Monday, July 18, 2011

ELEVEN: Curiouser

            The phone book listed the mailing address of Saint Cecilia Parish Rectory as a post office box number (all this happened before the phone book had become a casualty of human communications technology). There was no phone number.
            Diana called directory assistance.
            The operator said the number for the Saint Cecilia Parish Rectory was unlisted.
            Diana asked if that didn’t strike the operator as weird.
            The operator had no opinion, ma’am.
            During her lunch break Diana searched bank records and found that the Saint Cecilia Parish Rectory was located on Old Harbour Road, a two-lane macadam road that wound out from the northeast side of town. After work Diana drove along Old Harbour Road where for several miles there were old farmhouses that had been there for decades and newer houses where old farmhouses had once stood. Beyond them was the state park that claimed thousands of acres of old growth forest. Saint Cecilia’s Rectory had to be somewhere along the first two or three miles out of town before the state park land began.
             When she got to the state park, she turned around. On the way back she passed a graveled turn-off road hedged by overgrown trees and bushes. About ten yards in on either side of the road stood two old stone pillars that between them supported an old iron gate.
              Was Saint Cecilia’s rectory on the old Pedersen estate? She parked the car at the gate and got out.
  Sometime in the 1960s the Pedersen Mansion had been turned into a convent for discalced Carmelite nuns. What had been a private estate for more than a century became a private cloistered Church property. No one ever met or had talked to the nuns who lived there. No one knew how many nuns there were, though when Diana was in junior high there were jokes that mostly assumed an even number. The age range of the nuns also was a matter of speculation, though Diana remembered jokes about that too. The nuns remained hidden from their occasional visitors, communicating only through a “turn”, which was a barrel-shaped revolving wooden cabinet in the wall near the front door, used since the Middle Ages to pass goods into monasteries without violating the cloister. “Turns” mostly disappeared as a result of the Vatican reforms of the 1960's. But not in Falkes Hollow.
             It was known among the children of Falkes Hollow that you didn’t trespass on the mansion grounds, especially after their conversion to convent grounds. The property was far enough out of town and the gravel drive went far enough onto the property that when it also involved God and the Church, everyone pretty much left it alone.
            Except for once.
As Diana now pulled the gate open wide enough to slip herself through and walk up the gravel roadway, she felt like the prepubescent interloper who had once ventured onto the grounds. When she was ten or eleven, she had been exploring the banks of the Schuylhanna River outside town where it was more creek than river. She saw a car stop in the middle of the Schuylhanna Bridge and a man got out, walked to the railing, dropped a burlap bag into the water, and got back into the car and drove off.
Diana watched the bag float toward her until she realized that two kittens had clawed out of it and were sitting on top mewling and shaking. Diana scrambled along the bank with a stick in her hand until she could walk out onto some rocks into the water. At a turn in the river-creek she rescued the kittens.
            There was no way her mother would allow her to keep them and since she wanted to take them somewhere where she knew they would be cared for, she put them into the bag and put the bag into the basket on her handlebars and she biked out of town along the Old Harbour Road. She left her bike in the bushes outside the iron convent gate and she took the kittens with her up the gravel drive. When the mansion came into sight, it looked like a stone castle with a big round turret at the corner closest to her. In front of it, the gravel drive ended in a paved brick cul de sac. She knew she should go back, but she had to do something for the kittens.
            She saw the “turn” but she had no idea what it was. She put the bag on the front stoop and she rang the bell and then she ran across the brick circle to hide in the flowerbed on the other side. The door opened and a wimpled head looked out, saw the bag, looked up and around, then took the bag inside. Diana ran back to where she had hidden her bike and she raced it all the way home.
            That was fifteen or sixteen years ago. Some years later she thought she had heard that the nuns had since left the mansion, but she wasn’t sure. Of course, how could they still be there if Father John lived there? And if they weren’t there and Father John was, that would mean that Saint Cecilia’s Parish Rectory was not much more than a decade old and that Father John Nepomucine had not been in Falkes Hollow for longer than that. She was going to find out.
            She crossed the brick circle and went to the front door with some of the same dread and excitement of that young girl years ago with the bag of rescued kittens. The “turn” had been converted to a planter. She rang the doorbell. Her heart was pounding. No one answered. She tried again. Then she walked to the side of the house and peered into windows. There was old furniture in every room. Nothing, however, that definitively said rectory.
            "This is private property.”
            Diana shrieked and turned. At the corner of the house stood an old man dressed in dirty overalls and holding what must have been a long-handled garden implement, though it was shaped like no garden implement she had ever seen. He stared at her from the shadows of a crumpled brown felt hat.
