written by Chris Dalton
“You don’t answer for God!” he had shouted.
“I never said I did,” Fran replied calmly.
“You don’t answer for God! You don’t answer for God! He don’t need you! You don’t answer for God!”
His voice rose and rose and this must have gotten to Fran.
“Well, neither do you!” Fran replied.
That’s what did it. That pushed the loon over the edge. Poor Fran. That’s her, over there, thirty-five steps from my hiding spot. I have a coffee for her, but my feet might as well be cemented into the concrete.
That’s her behind the folding table, under the huge green umbrella, up against the concrete wall, right smack dab in the middle of the beach boardwalk.
That’s her, with the cast on her left arm.
Fran is fun to watch as she gets out her Jesus pamphlets and her “Go to church with me” flyers. She arranges them just so on the folding table, puts her notepad in front of her and settles into her folding chair. I can always hear the rubber feet of the chair scraping the sand on the sidewalk whenever she first pulls herself up to the table.
Today, as I sip my large almond-milk latte, she’s wearing her pink vest and white ankle-length skirt. Her $5 dollar sunglasses sit perched on the end of her nose where they really do no good at all. And, as is usual for Fran, her hair is done up in a nice Evangelical bun.
Every morning, I walk the block from my beachside mansion (purchased with the money I made selling my iPhone app, Petzz), stop here at Konos Grill, grab the best coffee in town and stand under this awning and watch her set up. When she’s done arranging her tools, I stroll over and sit on the concrete wall next to her.
And we talk.
It all began as a joke. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw her going through her ritual. This odd-looking woman, out of place, obviously from the mid-west (Illinois to be exact) sitting on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, telling sun worshippers they need Jesus.
Or at least that’s what I thought she was doing.
Believing I knew all about her “type”, I went up to her table to mock her and ended up making a friend.
She’d been coming out to San Diego for twenty years with her husband during the summers. But two years ago, they had felt a need to move here. So, one year ago, her husband got a job doing something with the city and they moved to San Diego. She discovered her “calling” while her husband went to work and she began walking the boardwalk. She saw so many people that she calls “lost” (I’ve since convinced her not to call them that – bad marketing) and she felt compassion for them. She got the idea to set up a table and talk with people about God from some missionary book she’d read. She set the table up and waited.
No one came.
Then she decided to bring an umbrella, give people shade from the sun, a place to rest for a moment from their job or biking. A few stopped, but no one wanted to talk about God. Then I came along four months ago. And that’s when things changed.
I know marketing. Trust me, anyone that could sell an unheard of app called Petzz for the amount I sold it knows marketing. Using my marketing savvy ways, I spun my web to convince her. It took me a month to convince her that she needed more than a green umbrella to bring in the crowds. She needed branding. She needed to tell people who she was and what she was doing. Her response was to create a sign on hot pink poster board that read “Bible Questions Answered Here”. I, of course, made fun of her. She couldn’t possibly attract attention by hand scrawling “Bible Questions Answered Here” and “Free Water” on a hot pink board.
I was wrong. It worked.
Fran is not like the wackadoo that stands on the corner by Joe’s Market with his stupid sandwich board sign hanging around his naked body, shouting how everybody is going to hell and the world is coming to an end tomorrow. Fran is no wacko. She is intelligent and funny and persistent as hell. I told her that once and she laughed.
“Hell is persistent,” she said, smiling.
The psycho with the sign didn’t like Fran’s common sense. I’m talking about the guy shouting that she didn’t answer for God. He had a sign. It was made out of plywood, nailed to a two by four and he had painted on it, “Religion kills!” We had seen him the day before, riding his bike in a circle in front of us. He read Fran’s sign, smirked and biked away. He returned the next day with his sign and started shouting. After Fran shouted back, “Well, you don’t either!” the man blew a circuit.
Kona (the owner of this shop) and I were startled when the freak threw down his bike and rushed Fran. Before she could call for help or anyone could stop the a-hole, he swung his sign high over his head and brought it down on her, hitting her over and over again with the edge of the plywood.
I can still see the scene. Like some demoniac from the Bible, it took four guys (including Kona) to pull him away and wrestle him to the ground, disarming him of his plywood weapon. The guy was still shouting as they held him down and the lifeguards called the police.
I stood in stunned silence, in the shade, where I am standing now, motionless.
Kona thought Fran was dead. He knelt at her side, her head bleeding, her left arm shattered from trying to keep the sign from splitting her head open. But she was conscious, in pain, but conscious. Fortunately, Fran had stationed herself in front of the lifeguard tower. She told me yesterday a real stud lifeguard had helped her, staunching the wound in her forehead, staying with her until the ambulance came. She knows I watched it all, but she told me anyway. Salt in the wound.
And here she is, cast and all. Sitting there, ready to answer questions. Ready to lovingly tell someone why there is so much evil in this world. Ready to assure those who wonder that God loves them. Invariably, whoever leaves the table leaves with a smile. I always do.
I’m finding it harder and harder to leave her. The longer I spend with her the more I want to be with her. She’s twenty years older than me. She dresses like a schoolmarm. She loves God and I don’t know if there is a God. She’s a widow and I’ve never been married. She has grandkids and I don’t even talk to my grandparents.
And I want to be with her all the time. Which is why I’m still standing here, hiding so to speak. I want to sit next to her so bad. But I can’t. I can’t because I didn’t do anything to stop the freak from killing her and I didn’t visit her in the hospital.
My conscience, which my logical brain says doesn’t really exist, is roasting me over a pit of hot coals.
Fran is totally alone in this life. She moved here, thousands of miles away from her family, and she has no one now. Her husband died suddenly three months ago, leaving her without security, without companionship. I’m the only friend she has, I think, and I didn’t go to the hospital. I knew where she was, but I didn’t go. Kona told me her room number and I stayed in my mansion and watched a Family Guy marathon.
My inaction and absence hurt Fran. Yesterday, when we talked, she was distant. She perked up when she mentioned the lifeguard (a strapping young lad, she said), but she was different with me.
There was a distance. A coldness. My stomach is in knots. But I don’t know what to do.
Last night, I tried to tell myself I was crazy. Oil and water don’t mix. But my gut tells me to apologize, to make amends. She was almost beaten to death by a psycho-Fran-hater and I didn’t help. She lay in the hospital recovering from a severe concussion and a shattered forearm and I didn’t even call to see if she needed anything.
My mind says I don’t owe her anything. But my heart says I do.
I do because she’s never asked anything of me.
I do because she’s never tried to change me – she’s accepted me as I am.
I do because she’s Fran and she answers my questions for God.