Glantz stood in the long grey shadows of the hall, heavy-lidded, and,
himself, all listing as though he were asleep on his feet. The house was
silent. He had been told to wait and he was waiting, lulled by the gloom
and his rake of pints, whose effects had drawn, or would have appeared
to have done so, some manner of self he could comfortably assume from
deep below the surface of his nominal expressions; in his movements, in
the tenor of his breath, from some hidden and innocent cranny within, a
man emerged who could mutely smile and, amenable to all, guide the
drifting vessel of his bulk pacifically through the thinning evening
air, through the gloom, to the long grey shadows of the old priest’s
home, there to wait, just as he had been told, for the sister to come
and speak to him.
With a hand against the dark wood of the spandrel, he turned and
followed the stair as it rose with its wide and shallow steps, hooking
around and over his head, punctuating the question on which he might
have been chewing as to from which direction the nun would appear. He
had, as far as memory serves, been told to wait this way before, but
never for the arrival of somebody else, never for the Mother Superior.
As on his previous visit, there were no lights lighting the hall, the
only illumination coming from the tall, narrow window on the stair’s
first landing, before it wound back around up and over Glantz’s head,
and continuing on to the house’s upper floors. Glantz angled his eyes
towards the window, the lenses of his glasses catching the sky.
From the banister guarding the landing, two balusters were missing; the
splintered shard of one, like a pointed tooth, remained in place,
lending their absence a sinister aspect, intimating violence and force.
As Glantz, as though in contemplation of the breach, stood with his face
raised towards it, the senior sister approached from behind. A shorter
nun, who Glantz had previously encountered, was beside her; both wore
expressions of doleful concern.
“Mr Glantz,” the Mother Superior began, “if you would follow me.”
“I’m here to see Father Lorqan,” he slurred. “I’m here for making, to
She smiled tightly in response, the cast of her eyes still sorrowful.
“Sister,” she spoke to the woman beside her, “perhaps you might prepare
some tea?” The smaller nun passed Glantz, scuttling towards the back of
the house. The other, with a slow and graceful stride, began to walk
towards the room in which, as far as Glantz had ever known, was where Fr
Lorqan received his guests. They stopped outside the open door.
“You were a true friend to our dear Lorqan.” She spoke gently, in a
calming voice, though making no effort to go unheard were the priest in
his armchair to have overheard. “I’m afraid he has not been doing
terribly well. We had thought he might have contacted you, but it
Glantz nodded deeply into his chins, a belch, perhaps, supressed.
“We have it on reliable authority that he hears and understands what is
said to him, but I’m afraid he’s no longer able to respond. The damage
done to his vocal cords makes speaking impossible. He may nod or shake
his head, he may gesture, but don’t be aggrieved if he doesn’t. That a
man who was once so eloquent, fiery, even, if I may concede that, is
reduced to such muteness is a pity indeed. But such are the ways of the
Lord.” She sighed. “Our brother Lorqan—” her voice caught in her
“His appearance too may cause some distress. He has lost weight. As you
can imagine, his eating has been no less impacted by the damage the
rope, such as it was, the sheet, to speak precisely, did to his neck.
Beyond that, I must also warn you about his eyes. In the force of the
fall, not impact, exactly, how to explain. I’m sorry. The snap of the—
as it bit, to put it crudely, Father Lorqan’s retinas detached. Though
his eyes are open, I’m afraid that he’s quite blind.”
Glantz looked back towards the missing balusters, then turned to the
nun: “Did he say—Did he explain?”
“We found nothing among his belongings that offered any kind of
explanation. No “note”, so to speak. We had been aware of his general
demeanour in the days and weeks before. I could even say in the months
and years. Father Lorqan, as I’m sure you well know, was prone to his
moods. But no. There was no warning. No indication as to what, in
particular, set his mind to that course of action. We can only be
grateful that the Lord intervened to save him. Had the banister not
Glantz frowned. He took of his glasses and rubbed his bleary eyes,
pinching the bridge of his nose. He pressed the knuckle of his fist into
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way, by surprise. Had we known to
Glantz stood with his head bowed.
