The Catholic Church was a beautiful structure, the grey stone arch rose above the oak laden doors and above that a circular stain glass window with a mosaic of colors that depicted the cross of Jesus. Sometimes the light shown on it perfectly and the detail blazed into the retinas of the onlookers’ eyes, other time the clouds muted the scene and the mystery of the cross was only alluded to. Either way, the beauty of the craftsmanship lived on.
Becca had passed the church many times and admired it. She shied away from organized religion, but still was drawn to some of its rituals and ideas. The Catholics had both good and bad aspects to their religion, as was true of all religions she had investigated. But she liked some parts and embraced those that fit her heart, Mother Theresa, and Pope John Paul for starters. She didn’t abide by all they stood for, but the underlying tenants of love and pure Christ-like behavior rang true to her.
She stood in front of the massive doors knowing the church was likely to be empty as it was past morning mass. She took a deep breath and pushed the door open sliding quietly through. The darkness of the empty church muted her sight, she caught the light of the burning candles, the candles one lights for the departed or sick. Their flickering light guided her down the front aisle of pews until she stood in front of the alter.
A statue of Christ on the cross loomed high behind it. She looked up and caught the eyes of the sad statue who endure eternal torture, nailed by his limbs, a crown of thorns embedded in his skull, and by the poverty of the small minded who placed him there. Becca wanted to pull him down and save him, release him from this eternal torture, but she knew it was a symbol for the Catholics on so many levels. To her it was one more piece of evidence that man was cruelest to its own species. She was so lost in thought and remorse that she didn’t hear the priest approaching.
“May I help you child?” a young male voice said. The words shattered Becca’s reverie and she jumped as though the words had stung her. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you,” the voice continued. She turned around and there stood the priest, a young man of perhaps thirty. He wore simple black clothing, a white priest collar, and drab black shoes. His face was clean shave, with deep set brown eyes and thick dark wavy and unruly hair.
Becca was taken back, “Azrael?” she whispered. He could have been the human version of the Angel of Death, or at least his brother.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” the priest continued. She shook her head but watched his every movement. “I am Father Ian,” he offered. “You missed mass, I’m sorry to say,” he added more brightly realizing the young woman was completely lost in his church. He knew every parishioner, and he had never seen her before.
“I’m Becca, I was told to come here,” she faltered. Becca looked helplessly around, she felt like a stranger in a strange land. “I’m sorry, maybe I was mistaken.” Her voice cracked with emotion and she trembled.
Seeing her distress the young priest said, “Come, sit. Let me get you some water.” She sat on the front pew, the smooth worn surface spoke of thousands of hours of devotion that had worn away the finish of the woods surface. She absently stroked the pew with her fingers. Father Ian handed her a paper cup of water which she took gratefully and drank deeply.
“Now, my child, what brings you to St. Mary’s?” he ventured.
She could smell his scent, it was musky and earthy, he didn’t smell like a man of God. She looked at him, he had a kindness about him. She glanced over his shoulders, he caught her gaze, “Just checking, no wings eh?” she giggled unsure of herself.
He laughed, deep and heartily, “I can assure you I do not have wings! But I am flattered you might think so.”
Becca took a breath and figured she might as well just say it, “It’s just that you look a lot like a friend of mine who does have wings,” she blurted out. She waited, breath held to see his response.
“Ah, you are lucky if you have such friends! Tell me, what is your friend’s name?” The young priest was intrigued, his mind was racing the moment he saw Becca. She looked so familiar to him yet he couldn’t place her. Then the thought occurred to him and he glanced over her shoulders.
Becca burst out laughing, “No, no! I don’t have those either! Unfortunately I am just as earth bound as you!” Her laughter was bright and pure and it danced around him awakening feelings that had fallen into slumber.
“Oh, I was just checking, you know, one sometimes does not realize when they are entertaining angels.”
“I beg to differ with that, I am quite aware of ‘entertaining’ angels! They don’t like to go unnoticed!” Becca confided.
