~ the raven chronicles ~ 8

18 Apr

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Fr. Michael Leavell, OP.
Sacred Heart Church
Raven, Ohio

November 17, 1932

St. James Cemetery is a beautiful, forlorn place, filled with fabulous monuments to those who have passed from this mortal coil. I often come here to reflect and pray. I did just that today, after I left Sterns-Carson, nearly eight hours ago. My mother would have thought it perverse to tarry among the dead for such a length of time, but this place gives me solace and a true sense of what life really is. Today, I saw what my life might have been, had I but taken a different path.

Daylight is fading now, and I must set down what happened before darkness falls, for when darkness falls, I fear my beautiful vision will be consumed by the darkness. I also fear that it will be lost by translation into words, but to postpone putting this pen to paper any longer is to simply delay the inevitable. I have clung to the images all day, carried them in my mind like one would hold a small bird in the hand; lightly enough so as not to injure it, tightly enough so as not to let it fly away.  Every dreamer must awaken, eventually. That is exactly what a I feel like at this moment, a dreamer. Yet, I know today that what I experienced was not merely a dream, and though it may be a presage of something sinister, I have embraced the beauty of it as long as possible. In the end, though, I must not let my emotions divert me from the task at hand.

I am resting now on a small stone settee, adjacent to the grand mausoleum that has been built to receive the widow Hollingberry, when once her good work on this earth is finally done. I have taken my companions, pen and Moleskine, from my jacket. I will remain here until I finish my account of the day.

I traveled to Sterns-Carson this morning, earlier than necessary. My eagerness could not be contained, for I truly believed, vainly perhaps, that I had a solution to the puzzle that is Mrs. Sinclair. I met Dr. Agnostica as he entered the building. He did not seem particularly surprised to see me. He did look as if he’d had a rough night. Seated in his office, we had a brief conversation during which I told him of my thoughts and my plan to give Mrs. Sinclair the diary. Despite his attempt to conceal it, the scorn on his face was plain as day. Still and all, he capitulated to my wishes like a weak sister. I think he could be a dangerous man, the type who accedes to other’s demands, hates himself for having done so, and then lashes out like a viper. I would not care to be around him when his blood finally rises.

After I prevailed with Agnostica, as I knew I would, I left his office and walked unobtrusively through the corridors of  that palace of torment until I came to the desolate wing where Mrs. Sinclair is housed. The orderly of the hall was the same one who had been there yesterday, a formidable man, with something resembling a scowl that appears to reside permanently on his face. He said, Good morning, Father, I take it Dr. Agnostica knows that you are here. Yes, he knows, I said. And you wish to look in on Mrs. Scott, he said. I was confused for a moment, until I remembered the alias that Dr. Agnostica had created for Mrs. Sinclair. Yes, I am here to see Mrs. Scott, I said, would you kindly open the door for me. Surely, he said, but you’ve got to announce yourself first.

He stepped over to the cell door, slid open the speakeasy window, and turned back to me. Go ahead, Father, he said, let her know what you want, she’s usually very accommodating. I let his coarse innuendo go by unremarked and stepped closer to the door. Mrs. Scott, I said through the small aperture in a voice that sounded rather loud and ridiculous to my ears, I’ve come to visit again. No response came from inside. The orderly titled his head and said with a leer, She’s not goin’ to answer you; have yourself a look, make sure that bunny’s not laying around in her birthday suit, else we’ll have to call the matron first ‘fore you go in. Then he winked at me like I was one of his pub mates. I resisted the urge to strike the lout, managed to hold my tongue, and decided instead to report his behavior to Dr. Agnostica.

I put my eye to the small window and peered inside. Mrs. Sinclair sat on the narrow bedstead with her hospital gown in perfect arrangement, ankles together and hands on her lap. She looked like a schoolgirl waiting for instructions to begin. I closed the speakeasy window, turned to the orderly and said, You can unfasten the door now. He gave me an oily little smile. With pleasure, Father, he said. The metal hatch swung open, and I entered the room. After the door closed behind me, I waited a few moments until I heard the rude man’s footsteps echo up the hall.  Mrs. Sinclair remained upright and composed, eyes lowered. Struck once again by the aura of beauty that shone forth even through her dissembled appearance, I wondered how radiant she must have been before her current circumstances.

Mrs. Sinclair, I said, can you hear me? She did not stir, but continued to be fixated on her hands. I would have felt like a fool talking to her if not for my conviction of her cognizance. Mrs. Sinclair, I ventured again, I believe you can hear and understand me. She remained unmoving. I realized then that I could speak to her all day and probably not elicit a response, so I simply said, I’ve got something for you. I then unwrapped the diary from the brown paper I had fastened around it, stepped closer to her bed, and offered the book. She remained  impassive, and I thought perhaps Dr. Agnostica was right after all, and that I had been presumptuous in my assumptions and deluded in my purpose regarding this woman. Then, without looking up, she reached out and took the red leather book from my hand. Gently laying the volume in her lap, she slowly opened it to the center, reverently, as if she were unfolding a sacred text. Then she ran the fingers of her left hand across the blank pages and came to rest on the right leaf. She extended the index finger, and laid it near the top of the page, as if pointing to a passage only she could see. I was totally mesmerized by her actions, and looking back on it now, I believe I would have been unable to look away, even if I had wanted to; but I did not want to look away, though I had a creeping sense that within that moment, my immortal soul lay vulnerable and in danger of corruption.

