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Authors: Anita Diamant

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“I think you might want to call in a priest,” said Kathleen.

“I don’t need an exorcism, do I?” Joyce said in mock horror. “Her head isn’t spinning
around or anything like that.”

“Oh, no. I just think you might need help in getting the BVM out of there respectfully.”

“The BMW?”

“Blessed Virgin Mary,” Kathleen said. “Try the priest over at St. Rita’s.”

“I’ve always wondered about Saint Rita. Is she the patron saint of waitresses or meter
maids or what?”

Kathleen laughed again. “There’s a million saints I’ve never heard of, but I’m pretty
sure Saint Rita is the patron of matrimonial trouble.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I really think so. Whoever she was, St. Rita’s is near your house, so that’s
the parish priest to contact.”

“Okay then. I’ll call him.”

Kathleen stopped and faced out to sea. Her right hand shaded her eyes and then she
pointed to the horizon. “He’s out late.”

“He?”

“The sailboat.”

Joyce hunted for the boat. The thumbnail-sized sail seemed stuck against the sky,
like a scrap of white paper on a pale blue bulletin board.

“What a day,” said Kathleen, studying the distance.

In the silence, Joyce wondered if Kathleen was thinking about her cancer. She wanted
so much to be a worthy friend, a confidante.

“Father Sherry!” Kathleen said suddenly.

“What?”

“That’s the name of the priest at St. Rita’s. I met him last year at some school event.
I remember thinking what a funny name he had. Father Sherry. It reminded me of that
old priest in
Going My Way
who was always taking a medicinal nip. Not that this man is anything like Barry Fitzgerald.

“Father Sherry is in his late forties, a big man. And he belongs to a diving club.
I saw him once over at Folly Cove wearing a wet suit. I thought it was so funny —
a diving priest.”

“With or without the clerical collar?” asked Joyce.

“You call Father Sherry. He’ll know what to do.”

They had reached the far end of the beach, where the sandbar out to Salt Island was
fully exposed.

“You know, in all the years of coming here, I’ve never been up there,” said Joyce,
pointing to the top of the island.

“There’s nothing there but the view. And a sense of accomplishment,” said Kathleen.
“I used to take the boys. They hated that I made them bring shoes and socks and long
pants. But they never once got poison ivy when I was with them. I’ll take you sometime.”

“That would be great.”

“Do you want to walk out now?”

“I should get home,” Joyce sighed. “Frank is cooking.”

They turned to start back. “It’s always amazing to me how big this beach is,” Joyce
said. “The walk from the bridge never feels that far, but when I get all the way down
here, it looks twice the distance. It’s like two totally different places.”

“Rachel Carson has a wonderful line about how the shore has a dual nature,” said Kathleen.

“Silent Spring
?”

“No. It was in a book about the ocean. She said the seashore was, let me see if I
can remember it, a place of unrest, of dual natures. It’s wet and dry. Old as the
earth, but never exactly the same from one tide to the next.”

“Like people,” said Joyce.

“You don’t think people are the same from one day to the next?”

“Well, biologically they’re not. We’re not. I mean, we’re made of water, and that’s
always in flux. Don’t you think that’s what she meant?”

“I suppose so,” Kathleen said. “Do you think people have a dual nature?”

“Do you mean good and evil? I’m not that much of a philosopher,” Joyce said, pausing.
“But we’re all living and dying at the same time. Cells dividing, making more cells,
shedding the old ones.” She stopped, worried that she’d said something wrong.

They lapsed into silence and picked up the pace a little. A jogger approached and
breezed past with a wave.

“I think we’re eating fish tonight,” Kathleen said. “Buddy finally caught something
big enough to eat.”

“Who cleans them?”

“He does. And he cooks them.”

“Frank likes to cook, too.”

“Tell me about Frank,” said Kathleen. “And what kind of name is Frank for a nice Jewish
boy?”

“His birth certificate says Franklin, after FDR. The Democratic Party was his family’s
real religion.”

“And how did you two meet?”

“At a party. I liked the way he danced. And then I liked the way we danced together.”

“Sounds very romantic,” Kathleen said. “I met Buddy at a dance, too. But he didn’t
dance, and neither did I. We found each other in the wallflower seats.”

“That’s pretty romantic, too. And since you brought it up, what about your name,
Kathleen Levine?

“That’s Kathleen Mary Elizabeth McCormack Levine. I converted before I married Buddy.”

“Was your family okay with that?”

“Yes,” said Kathleen, remembering Pat’s roses. “It was okay, even for my sister the
Sister. Did I tell you that my sister was a nun?”

“No. Are you close?”

“Pat died of breast cancer.”

“Oh, my God.”

“I have a different kind, as all my doctors like to remind me.” Kathleen briefly described
her diagnosis and treatment.

“It sounds like you’re going to be okay.”

“It’s not a death sentence. I won’t even lose my hair.”

“You have beautiful hair,” Joyce said.

“Thanks. I’m still pretty vain about it. And I wanted to thank you for what you said
the other day.”

“What did I say?”

“About not letting anyone tell me this wasn’t an ordeal.”

“Oh. You mean, that it sucks.”

“You have such a way with words. I guess that’s why you’re the professional writer,”
said Kathleen. “The radiology doctor told me to go for walks by the ocean during these
treatments. It was the only decent part of that whole awful day.”

