Story: The Education of Della

I was digging around in files on my computer and stumbled on this. I wrote it back in 2010, as my entry to win a scholarship to go to a special writers’ workshop. Apparently it was rejected due to the keynote speakers being unable to figure out how to use social networks to market it.

No, I am not kidding.

The white and yellow church was typical of the Midwest, with a tall steeple proudly raised by the entire congregation during the reconstruction a decade before. The tall oaks on either side had been planted more than a hundred years before that, arranged to frame the old church and still give a welcoming appearance, as they fanned out on each side slightly.

From the side door burst a group of children, as adults came out the front of the church and shook hands with the pastor, Reverend Compleigh. The children ran shrieking and laughing among the trees, as a thin, pretty woman followed them out of the side door. She stopped and spoke to such children as did not join in the game, but she seemed to be headed towards one little girl in particular, a six year old dark-skinned girl who waited off to the side of the front steps.

“So how do you like your new home, Della?” the pastor’s wife asked pleasantly.

Della looked up with big brown eyes at the woman. “Oh, that isn’t my home,” Della told her, smiling slightly. “But it is nice. Mr. and Mrs. Patrick are very nice.”

“Well, why isn’t it your home?” Mrs. Compleigh asked, flabbergasted.

“It’s just temporary,” Della told her, in a gentle, teacherly manner. “I’ll probably get moved in a few months again. Mr. and Mrs. Patrick are only foster parents, they won’t be allowed to keep me.”

“But don’t you like it there?” she was asked.

“Yes, it’s very nice,” she agreed. “But if the Patricks start liking me too much, the social worker will move me. They say that if foster parents get attached to foster kids, it makes it harder to get adopted.”

“Well, the Patricks could adopt you,” the pastor’s wife said nervously. She glanced around, but nobody else was close enough to hear the conversation.

“No, if they adopt me they couldn’t be foster parents anymore,” Della shrugged. “And the state needs foster parents more than they need kids to get adopted. I heard Mr. Blough, my social worker’s boss, say that so many kids don’t get adopted, they need lots of foster parents to take care of them.”

“Ah-“ the woman squeaked.

“But I know God is looking for a good home for me,” Della continued. “And he wants me to have the real home that’s just right for me, that’s why it’s taking so long. I’m sure the other places he looked at would have been fine, but there must have been something wrong, or he would have sent me to one of them.”

“Oh, how-“ Mrs. Compleigh said weakly.

“Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken this long,” Della smiled, looking up into the branches of the tree overhead. “God can see everything, you know. I know he loves me, because he’s being so choosy for me.”

The pastor’s wife was saved by the arrival of the Patricks.

“Did you have a nice time in Sunday school?” Mrs. Patrick asked Della wistfully, an obscure pain in her eyes.

“Yes, it was a lot of fun,” Della replied. She held up the construction paper picture. “We made pictures about Noah and his Ark. It took God 40 days and 40 nights to make sure all the bad people were gone, you know. But Moses was patient. I have to be patient too.”

“That is a very nice picture,” Mrs. Patrick observed, wincing. “You did a very nice job. Let’s head to the car. Mr. Patrick and I always stop for doughnuts on the way home from church. You can pick out three for yourself, any flavor you like.”

“Okay,” Della nodded.

Mrs. Compleigh watched them walk away, and winced when Mrs. Patrick made to take Della’s hand but stopped herself.

“Ah, quite a… remarkable child,” she observed to Mr. Patrick.

“Yes, her faith is… remarkable,” he replied flatly.

“How are the three of you getting along?” Mrs. Compleigh asked.

“The first day, Emily told her that she could stay with us as long as she liked,” Mr. Patrick replied bitterly. “She sat both of us down and explained to us that would not be possible, and why. My wife cried in our bedroom for several hours.” His grey eyes flickered. “She’s been a perfect angel. She’s polite, helpful, cheerful. She plays quietly, she says her prayers every…”

Mrs. Compleigh watched as his shoulders sagged, he almost stumbled, and his eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, dear god, does she pray,” he whispered hoarsely.