Umber (53.3 –Ervin’s Story)

October 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

She led me into the little house, and introduced me to an old Irish lady named Brigid.  A skinny, sickly little girl sat on the couch, holding a cat.

“Oleander, say hello to your cousin Ervin,” her mama told her.

Oleander smiled at me and said  “Hello, Cousin.”

The old lady brought us tea and a plate of coconut macaroons while Vera and I talked about all that had happened since the last time I’d seen her, on the day she’d eloped with Leroy.

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Umber (53.2 — Ervin’s Story)

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well, talk about your coincidences!  I was just sitting behind the wheel, wondering what I was doing in a strange neighborhood in a strange city watching snowflakes pile up on the windshield, when down the sidewalk came my cousin.

I leaped out of the truck and yelled, “Verey!”

She was as shocked as I was, but happy–no, overjoyed– to see me.  I tried to explain how I’d just gotten into the truck and it had led me across several states, right to her house.

“Oh, cousin,” she said as she took my hand and hauled me toward the porch.  “Maybe you can help me figure out what to do.”

Umber (53.1 — Ervin’s Story)

October 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

Ervin’s photo spoke to me again.

“I really didn’t know where I was going when I borrowed Uncle Orville’s truck.  I found myself driving down the highway, headed north.  I noticed the road signs, but let the truck follow its own course.  I stopping to fill the gas tank occasionally, and to nap, and after a couple of long days of driving, I parked outside of a small house in a neighborhood in Laramie, and said, ‘Okay truck, now what?'”

Umber (52.3 — Miss Brigid Talks to Sioban)

October 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Miss Brigid continued:  “We moved the bed from the window to another part of the living room.  We did as much as we could to make her better.  Miss Vera even brought home a kitten, which Oleander named Fluffy Ruffles.  The little girl’s spirits have gradually improved; her body just can’t seem to recover.

“The doctor checked in on her just this morning.  He told Miss Vera that the rheumatic fever had damaged Oleander’s heart.  The only way she will survive is if she leaves Laramie and moves to a lower elevation.”

“Well, Sister,” I heard the mirror say to Brigid, “you’d better start packing.”

Umber (52.2 — Miss Brigid talks to Sioban)

October 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

We didn’t realize that besides seeing her friends walk to school, Oleander was also seeing her good-for-nothing louse of a father drive his car past the window on his way to the trick rider hussy’s house.  I used to wonder why the little girl looked so sad in the afternoons before her mother got home from work.

Finally one day, I brought her some tea and a biscuit and asked her if she wanted me to tell her a story.  She looked up at me and said, “Daddy just drove by, Miss Brigid.  I see his car almost every day.  I always think he’s going to pull into our driveway and come to visit me because I’m sick, and maybe he’ll bring me another puppy.  He’ll tell me I’m better than Luther and Lorraine put together, and that Mama is more beautiful than ten July Benbows.  But he never stops, he just drives down the street to her house.”

I tried to think of something comforting to tell her, but I couldn’t come up with anything.

Umber (52.1 — Miss Brigid talks to Sioban)

September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Poor Miss Vera!  Poor Miss Vera!  What’s she going to do now!  Oh, saints preserve us!”

Miss Brigid’s thin, quavering voice sounded from the depths of the box of photos.  I fished it out of the heap.  Apparently she was talking to her sister in the mirror again.

“When we got home from church after Father Vanderweyden scolded little Oleander so loudly in the confessional, the poor little girl looked sick.  We thought she was just upset, but the next evening she was running a high temperature.  Miss Vera sent me to fetch the doctor.

“He told us that Oleander had rheumatic fever, and was too sick to go to school.   Miss Vera and I were so worried. I don’t understand why Miss Vera had to have so many troubles all at once.  How she kept going about her daily chores I don’t know, but the strain was beginning to show, on her face, in the way she walked, in the sound of her voice.

“Eventually Oleander seemed to get a bit better, but she was still too weak to go to school.  She didn’t feel like playing with paper dolls anymore; in fact, she just lay in her bedroom most of the time, just sleeping or staring at the ceiling.

“Miss Vera and I thought it would be good for her to have a change of scenery, so we made a bed for her in the living room, right by the window, so she could wave at her friends as they walked to school.  We thought it would cheer her up, but we made a terrible mistake.”

Umber (51.5 — The Statues of the Saints)

September 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I told her about bilocation, yes.

“I said, ‘Vera, saints can be in lots of places at the same time.  Didn’t you ever wonder how we could talk at St. Agnes’ Church, then you could go home and converse with the little statue of me?  Did you think I just followed you about?  I couldn’t do that, since I needed to be present on a few thousand other pedestals around the world. not to mention on holy cards and in prayer book illustrations.  Thousands of people talk to me every day, but just a few can hear me answer back.’

“‘So,’ she asked, ‘how can you be in so many places at once?’

