LENT 1970. | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Introspective Bookmark and Share

LENT 1970.

“My father hated Lent,” said Sister Luke, “he said it reminded him of death. Cancer crept into him silent and slow. Where is your God now? He would say from his sickbed, thin and yellow, drawn and tired. My mother tendered him like a Christ, changed him from his wet clothes and bed, wiped his brow of sweat and heat, fed him what little he would eat, take with love his angered words, his curse of God and priest. From my window, I see birds in the cloister garth; their songs are my daily fruit; their flight to the trees and sky remind me of my vow of stability; the warm morning sun eases the chill in my bones from the night. The bell rings for Mass; the nuns make their way to their groom; the Crucified calls in the bell’s tone. I rise from my chair, put aside my books and pen, cross myself from shoulder to shoulder, remembering the Christ on the cross above my bed as a child, the broken arm hanging adrift from the dusty wood, the crown on His head, the expression of carved pain in features, the nailed feet and hanging by one hand and arm. The cloister is warm and light; the birds take flight; the flowers in the cloister beds give scent, give joy. Sister Francis stands by Our Lady’s statue, her eyes closed, her hands joined in silent prayer, a vase of roses sitting there. Some days birds feed from her hands; her palms out stretched, eyes bright blue, her voice a soft whistle. I move to the church door; place a finger in the stoup, make sign of the cross and move to my place in the choir stalls, silent as a mouse in a midnight house, picking up my breviary, finding the place, the words, the hymns, the chant. Mother nursed my father until the cancer ate and fed on my father’s flesh and he was dead. A rosary tied to her apron, dark red wood, with a silver Christ, rubbed and worn by her cares and prayers. Her body rests and rots in her own grave now; her spirit rewarded by my Bridegroom’s love; she held Him close on her dying day. The voices of the nuns rise and fall in chant and prayer and I remember my father climbing the stair, his voice booming, his hand ready to smack or spank if I was out of bed kneeling praying or holding my secret rosary in my tiny hands. He hated Lent; reminded him of death; hated Easter for its false promises and empty tombs and words. Death took him slow and piece-by-piece, year by year. Sometimes standing in choir, in between chant and prayer, I imagine him beside me, just standing there; still and quiet; solemn, with those deep set eyes, those callused hands at his side, his face grave and grim, wanting no doubt, and I have none, that I should pray for him. Mother, when she visits me in choir in ghostly form, smiles and gives a gentle wave as she often did when I was young and setting off for school or play. All is silent now; the nuns disperse; the Crucified hanging from his cross above my head, watches the living and the dead.”

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