“So, tell me then, what is your angels’ name?” the priest was excited on so many levels his head swam.
Becca rubbed her hands together and bit her lower lip, she felt as though she was exposing a huge secret that might back fire on her or at the very least get her thrown out of the church. She took a deep breath and whispered his name “Azrael,” the name floated over her lips and landed in the ears of the priest who eyes grew wide.
“Did you say, Azrael, the Angel of Death?” his voice was hushed and low. He looked at Becca with anticipation. She only nodded her head slowly as she released the breath she had held in a long control stream of air. She turned away from him and closed her eyes silently praying for guidance, had she said too much too soon. Would he believe her?
“Who are you?” Father Ian took her hand and pulled her back to him, “Who are you? I know you, I know you from somewhere.” And then he did something and felt something he had denied long ago. He pulled Becca into his arms and pressed her against his body. He smelt the light perfume of her hair, and felt the softness of her body against his. He held her close wanting to make certain she was human, not a sprite or spirit or worse a demon.
Startled, Becca melted into his embrace and sobbed, releasing the Great Sorrow that followed her every waking moment of her life. This he recognized, this he knew was just a woman whose heart had been broken and never repaired. He held her silently, lovingly, but not as a man held a woman, this he knew was forbidden, but his heart said otherwise.
When her sobs subsided he released her, “I’m sorry,” she murmured sensing many lines had been crossed. She stood, “I am sorry” she repeated in a strained whisper and then bolted out of the church. The stunned priest stood to call after her, but the massive wooden doors had already swallowed her departure.
Becca ran as if her soul was on fire. She ran as if the chariots of the God’s were in pursuit. She ran as if to out run herself. She ran until her breath refused to renew her and became sharp pains in her sides. By this time she was well past the town and deep within solace of the bordering woods.
She walked briskly bending over every few feet surrendering to the pain. Finally she just stopped and plopped down on the ground of moss and pine needles. She pulled at the earth with her hands bringing up great clumps. She begged the earth to swallow her whole. This was all too hard. Why would God ask her to do this? Why did he think she could pull something like this off? That priest must have thought she was insane. She sobbed again, she didn’t even know where the tears came from, her body wracked as it released the pain of the Great Sorrow from even deeper depths.
The Great Sorrow had borrowed itself so deeply into her being it lived in every cell, every bone every sinew of her being. She wanted it out. She didn’t want to feel it anymore. She didn’t want to feel anything anymore. She wanted to die. It was selfish she knew, but she wanted peace. She wanted the pain to go away. Her soul hurt. She sobbed until her eyes were dry.
She heard heavy breathing behind her. There, ever faithful, Kallie appeared. She pushed Becca over and kissed her face. Becca laughed in spite of herself, ‘no one loves you like a dog’ she thought. Kallie was her savior today. She pushed her away and gently stroked her fur, “You goof! How did you find me?” Kallie just wagged her tail and waited for further instruction. “Okay, missy, let’s go home. I think I’ve done enough damage today.”
Becca and Molly had become friends in high school; they wanted to tackle the world together. So they both signed up for nursing school and worked at the same nursing home part time as aids as they worked for their degrees. It was hard work but rewarding. Becca loved caring for the elderly; they were full of stories and experience. She learnt so much from them.
Molly was her sidekick, full of mischief always scheming on their next adventure. The funny thing was, they were so busy between school and work they had little time for adventure, but that didn’t stop Molly from dreaming up a future of far away travel in exotic locations with handsome companions. Becca would just laugh.
Becca was in the dining room setting up assorted residents for lunch when Molly came bounding in, “Hey, Becca! Someone is looking for you! Boy are you in trouble girl!” she had a mischievous look in her eyes so Becca didn’t take her too seriously.
“Really? Who would be looking for me?” Becca asked innocently.
“You know that really good looking priest from my parish? Father Ian, oh la la, what a waste! Well he was asking around for you!” Molly danced a little dance. “You’re in trouble girl!”
