One of the challenges I face this time of year is that with all the writing we do for PATTERN we don’t really have time for anything else, especially the long-read articles we enjoy posting here and that three or four people sometimes read. Since I hate to disappoint such a huge number of fans, I’ve gone back into the archives and dug up an essay and four short stories from nine and ten years ago. Some of them might have been published before but if they were the places where they existed are no longer. So, take your time and enjoy some thoughts from a previous mind.
The True Face of Love
I should probably warn you that this was written during a particularly difficult time of my life when keeping a roof over my head was a challenge. My outlook was influenced by the negative situations of the past few weeks. I’m not really as down on love as this essay might indicate.
Those of us who have been raised under often misguided teachings of Western Philosophy have long considered the matter of Love to be that for which one strives, the end goal of our being. We have been victimised by fairy tales with the notion that Love will bring us into everlasting bliss, inducing a state commonly referred to as “happily ever after.”
Reality takes us down a much different path, however, and after observing not only my own near-fatal experience but that of others for whom I care deeply, I am now of the admittedly cynical opinion that Love is, itself, a tragedy of pain, compounded by the disillusionment of hope and sealed through the annulment of Faith. In short, Love is its own abhorrent antithesis.
What we have been fed regarding the myth of Love is about as accurate as stating the gods reside on Mount Olympus; one may believe earnestly and with the utmost purity of heart, but upon arriving at that lofty longitudinal location all one finds is rocky, barren emptiness. All the world’s most classing and wonderfully epic poetry cannot make real what never existed.
Further cursing our lustful longing for the non-existent is the wretched influence of Christianity, which codifies Love as being the primary characteristic of its deity. “God loves you,” we’ve been told, but as we look at their definition of Love, one finds that the promise has little, if any, resemblance to reality.
For those of you confused, please allow me to explain.
I Corinthians 13 is generally regarded as the idealistic definition of Love, both in deistic and human terms. Here we are told that to be without love is to be nothing, that our words are but noise, that our well-meant deeds, our very lives, are worthless unless enveloped in love. Should such be the Truth, however, our lives would only be all the more miserable.
Let’s break this down point by point.
Love is patient.
Since when? Love is too fleeting, too impulsive to wait around for anything or anyone. Love demands that one grab hold now or be lost to it forever, with no assurance of a second chance.
Love is kind.
Such a definition must require one to equate kindness with a strong blow to the head. Reality is Love is cruel, impetuous and even homicidal. Kindness is but a mask used by Love to implement its evil schemes.
Love does not envy.
No, envy would be too mild a label. Love is a jealous bitch that cannot tolerate being ignored nor any attempt at being replaced. Love demands every ounce of attention, energy and thought once can muster and executes an act of most diabolical revenge when not given all it wants.
Love does not boast, nor is proud.
Ah, that would explain why Love takes out full-page ads and marks its territory like a dog. No, love wants everyone to know exactly what it’s doing, who it has conquered, and how devastating the victory. That’s why engagement rings are priced in the thousands and brides spend more on weddings that their spouse will earn in ten years. Hell, Love even has its own holiday. How is that not prideful?
Love is not rude.
Quite to the contrary, Love has no manners; it never knocks before entering, blatantly ignores personal boundaries, enforces its own agenda and never cleans up after itself, never failing to leave a disastrous mess in its wake. Should one actually issue Love an invitation, however, one can be quite certain that Love will either ignore the request or come too late.
Love is not easily angered.
Explain then, please, how it is that crimes of passion occur? When it comes to anger, Love drives us to the brink of insanity and then gleefully pushes us over the edge. Love thrives on anger and creates such where it does not already exist.
Love keeps no record of wrong.
Love is an elephant of trespasses never forgotten. No amount of apology, no degree of remorse, is ever sufficient to remove the stain love perceives against it. Love not only records misdeeds but has them well-cataloged and cross-referenced so that an entire compendium may be presented at a moment’s notice.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in Truth.
