He looked up.
At the very top something grew from the stone, and touched the sky.
He wanted to see it.
The ledge was too high and too smooth.
He tried to get a grip as his shoe scraped for a niche in the stone.
Too bundled for winter’s cold, it was difficult to move.
He thought they brought him to the Ledge to climb it. That it was important.
Why else would they nod, and urge him on?
He had to do it, for them, and to see the thing that touched the sky.
Hands cold and raw; foot slipping; he looked at them and started to cry.
They nodded and waved him on.
A niche; he found it, and pressed down as he pulled up until he lay on top of the ledge. With great excitement, he stood triumphant, and turned to see if they saw.
Silent claps––that waved him on.
Ledge after ledge, triumph after triumph, until he stood on its very top as if he had conquered his small world.
For a moment, he forgot what was below as he stared at what was above––that thing that touched the sky, that hid the sun. What was it? A big house? Big stones, one on top of the other? And a big red door? What was behind it? He had to know. Would they take him through it?
He turned, looked down at all the ledges to their very bottom. He couldn’t count, but he knew each one had helped him to the next. He remembered he’d been to the Ledge before. That he had fallen, and cried. Now he had climbed all of them, without a fall, or a cry.
He ignored the hurt of his hands, and instead, jumped up and down, and flapped his arms like a chick bird flown from its nest. Then, with great expectation, he looked at them.
But they were looking at each other––not him––his greatest triumph.
He had¬ climbed the Ledge because he thought that is what they wanted. Instead, their faces were touching and ignoring his.
He felt a disappointment, worse than hunger or pain, and he cried out in anger.
They had to know of his hurt––his importance––his needs, not theirs.
So, he cried out again¬¬––louder as if to punish them.
Look at me––me, me, me. I have climbed the ledge.
Is climbing not important?
Of this cold, sunny day, in 1932, he would not forget his first recollection of being alive, of being human. For him, it would be the first day of the rest of a strange childhood. Like all others his age, he would grow to know of persistence, disappointment, anger, selfishness, approval, rejection, of being wanted, and of the unexpected –– of the bad wolf.
I am now more than eight tenth of a century, imagine! Somehow I can still see that little kid. And, I can still see them as they sat on those church steps, their eyes on each other.
What is it they saw? It was one of the few tender moments I ever witnessed between them. The picture is still sharp in my mind. So is the Ledge and its red door. I often wondered why the steps were those of a church. Did it have some meaning for later thoughts? I am not a church person. Haven’t been for a long time. But, God? Oh yes, I’m a big fan of God.
In my mind, I still climb the Ledge to open my red door. Only I have the key.
What did the Ledge teach me?
That stonemasons make ledges with simple tools, and care. Like parents make kids––and not put them in some gray room with a guy who probes trying to tell them why they’re so screwed up. That room––I hated it––for five long years. It’s why I told the story to myself first. Self therapy could have saved me a lot of needed bucks.
This then, is what my story is about. About the weakness and strengths of men and women. Their wasted gifts and their gifted determination. About what they were handed down, and in turn what we received.
It’s about a Great Depression, and how it bred the best of people in the worst of times.
It’s about what’s behind that red door –– they are not all angels, you know.
But mostly it’s about love and hate. Flip a coin.
I call it my story, but it’s really their’s. Maybe, in part, it’s yours too.
Telling it was a cure of sorts, a blood letting that added a few years for this old guy. And I am forever grateful for the extension that allowed me to tell it. Actually, I made a deal with God. Let me write this story, I said, and I’ll be on my way. After the first draft, I thought that was it. Then, I learned about rewrites––trying to get it right.
Damn, more extensions.
This is my Twelfth.
Didn’t mean to fool God.
Now I’ll put a cover on it, let you read it –– figure it out.
I still can’t. Tell me if you can.
You must know this about my story. It’s as true as the words handed down; as true as its whispers, as true as the weekly calls to Madrid, where my Spanish aunt, now age 96, remembered its beginnings. It’s as true as I remember, and as true as my imagination would allow, which perhaps, is the deeper truth of its chapters.
As I searched for answers, and filled the sheets, I believe that I came to know them better than they knew the truth of their own lives.
As I became them, and probed deeper, I came to know a guilt that he never knew, and a love that she could never own.
The boy was put into the story for no other reason than to make sense of it. What a powerful chemical, desperation is –– for them, for us all.
A word about the voices: I believe that they exist in all of us. Who we choose to listen to is what makes us what we are. The what, why, and the how of our lives is controlled by the voices. They can shout or whisper, but they never leave us, above all, in the calm of night when we lay our heads and try to escape.
Demons? –– might be a stretch, but who knows? Look at the world.
Good wolf, bad wolf? ––look around you. Look behind the mirror.
In closing, I ask, Can you remember? That first recollection of being alive? Of being human? Still in awe of life, trying to figure out what was going on? Where you fit in? Who and
what you were meant to copy? To be what you’ve become.
Think. Go back. Take it for a walk. Take it to bed. Dream. Plug it into that part of the brain that stores such things. It’s all there, you know. You too have a story to tell.
