You Never Know
by Margaret B. Davidson
Her name leapt at me from the page. I dumped the cat from my lap, laid the newspaper on the kitchen table, and bent over the article. Yes, it had to be the same person -- the same Morag. I read the article, and then sat back and thought again about the Morag I’d known all those years ago when I’d taught confirmation class.
Morag MacDaniel Whittaker was a pale, introverted girl, appearing far younger than her twelve years. During break in confirmation class, instead of going outside with other students, she’d remain at her desk, bent over her catechism. On one occasion, when I’d encouraged her to mingle with the others, she’d burst into tears and no amount of urging could get her to tell me what was wrong. I spoken to the Vicar about it.
“She’s such a sad-looking person. I do wonder if there’s something seriously wrong. You don’t happen to know the parents, do you? I’ve never seen anybody with her at church.”
“You won’t, Jenny. I paid the family a visit when they first moved to the area, and was given short shrift. Both parents said they had important jobs and were too busy for involvement with the church, but they’d be sending Morag along because she ought to learn about religion in case she needed it sometime later in life. I thought that an odd way of looking at things, and I can’t say as I took to them overmuch. Haven’t seen them from that day to this.”
“Do you think I should talk to them about Morag?”
“It distresses me to say it, but Morag will be confirmed, and then you’ll probably never see her again. You shouldn’t allow yourself to become too involved.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell the vicar he didn’t get involved enough.
From then on I sat at my desk during break, doing paperwork, smiling toward Morag now and then, hoping to catch her eye.
One day I glanced up and found the girl studying me.
“You’re the best student in this year’s class, Morag, dear. There are only a few more Sundays before the big day, and I expect you’re getting excited. Are you having a party afterwards, to celebrate?
“No,” she whispered.
“Well, I’m sure your parents are proud of you. I do hope you’ll introduce them to me after the service.”
“They’re not coming. They don’t like churches.”
I could think of no response to that, so I changed the subject.
“Vicar’s wife has finished the veils for you girls, and they look very nice. With your pretty dark hair and blue eyes you’ll look like one of God’s angels in your veil and white dress.”
“I’m to wear my green gingham. Mum says the other girls will be wearing dresses they already have because it’s a waste to buy a dress you’ll only use once.”
This was a long speech for Morag, and she seemed embarrassed because she bent her head to her book again.
No doubt Morag believed what her mother said about the girls not wearing white, and perhaps the woman herself thought she was speaking the truth. I knew different however. Every girl but Morag would be dressed like a miniature bride as, after Confirmation, she knelt for first communion, parents looking on with proud smiles. I couldn’t possibly let Morag suffer the humiliation of standing out because she was different.
That evening I made a phone call.
“Mrs. Whittaker, this is Jenny Cox calling, Morag’s Sunday school teacher.”
“Has Morag been misbehaving?”
“No, no. Rather the opposite. Your daughter is a delight in class, and I’ve been trying to think of a way to reward her for her fine work. I have an idea.”
This was met by silence, so I was forced to bumble on,
“I have a white dress that I’ve saved from my own daughter’s Confirmation. Patricia, my daughter, is grown now and I was wondering--, well I was thinking, why let the dress hang in the closet? I thought maybe Morag might like to wear it.”
“Morag is not in need of charity.”
“It isn’t char—“
“Do you presume to know more about Morag’s requirements than her own mother?”
“We sent our daughter to your church for education, not for interference in our family affairs. Now I really am busy. Good day to you.”
Morag did not appear in class the following Sunday.
Disturbed, I coerced the Vicar into paying the Whittakers a visit, but their door was slammed in his face, and my own calls of apology went unanswered.
When, as expected, Morag did not appear for the Confirmation ceremony, I consoled myself with the thought that at least I’d spared her the humiliation the event would have caused, but I knew that was merely a rationalization and that my meddling had made things worse for the child rather than better. If I’d just listened to the Vicar when he advised me not to get involved…
The following summer the Whittaker’s moved out of state, so I never saw Morag again. I often wondered about her over the years; hoped that she’d survive her childhood emotionally unscathed; convinced it was unlikely.
Now here was her name in the paper. I read the blurb a second time:
Morag MacDaniel will appear in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, at the Little Theatre on Saturday, June 15th.
There followed some information about tickets. Then,
Miss MacDaniel spoke to radio reporter, Dan Bailey, recently and said she was looking forward to returning to this area where she’d spent part of her childhood. Mr. Bailey asked her if there had been a local influence that had prompted her acting career. Miss MacDaniel laughed and said, “I was an incredible mouse of a child. It wasn’t until college that I came out of my shell. I took a drama class as part of my English lit requirement, and the professor encouraged me to try out for a role in a play he was putting on at the community theatre. I had a tremendous crush on him, and was too flattered to refuse. Then when I climbed up on that stage an amazing thing happened. I wasn’t Morag Whittaker any more. It was like I’d been granted permission to be somebody completely different, far more interesting, and it was a totally liberating experience...” The entire interview will be aired on PBS tonight at 8 p.m.
I wondered whether she’d talk about her family, about her life when she’d lived here. It was a local program, so perhaps she’d do so. In any event, this was one interview I wasn’t going to miss.
Little Morag – an actress! Well it just shows you never know do you?
Margaret B. Davidson was born and raised in England. She now lives in upstate New York with her husband and cat. Margaret's husband provides moral support for her writing endeavors, while the cat helps with the typing.