“I’m certain it will do him some good that you came, regardless,” the
nun went on. “If you might permit me to ask that, after you’ve concluded
your visit, you tell Sister Moira to inform me. As far as we are aware,
Lorqan has no family, no surviving relatives at all, and it would be a
blessing and a comfort, I’m sure, if were able to call on you, as a
testament to his years of service to the church, when the time comes.”
“How long has he got?”
“God willing, he won’t be taken from us yet. The bruising to his neck is
healing, though slowly, and with that he will soon be eating properly
again. There is still the hope that some degree of speech might return.
He sight, alas, will not recover.”
“He wanted to die,” said Glantz.
“And we can offer thanks to God in prayer that this errant impulse was
forestalled. Lifting Father Lorqan up in our intentions, showing,
through our companionship, that faith in the Lord can still offer
salvation, that is our work now, that is our task. You will pray for
him, I’m sure, as we all have. It is a tribute to him, our brother
Lorqan, to remain with him in his suffering, and keep him in our
“Here is Sister Moira with the tea. I will leave you to your visit.”
Sr Moira passed between Glantz and the Mother Superior, entering the
drawing room with a single cup and saucer in her hands. Glantz would
have heard her setting it down. She emerged having not said a word to
the priest sat in his chair. The two nuns stood side by side.
“Do make sure to come and see me before you leave,” the Mother Superior
repeated, her hands entwined. Sr Moira looked Glantz up and down.
As Glantz entered, the room would have looked as it always did: the
heavy curtains drawn, light cast from the heavily shaded lamp alone,
fire meagre in the grate; the plush and velour of antique furniture, the
carpet, threadbare on the route to the sofa from the door, the shadows
too, absorbing every sound, every step pressing Glantz closer to their
muting bosom. He might have caught his reflection, a ghost across the
panes of the glass-fronted bookcases and dresser, gliding eerily over
the spines of their sacerdotal texts, their leatherbound tomes.
Lorqan was, too, as he always would have been, sat in his armchair,
facing the fire, a tartan blanket tucked over his lap. Glantz hesitated
behind his chair. Neither man moved. On a nesting table at the far end
of the sofa, near to the hearth, Glantz’s tea was steaming, the fire,
even less than the faint glow it produced, putting out barely a blush of
heat. Still Glantz might have felt the drop of sweat that ran down the
collar of his shirt.
Fr Lorqan shifted in his seat. Once he would have spoken up, chastised
Glantz, chivvied him along. Glantz came around to stand beside him. His
neck was a mottled offense of bruise, of abrasion, a grimace of scabbing
that jeered convex rising around the jawline and up towards his ears.
Glantz looked away. Lorqan’s milky eyes stared unblinking, catching,
within, reflected flickers of cold flame.
On a table set just to the left of Lorqan’s chair, a votive candle, now
extinguished, had been placed. Alongside it was a picture frame, which
encased, in calligraphic scripts, the words of a prayer Glantz would
have recognised. He moved around the sitting priest, picking up the
frame. He read it, his eyes flitting back and forth. When he put the
frame back, lying face down on the table, he had left prints from his
fingers across its dusty glass.
Glantz reached out and rested his hand on Fr Lorqan’s shoulder. The old
priest started. “It’s Glantz,” he was told.
Lorqan lifted his hand to Glantz’s, and hooked his fingers around the
edge of his palm. Glantz closed his thumb, marred with smut, across
them, squeezing with a gentle but distinct palpitation. Tears welled in
the old priest’s absented eyes. Releasing his hold, Glantz, with a
knuckle, took the tear from Lorqan’s cheek. He patted his shoulder and
went to sit. Lorqan’s hand stayed resting at his neck. For a long time
after that, neither man spoke.