Go back to your beginning, like I did. Then come back to this moment. And ask, what it is that you handed down? Or will someday.
In my story, we start with a small girl and her strange journey.
Faces We See
Hearts We Don’t Know
April 3rd 1914, Santander, Spain.
She is quiet about her tears as she is taken from all that she loves to something she does not understand. The packing, the ride, no Dayita, no papa, the hurry to a new home somewhere.
It is not a Spanish sound. She does not like it, and scrunches her shoulders from the cool damp air. The sight of a huge freighter, a steal mountain, frightens her as she steps from the treasured soil of her birth to the ship’s wooden gangplanks.
An inner voice warns her, No, Maria de la Cruz, do not go. They will not bring you back.
Her mother pulls.
She pulls back––her thin body falls forward.
They must hurry. There is no time to explain … again.
With great patience, she had been told.
And, with great defiance she did not listen, except for the words; papa and America. She’s anxious to see her papa. Where is he? Where has he gone?
Like her mother, she cradles a small baby in her arms. Hers is made of cloth and is dressed in calico and gingham. She cuddles and speaks to it with a hidden fear. “Tia, do not be afraid, mami has you.”
At age three, she is puzzled by what she can and cannot see from the congestion of noise that surrounds her. From the rear, people shout, wave, and weep their goodbyes. Before her, there is only the huge dark wall of the ship as it rocks in the water.
She imagines it’s alive.
A great monster that awaits her, Tia, her mami, and her baby sister, Martina.
The ship blares with the loudest, most terrible sound she has ever heard––a hungry voice eager to swallow them.
Above is the dense fog of a ghostly world where big white birds float in and out.
She pulls back, refuses to take another step, and cries out, “Quiero ir a casa, mami.” She wants to go home, to her room, to the quiet, to her garden with its pretty flowers.
Her mother pulls her forward. They must hurry.
She takes a garden rose from her coat, and puts it to her cheek.
The last piece of her cherished life as if she will never return.
As if the steel monster will be her new home.
Crowds and their noise are not strangers to her. Nor are the boats in the harbor. She is a child of a city with its many celebrations. Ancient festivals are in its genes: The carnival Santona with its decorated floats. The Feast of Saint John that hugs the port of Castro Uridales. Semana Grande fills the air with its crazed hours for a full week. They are Spanish sounds.
They are her.
Even at such a young age, she loves being Spanish, and is afraid she is being taken from it. That she will no longer be Spanish.
Her tiny limbs climb the gangplanks that bridge the waters beneath her. She looks down, and feels chilled at the world below.
Afraid of falling, she squeezes Tia, and the hand that holds her. The rose falls, and she can only watch as it disappears far below.
The baby’s cries are constant as if it she too is being forced into a strange world with its unknown sounds. The big sister is quick to cover her ears while holding her Tia.
Her mother bends down, hugs her, and speaks words of comfort.
But the freighter, like the great monster it is, roars again, and again.
With her eyes tightly shut, she cries out, “No, mami, mi casa. Por favor, no America.”
On the ship’s deck, she is tired, and with Tia in her arms, she lays her head beside her baby sister. She dearly loves her sister, not because it is her sister but because she is a baby. She closes her eyes, and goes back.
When she awakes, the big boat is far out to sea. She looks around; An empty deck, flooded with sunlight. She looks out beyond the deck with its metal railings, and sees nothing but water and sky. Everything is gone, her house, her garden, her small dog, Dayita –– all she has ever known has disappeared. The ship is now her home, the great ocean, her garden.
And she cries hard in the softness of her mami.
On the fourth night out, the endless waves of the great Atlantic rise up, and toss the freighter like a child’s boat. There are cannon sounds of thunder, and cracks of lightening. The ship dips and rolls with painful moans as if to hold itself together.
It awakens the small girl, and her body stiffens. She holds Tia, and peers across the vast interior of the boat with its flickering lights. She cannot speak or cry out. She can only watch and listen. The voices sound afraid. Children cry. She wants to cry but doesn’t. Not anymore. She is too brave. She is not like them. She is a special big girl now––very special.
The ship takes a steep plunge in the angry waters as if it has been turned upside down.
The cries multiply, and grow louder.
She wills herself not to cry as she clings to her mami.
Lights stutter and the belly of the freighter becomes as black as the midnight sea.
Suddenly, she is pulled from her mother.
As she slides and tumbles along the metal flooring with its nubs of rivets, she can hear the cries of her mami’s voice.
With one arm she reaches back, with the other she holds Tia. Her legs flail like the rag doll she clutches to her heart. “Mami, mami,” she cries out as she rolls into the arms of an old woman, and for a moment, she thinks it is the darkness that holds her until the woman whispers in her ear, hums softly, and caresses her.
In her mother’s arms, once more, her voice is sweetly sharp, as she asked, “Mami, we going to die?
“No, no, my Maria, you will live to have little ones like yourself, no worry.”
It is a promise she will grow to cherish, until ….
