Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good (10 page)

BOOK: Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good
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‘D-Dooley th’ king, dude of th’ earth, Mr. m-money f-freak!’

‘Chill, Sam. Dooley loves you, he’s good to you.’

‘You been mouthin’ off th’ last twenty miles,’ said Harley. ‘I’m gon’ yank a knot in y’r tail if ye don’t hush.’

‘I’d like to s-s-see that. You ain’t th’ b-boss of me.’ This followed by a stream of language.

‘Miz Pringle don’t want t’ hear such talk,’ said Harley. ‘She’ll give ye y’r walkin’ papers.’

‘She won’t g-give me n-nothin’. But she might g-g-give you somethin’, parley voo f-francay.’

‘Whoa, now, dadgummit.’

The back porch light switched on.

‘Pour l’amour de Dieu, cessez ces vilains cris tout de suite! N’avez-vous donc aucune consideration pour nos bons voisins

Hélène Pringle spoke French when vexed, and though he hardly understood a word she’d just said, he definitely got her meaning.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Kenny. ‘We apologize. We’re sorry.’

Harley chimed in. ‘We sure are, Miss Pringle. Real sorry.’

‘You have roast
waiting downstairs in your oven, though I can’t think why I did such a thing for shameless hooligans.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Kenny. ‘We thank you.’

‘It won’t happen ag’in,’ said Harley.

We’ll see about that, he thought, stepping

Chapter Six

o he was a laughingstock, he thought as he gave himself the morning insulin shot. Big deal. Clergy were known to do worse than go weak in the knees. He would get out there and face the music, let the chips fall where they may. Not for him the blighted syndrome of retired-priest-who-won’t-leave-the-house.

He did his stretching in the study, tied on the bandanna Puny had laundered, made a swing through the kitchen to stuff the bakery list in his shorts pocket, and paid his respects in the studio.

‘Pray for me,’ he said, kissing his wife.

‘Go and be as the butterfly, sweetheart.’

He went out through the garage and hit the sidewalk running.

In this desperate matter . . . can’t be spoken
. He learned long ago that it was useless to second-guess a bishop. Cynthia would go with him on the drive to Asheville; they would have a nice lunch, maybe put the top down and live a little.

Truth be told, he was more concerned about tonight’s pool lesson and how much a fool he’d make of himself. He’d shot a few games, of course, though he hardly had a clue what he was doing; he just tried to get a ball in a pocket—any ball, any pocket.

The morning was unseasonably warm and humid, not unlike the flatlands in late spring. He crossed Wisteria and stood for a moment on the corner, observing Main Street in motion at seven-thirty—two workmen on ladders, replacing the awning at Village Shoes, a pickup truck off-loading bushels of valley apples into the Local.

And there was the cloud of aromas sent forth by the Sweet Stuff Bakery ovens, fired six days a week at five a.m. sharp. For his money, the yeasty fragrance diffused by clean mountain air was the best thing about Mitford—where could you find another town that smelled this good every morning?

He dodged Shirlene’s sandwich board and buzzed three times at the bakery’s side entrance—he being one of the few customers allowed entry before the front doors opened at eight. The kitchen curtain parted, Winnie Kendall peered through the window. The monitor buzzed, the door swung open.

‘Good morning, good morning!’ he called out to the kitchen.

Winnie stepped into the hall, wiping her hands on her apron. ‘Father! We’re just glazin’ the Danish an’ slicin’ th’ cakes. What can we do for you?’

He loved her good face, it was all smiles, all the time—the sort of face you wouldn’t mind wearing every day.

‘Just dropping off an order and I’ll get out of your way.’

He dug in his shorts pocket for the list. ‘I can swing by for it later this morning.’

Odd. It was in a small envelope. He hadn’t noticed that when he grabbed it off the kitchen counter.

‘Let’s see.’ He opened the envelope, and knew at once this wasn’t the list. Something like joy leaped in him. What to do? Put it back in his pocket and wait to read it later? But then, why wait?

‘This is not the list,’ he said. ‘I’ll just . . . sit a minute in the coffee nook.’

‘Good! Away from the window where nobody can see you, or they’ll be comin’ in through th’ air vents.’

He glanced at his watch; Winnie and her husband, Thomas, had forty-five minutes to fill the display cases. Her accelerator was definitely floored.

‘Can you remember your list, Father?’

‘Yes, yes. Let’s see.’ The mix-up had rattled him. Maybe if he recalled who would be there tonight . . . ‘There’s Sammy, he’s sixteen, no, wait, he’s seventeen. And Kenny, he’s nineteen, a strapping fellow. And Harley, he’s just driven from Kentucky, so he’ll have an appetite. And there’s Miss Pringle.’

A timer going off in the kitchen.

