….Coming Summer, 2015
The little girl waited in line for her turn with Father Byrnes. His line was the longest. She felt a little guilty that Father John’s line was empty. Was he sad no one wanted to go to him? The guilt she felt though was not enough to make her switch to his line.
She exchanged a nervous but silent glance with her friend, Mary Jean, and noted her friend’s hands, like her own, were trembling. It was Mary Jean’s turn. The red light changed to white above the door and the classmate in front of them shuffled out with a decidedly relieved, if pious, expression on her face as she made her way to the altar to offer her penance.
Mary Elle sent Mary Jean an encouraging nod in response’s to her friend’s anxiety as she prepared to enter the confessional. Mary Elle watched nervously as Mary Jean approached the half-open door and pull it open wide enough for her to slip through. When the door closed behind her it was with a sense of finality Mary Elle found troubling.
She knew what it looked like inside. Sister Liadore showed them. It was just a little room with a kneeler and a screen in front of it so the priest could hear her when she confessed her sins.
Some of the other kids chose face to face confession, but Mary Elle liked the idea of the secret little room. If she was going to lie to a priest, she thought it would be easier if she didn’t have to look him in the eye.
It seemed like she waited forever for the red light over the door to change to white. Mary Jean emerged a few moments later with her hands held in prayer position. Their glances met and Mary Jean rolled her eyes heavenward in a gesture Mary Elle interpreted as, ‘well, at least that’s over,’ and then her friend passed by her on her way to the altar.
Mary Elle drew a deep, shuddering breath, wiped her suddenly sweaty palms on her plaid jumper and stepped through the partially open door. She turned to shut the door firmly behind her and knew the time had come to face her fears. She took a single step, and then knelt in front of the screen. A moment later she heard the screen slide open. When her voice emerged it was in a soft and shaky whisper. She wondered if the priest could tell how nervous she was.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession….”
The stranger crept closer towards the sleeping woman who was curled on her side in a fetal position. He presumed her defensive position was an attempt to ward off the cold hovering over the room like a dark cloud threatening an impending storm. As if she somehow sensed his silent approach, the young woman sighed in her sleep and rolled over on her back, revealing to his curious gaze a young and exquisite beauty.
In sleep the woman exuded a childlike purity. He knew from the purpose of his assignment, he should not be surprised by the girl’s innocence, and yet he acknowledged he was. He would not have believed it possible for such purity to still exist in a world dominated by blood and faithlessness. How had this ordinary woman escaped the violence of a world that derived singular delight in spilling the blood of the innocent, as if those responsible could somehow expiate their own sins by dragging everyone else to hell with them?
Her rhythmic breaths were a visible whisper between them, giving testament to the cold. He watched her burrow deeper beneath the layers of quilts she used to combat the cold and for a moment he paused in the completion of his duty. An unfamiliar sense of indecision and fleeting regret pressed against his usually implacable will.
With an impatient gesture he tossed aside their silent challenge to his purpose and bent close to the sleeping woman, whispering her name.
The girl instinctively raised a hand to sweep aside his uninvited entry into her quiet slumber. His objective complete, the intruder left his victim to her dreams, knowing the innocence that fostered them, and the purity he’d been so surprised to discover in so unlikely a steward had been shattered forever.
“Mary Elle, Mary Elle.” This time it was a child’s voice that hailed her, floating wispily through the veil separating wakefulness from sleep, rousing her enough to disturb her yet not enough to bring her fully awake. Pleased at the sleeping woman’s irritated muttering and taking it as evidence of having captured her attention, the little girl revealed the reason for her visit.
Mary Elle’s brows drew together in a puzzled frown. Even in sleep her subconscious rejected the new direction of her dreams. In them a little girl nervously clutched a much larger hand and peered trustingly up into the eyes smiling gently down at her. Despite her companion’s attempts at reassurance, Mary Elle could sense the young girl’s fear. It was a fear that bordered on terror. The tiny hand clutching the large masculine one was shaking uncontrollably presenting a sharp contrast to the brave front she was desperately trying to project. It was obvious she didn’t want to be there… wherever there was.
