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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| May 16, 2018 Views: 98|
discovering secrets from the past
"Secrets of the Rosary"
by Spiritual Echo
Passengers applauded when the wheels hit the runway, waking me from my drug-induced sleep. I'd ordered a stiff drink and popped a pill shortly after take-off from Heathrow. Flying was nerve-wracking at the best of times, barely bearable, but there was usually a destination, a vacation to someplace I wanted to see. I definitely didn't want to be in Toronto.
I'd been away for so long, it no longer felt like home, even though I was born and raised in the city. It was different when mother was alive. My sense of duty and the guilt mom piled on me usually got me back every year, but since her death ten years ago, I had no reason. I hardly knew my brother, and what I remembered, wasn't flattering. Jimmy was a brat who'd spent every minute we shared the same air growing up finding ways to terrorize me. The age difference and distance made any adult treaty improbable and a relationship I'd never given a second thought to since I left Canada ten years ago.
I didn't recognize his voice when he called. "Dad died yesterday. Can you come home?"
He caught me off-guard, made me stumble emotionally as I sorted through the information and the unfamiliar man's baritone voice. I'd said yes, before I could find an excuse that would allow me to live with myself.
I opened the shutter and stared out at the runway. Passengers were just stirring, but the ground crew was already beside the aircraft unloading luggage.
"It looks like the same weather we left back home."
The voice startled me, but his rugged good looks instantly made me regret sleeping away the opportunity sitting in the seat beside me. In my thirties, it'd been a long time since I was in a long-term relationship. I certainly was ready for more than the over-priced London flat I shared with an aging, self-indulgent cat.
"Were you here when we took off?" It seemed impossible I hadn't noticed him when I took my window seat.
He laughed, and I hoped it wasn't at me. Had I snored--drooled?
"I arrived late. The doors were already closing when I got to the gate. They let me sit in first class during take--off, but threw me out once we were in the air. As much as I regretted my expulsion from the luxury of wide, leather seats and free drinks, I was looking forward to a pleasant crossing when I saw whom I'd be traveling with."
"I'm a nervous flyer; a white knuckler who thinks booze and pills were invented for just these situations."
"Pity," he said. "I imagined you were Sleeping Beauty just waiting for a kiss."
I groaned inwardly. "My name is Anna. I'm so sorry we didn't get to talk."
The plane was only half full, most of the passengers already deplaned.
"Perhaps we still can. I'm in Toronto for the week; perhaps I can take you to dinner?"
By now he was already standing, pulling out his bag from the overhead. He leaned back down and handed me his business card.
"My nane is David Carter. I'll be staying at the Harbor Castle. Call me if you find yourself free one evening."
He helped me remove my bag, flashed me another one of those dazzling smiles and headed toward the door after repeating the invitation and wishing me a successful trip.
I was the last one off the plane, but I was in no hurry to shake off the pleasant encounter. I thought I spotted him in customs, but the lines moved quickly. Before I knew it, I was in a taxi and heading to a hotel I'd booked. Jimmy seemed annoyed I wasn't heading straight for the house, but I insisted. I owed him nothing and needed a little time to transition before I could face our reunion.
In the morning I called my brother and decided to meet at the funeral home. Jimmy had gone through the motions, but hadn't done much. Arrangements had to be made, a choice he'd deferred until I arrived. I'd left London numb to the reality that both my parents were dead and Jimmy was my only close living relative. As I drove the rental car towards my old neighborhood, I softened and put myself in his shoes. He was still a kid, forced home from university to deal with a parent's death. I was all he had left.
The last time I saw Jimmy, he was in the throes of puberty, acne competing with peach fuzz and teenage angst. Mother's death had not been unexpected. She'd battled cancer for years, but Jimmy was devastated. It wasn't cool to admit a major part of my leaving home and taking residence halfway across the world was because of my brother. I was a teenager when he was born and cast into the role of prime caregiver. I'd been deeply resentful and feared I still harbored negative feelings.
I wouldn't have recognized Jimmy on the street. Wearing faded jeans, a TV shirt that looked overdue for a good laundering and an unkempt storm of bristles on his chin, he looked miscast in the formal lobby. He rose as soon as I pushed through the door and gave me an awkward hug.
"Thanks for coming."
I wondered if I had a choice, but within seconds, it became clear my arrival was a relief. "Let's get this over with. We can talk later."
The entire process took less than an hour. Jimmy agreed to everything without a trace of emotion, surprising me when he pulled out a checkbook and paid the entire cost.
"Dad put me on the account after I went off to college. I guess he''d know a day like this one..." His voice was almost apologetic, but he perked up like a child suffering until recess when I said I'd pick up a bucket of chicken and meet him at the house.
He was opening a beer when I walked in with our lunch. I raised an eyebrow and looked at the kitchen clock; not quite noon.
"Want one? There's coke or ginger ale if you prefer."
It was odd to see Jimmy with a beer in his hand, primarily because I was trying to adjust to the young man I hadn't seen in a decade, but it was the first time I'd ever seen alcohol in the house.
