Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Blouse

Inside the convent walls, Maggie Anne struggled to fight back the tears. They were silly tears, she told herself - the tears of a foolish little girl. In her hands she held a ruined blouse, the delicate fabric burned through in one place by the clumsy application of an iron.

Mother Mary Joan tried to console her. "Now here," she said, "this is nothing to cry over." She knew, of course, that the girl was not really crying about a ruined shirt. A year earlier Maggie Anne had given away everything to enter religious life. She had been so certain. Now she was afraid - more afraid, probably, than she had been upon entering the convent. For now, Maggie Anne was going back into the world, back to walk the earth, back (though she did not yet know it) to be a mother to two priests and a sister, and a grandmother to many more. She did not know any of this; she only knew that she did not belong in the convent, and that the one piece of clothing she had to wear out into the world was now ruined.

The Mother Superior placed a hand upon her shoulder. "Wait here," she said.

Maggie Anne turned her eyes to the crucifix that hung upon the wall; she felt a brief sting of reproach, and then a calm. The year had been a painful one. She loved the sisters and the life she led, but she was not happy. Through much agony and prayer, and with the gentle guidance of her spiritual director and Mother Mary Joan, she had come to realize that the convent was not her calling. She loved the sisters dearly, and was loath to leave, yet here she was, with a plain brown skirt and a ruined blouse, wondering where to go.

She felt like a child, frightened of the world beyond the walls. She knew not where she would go, or what she would do. If she was to be married,  she knew not how it would come about.

"Oh, what am I getting myself into," she whispered. "Oh God, what are you doing to me?"

She looked at the crucifix - again that calm, and a voice in her heart. "Beckoning you."

Silently, she prayed, "If you will embrace me, I will not fear. If you will carry me, I will walk."

She looked down at her ruined blouse. "The last thing I owned in the world, and I have ruined it... I have nothing left." As she said that, she began to understand. She felt foolish; she ought to have known, ought to have understood why He let her forget what she was doing, why He let her hand linger too long in one place. The tears of frustration that she had been fighting began to trail slowly down her face, turning to peace as they dripped onto the pile of linen clutched in her hands.

Soon, Mother Mary Joan returned. With her was another of the sisters, carrying a large pink sweatshirt with a picture of Winnie the Pooh. Each of the sisters was allowed one outfit for bed. Sister Mary Monica had kept this.

The shy one, the quietest of all the sisters, and not so old herself, handed the sweatshirt to Maggie Anne. "I will sleep in my habit," she said simply.

Peace became gratitude and continued to spill from the eyes of the one time postulant. She embraced the sister.

"It is not much," she protested.

Maggie Anne placed her hands on the sister's shoulders and smiled. "No," she said, "it is everything."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Poetic Interlude

With a nod to John, I give you a foray into poetry. I have also a story in the works; I shall post it soon.

Turn about; check behind
Try not to rewind
Forward in your mind
Looking for a sign

Catch me grinning; faces sallow
Fingers dipped in tallow
Burning till I'm hollow
Learn to lead and follow

Doors unopened; broken windows
Moonlight o'er the meadow
The red of glowing cinders
Light enough to wander

Burning man, whence art thou
Whither the wind, the howl
Lone night wolf, alone you prowl
And alone you take your bow

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Brother and Sister

UPDATED: 02/12/10 

A rush of cold air whistled by as the pub door opened. A few bachelors were lined up at the bar, drinking the death of Cupid on this lonely Sunday night, St. Valentine's day. Other than that, the place was empty.

Out of the wind and the cold came a pair that drew a stare from three or four, while the others, those with better manners, studied their pints intently. One of the gawkers made a lewd comment to the young woman, who blushed and turned her eyes to the ground. The jester's neighbor and erstwhile drinking buddy instantly backhanded him across the mouth, grabbed him by the collar, and hauled him toward the door.

"Wait, I ain't finished with my drink yet," protested the jester.

"I'll finish it for you," said the other.

"But I ain't paid!"

"I'll pay for you."

The chastising party yanked open the door and kicked the jester into the cold, sending him stumbling into a snow drift.

Back at the bar the man and woman were praying without words. The bartender nodded toward the door. "Sorry about him," he said, and, turning to the man who was returning to his stool, he added, "Thanks, Jack."

Jack nodded, "Wasn't right, what he said. I'm sorry for it, Sister." He gave her a slight bow and then returned to his pint.

The bartender looked the pair up and down, thoughtfully. "You're Charlie's kids aren't you? There aren't many who'd come in here wearing a cassock and a habit."

The brother and sister, for so they were, nodded.

"I'm sorry to hear about your father," said the bartender. "He was a good man."

"Thank you," said the priest.

"Can I get you a drink? You look like you could use it."

"Guinness for me. Sis?" he turned to the girl at his side.

"Cider, please."

The bartender poured a cider for the young nun. Then, he handed the priest his pint and waved away the proffered money. "No, not tonight. You just let me know if you need anything; I'll be here listening to these fools grumble about Valentines Day."

"Ah, I had forgotten that. To St. Valentine," the priest said, raising his glass.

The bartender poured himself a quick shot. "To Charlie Bantam," he said.