In reality, love does everything it can to mask the Truth to the furtherance of Evil. Under the disguise of Love, patriots and religious fanatics both monger war. Concealed by a pretense of Love, the non-compliant are stripped of their individuality. Hiding behind Love one inevitably find treachery to the furtherance of its own malicious cause. Love abhors Truth because therein Love is exposed as a demon, creating lies to ensure its salvation.
Love always protects.
Going unspoken in that statement is the fact that what Love protects is its own self-interests. Love all too readily jettisons anything and any one should it feel threatened. Love is the traitor quick to lay fault for its crimes on those it supposed to love. Love keeps none safe but opens all to pain.
Love always trusts.
Love does not even trust itself, for it is always suspicious of motives, always on guard lest it be usurped, always vigilant against anything perceived as a threat. Love builds fences, chains down what it owns and denies freedom lest one wander away. Love trusts no one.
Love always hopes.
Love is void of hope, entrapping one in an endless spiral of false promises that if one only loves a bit more then life will surely improve. Too late we discover that the more one loves the more life is stricken with pain and suffering. Love promises happiness but leaves us with only tears. Love hints at fulfillment only to hand us disappointment. Love destroys hope.
Love always perseveres.
Granted, love does tend to stick around, especially where it is no longer welcome and only so that it might inflict greater pain and conflict. At the same time, however, love is all too fleeting, creating within us a dependency and reliance only to disappear when we need it most. Love has no backbone and runs when challenged.
Love never fails.
Quite to the contrary, Love is ultimately bound to do nothing but fail. No matter how strong, no matter how secure, love inevitably drives a knife through one’s heart. Love dies long before one reaches the graveyard. Love creates in us a set of expectations it has absolutely no intention of ever fulfilling. Failure is planned and inevitable even from the beginning.
I realize that such strong cynicism must make one uncomfortable, yet such is the impact of showing Love as it truly exists: greedy, vindictive, selfish, jealous, self-serving, and traitorous. We, as a society, have been fed and all too eagerly consumed a pack of lies.
Wherein is the justification for such cynicism? Consider, if you dare, what would have to happen for Love to be all that it claims. Most certainly our lives would be different. If love were to live up to its own marketing, the following would have to happen.
- Love would usurp free will. There would be no one who could deny or reject Love if it were truly as good, pure, and strong as it claims.
- Love would heal, not hurt. If Love was truly a positive force, it would be impossible for it to leave pain and remorse in its wake.
- Love would not be bound by social inadequacies. Were love true to its claim, there would be no regard to race, gender, physical appearance, education, economics, or any other social manifestation. Love would not require the pretense of contract but would be open, free and liberating.
- Love would not be elusive. If love were truly righteous, then one would never need to be in search of it for it would already be present and evident. Love cannot be true if one cannot even discern where it exists.
- Love would transcend nationalism, religion, and politics. Were Love as wonderful as it claims, there would be no institution able to stand against it. Boundaries and borders would fall; churches, mosques, and synagogues would cease to exist; jails and prisons, courts and legislators would no longer be necessary.
The fact that none of those elements are even remotely true stands as evidence to the farcical nature of Love. Who among us has known love without pain? Who among us has found love without suffering? Can anyone claim to have survive love without scars, bruises or even impairment? Is there anyone for whom love has never yielded disappointment, anger and resentment? I dare say there is no soul that has ever lived that has known Love in a wholly positive form.
Perhaps we are better off to avoid love in all its forms and machinations; but yet, it is a cancer, worming its way into the healthiest of souls and destroying everything in its wake. Even if we do not search for love, it seeks us out on its own so that no one might be immune from its perversity.
And what does it say of any deity supposedly formed of Love? Can such a god be trusted? Who would dare to embrace one knowingly committed to such utter destruction of the heart? Such a deity must only be bent upon enslaving those foolish enough to believe, using them to its own self-centered end.
If I am wrong, then let Love prove itself, not merely for my own benefit, but more for those who have most recently been victims of Love’s vicious ripping and abuse. I would hope more for the happiness of those around me than I would for my own. Regrettably, I do not anticipate seeing smiles on those faces so recently streaked by tears, for Love has left nothing but ruin and despair in its wake.