"Oh, there are all kinds of secrets in this house, ' he said. "Take this, for instance. Dad died clutching it in his hand."
At first I was distracted by the shimmering lights that painted the kitchen walls as the sunlight hit and reflected off the burgundy beads. Shocked when I picked it up, I stated the obvious. "It's a rosary."
"Yup. I thought maybe the priest gave it to him when he administered the last rites, but I checked. He said Dad had then in his hand when he arrived."
"Last rites?" There was an early attempt to send me to Sunday school at St. Michaels, but they never went to church and I screamed bloody murder every week until they dropped the issue. I thought my parents were atheists. This was tough to digest.
"It was probably a late life conversion, a little insurance plan with no down side." Jimmy was gnawing through the chicken like he hadn't eaten in a week. "There's a whole closet in the basement with papers and stuff, probably the stuff for the house."
I couldn't believe he took the appearance of the rosary so lightly. Had he been raised by different parents? Maybe they'd mellowed, but I'd been reared with a distinct line between right and wrong, black and white. Hypocrisy was at the top of the list of deadly sins.
"There are bottles down there too, if you prefer something besides beer."
Booze? In my parents' house?
The odd thing, I mused, was I couldn't even remember a cupboard down in the basement, but it'd been a long time since I'd grown up in this house. I picked up the rosary beads, feeling some comfort from the glossy finish of the garnet beads.
So much of the house remained frozen in time; heavy inherited furniture, too clumsy for the suburban bungalow. Tapestry drapes filled with dust and family pictures lining the mantle above the electric fireplace, stood out against brightly painted white walls. Jimmy excused himself to make phone calls, a chore I was grateful to pass on. I neither knew whom my parents associated with nor where their address book might be located. I decided to investigate the basement.
The stairs, narrow and treacherous led into a dark, poured-concrete basement with only a single, ineffective window at the far end. An old wire hung from a rafter, a bare light-bulb casting its forty-watt dismal glow across the gray floor. I recognized my mother's writing on some of the boxes; Christmas decorations, Halloween costumes, but they were of no interest. I knew we would donate them, unopened, to The Salvation Army or Goodwill. On the opposite wall, I saw the door; the old root cellar. Could that be the closet Jimmy mentioned?
The door was heavy and stubborn. I slipped the rosary around my neck and tried again with both hands. It finally budged, the rusty hinges creaking in protest. Built under the front porch, the cool air that escaped was at least twenty degrees colder than in the house. I flicked a light switch, and surprising me, the ceiling light came on.
Inside, the contents were as expected and a little disappointing. A fifty-pound sack of potatoes stood in the corner, no doubt as rotten as the forgotten squash on the shelf that had rotted and atrophied, leaving a stain on the raw lumber shelf. A few preserving jars, covered with so much dust their inedible contents would remain a forever mystery, stood like sentinels guarding a dozen or more bottles of alcohol. The only other items in the room were an old suitcase and a cardboard box. I flipped open the lid and saw the binder. 'Just in case' it was labeled. Inside the binder, my mother's death certificate, wrapped in cellophane, lay on top on the first page. As I turned the pages, a deep sigh escaped my lips; my father's last will. I picked up the box and went upstairs. I was afraid it was going to be messy, lawyers and transatlantic frustrating phone calls, but it seemed everything to settle the estate was in the box.
By the time the afternoon light settled on the south side of the street, I'd shed my tears, accepted the emotional exhaustion and waited for Jimmy. Genuinely afraid to venture upstairs, I thought a look at my old bedroom would take me over the edge. I went back downstairs and retrieved the vodka. I'd poured my second drink when Jimmy reappeared. He walked past me, as if totally familiar with the mess people could create. Papers strewn everywhere, scrunched up tissues and the rosary back in my hands should have alerted him something was wrong, but he acted as if everything was normal.
"Need more ice?" he asked, standing in the doorway, a fresh beer in his hand.
I shook my head.
"And now you know; mother was a nun." He took a long draw on the bottle and leaned back on the overstuffed sofa he'd dropped into. "Does it explain a few things to you?"
"No." I shook my head. "Why? The nuns wouldn't have kicked her out. Lots of girls arrive pregnant."
"Yes, they do, and the babies were placed in fine homes after birth, given to Christian families who ouldn't have babies on their own. But Mother didn't arrive pregnant. You weren't paying attention to the dates."
"You know all this? You never told me?" I was angry at someone I hardly knew. I knew this, knew my thoughts were bouncing around my head like a ping-pong ball. It wasn't enough to keep me from lashing out.
"It's not like you were around to have these chats." He sighed and inhaled deeply. "You look like her, you know...same wavy hair and bright blue eyes...except you're confident--sure of yourself. Mom made one decision--a big one--then retreated into submission."
"I adored her, but I hated that she never spoke up for herself; she let Daddy treat her like a doormat."
"Do you really think so, Anna?"
