A Second Visit to the Priest
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 make absolution.”
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 appears not.”
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 throat.
“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 broken—”
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 his forehead.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way, by surprise. Had we known to contact you—”
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 prayers.
“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.
by Adina Polatsek
... The rain checks of May give way / to harsher things ...
by Ántonia Timothy
... I take a piece of the devil / (not in the Roman sense), / and pop it in my mouth ...