The brother and sister, or Father and Sister, touched their glasses, and then headed toward the end of the bar. The bartender, Patrick was his name, watched them thoughtfully. They were a strange pair, these two. They could almost have been father and daughter, for, though his boyish face belied the forty-five years that had passed for Charlie Bantam's eldest son, he was nearly eighteen years older than his sister, the baby of the family.

They spoke softly, torn between the joy of seeing one another for the first time in nearly two years and the sorrow of the occasion. They shared their stories, he of the parish life and she of the convent, of the people, the sinners and saints, the innocent and the broken. With few words they spoke; words carried the stories, but the love behind the stories spoke more deeply then the sounds of tongue and lips and teeth ever could.

Occasionally Patrick would refill the priest's glass, while the young Dominican nursed her cider throughout the night.

The night waned and the bar slowly emptied, until only the two young saints and the bartender remained. The young nun was laughing at something her brother had said. Suddenly she froze, staring straight ahead at her brother, who at first tried to jar her back, thinking she was merely tired. Then, he began to wonder and worry about her. She continued to stare at him, into him, beyond him.

Without warning, she began to weep, throwing her arms around her brother. "Oh," she sobbed, "Father is gone, and soon I shall lose you as well!"

Stunned, he patted her head, just as he had all those years ago, when she was still a child and he a seminarian visiting home. "What is this?" he asked. "You are not going to lose me."

"Yes, yes I am... I know it."

He contemplated that for a time. "Even if... even if it is so..." a lump formed in his throat. Perhaps she was right. He knew life's unpredictability; he knew she might be right, whether God Himself had told her, he did not know. She continued to weep into his cassock sleeve.

"I know," she said, wiping her eyes, "I know I must trust." She put on a brave face, but her lip trembled and her eyes glistened.

"We must all," said he.

"But it is so difficult."

"It is another cross," he said.

"That is too easy to say."

"I know; that does not change the truth." He took her by the hands, facing her. "If what you say is so, then you must pray for me."

"Oh don't be foolish," she smiled a little. "You shall skip right on past purgatory, I just know it."

He grinned, "I doubt that very much. You must pray. And in turn I will do the same."

She nodded, but he could see the tears welling up again. He, who knew so well the humanity the lay behind his own cassock, knew also that beneath the habit was his little sister, the same girl he'd always known.

"Come," he said, "let's go back to our brothers and sisters. They shall need us tomorrow."

To the bartender he said, "Thanks, Patrick. Have a good night."

Patrick just nodded. "God bless," he said.

As they left the bar, the priest clasped his sister's hand. The wind howled and beat at them in the night beyond the shelter of the building. Turning their eyes to heaven they prayed with the words of the heart, and they walked into the night.

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, pray for us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jitterbug and Firelight

I hadn't really wanted to go. I'd seen them only six months before and, friends though we are, I didn't see why they'd want me there on New Year's Eve. They had family and friends; there was no need for me to make the trip. Besides, for the first time since getting a full time job I was broke at the end of the month. The Christmas season does that.

My brother talked me into it, so whatever happened was his fault. Mostly there were fireworks, the good ones that you can't buy in Georgia. And there was football on the beach. I'm not the world's biggest fan of country music, but something about driving down a country road in southern Alabama, in an SUV so packed that Holly Anne had to ride in back with the dog, windows down and the wind ripping at our faces, with the country music blasting loud and homey, it all felt right.

You'd think playing football on the beach on the last day of the year would be amazing. You'd be right; it was. The sand sucked at our feet and turned a friendly game into a lot of work. Hot and exhausted we stumbled back to the towels, where Mrs. P snapped a few pictures to commemorate the grand occasion. Or maybe she just likes cameras; I think there's something about that extra x chromosome.

Exhausted but happy we crowded into the Suburban and headed back to the house. After a shower we drove to campus for the vigil Mass of the feast of Mary Mother of God. On the way back to the house we stopped at Jake's Place to get gas and beer and then across the street for fireworks.

The girls had a cousin visiting from Wyoming. Sadly, the cousin was not a girl. He did teach us to jitterbug, at least the way they do in Wyoming. And so, with a bonfire burning back near the horse barn, we stopped in between fireworks and beer pong for a dance in the driveway.

It wasn't a perfect New Year's Eve; the champagne toast was a little rushed, the glasses were plastic, and despite my best wishing, no one else remembered the words to Auld Lang Syne, no one except my brother and I. Maybe they just weren't in a singing mood. I didn't mind. More dancing and a few drinks later, I walked back from the still glowing fire, and after one of the best New Year's Eves ever, I fell into bed exhausted, a little sad that I couldn't get up and do it all again in the morning. Never mind that; I'm glad I went.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In Which the Author Announces His Intentions

The purpose of this blog is to be a repository for my stories, both new and old. It is inspired by Requiem for Innocence, an excellent poetry blog. I don't expect I will be updating every day, but I hope to post at least once a week with a story, either new or old. The tales will be mixed, some of them personal experiences that I found particularly worth recounting, some of them old and new short fiction, and the majority will be recountings of things I have heard from friends - stories that have struck the artistic soul inside me. I hope to take small instances in our lives and show the beauty of life, in all of its wonderful strangeness. From the cradle to the cross, we live our lives, fighting each day, finding joy and pain along the path. I hope that my stories may mean something, if only to those who inspired them.