” ‘Bilocation,’ I told her. ‘Look it up in your Catholic dictionary.  It should be called multilocation, because I can be in a multitude of spots all at once.  And I don’t just stand around looking pious and tortured all the time.  I travel the world, I write, I even go hiking.  Michael and I were at the bottom of the Grand Canyon just the other day.  It’s one of the benefits of sainthood.’ ”

“I offered to teach Vera the secret of bilocation, so she could both remarry and not remarry at the same time, but she said it wouldn’t be right.  When I tried harder to convince her, she got angry and threw a dishtowel at me.”

“Well,” Teresa thoughtfully replied, ” maybe there’s another way to help her.”

Umber (51.4 — The Statues of the Saints)

September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I wonder how Vera is,” Saint Cecilia murmured.

“As a matter of fact, Laramie was one of my stops,” Sebastian replied.  “Vera finally worked up the gumption to toss Leroy out on his ear–he had it coming–and now she’s trying to support herself, her little girl, and a deranged old Irish lady.  You know, the one who tells stories about the leprechauns being out to get everybody.  Now that Leroy is out of the picture, Vera finally brought out the little statue of me that Father Hoolihan gave her years ago when she became a Catholic.  I couldn’t communicate with her until she brought that statue out, because there isn’t one of me at the church in Laramie.

“So at last I was able to converse with her.  She is in the midst of a crisis, poor girl.  Her child is quite ill and may not survive.  Vera is afraid that she will be alone for the rest of her life, never to remarry, because those are the rules.”

“Can her daughter talk to statues?” Agnes asked him.

“No she has a different gift, but a potentially dangerous one, even though the girl has only good intentions.  That’s one of the reasons I needed to speak with Vera.  But I’m afraid I’ve upset her.”

“Well, why am I not surprised,” Theresa interjected.

“I told her that rules often serve a purpose, but that sometimes they are wrong.  ‘Vera,” I said, ‘ What if I told you that, in a few decades, it will be perfectly alright to eat meat on Fridays.  And if you want to go to Mass on Saturday instead of Sunday, that will be fine as well.  And some day the Pope himself will condone birth control.  And I have traveled far enough into the future to know that someday the Church will not condemn remarriage.’

“Vera was taken aback, and wanted to know how I could get to the future.”

Teresa and Catherine gasped in unison.  “You told her?!  You told her about—about—“

Umber (51.3 — The Statues of the Saints)

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bathed in dim colored light that that filtered through the large rose window at the back of the church, Vera’s father held his hat in his hand and stared about the ornate sanctuary.  The scent of frankincense filled his nostrils.  He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his nose, then sat down heavily at the back of the church, in the same pew where Vera had perched some years earlier, holding baby Alfred and wondering what lay behind the confessional doors.

Orville sat in silence for a long while and stared at the statues.  Then he finally started speaking aloud.

“I drove my youngest child away because she believed in you, the way her mother did.  I would give anything to have those lost years back.  I’m fifty years old, but I still have a lot to learn.

He wiped his eyes.

“”I know she can hear you, or at least she used to.  Please tell her to come home.  And tell her I’m sorry for being a pig-headed, self-righteous old fool.”

With that, he got up to leave.  Just as he was about to go out the door, he hesitated, turned and walked to the statue of St. Sebastian.  He picked up a match, struck it, and lit a candle.  Not sure what else to do, he nodded at the statue, turned toward the door, and walked out.

Umber (51.2 — The Statues of the Saints)

September 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

St. Theresa yawned, brushed a rose petal off of her veil, and stared solemnly at the shadowy figure who came out of the confessional.  She looked like a disgruntled sixth grade teacher.

“He knows,” she said accusingly as the shadow approached her.  “I hope you’re happy.”

“Who knows?  Knows what?”

“The priest, Sebastian, the priest!  Father Hoolihan.  We did our best to distract him, but he knows you were gone.  When he started toward your pedestal, I flapped my cape, to make the candle flames flicker.  Michael thumped on his armor, Catherine rattled her wheel back and forth, Joan and Agnes started singing, but he ignored us all and walked straight to the empty spot where you’re supposed to stand.  And he saw your arrows scattered all over the floor.  Careless, careless!  Always breaking the rules!  Selfish, selfish!  If you wanted to leave, why didn’t you do it the right way?  We have rules for a reason; they’re not just arbitrary.”

“Are you sure they’re not arbitrary, Theresa?  But I don’t want to get into that right now.  I am sorry Hoolihan noticed I was gone.  I wouldn’t want to confuse him any more than he already is, the poor wretch.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning he really doesn’t enjoy wearing the collar.  He only became a priest because his family expected it.  So now he’s stuck in a role that doesn’t fit him.  He’s been pining away for a certain woman for years now, but he won’t do anything about it.  Like you said, it’s against the rules.”

“Well, Sebastian, if you keep being so careless about your comings and goings, he won’t have to worry about being a priest much longer.  The archbishop was here while you were away, and I overheard him say to his secretary, ‘Saint Sebastian used to stand right there, I wonder what happened to him?’ If they find out in Rome that the priest can’t keep his statues in line, then so long Father Hoolihan.”

“That might not be so bad, really.”

Sebastian hopped up on his pedestal, and reinserted an arrow in his neck just as the vestibule door swung open.  A tired man with a care-worn face stepped into the sanctuary.

It was Orville Birdsall, Vera’s father.