‘There is No Death’ – a short story (Part 4)

In the last installment, Father Curran visits the funeral home and meets another person who apparently knows of his forthcoming death. Curran rejects his claims and he’s told men of faith are usually the ones who have the most trouble with their version of the afterlife. Here’s Part 4:

It’s been raining for days, a permanent cloudiness settling over the church. Curran slogs through the days, the weeks, trying to forget. Frankenburger left to help young priests at the seminary, and Bernie sits in the empty rectory wallowing in his grief.

He reads the Book of Job, which mildly comforts him. He listens to confessions, wondering which side of the stall he should be on. He visits a dying parishioner again, wondering if his words mean anything. He fights on, and he tells no one.

“Father Curran!” Mary Gabin says when Curran arrives at the hospital. “So good to see you again. My mother will be thrilled.”

Loretta Gabin, ninety-four years old, is rotting away in the hospital bed. Curran wonders if he touches her face if it would disintegrate into dust and clumps of flesh.

“You look great, Loretta,” Curran says. “Still sharp as a tack, too.”

Loretta mumbles and Curran leans in and shakes his head. Her eyes are glazed over and staring into deep space. Her patchy white hair makes her look like a scarecrow.

“She’s lived a full life,” Mary says. “She always loved you, Bernie.”

“The feeling is mutual. She was a pillar of the church.”

Mary asks Curran to say a prayer to shepherd her mother into the unknown. Curran pauses for a few moments, a feeling of dread in his stomach. He wants to tell Mary the truth. He wants to tell Mary he has no idea where Loretta is going.

Instead, he says, “God bless Loretta Gabin and welcome her into your Kingdom, Lord. Ease her suffering in her final days so she peacefully returns to your arms.” He pauses, the rosary clasped between his hands. “Take this wonderful woman and turn her into an angel for her family and loved ones still here on Earth. Amen.”

Mary’s eyes are watery, and her hands are together in prayer. She hugs Curran for a few moments, as her mother stares off into nothing. Curran puts the rosary in his pocket and sits and opens his Bible. It’s what she wants, isn’t it?

“I know you know your scripture, Mary,” Curran says. “Here is a passage that has always comforted me in times of grief.” Curran turns to Isaiah 43:2, the dread now rising from his stomach to his heart, inching its way up. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

They sit in silent prayer, the beep of Loretta’s machines the only sound. The setting sun makes columns of shadows on Loretta’s bed through the window blinds. Curran’s mind twists and turns like a drugged hamster on a wheel, frothing at the mouth.

Curran returns to the empty rectory that night and forgoes his prayers. He pulls out the business card again and calls Van Winkle. He agrees to meet him at a bar later that night. His faith decomposes, shattered by the sheer force of misery.

To be continued …

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