Father Curran has committed to this new philosophy of the afterlife. He’s not sure whether he will, in fact, die soon. But his old faith is in tatters – that much is certain. Here’s the conclusion of “There is No Death”:
It’s Sunday morning and the sky opens and pounds rain on the rectory roof, waking Curran at 5 a.m. It’s been raining for a week. He’s barely slept, waking frequently from bizarre dreams of his wife rising from her grave. He sits at his desk and looks over his sermon.
Job is the only thing he can relate to, and barely. His sermon feels hollow and empty, but he’s unable to change it. The words aren’t there. He’s stopped cursing God. Now there’s nothing to curse. He flings the curse words at himself.
Frankenburger is back from the seminary and in the kitchen making breakfast. “You look terrible, Bernie,” he says. “Are you sick?”
“No sleep,” Curran mumbles.
“I can give mass, if you like.”
“Not necessary.” Curran wants to strangle the young priest, so healthy and hopeful. He sits on the porch and watches the rain and chain smokes. It’s been two months since Van Winkle sat here and foretold his death. Curran wonders if he killed himself if he would still live out Van Winkle’s dark fantasy.
At mass, Curran’s knees shake as he walks up the aisle. The seats are barely filled. The organ reminds Curran of the Ozzy Osborne song and the stained-glass windows remind him of the years he spent miserable in seminary, grieving his dead wife.
When he sits down at the front, he sees Van Winkle in the front row again: same Metallica shirt and cargo pants, looking like he hasn’t showered in years. Curran steps to the podium, clears his throat, and begins to speak.
“Many of us go through times of great suffering,” he says. “But we should not forget God in these times. The Father is right beside us, pushing, pulling us through.” The words fall from his mouth as if he were not speaking them. Van Winkle’s piercing eyes stare at him.
“We turn to the Book of Job,” Curran says. “Job says, ‘But you say does God know? Can he judge through the deep darkness?’ The answer is yes. God sees us in our suffering, sees us through it. We may not always agree with his plan, but it is His will, not ours.”
Curran stops and stares at the faces in the crowd. Mrs. Stevens, holding her baby, a single mother who has fled her abusive husband, stares at him. He turns back to Van Winkle; whose gaze goes right through him. A feeling of nausea overtakes him. A black hole in his stomach spreads throughout his body like a cancer.
“I can’t do this,” Curran says weakly. The faces in the crowd look confused. “I don’t have the answers. I don’t have the answers you want. He does, though.” Curran points to Van Winkle. “He can tell you. Ask the man with the long beard.”
Whispers spread through the church. “Who is he talking about?” Mr. Drury asks his wife. “I don’t see any bearded man.”
Frankenburger walks toward Curran, trying to get things under control. That’s when Curran feels the tightness in his chest. He leans forward against the podium, catching one last glimpse of Van Winkle before he collapses.
“Bernie!” Frankenburger shouts. “Call 911,” he says to an altar boy, and then, “Stay with me, Bernie. I’m right here.”
Curran stares into Frankenburger’s face, the image going in and out. The pain in his chest gets greater and he can feel himself slipping away. “Keep your eyes open. That’s good. I’m right here, Bernie,” Frankenburger says.
The congregants are talking to each other, some of them walking towards the podium to get a closer look. “God damn it,” Curran says. “He said it. The man with the beard, he told me this would happen.”
Frankenburger doesn’t know how to respond, unsure if he’s ever seen the man Curran is referring to. “The ambulance is coming, Bernie. You’re going to be alright.”
Frankenburger’s face finally slips away and Curran sees darkness. He only hears the voices now, the murmurs, the muffled noises like he’s wearing headphones. He’s falling away and he’s terrified as the voices grow softer. He’s terrified of what comes next.
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