           “I came to see Father Nepomucine,” she said. Did her voice sound as thin to him as it did to her?
            He looked at her as if he hadn’t understood what she said. She thought she smelt sulphur. Finally he said, “He’s not here.”
            That means this is Saint Cecilia’s!
            “When can I see him?” she said.
            “He doesn’t see people.”
            Directory assistance doesn’t find it weird that the parish rectory has an unlisted phone number and the rectory gardener doesn’t find it weird that the parish pastor doesn’t see people. Diana was considering asking him if he knew the Mad Hatter--or more probably Leatherface--when he said, “Best go now, miss.” He held the rake-hoe-pruner-eviscerator as if he were modeling for American Gothic II and he watched until she turned and walked down the gravel drive.
            She wasn't conscious of a moment of the drive home. Her mind was racing.
            When she pulled up, she saw Les sitting on the front stairs. They hadn’t made dinner plans, had they? He didn’t look annoyed, but he did seem troubled. His eyes were sad.
           “I brought dinner,” he said lifting a bag of groceries. “Mind if I come up?”
She decided not to tell him of Diana's Adventures in Slasherland.
            They went upstairs. The kitchen was too small for both of them to work so he sat at the little breakfast table and she made dinner.              
“Where are you staying?” she said.
            She got a four-quart pot from the cupboard. “Where are you staying? Not in West Tilton, right?”
            She filled the pot with water and set it on the stove. “You’re sleeping in your office, aren’t you?”
            “Right again.”
            “Well, Jiminy fucking Christmas,” she said. Then: “Stay here.”
            “Okay, not forever, but we’ll make it work.”
            “This is way too small a place.”
            “Les—" She was at the sink washing cherry tomatoes and romaine lettuce.
“It’s okay," he said, “I understand. I’ll work something out.” He stood and reached over her to the cupboard and took out plates, then he went to the silverware drawer. “I may take Lydia up on her offer to sleep in the downstairs study for a while. At least Patti and Derek would have some sense of normal family life.”
             “The underpass on the toll road would be safer and more welcoming,” she said and he looked at the stab wound on his left hand. “Even with majorly pissing off the troll that lives there.”
 He nearly laughed.
 “You can’t live in your office.” She tore the lettuce and arranged it on plates.
 “I wanted to call you this afternoon, but I had no idea where to call.”
 “I wanted to talk to you, too,” and when she made a concerned face, he said, “Not about my living situation.”
 “About what?”
 “About despair.”
  It was her turn to say, “Huh?” She stopped dribbling olive oil on the salads and she looked at him hard.
              “About getting your Mellon Bank family to pay for you to take my acting class this summer.”
  She plunked the bottle onto the table. “I repeat: Huh?” She sat dramatically. “And I raise you a What? Why?"
  He smiled. “Same reason I wanted you to come to rehearsals this spring. I’m in despair.” A beat and he sat at the table. “I’m being torn apart. Teacher me, Husband me, Father me, Lover me. That’s a lot of major me’s to keep going all at once. Husband me and Father me are pretty close to becoming bleeding corpses and you won’t argue that Lover me ain’t been so hot this last week or so, so I was hoping you would maybe help me out before Lover and Teacher me go the way of the Husband and the Father."
“Taking your acting class?”
“You want to get out of the bank, don’t you? Let Mellon pay for you to do that.”
“Acting class?”
“You take a business course that makes sense to Mellon suits and an acting class that satisfies distribution requirements for the BA you’re working toward as you move up in the Mellon Family Banking business. And they subsidize it. And we get to see each other and be together outside of class. You think I’m a pretty swell teacher anyway and that’s good for Majorly Fucked Up Ego me. Win-win-win all round.”
“Aw man, you Dickhead, I love you but you’re making me kick sand in your face twice in less than two weeks.” She put linguini into the pot of boiling water. “I just offered to compensate for throwing you out of my house and now you’re gonna make me shoot down your plan to elevate my mind and increase my career advancement prospects.” 
“Registration’s tomorrow.”
“Argh. They’ll never go for it, it’s too last minute.”
“Yeah they will. I called today. Talked with Whatsisname. He thinks it’s a great idea.”
“What!” She was trying to open the bottle of pasta sauce.
“Besides providing you with an individual self-improvement opportunity, the bank gets points for community outreach and employee advancement and blah blah blah…. Say yes and tell me why you wanted to talk to me today.”
“I went in search of Saint Cecilia’s Parish Rectory.”
            “And I’m going back tomorrow.” She grunted and the lid resisted.
            “Didn’t Father Nepomucine rattle your bones at the memorial?”
            “He’s a weird fuck priest, but he’s the kind of weird fuck priest Moira would love. Tell me you'll register for my acting class and save my despairing soul.”
            “I want to know what Moira’s connection with him was” --the lid was resisting mightily— “and what was his with her.”
           “She was Catholic. So is he. She was weird. So is he.”
           “If you come with me tomorrow, I’ll take your acting class.”
           “If you play a Hardy Boy with me, I’ll take your acting class.”
           “Did Nancy Drew know Joe Hardy?”
           “Fuck Nancy Drew.” She handed him the bottle. “You’re Joe and I’m Frank and together we’ll solve The Mystery of the Under-the-Radar Rectory. Do we have a deal?”
            He twisted the lid and it gave way with a pop.


No comments:

Post a Comment