May this serve as a warning: Love is evil masked in imagined happiness; embrace it at your own peril.
THE COUPLE IN 4D (part one)
Sadly, there is no part two to this story. I wish there was.
“John! John! Did you see? We’re getting new neighbors!” Alice was in quite a state of excitement as she peered through the apartment window at the activities going on outside.
“That’s nice,” John said, in his usual disinterested tone. He was quite accustomed to Alice’s habit of watching everything that happened outside their window and reporting every little detail back to him. He was glad they didn’t have a television. He couldn’t imagine what would happen if Alice had more than one “window” to look out.
“It’s a couple! How nice!” she continued. “A nice, young couple. I bet their newlyweds! Isn’t that sweet, John? We have newlyweds moving in next door!”
“MMhmm,” John murmured.
“You know how I can tell their newlyweds?” Alice prattled. “Look at how sparse their furniture is. Why, the children have practically nothing at all on that little truck. I do hope that’s not all their belongings. There’s hardly anything at all.”
“Maybe they’re just frugal,” John said. “What are we having for dinner?”
“No, that is definitely a hand-me-down sofa they’re taking in. I mean, the thing is just beyond ratty. I bet that’s something they’ve gotten at a yard sale or left over from a college apartment or something. You know, when you’re just starting out, you can’t really afford nice things. Remember that sofa we inherited from my parents? I think every couple starts out with an old sofa like that. Old sofas and new marriages. Isn’t there a saying about that? If there’s not, there should be.”
“Maybe you could come up with one,” John said, rolling his eyes, knowing Alice would be oblivious to the sarcasm.
Alice continued the play-by-play. “Oh, look, isn’t that sweet? He just gave her a kiss on the cheek. It’s nice to see couples who are so romantic, don’t you think, John? Why, I remember when you and I used to be like that. We’d go on our evening walks, holding hands, and you’d lean over and kiss me. Ah, there’s nothing like romance in full bloom, is there, John?”
John rustled his paper.
“Oh dear, wait a minute. Uhm … wow, John. You wouldn’t believe what she just did. Why, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone do anything like that in public before. Especially out here where …OH MY! Johnathan! She just took her shirt off!!”
Johnathan set down his paper and walked over to the window. Sure enough, the buxom young woman had removed her t-shirt and was walking around in just her bra and a pair of thin shorts. ‘I must say, it does improve the scenery around here.”
“Johnathan Allen!” Alice scolded. “Get away from that window and go back to your paper, you dirty old man! Don’t you know it’s not polite to stare?”
John chuckled as he returned to the table and picked up his newspaper.
“You know, I hope they’re not going to be one of those couples who are loud when they’re doing things in the bedroom,” Alice said. Her tone had changed to one of concern. “The walls in this apartment complex aren’t really all that well insulated in the first place, you know. People can hear just about everything.”
“Yes, I’m sure the neighbors get an earful from us,” John quipped.
Alice ignored him. “You’d think they’d be more respectful of other people and keep those kinds of things to themselves. After all, it’s not like the rest of the world is even remotely interested in their private relations. They should keep quiet like we did when we were first married. I would have been horrified had my parents ever heard us.”
“Your parents might have found it amusing, though. Your dad kept asking me what was wrong,” John teased.
“Your mind just stays in the gutter, doesn’t it?” Alice scolded. “Well, I can tell you right now that they’d better not start making a lot of noise over there. I’ll report them to the tenants association in a heartbeat, I will. I’ve gotten rather accustomed to the peace and quiet of not having neighbors in that apartment. I hate to see anyone noisy move in.”
“You don’t know that they’re going to be noisy,” John warned. “The poor kids haven’t even finished moving everything in yet. Get away from that window and think about something more important, like what we’re going to have for dinner.”
Alice let the curtain closed and turned toward the kitchen. “Well, okay. But I’m warning you, I’m going to be keeping an ear out for what’s happening over there. I simply won’t tolerate living next to a 24-hour orgy.”
“Unless we’re invited,” John said.
Alice scowled and stomped into the kitchen.
