For Dee in Paris and Richard in the Great Northwest, another excerpt from my novel Scarred Angels. The other is just down the page at Sunday Scribblings #180: Tattoo.
"My father. He drank, endlessly. My mother he beat. I grew up feeling both of them inside me, her slow death and his boundless rage. I loved - I should probably say pitied - my mother, but I cursed her as well. Him I just cursed. When I was fourteen, a freshman in high school, I stepped in between them. He, too, had a knife.
"My drinking started shortly thereafter. Back from the hospital, forty stitches in the side of my face, a priest came to visit, at my father's request. My father who sat quiet and penitent, only half-drunk, in the corner of our living room. Pray for forgiveness, my child, the priest said. I felt his words plunge deep into my chest, this man of God with his horrible ignorance. My father with his head bowed and my mother next to me, a corpse with a rosary. The priest had us all get down on our knees while he prayed over my disobedience. Mine.
"I prayed that day for revenge, and so it is, oddly, that I feel I set myself on the road to this. Daltry's death. Not that I killed her, no, nothing so grandiose. But, that day, in praying, fervently praying, for revenge, I simply joined my father, my mother, that insidious priest. The Catholic Church, I've come to find, is just another of the world's many ways of testing us.
"Katherine Fuller found me, drowning in booze and yet still floating at the top of my classes at Incarnate Word. I suppose I was not the first, nor the last, alcoholic summa cum laude. As a patron of the college, she took quite an interest in me, in both my academic exploits and my sickness. As for the latter, she'd walk up to me at the end of some function or other and say, 'You know, Miss Fisher, this must stop.' Meaning the booze. Plastered, standing there in front of her, I was furious the first time she said it and yet deep within, relieved that someone could see. In time, though I hated her for it, I came to hear her words as just another part of me, struggling to break through.
"A year after graduation, I was nested away in graduate school when my father died. I thought to myself, is this revenge enough? It must have been, because shortly thereafter, I stopped drinking. I spent a lot of time at meetings and hiding out at the Broadway Theater, but I made it. Or thought I did.
"The winter Gwen Jones died, Katherine came to me and said the position was mine if I wanted it. I told her I was no longer interested in propping up the rotten name of the Holy Catholic Church. Her answer was blunt. She said, 'Look. This isn't about propping up anything. I have a school to run and I haven't much time left. Neither, I'm afraid, does Father Niles. But we aren't idiots either; we can both smell the rot downtown in the Archdiocese. I need someone who has the time, intelligence, and guts to fight what's sure to be a very nasty war. I know you have the time and intelligence. What about the rest?' She said later, after I accepted, that no woman of strength could have ever resisted that last insult."
Her face softened as she spoke of Mrs. Fuller, and then she stopped speaking for a minute or so. Her drying hair was frizzing and caught the light from the street.
"Nine years of sobriety, eight years at St. Ann, and seven years of warfare with John Bastrop. Until this morning, despite all the heartache, I foolishly thought I was finished with revenge. Now I'm just left with seven years of war."
"You had some help."
"You, of all people, should know better than that." Said just like Marvin, without the added slurs.
"How is it our lives are parallel?"
I said, without hesitation, "I was the father in the story."
Late that evening, the decks cleared between us, Agnes walked out of the shadows of her living room and into her kitchen, where she flipped on the light. I heard her rummaging through drawers, cabinets, the refrigerator. A meal was being prepared.
I walked to the door of her small galley kitchen. "I should be going."
She looked at me and said something other than what her eyes were saying. "It's nothing special, just some sandwiches. Is tuna fish okay?"
The look of violence I'd seen in her eyes when I first met her, a shadow of which I had still seen in the year and a half that followed, was gone. The blue in them had deepened, pulling me as they had that first day at her office, but without the accompanying resistance. The fear and hesitation in her kitchen were entirely mine.
We ate our sandwiches back in the streetlit living room, munching on potato chips between our bites of tuna. I gathered our dishes and straightened the kitchen while Agnes made her couch into a bed.
"You can have my room," she said, as I flipped the light off in the kitchen.
"I'd rather be in here," I replied. "The streetlamp'll be a good night light," I added, trying unsuccessfully to loosen the knot within me.
She touched the bruise at my temple, where her glass had hit. I saw her about to speak and stopped her.
"Agnes," I said. "Marvin, my sponsor, says that all things come to drunks for a reason. Given that, I doubt there's any need for apologies or regret here."
She set her palm lightly on the side of my face, something Jenny used to do years ago. For a moment, in the shadows of that second story apartment, I felt a strong sense of dislocation.
"Good night, Mac," she said and walked out of the room. I lay on the couch and listened first to the sound of water in the bathroom, and then later the sound of her voice humming softly. The bathroom door opened and her footsteps padded down the wooden floor of the hallway to her bedroom. She turned her light off, but I heard no click of a door closing. I fell asleep while listening to the rise and fall of her breathing.
Daltry came to me that night in my dreams. I was seated in a chair in the middle of the cafeteria. The large cavernous room was lit by a brilliant whiteness which enveloped Daltry as she walked towards me. She held the hand of a young boy, eight or nine years old, dressed in the suit of a priest. As she stepped up to me, she gave me the boy's hand and whispered in my ear, "Pray for Father John, Mac. All God's children gotta come home." She kissed me and left me sitting with the boy, the boy John Bastrop had been.
I woke with a splitting headache, still hours before dawn. I felt the presence of the boy in the room with me; my hand tingled from his touch. Unable to go back to sleep, I moved a chair to the window and gazed out at the dark shape of St. Ann.