A few miles away from here, there’s a lady singing in a bar, and I love her, and she loves me. But I’m not at the bar now. I should be, but as I open up the church door and slip inside, I remind myself that there is more important work to do tonight. Something I’ve been putting off for a long while, and the time to complete it grows short.
I cross myself, breathing in the warm air and the silence as I look around. Dim flickering light draws my attention. There is a small horseshoe of lit white candles in the sanctuary, along with some incense that fills the small side room with cedar and rose scented smoke. I smile to myself. Father Deegan’s never been one who was much for staying in the lines. “Anything can be done in the name of the Father,” he used to say in his soft Irish accent. Even ritual smoke cleansings, apparently. I finger the hematite stone in my coat pocket. It’s funny how certain things become so obvious if one knows how to look.
The sound of heavier footsteps behind me makes me turn. There’s himself, bustling along (the man knows not how to move slowly), long skinny limbs with jeans and plaid overshirt flapping. The only indication he’s not a late night handyman is the white collar that peeks across his Adam’s apple. He sees me and waves, and I can see the glint of teeth in his smile. “Beverly Chang!” he says, pleased. “I wasn’t sure you’d make it.” I close the gap between us and he shakes my hand. “It’s been a long time, eh?”
“It has,” I reply. “Too long.” I’m all fluttery in the stomach at seeing him. Though the man is gifted at swift motion, the point of a conversations often takes him a while to find. “Are you well?”
“Ah, well enough,” he says, waving his hand. It shakes a little. “But how are you? I must admit, I was surprised to get your email, given how long it has been since you last came to see us. But death makes inquisitors of us all, I suppose, and it is entirely right that you are here.”
I laugh. “I feel a little like my teenage self, sneaking back into the house long after curfew, doing my damndest to pretend I never left.” It’s been many years since I was last in a church, and I’m half expecting to be struck by a stray lightning bolt.
“Oh, but Bev, you never did,” says Father Deegan. “Although your practice may have changed - and I have to admit, smoke cleansing is well useful, thank you for that tip - it all goes to the same place. Different roads, same destination.” He leads me to the altar steps and we sit down, his knees groaning a little as he stretches his legs out.
“I never heard that perspective from the nuns at St. James,” I say. “I remember the first time I brought a sigil to school to help me on a math test, I’ve no idea how Sister Mary knew I had it, but my goodness. She made me burn it, gave me bloody knuckles, and then still made me take the test, which of course I failed miserably.”
Father Deegan nods. “I’ve heard similar stories from some of the other students. Sister Mary had fear in her heart that she covered up with layers of devotion, but there’s only so much earth to bury your lies. Truth outs, no mistake, like sunflowers tracking the sun across the sky.”
A beat of silence, and then my real questions pops out out of my mouth before I can jam it back in. “When my mother died, was there fear in her heart? Did she go… was it all right?”
Father Deegan looks at me for a measuring moment. “She didn’t want to. Anyone could see that. But everyone has their time. Just because she didn’t want to go, doesn’t mean it was wrong or that…” he seems to struggle for words, then changes tack. “The universe is wiser than us tiny mortals. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” I reply. “But she clung. Is that what you mean?”
“Even after her heart stopped, you could feel her in the room for several minutes,” he says. “Yes. Tooth and nail, she clung. Because she loved you so, and because she loved life.” He pauses. “Has she been bothering you?”
“Not... bothering,” I say carefully. “But she does make herself known. Glasses get knocked off the kitchen table, sometimes some of her kitchen utensils go missing. Asking for them helps bring them back, but they’re never in the same spot as I left them.”
“But these aren’t unhappy things,” Father Deegan points out. “If you were hearing screams in the night, let’s say, or dreams in which she seemed to be in distress, I might worry then. She’s just saying hello.” He pats my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid, you can’t love. They live side by side in our hearts, and you choose between them each moment, each breath.”
I nod. “Thank you, Father. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someone to see.”
He rises. “Tell Elona hi for me. We’d love to see the two of you at Mass sometime.” He starts walking up the aisle. I frown after him. I’d never told him her name.
“How did you…” I call, following after him.
He turns briefly as he enters the sanctuary. “You’re not the only one in this town blessed with a little extra vision, Beverly.” I can see the glint of his smile as he blows out the white candles and pinches the incense with a handkerchief. “So mote it be,” I mutter under my breath, my fingers curling around the stone in my pocket. So mote it be.