‘That’ll be th’ bran muffins,’ said Winnie. ‘Sounds like you need a cake. The triple-chocolate would be my recommendation.’

‘A cake! That reminds me. I need to stop by Esther Bolick’s and order a two-layer orange marmalade for Dooley’s visit home.’

Now Winnie seemed rattled.

‘What is it, Winnie?’

‘Oh, my. Well. Nothing, just . . . nothing!’

‘It wasn’t a cake we’re after,’ he said. ‘Let’s see . . .’ His mind was a complete blank.

‘Two teenagers, you said. That’s brownies for sure.’

‘Of course! That’s it. Your famous brownies. A panful, please. And two sugar-free lemon squares. And a chocolate pie. No, wait, we talked about the pie for Lace, for the weekend of the seventeenth.’

‘Of September?’

‘No, no. October.’ He was a basket case; he could handle only one social event at a time. ‘Let’s see. Yes! And a crème brûlée!’ For Harley, who had no teeth at all. ‘And a napoleon for Miss Pringle, she’s French, you know. And a pan of yeast rolls and two bags of hamburger buns.’ He was drained.

‘A pan of brownies,’ she said. ‘Two sugar-free lemon squares, a crème brûlée, a napoleon, a pan of yeast rolls, and two bags of buns. I can have it ready at nine-thirty, but that’s a long time for you to wait.’

‘No, no, I’ll be back at nine-thirty. I’ll just sit here a minute, if you don’t mind.’

‘I can’t turn th’ lights on in here ’til eight or they’ll be bangin’ on th’ door.’

‘Of course, that’s fine.’

‘How about a cup of coffee?’

‘Please, don’t trouble yourself, you have your hands full.’

‘Never too full for you, Father, you helped me hang on to this old place, remember?’

‘Well, then, black as coal, Winnie, and thank you.’

He felt eighteen years old as he withdrew the triple-folded sheet from the envelope. Her scent of wisteria . . .

She had gotten ahead of him by a mile, and with things going the way they were, he wouldn’t be able to turn his in ’til tomorrow.
Sic vita est

‘You look happy as a chigger,’ said Winnie, delivering his coffee in a real mug instead of Styrofoam.

He laid the folded letter by the coffee mug and waited. He would not be tempted to read it in haste, as her words would be wonderful and one must prepare, as best one ever can, for what is wonderful.

And maybe reading it here wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Maybe he should take it to the bench at the Methodist chapel, where there was a large bird feeder and a good bit of birdsong. He blew on the coffee to cool it down. For that matter, he would be running right by Lord’s Chapel, where he could sit on the bench in the rose garden he’d planted himself.

He saw her as she might have looked when writing it, the way she held her mouth when she worked—and yes, she would have worked
on this, for his wife, like Flaubert, minded every word. She was earnest in all she undertook, and now this tangible gift, this endearing artifact of her affections . . .

He felt a slow flood of happiness, like a tide coming in, and made the sign of the cross and lifted the fold.

My dearest husband,

As a child with parents who scarcely knew me, I remember distinctly what I yearned for—to be somewhere safe with somebody good.

When I was recovering from the clumsy attempt to end my life and just awakening to His life in me, I remember asking, Please, God, let me be somewhere safe with somebody good.

Your goodness to me has been overwhelming. How tender you are, though I am often as tough as gristle. How patiently you have loved me since you made up your mind to love me always.

By His grace, I am safe at last. But to be safe with you is grace beyond measure.

Thomas Traherne said “We are as prone to love as the sun is to shine.”

I was always prone—as prone as one could possibly be, I feel. But could I actually love? Not until I met you, Timothy, who is Love’s truest yeoman.

For everything that you are to me and to many, for your kindness of spirit and unbounded generosity, I love and cherish you with all my being, and if God choose—please forgive me for borrowing this—I shall but love thee better after death.

Bookends forever,


Thomas blew into the room bearing an enormous tray. Jelly donuts, cookies, Danish, crème horns, lemon squares. The still-unlighted room hummed with energy.

‘Winnie’s comin’ with th’ muffins, but we’re runnin’ behind on th’ cakes,’ said Thomas, mildly desperate.

‘I’ll pray!’ he said, and did. Retail these days needed all the help it could get.

‘Anything you’d like before you go, Father? We have sugar-free Danish, you know.’

‘No, thanks, Thomas, and much obliged for the coffee. I have everything I need.’

He checked his pocket, making sure the letter was there. ‘Absolutely everything.’

•   •   •

as he came around the bend at the Methodist chapel, looking neither right nor left, and ignoring the thought of the bench—there would be no more sitting, he was done with sitting. He was flying now, zooming, really, in some rare transport he’d seldom known. And while there was no real need to stop by Esther’s—he could call, Cynthia could call—he liked the idea of seeing his old parishioner and personally delivering his OMC order. Besides, three miles was three miles, nobody said he couldn’t make stops along the way.