When he was a young man:
The exorcist, at the age of fifty three, looked more like a punch drunk fighter, than a man of the cloth. A deceiving look for a such a good soul. Some believed his pugnacious look alone was enough to tame the demons. On a warm July day in 1926, Father Daniel Coin sat facing, a much younger priest, Father William Brett, the secretary to Cardinal Dennis Joseph Dougherty. Between them was a gray steel desk encumbered with manila folders, and neat piles of typed reports. Small statues doubled as paper weights. A large wooden cross hung in contrast to the whitewashed walls of the small office. Behind the assistant, an oversized window allowed center city Philadelphia to intrude in a quiet way.
“I need permission to see a young man,” Father Coyne said, then paused, “its more like a favor to a friend, Bill.”
“Whose the friend, Dan, may I ask?”
“Brother Dorotheus from LaSalle.”
“Hey, Brother D? Like in ABCD?”
“Careful, Bill, he’s a Provincial, now, similar in rank to the Christian Brothers, as our esteemed Cardinal is to the Holy Church.” Father Coin head pointed to the big double doors of the Cardinal’s stately room.
“Hold on, Dan. I say that with all due respect, D was my English teacher. He’s tight with the Cardinal. They build schools together. He’s in here a lot with Greenfield, the Jew realtor.” The young priest raised his hands in defense, “Hey, you chase the devil, Brother D chases ignorance,” your my spiritual heroes. I mean, look, Dan, out of seven hundred and thirty of us priest in the Archdiocese’s, they appointed you. You’re the purest of the gang, Dan, both in heart and soul. It’s why the demons fear you.” The young priest lowered his voice, “I know some they don’t.”
“It’s called self protection, Bill. And yes, I’ve had to do some chasing with a few in our gang, as you call them.”
Father Brett, leaned over with a half smile, squinched his face and asked as if it was a joke, though his eyes said different, “Dan, have you actually seen them? Demons? I mean their faces, what do they really look like?
“Like your’s, Bill, only not as good looking.”
Father Brett laughed, and said, “Glad I’m a holy man.”
“It’s why you’re a prime target, Bill, be careful.”
“You mean, like Christ was tempted by the devil?”
“I mean all of us.” Father Coin tapped the young priest on the chest, and said, “There’s good and bad in there, Bill. It’s a battle.”
Father Brett stared for a moment as if weighing the older priest’s words. He gave his broadest smile, and said, “So what’s up with Brother D?”
“His nephew has a problem. I want to help, if I can.”
“By all means, Dan. “Are you prepared? Never know about these things.”
“I made a confession, and said an Act of Contrition. I’m just going to talkthe boy. Its not an exorcism. No need to attend mass.”
“What’s his problem?”
“Black moods. Heavy drinker.”
“Yeah, young bottle demons.” I’ll make a note for the Cardinal.”
“Thanks Bill. Tell his Eminence, I’m just exploring.”
“Never know, Dan, remember that kid last year?”
“The young girl?”
“Remember what happened?”
Dan nodded, and said, “All too well, Bill, all too well.”
The old Irish woman looked anxious as she waited for the knock on her front door. Thirty seconds couldn’t pass without a glance at the kitchen clock. She busied herself boiling the water, chipping the ice, and slicing a lemon for the tea. Fresh baked scones filled the warm air with an inviting taste. Butter would be taken from the icebox at the right time—not too hard, not too soft. Yes, she’d be ready now. For it would not be just any knock, but that of a priest –– that product of her Divine God.
It was 2 P.M. when it finally happened; she hurried to the door, and opened it with a deep nod of respect.
“Miss O’Rourke?” the priest said with a smile.
“Please, Father, do come in with you. He’s in the drawing room…been drinking, he has.”
“And he knew of your coming, Father, are you able for that?”
“I am.” He paused with a nod, and said, “It might be a good thing.”
“He’s a fearful temper, now.”
“Not a problem.”
“Them terrible things.”
“The ones he’s infected with.” she made an abbreviated sign of the cross, “I say a rosary every day for the boy, Father.”
“Don’t stop,” he said.
She led him down a dark hallway to a pair of large oak sliding doors, opened one side, stepped aside, and let the priest in.
The boy stayed seated and looked away at the sight of the priest. The sallow covering of his handsome features looked as if they had never felt the warmth of the sun. It made his eyes and hair appear more black than dark brown.
As a result, the priest greeted him with a commanding voice, “Jim O’Rourke?”
“Rourkie Demon,” the boy said with a tight grin.
I’m Father Coin, a friend of your uncle Tom’s.”
“And I’m a friend of the devil.” He put two fingers to each the side of his head, and grinned.
“You’ve been drinking.”
“To meet both of us.”
“Jim and Rourkie”
“They’re the same, Jim.”
“Yeah, like day and night,” Padre. He reached for a no label bottle of beer, took a big swig, sat back with a look of defiance at the priest, and said, “Like sober and juiced, clean and dirty, normal and nuts,” he paused with a wry grin, “like ok and fucked up.”
“Mind if I sit,” the priest said.