There’s a twist to this little love story. Try to figure it out before it’s revealed at the end.
Spring was finally flirting with the idea of making an appearance. Warm breezes tossed the waste from random junk food across streets abnormally busy for a Wednesday night. Bare legs were in view, laughter heard, and a general sense of pleasure at having survived the winter.
Karen and Doug walked the sidewalk hand in hand as they had done so many times before. These were their sidewalks, in their village, around their home. They couldn’t imagine ever being anywhere else. Nights like this reminded them of why they had moved here in the first place.
“I like neon,” Karen said. “I like the way it stands out of the darkness with its colors and soft curves.”
Doug looked over at the nearest sign and read, “We deliver.” He thought for a moment then continued, “Doesn’t it seem a bit strange, though, if one wants delivery, they’re likely not going to be where they can see the sign?”
Karen turned her head and considered the question. “Perhaps, but if you remember the sign one might look up the number and call.”
“One remembers the neon,” Doug said.
“Yes,” Karen agreed. “The neon burns its message into your brain like a hot brand on cowhide.” She made a “tssssss” sound as she thrust her arm forward, branding an imaginary bovine.
Doug laughed, “You can take the girl off the farm …”
“But you can’t make her drink that fancy water,” Karen finished.
They strolled a bit further, quietly watching the activity around them. Bars opened their windows to the sidewalk, allowing random music to filter to the street. Doug and Karen would dance as they passed such a place, then continue walking.
“A rather lively group out this evening,” Doug observed. “Almost as though they’ve been freed from some sort of prison.”
“They’ve no idea, though, do they,” Karen said. “At least, I hope not. Have you noticed how much more aggressive the police are than they used to be.”
Doug looked over to where a group of officers stood outside a nightclub door. “Yes. Gone are the days of that nice officer Harwick walking the night beat. he loved the village. Loved the people in it. These guys … they don’t have any connection to the people. They act like they’re doing one a favor by not arresting them for breathing.”
“But then, Officer Harwick didn’t have to worry about all these kids getting drunk and running their cars into light poles on the way home,” Karen reminded him.
Doug chuckled. “Remember how he used to handle Drunk Eddie, though? He’d take him over to the canal, strip him down to his underwear, and make him stand in the water until he sobered up.”
Karen laughed at the memory, then added. “I can just see him trying that today. Taking a bunch of kids down to the canal, making them stand in the water … That would be quite a sight!”
“It would be,” Doug agreed, “Especially all these pretty young girls in their underwear.”
“Those who are wearing underwear,” Karen said, pointing to a bra lying abandoned on the ground. “Some people just can’t wait to get undressed, I suppose.”
“A feeling with which we’re certainly familiar,” Doug said.
Karen jabbed her elbow into Doug’s ribs. “At least we had the good sense to take our underwear with us,” she said smiling. “Can you imagine what Mr. Rideski would have said had he found my panties on the door of his bagel shop?”
Doug laughed so loudly as to make others look for the source of the noise. “That was quite a night! The bagel shop, the laundry, the grocery, your father’s garage …”
“We were so naughty,” Karen teased.
“We still could be, you know,” Doug offered, grinning. “We definitely wouldn’t get caught.”
“True,” Karen agreed. “That is an advantage. But it just wouldn’t feel the same, if you know what I mean.”
Doug nodded in agreement. “That’s a definite disadvantage. No one warns you about that.”
They walked a bit further, past a brightly lit nightclub with people standing in line to have their ID checked. They stood and watched for a moment before continuing down the sidewalk.
“Remember when we were the ones down here every night?” Doug asked.
“All too well,” Karen said. “After all, we pretty much still are.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Doug whispered.
Karen put her arm around him and snuggled close. “I know. And even after all these years, I still can’t imagine anyone I’d rather be stuck walking the streets with than you.”
He kissed the top of her head and felt a sudden jolt as a group of young women ran into them.
One of the girls stopped. “Guys, we just ran through that couple!” she said to her friends. Then, turning to Karen and Doug, offered an apology, “I’m sorry, as I’m sure you can tell we’ve had a bit too much to drink.”