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” said Joyce.

“Count your blessings that you can’t.”

On the bridge, they stopped to lean over the railing, elbows almost touching, looking
down to the riverbed, the wet sand waiting for the return of the tide. “Sometimes
I think I can hear the difference,” said Joyce. “When the tide’s going out, the pebbles
get dragged. So the sound is a little lighter coming in.”

Kathleen cocked her head to listen and nodded.

Joyce asked Kathleen for a ride home, and as she slid into the car, Kathleen said,
“Next time, you have to tell me about how you did the research for
Magnolia’s Heart.

“Oh, my God. How did you find out?”

“Never underestimate the powers of a librarian in the age of the Internet.”

“You looked me up?”

“I bought a copy yesterday.”

Joyce covered her face with her hands. “Please, just rip the cover off, okay?”

“That is quite a pair of pants he’s wearing.”

“You noticed?”

“They took out a piece of breast. My eyes are fine. For your next cover, they could
take a picture of my radiology doctor.”

“Do tell.”

Kathleen tried to do justice to the surpassing beauty of Dr. Singh during the short
drive to the Tabachniks’ house. As they pulled up, Joyce pointed to the statue and
said, “Let me introduce you.”

They stood on either side of Mary in silence for a moment. Kathleen bent down to pick
up the crown of plastic flowers, which had fallen to the ground.

“My sister disliked this sort of thing: the crowns, the May processionals, all that.
She said it made Mary into a kind of beauty queen. Pat thought of her as one tough
cookie, a fierce soul. But I think Pat was the fierce one. She projected herself onto
the Blessed Mother.”

Joyce didn’t know what to say. “Jews know so little about Mary. Or Jesus for that
matter. How do we get away with that, living in this culture?”

“I don’t know,” said Kathleen. “Fear? Defensiveness?”

Joyce tried to look at the statue defenselessly. The half smile on the Virgin’s face
was pensive. Back erect, head inclined to the right, she seemed to be listening. She
held her hands at an intentional angle, like a dancer, her fingers reaching, inviting
you to approach. It was a gesture of welcome that seemed both formal and genuine.
Nice body language. Gentle and still. Attentive. The mother we all wish for.

“She’s always young, isn’t she?” said Joyce.

“What?” Kathleen had been thinking about the way Pat had prayed over Danny’s body
after the doctor had removed the ventilator.

“Mary is always young in these statues, isn’t she? Firm chin, no wrinkles, no regrets.”

“No regrets,” repeated Kathleen. “I never thought of that. Maybe that’s why I’m not
a Catholic anymore.” Joyce had no idea what Kathleen meant, but she didn’t ask her
to explain. It seemed too personal a question — like asking to see the tattoos on
her breast.

They parted with promises to walk again.

From the rearview mirror, Kathleen watched Joyce wave goodbye. She looks sad, Kathleen
thought. I’ll call her tomorrow.

 

KATHLEEN SAT ON
the deck and counted seven pots of sweet william. I guess that’s one good thing about
getting older, she thought. Everyone knows your favorite flowering annual.

Buddy had brought home two big plants from the supermarket, Hal had shipped one, Madge
Feeney had collected money and sent one from the staff, the principal had sent over
another on his own. Louisa from next door left hers on the porch with an envelope
containing three marijuana cigarettes and a note that read, “Proven appetite booster.”
Jeanette wired her flowers from Florida with a printed card that said only, “Get Well
Soon.”

Kathleen decided she’d plant the whole bunch in one big clump near the lone granite
boulder in the front yard. They would make a great shout of magenta in one of the
few spots she hadn’t filled with daylilies. But not just this minute.

She leaned back in the chaise, put her feet up, and squeezed her eyes shut, feeling
the warmth on her forehead, her nose, her forearms. Kathleen had never been much of
a sunbather, but she knew that once she started radiation, she’d avoid the sun, even
though no one at the clinic had said she had to take extraordinary precautions.

“I’m thinking about gardening by the light of the moon and grocery shopping at midnight,”
she said to Hal and Jack, both of whom had taken to calling every night.

She lingered for a few minutes on this golden morning and savored the smell of new
mulch.

The book slipped off her lap and landed with a thud. Kathleen was nervous about starting
Magnolia’s Heart
and regretted having told Joyce she knew the identity of Cleo Lehigh. What if it
was really bad? Could she lie convincingly if she had to? Could she be a friend to
the writer of a bad book? And if not, what kind of person did that make her?

As she reached for the paperback, the phone rang. Saved, she thought, jumping up.

A familiar voice introduced herself as Michelle Hertz and Kathleen tried to summon
a face. “I found out that we live in practically the same neighborhood and I wondered
if you’d like some company.”

Kathleen suddenly remembered the young rabbi.

“Or if this isn’t a convenient time . . . ,” the rabbi said.

“No, of course. Please,” Kathleen insisted. “Come join me for iced tea.”

Rabbi Hertz said she’d be there in a few minutes. “And don’t make a fuss. I won’t
stay long, and I promise not to pray or anything.”

Kathleen washed the breakfast dishes. She wiped down the counters, pulled out a couple
of tall tumblers, sliced an orange, and picked two sprigs of mint from a pot on the
windowsill. Was this a pastoral visit? The only other time a rabbi had been in her
home was after Danny died.

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