Excerpt from Linda Danz's collection of short stories: Breath Visible, published by Bookbaby, December 2017

The Churchgoer

“THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY HAVE PROBLEMS? I have a fucking brain tumor. I have a problem.”

Throats cleared. Heads turned and people stared. Ann McDonald covered her mouth, muffling an involuntary gasp. Her friend, Stéphanie Gayle, had done it again.

In a light-filled room, simply yet elegantly appointed with small yellow flags hung on the walls and turquoise valances strung above pristine altars, a gathering of seekers of enlightenment perched cross-legged and straight-backed on dark blue pillows set across a polished blonde wood floor, overseen by the identical contemplative gaze of multiple bronze buddhas. Ann never quite got used to the shocked expressions on Stéphanie’s unsuspecting victims. Hearing her friend growl, “…fucking brain tumor,” in a room full of the self-possessed made it seem somehow deliciously profane.

Ann turned to Stéphanie. Ignoring passive frowns, she asked quietly, “Do you want to leave?”

Stéphanie Gayle stared eerily from her good eye and nodded. The black eye patch, a recent change, was off-putting.
“You sure?” Ann whispered. “The snacks probably aren’t out yet.”

They left the room of devotees before the mallet struck the singing bowl, before someone with the right livelihood, the right effort or the right mindfulness, uttered another whiny testament to an unfulfilled life and whatever impeded the nobler path they felt entitled to tread.

Ann bowed hurriedly. Stéphanie barreled past her to the empty reception area. Acolytes had placed bowls of beige comfort dip onto long, cloth-covered folding tables.

Grapes—purple and green—filled brightly colored plastic bowls. Yellow and white cheese cubes were stacked on paper plates alongside baskets of low-sodium chips and gluten-free crackers.

Food, notably free food, halted Stéphanie’s furious exit. Ignoring the hummus, she expertly filled stickless bindles with crackers and cheese and grapes. She gathered up the corners of the bulging paper napkins and shoved them into her commodious handbag. Heading for the elevator, they passed the fishbowl of donations Stéphanie had ostentatiously overlooked upon arrival. Buckling under the scrutiny of a student volunteer, Ann dropped a generous fistful of bills into the bowl.
Oppressive summer heat stunned them at street level. The drift of jasmine off slender joss sticks gave way to the sour, sweat-stained remains of the day.