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by Peter Koronakos

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Paola Bruni


     Father McMurty thrust the brass key into its home and listened impatiently for the lamentable thunk of the deadbolt. He pressed his thin, emaciated frame into the stately oak door, using the combined might of taciturn muscles and arthritic limbs to open the left and then right, the toe of his sandaled foot flicking the metal doorstops in place. As always in the early pre-mass hours, the entrance to Our Lady of Angels Church was silent and cool. His hand reached for the holy water and brushed his forehead and chest with a practiced sign of the cross. Father McMurty inhaled the residue of frankincense and the sweet rich aroma of soil, a moist scent that oozed through the church’s ventilation system, a maze of rusty pipes housed beneath the wood and marble-laced flooring.
     He gave the antique pocket watch that dangled from his belt a cursory glance and noted the time, 5:30 a.m. The watch gave him pleasure, which some in his order believed a sin. It was his father’s watch, a rose gold Parisian Lepine from the eighteenth century. He’d kept it in an uncharacteristic show of hubris, or a full-on revolt against an overly pious Byzantine bishop, and displayed it prominently beside the strand of polished wooden beads and crucifix that hung from his roped waist. He amused himself with the occasional thought that Jesus watched the time tick by as he hung there, counted off the hours, minutes, and seconds until his ordeal would be over. Perhaps, he thought, his brow arching quizzically, I am projecting. Hum. Am I not the one counting?
     He pushed open the vestibule doors and stood, his eyes adjusting to the semi darkness. Alongside the nave, lit votives nestled in their respective wrought iron frames, forming constellations beneath lumbering clay statues of the Holy Virgin, Jesus, John, and Paul. A weak moon shown dimly through the stained glass window in the north transept, showering the crossing with a multi-colored radiance. Motes swirled and gathered. McMurty smiled a crooked smile and with his right hand, patted his unshaven cheek. I am not sleeping well.
      He studied the simple altar, as tiny bits of light suddenly flamed, burst into prism, and reassembled. McMurty caught his breath. Fiery prickles singed his forearms, face, and neck. His chest burned hot. A wave of energy shot through him.
     Above the sacristy, the translucent figure of a man was suspended. Auburn hair hung in loose, flowing curls around his youthful pale skin. He had a straight nose, high cheekbones and a strong chin. His medieval armor was inlaid with silver and gold. Broad wings in downy white feathers fanned to and fro. An orange cloak, attached at the nape of his neck, swirled in the breeze.
     McMurty’s mind rebelled. This isn’t happening, he thought. Then recognition filled him, and he uttered a cry in jubilation, “Micheal!”
     A shuffle of rubber-healed shoes dragged McMurty’s attention to the church aisle where he slumped, his cheek pressed against the cool marble tile; his priest’s robe a pool about his bent torso.
     “Fah-der, Fah-der, McMurty. Fah-der, you hee-ah me?”
      McMurty knew the voice. It was Agnes Cunningham, on schedule for seven o’clock worship. But her voice arrived as though by messenger from another world, slow and thick as molasses. He felt her thin fingers dig into his shoulder.
     “Fah-der!” Agnes said anxiously.
     “I hee-ah you my dear. No need shout,” he whispered, as he pulled himself into a seated position.
     “But Fah-der, you bleeding.”
      McMurty turned and a frowning Agnes came into view, her aging Asian face a panorama of simple beauty. “Agnes,” he said. “You so lovely. So lovely.” His words slurred, a mock lilt of Agnes’s Japanese ancestry mirrored in his speech. “Everything okay. I not bleeding.”
     It was just Agnes, but it was more than Agnes. Her heart beat within him, her sweet breath filled his lungs, her thoughts and feelings settled on his skin like snowflakes.
     “You hurt yourself Fah-der? You fall down? You sippin’ da wine? My cousin, Lilly Tachi say fah-ders sip too much wine.”
     McMurty felt Agnes’s fingers squeeze his hands, and he dropped his gaze. His palms oozed tiny droplets of buttery purplish liquid. Had he been drinking? The thought seemed as absurd as eighty-year-old Agnes’s jet-black hair. He only consumed the brisk, tasty Merlot while chanting the Eucharist in Apostolic Latin.
     “No drinking,” he uttered, raising his palms to his nose and giving them a sniff. Yes, it was the acrid, metallic smell of blood. He flipped them over. More blood. How amazing.
     In his peripheral vision, Alice wrung her hands, rolling them over and over.
     “I call abulance,” she clipped, waving her arms like a startled dove beside him.
     “No, no. Please no, Agnes,” he replied.
      McMurty reached for the top edge of the mahogany pew to his left and rested his fingertips on the polished wood, careful not to smudge the lacquered surface with his bleeding palm. He raised himself to a standing position and gave Agnes his most reassuring smile.
     “Fah-der, I call somebody? You lie down. You need bandage. Oh! Oh!”
     Father McMurty positioned his body toward the long, straight aisle ahead, an aisle that knew his weary footfalls by heart. Automatically, he scanned the bowed heads resting on forearms. They were a small, dedicated lot, fearful, droning prayers for absolution. They had entered politely, through the side doors and the rear chapel. Their backs, male and female curved under the weight of their perceived wrong doings.
     “Fah-der,” Agnes nudged him once, and then twice, her yellow plastic rain slicker, one she wore even on the warmest days, squeaked against his hip. Her arm wound around his waist in a move of such intimacy, he nearly collapsed.
     “Here, here, Fah-der.” Agnes took a step forward. McMurty matched her Geisha-like stride, his forearms bent, palms upright, bloody rivulets drawing thin rivers down to his elbows.
     Quite unexpectedly, his vantage point shifted, and he saw himself, a haggard sixty-seven-year-old balding priest, being marched toward the altar by a petite Japanese woman, his bloody mitts extended like a zombie’s. He laughed. Perhaps I am to be married!


Paola Bruni is the internationally award-winning editor of HOPE Magazine and a writer with nearly twenty years of experience in both the corporate and philanthropic sectors. Since founding WritePath Strategies in 2004, she has successfully raised millions of dollars for non-profit organizations located in communities throughout Northern California as a grant writer and strategic consultant. Her first book, Let God Love You Up, is a nonfiction work based on the teachings of the Reverend Zoë Inman. It is slotted for publication in January 2014.

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