“Want a beer?”
Father Coin waved him off.
The boy took another swallow as if to show the intrusion of the Priest in his life. He was satisfied with his hell, got use to it. The sight of the black suit and white collar created an inner disturbance, and he put the bottle to his lips––his weapon of choice.
“You know who I am?” Father Coin asked.
“Yeah, yeah, they told me.”
“Its all bullshit.”
Jim laughed, “what the fuck you here for?”
“Can we talk?”
“What are we doing, whacking off?”
Father Coin got up, walked to the door, slid it open, turned and said, “Your just a wise ass kid. Next time I want you sober, you hear?” He closed the door, and left.
A week days later, when the front door of the brown stone row house opened, Father Coin was surprise to see the clean look and bright smile of the young man who stood before him.
Father Coin gave him quick up and down glace, smiled with approval, and said, “Is your twin brother home…the ugly one.”
“My Uncle Tom performs miracles.”
“Sorry, Jim I had to tell him. My work’s too valuable. Your not the only unfortunate in this dungeon of a world.”
“I’m the one’s that’s sorry, Father. Maggie’s preparing some goodies. We’ll just hustle on in the drawing room,” he laughed and added, “my dungeon.”
Once inside, they sat across from each other by a large front window. Jim took out a pack of cigarettes, and offered one to the priest.
Father Coin put up a hand, and said, “I’d rather you not smoke, ok?”
Jim nodded, and put the pack in his shirt pocket.
“Now lets talk. This is not an exorcism, Jim, not even a confession. Your family’s worried about you.”
“You mean Maggie, and my Uncle Tom.”
“You mean, my drinking buddy.”
“Look Jim, I’m only here to talk man to man. Can you handle that?”
“Hell, let’s give it shot.”
“Good, now tell me something, something that no one else knows.”
“I know about them.”
“School? The team?”
Father Coin shook his head, “I know about them. An evil act for sure.”
“Jim, I said something no one else knows.”
Jim bit his lip, glanced at the priest, got up, walked a few steps, sat back down, and said, “I hear voices, Father.”
“To do things. Not to do things, you know.”
“Ah, our internal whispers. Our second tongue. We all have them, Jim”
“I mean, good and bad things, Father.”
“What else but good and bad?”
“Mine are different.”
“We’re all different.”
Jim pulled on his hair, and said, “They bug the crap out of me, Father.”
“They’re, like angry.”
“Yeah, I’m angry, alright.”
A head nod.
A head nod.
“I never drank until…”
“Yes, I know about that.”
“The voices, the thoughts, whatever.” Jim got up and grabbed the sides of his head, and half whispered, “Never had them till I drank.”
“They’re called bottle demons, Jim. Stop the booze and they’ll go away.”
“Yeah, easy for you.”
“Jim, let’s review what happened. Go back to the beginning. Maybe by understanding it, you can better combat it.
Jim took a deep breath, and nodded. He both liked and trusted this unusual man. A street tough priest with such soft skills.
For two hours the older priest and the older boy sat and talked interrupted only by the generosity of Maggie O’Rourke’s cold tea and fresh baked scone. The boy trembled, broke down, cried, and said things that had been imprisoned far too long.
Jim wiped his eyes, took out a cigarette, and without approval, lit up. He took three quick drags, and said, “Sorry, Father, for the tears. Funny, they never happen when I drink. I could use one right now.” He took another drag of his cigarette, smothered it in a glass ashtray, and without looking at the priest, asked, “Now what?”
“Now? Now, you get up … off canvas. There are people in your corner. Like I said, it’s your fight, Jim.
Jim gave a weak nod of disappointment. Such simple advice. No sermons –– he liked that. Not like his Uncle Tom, who could take a venial sin, and make it a short story. Still, he had expected more, especially from a demon slayer. He figured the guy had to be gifted to do that kind stuff. Brave as hell, and wise –– but short on advice. In a way, he felt foolish that he had unloaded his baggage of junk. Yet, in an other way, he felt relieved. So, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, Father, at least I’m not possessed?”
“More like troubled, I’d say.”
“Maggie’s all wet. Her and her stupid demons?”
Father Coin paused and said, “For now, at least.”
It startled Jim, and it took a moment to recover. “What’s that supposed to mean,” he said with a fixed stare at the priest.
“Weaker you get, the stronger they get.”
“Sorry, Father, but I don’t believe in that crap. No offense.”
“Then, how about the two wolves, you reminded me of them when you explained the difference between, Jim and Rourkie, and those voices that bug you –– the good and the bad.”
Jim frowned, “I don’t get it, Father.”
“Have you ever heard their story?”
Jim gave an abbreviated laugh, and said, “Like the big bad wolf, the werewolf, or … maybe the demon wolf?”
Father Coin nodded, “Your close. Its been told many times in different ways. It has a powerful message, Jim.”
Jim sat back as Father Coin took a sip of tea, and began: “A young brave had been brought before the elders of his tribe a number of times for his troubled ways. It bothered the old Cherokee chief more than the others since it was his grandson.”