“Please, don’t drive,” Karen said, smiling.
“Don’t worry,” the girl promised. “We’re taking a cab home.”
“Who are you talking to,” one of the other girls asked.
“That couple we ran into,” the first answered.
“Come on, you’ve had too much to drink.”
Karen and Doug watched the girls as they turned the corner, then continued their walk.
“That ought to make her dreams interesting,” Karen said.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Doug replied. “We’ll have to be more careful where we stop to kiss.”
“Funny how it’s only the really drunk ones,” Karen mused.
“Sad how many end up joining us,” Doug replied.
A cool breeze blew from the South.
“Time to go,” Doug said.
“It’s been so pleasant.”
Another gust and they faded into the wind, leaving nothing on the streets but the glow of neon and memories of a love that once was.
This one is a little longer but well worth the time. While the story is strictly fictional, I’ve wondered how many times it has been played out in real life, at least in part.
The old priest mumbled through the graveside service as though he were somehow wasting God’s time, hardly pausing to breathe. I hadn’t expected much of a turnout. Nun’s funerals typically aren’t well attended. I hadn’t expected to be the only one there, either. The plain, gray casket didn’t even have any flowers, and I felt guilty for not having thought of that detail. Even in death, Sister Agnes had found a way to push my guilt button.
I fingered the rosary in the left pocket of my best trousers. One might think that after all those years of Jesuit school I’d remember which bead went with which prayer, but I’d been quite intentional in making sure those brain cells were totally obliterated from my mind years ago. I hadn’t even thought of the rosary until Sister Agnes had pressed this one into my hand; it had been her last assignment to me, though I was clueless how I was to complete the task.
“Promise me, Lucas Philburn Nash,” she had whispered. She had always addressed me by my full name. “Promise me you’ll return this to its rightful owner. I am done with it now. It must be returned.”
I had, of course, wanted to ask to whom the rosary might belong. Was it a current student who had left it behind in a desk? Someone in the parish who forgot it in a pew? This little piece of information seemed rather critical, but it never came. Her eyes simply closed and she ceased to be. Death had come that easily. That quietly.
The last amen was barely audible and I might not have noticed the service was over had the priest not immediately turned to leave. I sighed, took one last look at the still-open grave, and turned toward the curb where my car was parked. Crying seemed appropriate, but I had no tears available, not even for Sister Agnes.
She was instantly recognizable, standing at the corner of the rectory looking as though she was committing a crime simply by being there, expecting to be caught and arrested at any moment. Some sixty-plus years had passed, but her face still had a look of youthfulness that had not changed. Sister Agnes only had one picture in her possession. I had seen it sitting on her desk so many times that its image was seared into my mind. I had only once dared to ask who the young woman was. Sister Agnes had been quick and stern in her rebuke and I hadn’t asked again. Now, though, I was about to find out. Somehow, she had found out about the old nun’s passing and was here.
I tried to smile as I approached, but it was not enough to keep the frightened woman from turning and walking quickly in the opposite direction. “Excuse me,” I called. “I think I have something of yours.”
She stopped and slowly turned, tears filling her eyes. “How could that be,” she asked. “You don’t even know who I am.”
“She knew you would come,” I said, instantly loathing the tone with which the words came from my mouth. I took the rosary from my pocket and pressed it into the woman’s soft hand.
Fingering the beads, the old woman finally smiled. “It’s been 64 years since I’ve seen this rosary,” she said. Then, looking up at me as though she had just thought of something odd, she asked, “What might your name be, young man?”
“Lucas Philburn Nash,” I said hesitantly. I was quickly growing curious about this mysterious old woman.
She smiled. “Your father was Lawrence.”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied with genuine astonishment.
Taking my hand in hers, she began walking. “Come with me, Lucas. I have something you need to see.”
There were plenty of other things I could have, should have, been doing that afternoon. Yet, there’s something about a mysterious stranger showing up and saying, “I have something you need to see,” that automatically pushes the pause button on everything else. I expected to be guided to a car, probably an older model, large, domestic, with only a few thousand miles on it. Instead, we walked a mere four blocks to an old brownstone walk up.