As if the visitor to her dreams wanted her to understand the source of her fear, the little girl entered deeper into her dreams and merged their thoughts. Immediately Mary Elle felt the steady rhythm of her slumberous breaths ramp up in response to the girl’s barely restrained panic. She braced herself against the onslaught of foreign worries chasing themselves around her head. Her mother assured her a great honor was being bestowed upon her, but the little girl would have preferred if the distinction was conferred upon another. She blinked away her tears, determined not to shame her parents by weeping.
In sleep, Mary Elle reached up to swipe impatiently at her damp eyes. Then schooling her features, she glanced back over her shoulder to assure herself her mother was still there. Relieved, she attempted to persuade her faltering will that it wasn’t too late for her to change her mind. Her mother wouldn’t force her.
Even as she took heart from her mother’s reassuring smile, encouraging her on her way, Mary accepted it was too late for her. It had begun. She bent her head to hide the tears she was unable to hold back any longer. Sensing her misgiving, her companion gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
“I’m afraid,” she confided in a shame-filled whisper.
In the way of dreamers, Mary Elle understood she was caught up in a fantasy but no matter how hard she struggled against its tangled, spidery web she was unable to free herself. The little girl kept calling her until finally Mary Elle conceded defeat and gave up trying to convince herself she was imagining things. With more exasperation than either fear or welcome, she sat up in bed and exclaimed out loud into the dark silence surrounding her, “What? What do you want?”
Having secured her attention, the young girl fell silent. For a moment Mary Elle caught a vision of her smiling face before she faded back into the cover of darkness.
“Thanks a lot,” Mary Elle muttered, as irritated with herself as her imaginary visitor, and wondered briefly if the jalapeno-laden pizza she indulged in for dinner was behind her hallucinations. After peering around her dark room, just to ascertain she was indeed alone, she lay back down, drawing the heavy quilts up to her chin, before rolling over, hoping to escape back into sleep for a few precious hours before she had to get up for work. The shrill sound of her alarm announcing morning’s unwelcome arrival jolted her back to reality before she even had a chance to close her eyes.
“Great, just great,” she sighed aloud, unconcerned by her solitary conversation. She lived alone. Sometimes she spoke her thoughts out loud just to relieve the silence.
With a disciplined resolve cultivated mostly from financial necessity, Mary Elle squashed the temptation to burrow deeper beneath the quilts and turned to silence the buzzing alarm. Bracing herself, she climbed out of bed and hurried across the room to the adjoining bathroom, reminding herself to pick up a portable heater at the hardware store on her way home from work.
It didn’t seem to matter where she set the thermostat for the central heating and cooling system. Without supplementary measures, the temperature in the house never climbed above a brisk sixty five, except during the summer months when only an act of nature brought the reading below eighty.
Her friend, Crystal, was appalled by her refusal to notify the landlord of her problems with the heating and air conditioning system, but Mary Elle shrugged off her concerns. She was willing to tolerate the inconvenience because she feared the consequences of lodging a complaint. Her rent was so ridiculously cheap she was afraid the cost of the repairs would amount to more than her annual rent payments. In which case, she reasoned, her landlord might conclude continuing to lease the house to her was more trouble than it was worth. Since she couldn’t afford another place remotely as nice as the old converted chapel she called home, she was willing to sleep in layers and beneath a mountain of quilts in the winter, shed both in the summer, and keep her grievances to herself.
Besides her secluded abode came with mitigating charms that offset her inability to regulate the temperature and the uncertainty of hot water. She offered up a little prayer that today would not prove to be one of those days she would have to make do without the latter and turned on the shower as far to the hot side of the dial as it would go. She stripped out of the old sweats she slept in and released a gratified sigh at the sight of the steam rising behind the glass shower door.
Whispering her heartfelt appreciation in the direction of heaven, she stepped into the casket-sized cubicle and decided she would skip the chore of washing and drying her waist length hair. A simple braid proved both expedient and professional when the need arose. Monday mornings were challenging enough without complicating the beginning of the work week with hair care. At least this one promised to be quieter than usual. The last day of final exams before the long holiday break tended to pass in a seldom heard but welcome hush echoing over the vaulted ceilings and marble hallways of St. Mary’s where she taught.
….Coming Summer, 2015
Cover Design: Copyright Melissa Alvarez, BookCovers.Us
Cover Photography: Copyright Depositphotos.com, Copyright – herraez, Copyright -kyolshin