“Like me and my Uncle Tom?”
The priest nodded, and continued. “And, on the final day of his life, the old chief summoned his grandson one last time. He had agonized about what to say. He deeply loved the boy and wanted to leave him with a chance to survive in life.” Father Coin stopped, sipped some tea and looked in Jim’s eyes as if to measure their interest. When Jim leaned forward, the priest resumed, “My grandson, said the chief, inside of me there is a great battle between two wolves. One is good. He is love, faith, truth, and giving. The other is evil. He is anger, greed, envy, and gluttony.” Father Coin leaned forward and grabbed Jim’s hand.
It startled Jim, he didn’t expect its quickness or strength, and he stiffened.
The priest continued, “The old chief reached out, took his grandson’s hand, and said, this same battle goes on inside you. Inside us all.”
Jim felt a searing intensity in Father Coin’s stare, and pulled his hand away.
The priest paused, grinned as if he could feel Jim’s fear, and went on, “The young brave stood there looking down on his grandfather not knowing what to say, or how to react, only knowing he liked battles, and asked, so, which wolf wins, grandfather?
Father Coin took a delayed sip of tea, and said, “Do you know? Jim”
Jim gave a slow shake of his head.
Father Coin leaned closer, and whispered, “The one you feed.”
Three days later, as they sat at a large mahogany dinner table, Maggie O’Rourke blessed herself as she looked at the priest, “Tell me, is the boy possessed, Father?” When he hesitated, she repeated, “Well, Father, does he?
“I’m afraid he does have a problem.”
“Saints in heaven, I knew it,” she waved her fingers in a flurry, “Didja rid him of them things? Didja see them, Father?”
“Them little devils.”
“I call them devils. Didja chase them away? Sprinkle some holy water?”
With a grin of assurance, he said, “There was no need of an exorcism, Miss O’Rourke, no little devils, as you call them, flew out of his body. No strange voices threatened me, if that’s what you mean.”
Mike, Maggie’s younger brother, who sat opposite her, blew smoke from his briar pipe, and said, “Your sure? He’s just a lush? That’s it? He gave a slow unbelieving roll of his head.
Maggie shot him a look, “You mean a lush like you, Michael?”
Tom, an older sibling, known to the outside world as Brother Dorotheus of Mary, put up his hands, and said. “Now, you two, let’s not start that. We’re here to listen, and we’ll learn nothing about the boy unless we do.” He gave the priest a nod, and said, “I’m sorry, Father, please continue.”
Father Coin looked at each of them, as if to emphasize what he was about to say, “I believe your nephew, Jim, is an alcoholic, and has no interest in life,” he paused, “except pleasure, of course. He’s seventeen, with no sense of responsibility.”
“We know that,” Mike said with obvious sarcasm, “for certain he likes to drink, play ball and play with the women.” He took a puff, “He’s good at two out of three.” A gruff laugh spewed white smoke. “Can’t drink worth a damn though…like his old man.”
Maggie wagged a finger, and said, “Michael, watch your tongue when I’ve got holy men at me table.”
Brother Dorotheus and Father Coin exchanged smiles.
By the way, where’s Jim’s father? Will he be joining us? Father Coin asked.
“McGinnis’s, O’Boyle, or Dugan’s,” Mike said, “pick your gin mill.”
Brother Dorotheus nodded,” He’s the problem the boy has a problem,” “and it doesn’t stop there, I’m afraid.”
Maggie jerked her head from side to side in obvious disagreement, and said, “I’m thinkin its that, and a lot more.”
“What do you mean, Miss O’Rourke?”
“Well, Father, when he was younger, he was a wonderful lad, being an altar boy and first in his class, and all. They wanted him to be a priest like yourself, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And now, he’s so…” she hesitated, “so awfully different. Well I know boys can be hard to handle at his age, but, he….”
“Yes, that’s it, Father, the boy’s angry. At times, it shivers me bones.” Maggie scrunched her shoulders
“When he’s sober?”
“More when he drinks, Father. It’s a fearful temper he has. Not normal. Not at all.”
“He’s a mean drunk,” Mike said with a wave of his pipe. “Nasty. Cusses like a heathen. Gets into fights.” Mike put his pipe on the table and eyed Father Coin. “Don’t try to wake him, even in the afternoon. Loses job after job. For sure something crawled inside the boy.”
Maggie nodded in agreement.
“And he’s a thief. Even steals from us. Do anything for the drink.” Mike put the pipe back in his mouth, took a puff, and mumbled, “But he’s one of the best damn dart shooters in the city. Wins those speakeasy tournaments. For sure, his glass is never half empty.”
“I saw a good side to him. well dressed, good looking, intelligent,” Father Coin paused, we had a fine talk. ”
“The sober side,” Maggie said.
“For sure the boys a charmer, runs in the family,” Mike said, as he took a puff.”
Maggie took the priest’s hand, and said, “But, what’ll we do, Father?”
“Not much, except pray he feeds the good wolf.”
Maggie had a confused look, “Wolf, you say Father?”
“Rubbish,” Mike said.
