sound, her spirit lifted a little and after switching off the alarm clock, she felt awake and hungry enough to eat breakfast - a practice which she had all but given up entirely.
She poured a bowl of cereal and turned the TV back on, but dissatisfied with the selection of Sunday morning talk shows and church programs, she switched it back off. She had forgotten it was Sunday. Not much of a church-goer, she normally worked or slept in on Sunday mornings. But today the thought of being surrounded by people, even smartly-dressed judgmental ones, felt surprisingly refreshing. She had the prayers of a nearby nondenominational church to whom she had been directed as part of her therapy. They had always been friendly and welcoming enough.
A certain restlessness grew inside of her. She needed to get out of this house. Michelle finished her bowl of cereal, rinsed it and left it in the sink, and opened the door to Brendan's room. "Wake up sleepy-head, time to get ready for church!"
Brendan fidgeted quietly and scratched at his neatly combed and flattened hair. It had taken a heaping, sticky handful of gel to get the back part to stay down. Michelle sat up straight in her pew, in her only flowery summer dress, trying to listen to the pastor's words. The alternation of droning words and quiet pauses, mixed with the heat of the un-air-conditioned sanctuary and the short period of sleep she had acheived that night all made for a perfect sleeping potion. She noticed several of the middle-aged and older men of the congregation nodding gently in sleepy rhythm.
The pastor finally concluded his sermon with a prayer and the piano played while the congregation rose and formed a line towards the lobby. Michelle had been sitting in the back, and so was one of the first to reach the outdoors. The sky was still overcast, and the air was so humid it was almost too thick to breathe. She thought it might storm yet this afternoon. Not in the mood to make uncomfortable small talk with strangers, she headed directly for the car, with Brendan in tow. But before she reached the parking lot, she heard her name.
Michelle turned around, to see Pastor Dave jogging towards her. She put on a smile and prepared to compliment him on his sermon, trying to recall its subject. The Prince of Peace, or something, wasn't it?
"I was so glad to see you in the audience this morning!" Pastor Dave shook her hand enthusiastically. "How are you? I've been praying for you every night. I say, 'Dear God, just bless that poor woman's heart. Lord, you are so good, and I know you have great things in store for Ms. Sanchez!' I thought about you especially when I saw the paper this morning."
"Oh. Thank-you," was all Michelle could think to say. She forced another smile, though she knew it would not be overly convincing, and tried to find the words to send him on his blessed way. "Well, I have to be going. Have a nice day."
Pastor Dave backed away, still grinning, and waved. "You have a nice day too, Ms. Sanchez! God bless you! See you next Sunday, I hope!"
"I'm hungry." Brendan whined when they were in the car.
Michelle started the engine of the old Mazda. It turned over with a loud growl. "How about we go to the restaurant for lunch?" she proposed. Theirs was the first car to leave the parking lot.
Seated in a quiet booth at the restaurant where she worked, Michelle ordered a burger for Brendan and a soup for herself. She gave him the comics page from the newspaper she had found in the back. She scanned the headlines and photos, searching for whatever story the pastor had alluded to.
Her eyes were drawn to a picture of a young smiling girl on a sofa, being hugged between her smiling parents. The headline made Michelle's heart skip a beat: "MISSING GIRL FOUND". Michelle read the article with trembling hands. Emma Nielsen, now twelve, had been kidnapped three years ago. Yesterday, she had turned up on her parents' front doorstep, thin, but physically unharmed, with little useful information as to where she had been all those years, and no explanation for why she had been returned. "It's a miracle." The father had quoted. "No mother should have to endure this," Mrs. Nielsen had said, "but my baby is home now, and that's all that matters."
Michelle couldn't breathe.