She hummed softly as we walked. A thousand questions were building in my mind, but unsure of which to ask first, I stayed silent. Only when we reached the front steps of her home did she finally introduce herself. “My parents named me Gracious,” she said with a smile, “but you may call me Grace, Mr. Nash.”
“Thank you, Grace,” I said. “Might I ask how you knew my father?” I asked, “and Sister Agnes?”
“We’re getting to that,” Grace answered as she turned her key in the lock. Opening the door, she instructed, “Have a seat there on the sofa while I put on water for tea.”
The living room was an antique dealers dream. None of the furnishings were any less than forty years old and most considerably older. Only one lamp shoved almost shamefully into a corner was modern enough to seem out of place. Decades of lives coming and going lingered in the fragrance of cleaning oil and age. The walls were adorned with pictures of almost every kind, including the requisite Sacred Heart. A crucifix hung over the door. The highest parts of the walls were darkened from years of radiated heat. This was a well-lived-in home.
Grace returned from the kitchen with a frame and a photo album in her hands. She set the frame on the coffee table in front of me. “You’re familiar with this picture, I assume.”
I was. This was the same photograph Sister Agnes had kept on her desk for as long as I’d known her, and probably longer. The picture was of two girls in Catholic school dress, sitting on the steps of the very church we had just left, smiling.
Grace sat next to me and put the well-worn photo album in my lap. “Before you open that book,” she said, “I must ask, how much do you know about your father’s family?”
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head. “My father was adopted. He went into the Army right out of high school and both his adopted parents were killed in a car accident while he was in Korea.”
“Yes, that was most tragic,” Grace said. “They were such wonderful people, doing what they did. Really a godsend.” Genuflecting instinctively, Grace said a quick prayer for my adopted grandparents. “Go ahead, open the book,” she said when finished.
I opened the cover carefully. The first picture was that of a small baby, a young couple presumably the child’s parents, and a priest. I looked to Grace for an explanation.
“Your grandparents, the day they received your father,” was the answer I needed. “They had been trying for so long and had so much love to give. There really was never any question that they were the best choice for raising Lawrence.”
“So, you knew my father?” I asked, trying hard to hide the strange mix of emotions stirring inside.
“Yes,” she smiled, “but go on. There’s more.”
I carefully turned the pages, one after the other, as pictures of my father’s childhood, teen years, and military service filled the pages of the photo album. About halfway through came his wedding; that picture I knew well. Then, just a few pages over was my baby picture … and Sister Agnes. “Sister Agnes was there when I was born?”
“Lawrence wouldn’t have let her miss it,” Grace said. “He had just figured everything out for himself and insisted Agnes be your godmother, though technically that was against Church rules.”
“I don’t understand …”
Grace turned a few more pages, to a picture of my father standing next to Sister Agnes, minus her habit. The connection was instantly obvious. The eyes, the mouth, the smile.
“How is that possible?” I asked. “Are you trying to tell me … “
“Yes,” Grace said, filling in where I couldn’t. “Agnes was your real grandmother.”
My head was spinning now. I had grown up in Sister Agnes’ continual oversight, to be sure. As a child, it seemed no matter where I turned she was there. But … she was a NUN, for Christ’s sake! “I don’t understand. How?”
Grace sighed. “I understand you are a fairly liberal-minded young man.”
The old woman first went to the kitchen, bringing back to cups of steaming tea. took the frame off the coffee table and looked at the picture fondly, tracing her finger over the image of Agnes’ youthful face. “We didn’t even know lesbian was a word back then,” she started. “All we knew was that we couldn’t control what we were feeling and we knew that would eventually get us both into trouble. A casual touch here, a hug there, and by the time we were 16 our sleepovers at each other’s houses were nothing short of full-scale love fests. Our parents never seemed to expect a thing. They just thought we were best friends … “
Tears formed in Grace’s eyes as she spoke. “Our birthdays are just two weeks apart, and when we turned 17, Agnes’ mother said something about us double-dating. Up to that point, we neither one had even thought about boys. We knew if we didn’t at least pretend to be interested, though, people would start getting suspicious. So, we picked a couple of guys who seemed safe and went out on a double date. At the end of the night, my date took me home, walked me to the door, and that was it. Agnes’ date, however, took her to the park and raped her. She seemed to know instantly that she was pregnant.”