Brother Dorotheus had a knowing grin.
Farther Coin tapped Maggie on her shoulder, smiled, and said, “at least he doesn’t’
have any of those little devils, right?”
“Oh, thank you, Father, thank you.” Maggie blessed herself as a sign of relief.
“Well, I must be going, glad I could be of help.” Father Coin got up, looked at the three of them, and said, “I believe he has it in him to do the right thing.”
“I’ll see you to the door, Father,” Brother Dorotheus said as he got up.
Mike remained seated with the taste of his pipe. He looked at Father Coin, nodded and looked away as if the whole thing was useless.
Once outside, the priest and the Christian Brother addressed each other without the need of any religious namesakes.
“Thanks for your help, Dan. The boy’s like a son to me.” Brother Dorotheus said.
“Anything for an old friend, Tom.”
Tom put a hand on Dan’s shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “Now tell me, Dan, what you didn’t tell them.”
The priest smiled, and nodded as if to confess the deeper truth of his findings. “Your sister, the sweet soul, I didn’t want to upset her, but your brother Mike suspects.”
“Upon my word, Dan, your saying the boy’s possessed?”
“More like obsessed.”
“Bosh, Dan, possessed, obsessed, their synonyms.
“To an extent, Tom. You see, demonic possession is when they get inside. Obsession is external, like they’re beating on the door to get in.
“And they’re beating on his door?
“Dan nodded, “They’re mad. They want in.”
“Can’t really say.” Dan paused, “Except that I felt Jim’s anger with me was really their anger. Otherwise, I’d hear them and not him.”
“And, that’s being obsessed?”
“Says he hears voices. But it’s probably no different than when we talk to ourselves. Still its’ a sign for sure.”
“Bosh, Dan, I do it all the time.”
“Your nephew’s is an alcoholic, Tom. A ruinous start for manhood.”
Tom stared in thought, nodded as if he knew, and said, “Runs in the family.”
“That first day, when I saw him,” Dan said, “it’s the way he challenged me as a priest. But more so, was the next time. He was strangely different. That change from his very worse to his very best. There’s a fight going on inside him, for sure.”
“Indeed, Dan, I’ve seen it before,”
“You mean …”
Tom nodded, and said, “All because of that one day.”
“In that Godforsaken field of weeds.”
“A terrible tragedy, Tom, just terrible,” Dan paused, and said, “You can see why the church believes in demonic possession.”
Tom put up a hand, and said, “I’ll not speak of it now, Dan, but it’s one of the reasons I called you. You’re the only one who knows about my family … that is, outside the family.”
Tom gave a slight nod to show he understood.
“But, what about that anger of his, Dan?”
“That’s what worries me, Tom. The kind that grows into hate…destruction. He’s bitter about his mother and father, not crazy about kids, has a low opinion of women, doesn’t trust them.” Dan put a hand on Tom’s shoulder, and said, “For sure, our boy’s not a candidate for Hold Matrimony.”
“Neither was his father.” Tom rubbed his chin as if trying to find a cure for such a disease, and said, “maybe the right woman?”
Dan grinned, “She’d better have wings.” He paused, “And, then there’s Frankie. The boy’s haunted by Frankie.”
“His brother was God’s choice, Dan.”
“We all have mournful eyes for Frankie, Tom.”
After a moment of silence, Tom asked, “Is hate a metaphor for demons, Dan?”
“Right now, I’d call them wolves. The Bible mentions both demons and wolves on the same page. That’s why I used wolves. They’re more believable, certainly to your nephew.” He grinned, “and less frightening to your sister.”
“Upon my word, Dan, that was clever of you.”
“You remember the fable, Tom?”
“Bosh, its been a long time. When I taught, I told all my students the story. It’s a great lesson.” Tom pursed his lips, nodded, and said, “yes, it fits my nephew, alright. Better it came from an exorcist than an uncle. I pray he feeds the good one.
“We’ll see, Tom, we’ll see,” Dan said
May 3rd 1929, Philadelphia.
When She Was a Young Woman.
She wore a crepe dress of sunburn tan that she had bargained for, on South Street, at a cost of $5.98, and was sure the shop owner had lost money. The dress went perfect, she thought, with her brown eyes, hair, and olive toned skin. She loved the dress, but loved the victory more.
With obvious impatience, she watched as doctor Janice Stevens smiled, and sat down in a high back leather chair that matched the gloss of a large walnut desk. The desk with its folders and reports, the wall with its black framed diplomas, and the doctor’s white coat gave a feeling of unquestioned authority that made the young woman uneasy at first. She pushed down on the arms of the chair, and straightened her back as a sign of cool respect.
In all of her eighteen years, she never had a serious illness. She was suspicious of her condition but was afraid to say the word. She needed confirmation from the woman in the white coat who sat before her.
For the young girl, problems were welcomed battles. A slender five foot one inch frame camouflaged a hidden toughness that wired both bone and muscle in a way that made it difficult for her to step back –– to retreat. Self sufficiency had given her such a sense of independence that she believed there was no room in her life for anyone other than the followers, but now––.