How could he top such a letter? He could not, and anyway, topping it was not the point. That she could say such things to him, as woolly as he’d been of late, was yet another testament to her own boundless generosity. As for the pitiable effort sitting unfinished in his desk drawer, surely he would get his wind—be able to go deeper, step up higher, somehow hit the mark.

He would be wringing wet by the time he reached Esther Bolick’s; maybe he should call her, after all. And maybe he should order
a three-layer, not a two. While the two-layer was heaven’s gate, the three-layer was heaven itself.

There went the mailman tooling along in his mail cart; he threw up his hand in salute, reminded that he was feeling letter-challenged. He couldn’t seem to finish the one to Henry, either. He would give a shout to Holly Springs on Sunday—voice-to-voice was always good—and say hello to Peggy while he was at it.

As a boy, he had prayed with desperation for a brother—roughly sixty years later, he had one. For that reason alone, the business of Henry was beyond blood or color or Matthew Kavanagh’s duplicity. The smart, sensitive, considerate Henry Winchester was a tailor-made brother with whom he shared major understanding from the get-go.

He remembered their talk while sitting on Henry’s garden bench in the frying heat of a Holly Springs morning. They had connected on a level too profound to plumb straight off, but which, with time, might be plumbed for the rest of their lives.

In the end, his mother’s memory could not be shamed by a gift from God. Don’t worry about me, she would say, and never worry what others may think. I worried too much about what others thought—I can tell you it’s a tragic waste of time and energy and pokes God in the eye.

Yes, yes, and yes. If allowed, the dead still spoke.

On his left, Lord’s Chapel, built of stone laid by local workmen in the early twentieth century. He glanced toward the rose garden, but the trees had grown up considerably in just a few years, and he couldn’t see much that lay beyond.

This had once been the center of the universe for him; sixteen years of memories stored in a vault to which he alone held the key. Dooley’s confirmation, his own wedding day with the church packed and the bride late and the groom on search-and-rescue and the organist hammering away to fill the gap and the two of them running, no, racing down Main Street, and how she ever did it in high heels
was beyond him. Uncle Billy’s funeral, which turned into a laugh-in he’d never forget; the long procession of cars with people paying their last respects to Sadie Baxter, his favorite parishioner of this life or any other; the annual Advent Walk and everyone’s freezing fingers warmed by the heat of apple cider in a paper cup; the annual All-Church Thanksgiving that made ecumenism so lively and quick in these mountains . . .

He noted a bit of trash caught in the overgrown hemlock hedge, and stopped, blowing like a horse. He removed the bandanna and wiped his head and face and neck. What salve was the common bandanna.

But if he picked the stuff out of the hedge, where would he put it?

A fast-food wrapper, a plastic fork, a grocery receipt, a baby diaper, of all things, and the inevitable plastic bag, which he stuffed with the other detritus. He hadn’t noticed the trash before, perhaps because he’d been running on the opposite side of the street. Trash had never lingered in the hedge when he was priest. Dooley’s now-deceased grandfather and church sexton, Russell Jacks, had seen to that.

He moved along, stooping, filling the bag. Where did this stuff come from? Tourists, some might accuse, but that dog wouldn’t necessarily hunt.

He straightened up, looked at the church building in the September light. There was a spirit about it that he didn’t quite recognize—something—he searched for the word—doleful, perhaps. As they were members now of the Wesley cure, he hadn’t kept up with his old parish—it was, in fact, against church tradition for him to meddle in the business of a former congregation. Some hierarchy hadn’t been thrilled that he’d chosen to remain in Mitford—most retiring priests moved to other pastures to make the severance complete.

He started his run again, jogging to the curb, where he paused before crossing Main.

The limo was moving south, flying. Headed down the
mountain, apparently, and too fast for a good look at the license plate. Either George Clooney had closed the deal with the realtor and was in a hurry to get home, or Elvis was after barbecue on the bypass in Holding.

He continued up Old Church Lane toward the minuscule office he had shared, for what seemed eternity, with Emma Newland. How had he done that? Emma, Emma, Preacher’s Dilemma, someone had said. But she was loyal. Oh, yes, and to a fault. She would flog any man, woman, or child who stepped out of line with her erstwhile boss.

And there was the time he’d been minding his sermon and Russell Jacks brought his grandson to that very door. He could see as plain as day the barefoot Dooley Barlowe in filthy overalls, looking up at him. ‘You got anyplace where I can take a dump?’

Right there, their lives had changed forever.
marks the spot.

BOOK: Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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