“My father?” I asked.
“Yes,” Grace said. “Of course, back then it was quite shameful to have a child out of wedlock, not at all like it is today. Agnes’ parents couldn’t stand the embarrassment so they sent her to live with an aunt in Texas. Everything happened so quickly we neither one knew what to think. My best friend, my first and only true love, was yanked from my life. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. The day she left, I knew I needed to give her something to remind her of me, but didn’t know what. At the last moment, as she sat crying in the back seat of her father’s car, I gave her my rosary.”
“So, what happened?” I inquired, my curiosity now quite high and I could feel my whole world spinning on its head. “I mean, I’ve grown up with Sister Agnes looking over me, quite literally, but I’ve never seen you, despite the fact I grew up in this neighborhood. How is that possible.”
Grace smiled. “We wrote for a while,” she explained. “I helped her choose the Nash’s as your father’s parents. She wanted him to be raised here, in the same church she was raised. Father Macelhaney was quite helpful and understanding. I wanted to see her after the baby was born, but when she entered the convent she was immediately cloistered. The letters stopped. Mine were returned unopened. I’m not sure where all they sent her, but she was as good as gone. So, I decided that I would move on as well. I finally found a guy I could stand, married, had two children of my own, all the while being careful to keep a watchful eye over your father. I remained friends with the Nash’s, though they never did know my connection with Agnes. When Lawrence joined the Army and the Nash’s died, I was afraid I would completely lose touch.”
“But he figured out she was his mother,” I inserted.
“Quite well,” Grace said. “He had even tracked down the address of the house in which she was raised. He and your mother, Vivian, showed up at my door one Saturday morning, carrying this box of records they’d collected. He knew I would be able to confirm what he already knew. He wanted me to help him find Agnes. There was no way he could have known how excited I was to do that not just for him, but for myself. It took a lot of phone calls and more than a little wrangling with diocese politics, but we finally found her in a small parish in Iowa. I don’t have any idea how he did it, but Lawrence somehow convinced that Agnes had to be re-assigned to this parish, and never moved. I always suspicioned there was some money involved, but that was none of my business. All I cared about was that Agnes, MY AGNES, was coming home!”
Grace hugged the picture to her chest and rocked back and forth a bit before continuing. “The first time I saw her when she stepped off that bus, all those old feelings came flooding back. I loved her just as much then as I had when we were teenagers. For that first couple of weeks, we neither one could have been happier. Of course, she had her church duties to attend to, and I had grandchildren, but we still managed to spend each moment we could steal in each other’s company. And that was a problem. Agnes had made a vow, and it was one she took quite seriously. She had given her life to the church and there simply was no reneging on God. We knew, we both knew, that if we kept seeing each other, even in church, we would not be able to stay apart for long. I figured Agnes had already sacrificed enough. Vivian was pregnant with you. She was thrilled to be a grandmother, even if she couldn’t tell anyone about it. I had to be the one to sacrifice this time. So, I moved.”
“Your husband agreed to that?” I asked, surprised.
“Oh, he couldn’t have been happier. He hated this neighborhood. We moved to Florida and played the retirement game. Agnes still sent me pictures, obviously, but I kept my distance for as long as I could.” Grace set the picture back on the table. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She reached for a tissue and dabbed at the moisture in old-lady fashion. I took her frail hands in mine.
“So, when did you come back?” I asked.
“When she didn’t send a Christmas card,” Grace answered. “My husband had died, kids and grandkids all scattered. When she didn’t send a card or answer my letters, I knew something was wrong.”
“She’d gone blind, couldn’t see to write anymore,” I explained.
“Yes, just about the time you graduated college, wasn’t it?” Grace added. “And you mercifully dropped by to read to her once a week. I should have recognized you. You have her eyes, too.”