"Of course I do. She walked around as if she owed the world an apology for taking space. I suppose...finding out she was a nun...in a convent...makes things a little more blurry to me now. Was this her rosary?"
Jimmy nodded, but didn't speak. The rosary beads seemed warm, as if they were generating heat on their own...as if my mother was holding my hand as I grappled with the truth.
"And, Daddy....did he know mother was a nun?"
Jimmy broke out laughing. "Before I answer, let me ask if you want to go out to eat or order in? I have a feeling you're going to want a lot more vodka."
Part of me wanted to be angry at Jimmy. He laughed easily--mostly at me--but there was no judgment in his amusement. He included me, as if he was about to reveal an inside joke. Still I felt excluded, on the perimeter of family secrets only he knew. He distracted me with stories while we ate our Chinese food and waited until I'd folded up the cartons, declaring an end to our food orgy before he told me about the final chapter.
"They both struggled with their past."
Jimmy droned on about our father. It was obvious he loved him, but his father was not, could not possibly be the same as the stern, disciplinarian I remembered. And, then he told me...
"He was a priest. They never married, you know, believing if their union could not be blessed in the Catholic Church, it meant nothing at all."
I suppose if religion meant something to me, I might have understood the intense life-long pain of the circumstances, but far more shocking to learn that two devout parents gave it up--just gave it up...their inner convictions...their church...
When I said as much out loud to Jimmy, he shook his head. "They didn't give up their faith; not at all. The church gave up on them--condemned them. They never turned away from God."
The rosary felt like it was burning my skin. I felt like the crucifix was staring at me, accusing eyes. I dropped it on the coffee table. Jimmy threw an arm over my shoulders.
"I suppose you were the great experiment, a child of love raised without the doctrine. I seriously doubt you were some sacrificial lamb, but after Mother died, I guess it was inevitable I would hear about Dad's wrestle with Satan."
"And you think I'm Lucifer's daughter?" The self-pity was churning with my outrage.
"No, I absolutely don't. Our parents were proud of you--in spite of their moral dilemma. I'm just glad I still have a sister."
After hours spent getting to know each other as adults, we went to sleep in our old childhood bedrooms under the rafters of our family home. The brother whom I thought of as an obnoxious brat had turned into a compassionate young man.
Without knowing my parents history, I'd grown up feeling disconnected. I'd seen my mother the way she appeared in my life script, exceedingly kind, but docile, seeming to lack ambition or sense of self. My friends had mothers who were cool; they went shopping, together gossiped and shared common interests. The overwhelming memory I carried with me was an enduring smile, even when she was dying. I didn't see the great love she felt for my father, and the choices they'd made for me.
I envied Jimmy's intimate relationship with my father, until he told me he too remembered our stern, unapproachable father. It all change with Jimmy's sudden fascination with theology. They'd found common ground and slowly the past was revealed to him during discussions, or debates, as my brother referred to their conversations.
The rosary helped me get through the next few days. I drew strength from the beads and found myself not only cleaning out the house, but somehow dealing with the clutter in my mind. Childhood prayers floated into my thoughts as I emptied closets. It felt natural to say grace before eating, a ritual I'd all but forgotten since leaving home so many years ago. By the time the funeral was in our rear-view mirror, and Jimmy and I attended to the business of dying, I'd formed a forever bond brought together by our father's death. It was bittersweet to part; Jimmy heading back to university and me, I had to catch a flight, go back to the life I'd created in London.
I boarded the plane, rosary in hand, feeling calm, totally out of character from my usual pre-flight, white-knuckled anxious state of mind. Instead of fidgeting and enduring the wait before take-off, I stared out the window at the Toronto skyline, not knowing when I'd see it again. Lost in thought, I barely noticed the activity as passengers moved down the aisle. It wasn't until someone sat down beside me that I returned to the present.
"Well, I'll be damned. What are the odds?"
I turned to look at the man sitting in the aisle seat. An involuntary smile crossed my lips. "I'm so sorry I didn't call."
"You remember me? David Carter," he said, sparing me the trouble of searching my memory banks for his name. "At your service." He held out his hand, palm up. "I'm only too delighted to hold your hand, ply you with liquor--anything to make your flight more comfortable--perhaps even memorable."
I put my hand in his as the plane began to taxi down the runway. His fingers curled around mine, and instead of fearing the lurch in my gut, a common reaction to take-off, I felt the flutter of butterflies in my stomach. He didn't let go when we hit cruising altitude, and I didn't pull away, just kept holding hands.
"Do you come to Canada often?" I asked, breaking the silence.
"Three or four times a year," but I live in London," he answered, turning his full attention to me. "I'm looking forward to spending this time together, Anna."
"Perfect," I said, my smile deepening, reflecting the happiness I felt in the moment. "Absolutely perfect."
Objects of Desire contest entry
The object chosen for me by the sponsor--ROSARY
© Copyright 2016.
All rights reserved.
has granted FanStory.com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.
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