‘There is No Death’ – a short story (Part 2)

In yesterday’s installment, Father Curran is approached by a man who looks like an alcoholic Rip Van Winkle. The man tells the priest he works for an unheard-of government agency that helps people transition to the afterlife. Curran thinks the man may be insane – but is he? Here’s Part 2:

The meeting with Van Winkle feels like one of the lucid dreams Curran’s been having. Dreams of his late wife, Lisa, bloodied after the car wreck that killed her. Dreams about the sadistic nuns in his Catholic school screaming and chasing him through the halls with rulers high over their heads.

After morning prayer, Curran puts on a pot of coffee. It’s six a.m. and the sun is rising over the field. The clouds have a deep orange hue set against the dark blue sky.

“Good morning, Bernie,” Father Frankenburger says.

“Want a cup?”

They sit on the porch and watch the sun rise. Curran lights a cigarette.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Frankenburger says.

“There has to be some pleasure in life.”

“God is the ultimate giver of pleasure.”

“Knock it off,” Curran says. He stares at the sky, his mind wandering. That familiar depression is settling in his stomach again. That ache and longing.

“The funniest thing happened last week,” Curran starts after a sip of coffee. “A man came to me after mass and told me I’d be dead in two months.”

“Did he threaten you?”

Curran takes a drag and says, “Not exactly. I thought he needed help. Maybe he is. But he seemed so sure of himself.”

Frankenburger looks confused, as he often does. “The mentally ill are the hardest demographic to reach. They thirst for God in their hearts like we all do, though.”

Curran ignores him and takes another drag. If it’s not in a theological text, the Frankenburger can’t understand it. His insistent naiveté annoys Curran.

“I suppose he may be right,” Curran says. “I’m seventy-five years old. It wouldn’t be unlikely for me to drop dead.”

Frankenburger’s eyes widen. He puts his coffee mug down and says, “I’ll pray for you, Bernie. God has a plan for all of us. His motivations are often mysterious.”

Curran heard Frankenburger say this to a distressed parishioner before, and it made him cringe. No shit, he thought. “You know, Joseph, life is more than what you learned in seminary. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“I’ll pray for you anyway.”

“Good.” They sit in silence, listening to the birdsong and watching the sky blaze with orange. Curran must visit a dying parishioner and her family today and, deep down, he’s dreading it. He’s watched end-of-life moments so many times before. But the doubt and depression are eating at him, and it kills him that he’ll have to be the comforting presence.

In his three decades as a priest, Curran has experienced doubt before. But now it feels like the walls are closing in. He’s confided these thoughts to few, if any, in the church. Pride was always one of his worst sins.

Frankenburger is due for prison ministry – a job Curran thinks he’s ill-suited for. He walks off the porch and leaves Curran alone with his thoughts. Curran lights another cigarette and pulls out Van Winkle’s business card from his pocket. Tonight, he’ll call the bearded man to see what all of this is about.

To be continued …

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