Pride was a weapon that separated her from other girls. She was above such things they did. And, the challenges they pushed aside, she grabbed with both hands.
She had a pride in being Maria de la Cruz, Mary of the Cross, and thought it should be the lyrics to a song––about her. She had grown to believe it was a name that required great deeds and sacrifices. When asked her name, the words would roll from her tongue like a Spanish melody, and she would smile, and, say, “But, please call me Mary,” as if to appease the less fortunate among her.
There was a hidden pride in her knowledge of small things, though she had only known six years of schooling. Libraries told her things about the world and its people. Name a subject, and she would name you a book. Cut outs from newspapers filled a bureau drawer. Ask her something…if you had the time.
Hairdresser, seamstress, waitress, cook, Spanish teacher to neighborhood children. She’d tell you that she had worked from the time she could walk. An exaggeration she had come to believe. There was no job she would not attempt. No woman’s job or man’s. She was equal to both. Better than most. Self control had made her a faultless daughter, and equally faultless to her church. But now––.
Consumed with the jigsaw puzzle of her life, she never heard Dr. Stevens. “Mary,” Dr. Stevens raised her voice, “do you hear me?”
It broke Mary’s idle stare, she turned, and said, “I’m sorry.”
“I said, I really didn’t need to tell you, did I?”
Mary looked away to avoid Dr. Stevens’ eyes, always so wise and sympathetic, and wondered whether the remark was a compliment or a criticism. Criticism, she decided, and kept looking at the ceiling as if to punish the good doctor for discovering her terrible sin.
Dr. Steven’s leaned forward and spoke with a softness as if the room was crowded with unwanted ears. “Your breast hurt, your nauseous, and you missed two menstrual periods, what does that tell you, sweetie?”
Mary gave a slight shake of her head and said, “It’s a new life.”
“Yes, in more ways than one. But, the good news is, your healthy as a horse.”
Mary tightened her lips at the revelation of such unimportance.
“Who is he?” Dr. Stevens asked.
Mary wiped her eyes with a tan handkerchief. Tears were another of her weapons. They came when needed: to relieve stress for the sake of health, to feign weakness that did not exist; to gain sympathy at times when she felt a touch of such weakness. Right now, with a need for sympathy, she said, “Jim,” as if reluctant to reveal the entirety of his being.
Doctor Stevens smiled and said, “Does Jim have a last name?”
“O’Rourke … Jim O’Rourke.
Dr. Stevens took her by the arm and led her to a pair of beige cushioned chairs by a large window that overlooked the wide expanse of Broad Street with its hustle of morning cars, double deck busses, and early spring people. She patted Mary on the lap, smiled, and said, “You know, I’ve taken care of you since you were a small child. We need to talk.”
Mary took a deep breath, and nodded.
“How long have you known, Jim?”
“How old is he? What does he do? Schooling? Family?”
“Twenty. A bus boy…where I work.” And for the first time, she became enthused. “He’s very, very smart. He had two years at LaSalle High School.”
Doctor Stevens raised her eye brows, “LaSalle”?
“On a scholarship,” She said it as if she had won the honor.
Mary’s voice quickened with details of a love story –– hers. “He’s Catholic like me. He was an altar boy in grammar school. He has a strict family like mine. They also call him Rourkie, but I like Jim better.” She thought for a second, and said, “I Like both of them. They’re so good looking. So Irish, know what I mean?” Her eyes drifted and suddenly returned.
Dr. Stevens smiled as if she understood and asked, “What’s your relationship? Have you talked of any plans?”
“We just dated, that’s all.”
“Long walks in the park? Canoe rides? Dinner at a small restaurant?”
“Mostly a speakeasy, in town, maybe a movie.”
“I see,” Dr. Stevens said. She sat back as if to study the disparity of her young patient, and gently probed as she asked, “Your feelings, Mary?
It was an unexpected question. One she wasn’t prepared for. Love was her first thought but somehow, it didn’t seem to fit in her present condition. Instead, she thought of need. Then she realized they were similar. It was as if everything in her brain had been rearranged. “Oh God, its hard to describe,” she said, and paused. The brightness of the window reminded her of that one Sunday, in the sunshine, when she took his hand and led him through Colwyn’s streets where she lived. How proud she was as they passed the gabby busybodies that sat on their marble steps, and nodded their approvals.
She turned, looked at Dr. Stevens, and said, “I’ve never felt like this before. I want to be with him all the time.” She nodded as if to emphasize her feelings. “I really do. At work, I’m always looking for him. Its as if he’s taken over my entire life. Never thought I’d meet such a boy. Such a handsome face.” She shook her head, “Sometimes, I … I feel like … I’m not pretty enough.”
“Why would you say such a thing, Sweetie?” Dr. Stevens leaned forward, “You are pretty, those large brown eyes, the full lips, a figure I’d die for.”
She smiled, and said, “Its what got me this way.”
Dr. Stevens gave an abbreviated laugh, leaned back, and asked, “How does he feel about you?” She paused as if to study Mary’s eyes, “We girls can usually tell, you know.”