“Shit, I mean shoot! Where is he? Is he here?” Becca was getting nervous. She looked down the hall and saw the usual cast of characters milling about.
“He was just at the desk asking for you! I don’t know if Nurse Bent –out –of- shape gave you up or not. You know how she can be! I can’t wait until we’re real nurses and then…” but Becca didn’t hear the rest of the tirade Molly was spouting. She saw him walking down the hall towards them, smiling and chatting with the residents along the way.
“I’ve gotta get out of here, now!” Becca panicked. She didn’t want to see Father Ian again, not yet. It had been three days ago since there first encounter, and she felt it hadn’t gone well to say the least. She danced around looking for an escape route.
Molly slid up beside her, “Hey, seriously, what’s the problem. It couldn’t be that bad, you not even Catholic for Christ Sake!” Becca’s agitation was growing and Father Ian was closing in.
Mr. Brown called her over to his table, “Be a dear and help with this milk container, I can’t seem to open it today.” Becca forced a smile and open the milk, placed a straw in it and adjusted the napkin on Mr. Brown neck. When she turned back around Father Ian was standing smiling at her. She wanted to avoid his eyes but found that she was completely drawn into them. Despite herself she smiled back and said, “What a nice surprise, Father Ian. What brings you to our fine establishment today?”
Molly’s jaw dropped, her friend had done a complete turn around and found composure where moments before there had been none. Father Ian extended his hand, “I was looking for you, Becca.”
She swallowed hard and shook his hand, determined to keep the charade alive. “Well it appears you have found me. So what can I do for you?”
“Is there somewhere that we can speak in private perhaps?” he asked. The residents were all ears; anything out of the ordinary was fair game in their very routine lives. And now the lovely Becca was being called upon by the town priest, something juicy was amiss.
Molly intervened, “Why don’t you go out into the courtyard, no one is out there now. I’ll keep everyone happy in here,” she offered. She too was swallowed by curiosity, Becca hadn’t mentioned anything about this, and she thought they had no secrets.
The courtyard had several wooden benches and a small grouping of trees with flower beds. Father Ian walked to the bench farthest from the prying ears, much to the dismay of the lunch time audience. He and Becca sat a formal distance away from each other. “I am glad I found you, I thought perhaps I had imagined our encounter the other day,” he began.
Becca twisted her hands and lowered her eyes, “I’m sorry Father, truly I am. I should have never…” she faltered.
“Becca, please don’t apologize. I am the one who should apologize. You came to the church for solace and I somehow turned that into anything but.”
“No, you don’t understand. I mean I have something important to tell you. Oh God it’s going to sound so weird!” she began to tremble again, why did this man make her tremble. She could stand to be in the presence of the Angel of Death, but this priest, he undid her. She looked away and scanned the flowers. The roses were past, their petals strewn on the ground fluttering in the warm breeze.
“Please Becca, let me say this first. I know you. You are the woman of my dreams,” he stopped embarrassed. “I mean, my literal dreams. Ever since the bombing, I have seen a face, and it is yours. Please tell me why do I see your face?” Father Ian’s usual calm demeanor was pained.
Becca stammered and sputtered and her head swirled making the words jump without order. “You see, well I was, I am, oh shit, oh God I am sorry,” she stopped overwhelmed.
“Take a deep breath and tell me what you know. If you need to do this in a confessional we can do that. But I can promise you this, whatever you tell me I won’t repeat anything you say. You see I have been working with the parents of some of the young victims and anything you can tell me may bring them comfort.”
“What? What you think I know something about this? That I was somehow involved? Are you fucking crazy!!” Becca’s voice rose in volumes and the entire lunch room tuned in to the last two words. Becca was flushed and angry and beyond herself. She dropped her head in her hands and hid. She heard the door of the lunch room open, the stern footsteps, the abrupt silence and then the foot tapping on the concrete just inches away from where she sat.
“Is there a problem here Father Ian? Becca?” the stern voice belonged to the director of nursing Mrs. Quimby. She had been Noah’s wet nurse the girls had giggled. Becca continued to hide her face.