“She taught me to read,” I said. “She taught me everything.”
Grace smiled. “I was at mass every Sunday, but she never knew. I can’t tell you how many times I would see her kneeling there and want to speak, but … it just didn’t feel right anymore. As she got worse, the parish kept her cloistered more. I’m pretty sure, for the past three years, you’re the only one from outside who has been allowed any contact with her.”
I nodded. It had only been Sister Agnes’ own seemingly crazed fits that had allowed me to keep up my visits. Other nuns made sure she was fed and bathed, but other than that she had no contact with anyone. The last year before her death she had not even spoken until the last few days before her death.
“Why didn’t she tell me?” I asked. “She told me so much those last two days, about where she’d been, what she’d learned, what I needed to know … why did she not tell me she was my grandmother?”
Grace took the rosary and placed it in my hands. “She did, the only way you could be told.”
The sky had long grown dark and there was not one but two parking tickets on my windshield by the time I returned to my car. I didn’t mind. So many questions always stirring in my mind made sense now. I could proceed with eyes open, understanding. For all Sister Agnes had taught me, this, finally, had been my real education.
Our final story is quite short but I hope you’ll carry its final message with you: just dance.
The glow of a dozen different digital monitors was the only illuminate in the room. Still, that was quite enough for the attending physicians to read the notes on their charts.
“All the tests have gone well to this point,” said Dr. Adrian Campbell, an experienced researcher whose reputation was several times larger than her diminutive physical appearance. “I think we’re ready to attempt reanimation.”
Both doctors looked yet again at the nude female form that had been the subject of their research for so many months.
“Amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish already,” Dr. Ellen Cartwright said. As head of the John H. and Karen M. Phillips Research Center for Medical Studies, Dr. Cartwright was responsible not only for funding but ensuring the success of the research undertaken within her facilities. “Even if reanimation isn’t possible just yet, what we’ve already learned is enough to move medical science forward by leaps and bounds. I mean, she actually looks as though she’s alive.”
“I guess that depends on how one wants to define ‘alive,’ ” Dr. Campbell answered. “There was no organic internal organ we were able to save. The heart, the lungs, complete digestive system, is all machinery.”
“So essentially you’ve just built a robot inside a human body,” Dr. Cartwright said, her voice sounding concerned.
“I don’t think so, Ellen. She still has her own brain, her own thoughts, her own memories. Her cognizant abilities have not been impaired in any fashion.”
“But she has no real heart. She’s all metal and silicone and plastic on the inside. Does she even eat organic food?”
“Yes, and it is critical for her muscles and brain that she does so. Except for the energy spheres, she should appear and function as normally as any other human. Emotions come from the brain, not any other organ. She should still be able to feel, to love, to care, just like you and me.”
“So, she is still human.”
Dr. Cartwright studied the notes on the chart some more. “We’re ready to attempt reanimation then?”
Dr. Campbell smiled. “Simply a matter of turning on the lights. The energy spheres are fully charged and should initiation animation once the lights are on.”
Dr. Cartwright closed her notes and placed her hand on Adrian’s shoulder. “Collect your team, then. This could be a historic day.”
Thirty minutes later, as twenty sets of eyes watched through the observation window above, Dr. Campbell removed the last of the monitors from the body and repositioned the table to an upright position.
“Dr. Campbell, how do you think the subject will respond upon reanimation,” someone asked.
“If my assumptions are correct, she should resume whatever activity she was engaged in when her organic body died. Unfortunately, we have no idea exactly what she might have been doing at the time of original death.”
Adrian made a vain attempt and primping her hair a bit. She knew cameras would be recording whatever happened or didn’t happen, next. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the reanimation of Allison Bently.”
With that, the darkened room suddenly filled with over 5,000 watts of light. There was a pause, and then movement. Allison smiled, and everyone on the observation deck cheered. Allison took two steps away from the examination table, and then, just as Dr. Campbell had predicted, her brain took her back to the activity in which she was engaged at the moment of her last memory.
And she danced.