Mary stood up, and looked out the window as if the answer was scrolled on the street below and for the first time wondered if she had fallen in love with someone who did not love her, but who made love as if he did. It was a feeling she preferred to hide. Without turning, she said, “I’m not sure. He said he did … I mean love me when we …. you know.” She put her hands to her face and shook her head, “Oh, God. I’m not sure of anything.”
“Yes, I know,” Dr. Stevens said, “you’ve always been in such control.”
Mary ignored the remark as another criticism, and instead, she took out a pack of Lucky Strikes, fumbled trying to light one, took a nervous drag, and watched as the smoke drifted through the open window. After a quick second drag, she searched for an ash tray, but could find none. She looked at Dr. Stevens with the cigarette wedged between her fingers. Her eyes pleaded as if the cigarette was a baby that she wanted to snuff out of her life.
“Jim, smokes?” Dr. Stevens asked.
Mary’s mind retreated to a time before it all happened. It was her first visit to Danny Boy’s, a cellar speakeasy in downtown Philly. So adventuresome. So warm and friendly. Drifting smoke so misty, so amorous. The air crowded with laughter. People sang, danced and touched glasses to the sound of Irish music. It made her want to tap her toes, and clap her hands. How she loved their quick humor, eyes that winked and smiled. She took a deep breath thinking of the Irish, and their shameless flattery that made her feel so special.
“Mary, there are no ashtrays.”
When he laughed, she laughed. When he said things she didn’t understand, she nodded. When he blew smoke rings, she jabbed them with a finger like a small girl. Everything they did seemed so playful, so natural, so right.
“Watch,” he said, as he inhaled, blew the smoke above her head, and handed her the cigarette. “Suck it in,” he said.
She did, choked, got dizzy, and tried to wash away the taste with another taste––her first
sip of beer. Its bitterness knotted her face. Tastes that she dare not complain about––not to him, not to Danny Boy’s.
He laughed, took her hand, kissed it, and said, “Now, you’re a speakeasy babe,” That was before.
Later, in his arms, in the darkness, he said she was beautiful––it was the first time anyone had said that to her. Even more so, he said she was the most important of all his loves, including self love.
How could she refuse him? Her first speakeasy, her first cigarette, her first drink, her first…. It hurt. The blood, it surprised him –– not her. She was disappointed.
Next time, he said it would be good.
She said, no next time. She said the same thing the next time. The next time she said nothing hoping for the next time.
The voice was stern, “Mary, did you hear me? I said, “I have no ashtrays.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just….”
Dr. Stephens held out her hand, “here give it to me.” She took the cigarette and stuffed it in a pink tea cup. “Its bad for your lungs, worse for the baby,” she wiggled her fingers, “give me the rest, and no more,” she scolded.”
As Mary handed her the pack, she began to cry. It was a low deep sound as if it
came from a place where her cries had never come before. Not like the rebellious, spoiled, hurtful¬¬¬ sounds of childhood––protests of growing. This was new, mature, well thought out. Life changing.
“He said he loved you, and he sounds religious.”
Mary kept nodding trying to overcome her inner doubts.
“And, you love children. You always wanted a little girl ever since you were a little girl. Isn’t that so?”
“But not like this.”
“You do want the baby, Mary?”
“I’ve brought shame to my family.”
“Your human, Mary. A girl in love.”
“I’m like all the rest.”
“Don’t ever judge yourself for giving love, Mary.”
Mary stared as if she were somewhere else.
“Damnit,” Dr. Stevens said, “men, the heroes. Women the vanquished.”
“I’ll … I’ll tell him tomorrow … in work, but I’m afraid he’ll…”
“Yes, tell him and let me know what he says. It may shock him at first. But give it time. Let him think it out. He’s young. Ok, Sweetie?”
“What will I do, if he…”
Dr. Stevens took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, “My God, you’d think it was 1829 instead of 1929, making girls feel like criminals.” She took Mary’s hand, and said, “I know places you can go until the baby is born,” she paused, “and there’s always adoption.”
“My father will send me to Spain, Puerto, near Africa. I’ll be a prisoner, she said, and stared out the window as if she could see such a far away land.
“Mary, your father is a proud man, but he wouldn’t do that.”
“Here, I would be disgraced, In Puerto, I’d be scorned.”
“You do you want the baby, Mary, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to hide … so far away.”
“If necessary, I’ll talk to your father, and make him understand.”
“I could end up there forever. Its happened to others.” Mary said, and got up to leave.
Doctor Stevens got up, walked her to the door, opened it, gave her patient an affectionate squeeze, and said, “I’m sure Jim will do the right thing. He sounds like such a good solid person. I mean how many boys can go to LaSalle?”
Mary nodded as she walked to the staircase.
“Let me know, ok, Sweetie?” Dr. Stevens called out.
Mary kept nodding until she heard the office close door. Alone in the hallway, she sat down on the last step with her mind on only two words, Jim, and tomorrow. In her heart she knew, and she covered her face.