Father Ian, in his most pious voice protected her, “I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding, Mrs. Quimby. If you would be so kind as to allow Becca and I to resolve this situation, I would be most appreciative.” He looked at the older woman, with her tight grey bun, her stark white clothing and piercing black eyes and smiled most disarmingly.
“Let me be clear, I will have no profanity in my establishment Father. I am not sure what you accept in your church but this is my residents home, I want peace and quiet. Is that understood?”
“Of course, Mrs. Quimby. You have my apologies. It won’t happen again,” he soothed her.
“Becca? What do you have to say for yourself?” Mrs.Quimby demanded.
Becca lifted her beet red face from her lap looked Mrs. Quimby straight in the eye and said, “I quit!” She pulled herself off the bench and strided purposefully through the lunch room and bolted down the hall out of the building.
Mrs. Quimby looked at Father Ian, “Well that was unexpected. Perhaps she will change her mind. She’s one of the best aids I have. Whatever you said to make her lose her control you had better fix Father. I hold you personally responsible.” She glared at the young priest and marched back through the lunch room with all mouths agape.
Father Ian nervously made his way out of the building stopping only to ask Molly if she knew where Becca might go in a time like this.
“What did you say to her? Becca never loses her cool, especially at work! Geez, Father, what am I going to do without her?”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Quimby didn’t take her quitting seriously, in fact she blames me. So it’s really important I find her.” Father Ian looked beseechingly at Molly.
“Try the park, she likes the swings. I know it’s silly, but she’s still a little girl inside,” Molly confessed.
Molly knew her friend well, Becca swung listlessly on the swings trying to make sense of how confusing her life had become since Azrael’s latest appearance. Had she really quit her job? Worse, had she really sworn at a priest at the top of her lungs? What was happening to her?
Father Ian sat down in the swing next to her, “I’m sorry Becca. I should have never come to your place of work. Please forgive me.”
She looked at him sideways, “You’re much too handsome to be a priest, Molly is right, what a waste!” Becca didn’t care, her filter was broken and she was just going to say whatever the hell she felt like.
Father Ian blushed, “Thank you I think. But God’s plan was obvious to me from a very young age.”
“Yeah, well let me tell you a little something I know about God’s plans. Sometimes he makes mistakes and sometimes those plans are downright stupid! My cousin died at six from cancer, now there was a brilliant plan don’t you think?” Becca bite off the words as if each was a verdict to sentence God to eternal stupidity. “And then there’s you, a perfectly fine specimen of a man devoting yourself to God’s plan and denying yourself a life. That’s just another stupid plan in my book.”
Father Ian became more and more uncomfortable. “Listen Becca, just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it stupid,” he stated.
“Yeah, I know, Azrael said those very same words to me when I was five years old. Tell me something I don’t’ know, man of God.” She was bitter, her heart hurt, she was confused, here was a man she felt completely drawn to and there was no way anything would ever happen between them because of God’s plan.
Father Ian dragged his feet in the sand beneath the swing, “Do you believe in true love, Becca?”
“I suppose, but what difference does it make? Azrael is in love with my cousin and they are completely different species. He’s helpless in his love for her, so I ask you, what difference does it make?”
“It does make a difference.” He looked at her far away gaze and tried a different tactic, “Love can take many forms, it doesn’t always have to be romantic, you know.”
“Oh, well I thought you meant romantic love, sorry, stupid me.”
“God’s love is all powerful. His love sustains us even in our darkest moments. His love shoulders our burdens of doubts and angst, his love can heal anyone, anytime or any place.”
“You really believe that? So God’s love is enough for you? You don’t long to be held, or, well, you know,” Becca stopped herself.
“I didn’t say that. I just told you something I thought you might not know. Now I will tell you something else. I know you are important to me, just how remains a mystery, but I would like to discover it with you. Please tell me what it is you are holding inside you. It is important I know.” His face radiated a love and kindness Becca had never seen before, she wanted to tell him everything.