Her finger remained fixed to the page, and after a few more moments of silence, she raised her head to look up at me. The long, blonde hair fell away from her face. I gasped, for the face before me was that of Katy Donan, a young girl I’d known in Dublin, the girl with whom I’d pledged my troth when we were both but fourteen. Her father had been a doctor, and a man of progressive beliefs, who believed that whatever his daughter chose to do with her life, she should be educated first. So, she went off to boarding school, and in her absence, I subsequently received the call to my vocation. At sixteen, we parted as friends, and I never saw her again, until this afternoon.

Through eyes as deep and blue as Mrs. Sinclair’s, Katy looked at me, wordlessly and with a longing that tore at my heart. Her sumptuous lips parted, as if she would speak, speak the words of love from our days so long ago. Without hesitation, I stepped forward, and my lips joined hers. We kissed, deeply, fervently, and a grand vision unfolded: Katy stood with me, together at an altar, and a priest consecrated our union; then inside a mountainous feather bed, we lay side by side, skin on skin; we kissed once more, she enveloped me and our souls came together in a joyous rush; and then I stood in a nursery, holding a baby in swaddling that cooed and gurgled at me; and then I sat in a great armchair with a multitude of children at my feet, Katy perched beside me on the arm of the chair, a woman of years, but still radiant in her beauty; and then I stood on the walk of the Lighthouse at Cape Wrath, looking out over the North Sea with a child in hand, and when I looked down on that child, the face that looked up at me was my own; and then the dream vanished like smoke in a gale, and I found myself, once again, staring into Mrs. Sinclair’s shocking blue eyes. She slowly lowered her gaze back to her lap, removed her finger from the blank pages of the diary and closed the volume.

I remained unmoving, my body numb and my mind awhirl from the totality of what I’d just experienced; a glimpse into a life I might have known—no—would have known, but for the path that I had chosen. That realization struck my heart like a 10lb.  sledge: the path that I had chosen, not the one chosen for me by God, as I have always believed.  That knowing tore at my heart, and a profound sadness covered me like a shroud. I whispered her name, one time; Katy...

Long moments passed, and I began to feel ashamed, as if I stood in that cold chamber naked in mind and body, every flaw in my character visible, every heartbreak of mine a plaything for the creature seated before me to do with as she wished.  A warning voice told me to retreat, told me that I had come unarmed into the worm’s lair, and that if I didn’t leave immediately, I would be subsumed. I finally managed to moisten my lips, and spoke; Dr. Agnostica has promised to provide you with pen and ink, I suspect he will only allow you to write in the dayroom, under supervision. She did not answer, or stir; I knew the time had come for conclusion. I do hope that possession of that book will help you find your way back to the woman that you once were, I said.

Then, Mrs. Sinclair raised her face once again, and fixed me with her fiery blue eyes. Her expression of utter contempt carried the inexorable power of a distant, nascent storm; a storm that could sweep away everything before it.

I finally turned away from her, stepped over to the closed speakeasy window and called for the orderly. After a few moments, the door swung open and I walked out into the hall. I turned around and caught a glimpse of Mrs. Sinclair as the door closed; she remained seated on the bedstead, glaring at me. The orderly latched the door and said, She’s quite a woman, eh Father, the kind who could tempt any man, I’m thinking. You should keep your thoughts to yourself, I said without hesitation, or share them with those of your kind who might be interested in your vulgar speculations. Rather than take offense at my remarks, he seemed to be amused by them, and  responded with nothing more than a guttural snort before he turned and strolled away up the corridor swinging his great ring of keys.

I reached out with one hand and leaned against the wall, eyes closed, suddenly overcome with exhaustion, as if I had just performed some strenuous feat. I heard a faint, distant, polyphonous sound, like the voice of a woman singing and the whisper of a breeze and the sound of a crow cawing across the sky, all joined in some ancient, mystical song. I felt like Odysseus, unbound from the mast, tempted to dive into a sea of certain perdition. I used what felt like my last ounce of strength to right myself and walk away from the ether surrounding Rhea Sinclair.

I quickly made my way through the labyrinth of Sterns-Carson, purposely avoiding interaction with anyone I encountered. I walked out the front door of the sanitarium, down the wide steps, and over to my automobile. I laid both hands on the roof of the sedan, bent down and gathered my breath and composure. After a time, I got into my car and drove off. Without conscious thought, I came straight here, to St. James Cemetery, where the living commemorate the dead, and the dead inspire our prayers.

If what I have seen is to be believed, then the seal of our forefathers has been broken once again, and those who are imprisoned, strain at the taste of release. But the thirst for release is not liberty, and they are not yet free to do as they please, not until they find the key that they have sought for so many aeons. I must be vigilant, as Grandmother warned, and not be diverted by my own desires. Rhea Sinclair is merely the path to my understanding, the window by which I might view their world and decide how to best move against them. Her beauty is a formidable distraction, a diversion which could easily thwart my intent if I had not been versed in the ways of enchantment. Still, she is a powerful haunter, and not to be underestimated.

The gauntlet has been laid down. I must remain resolute, and strong of heart, and steadfast of spirit, for to fail in any of these, could mean disaster. Like Horatio at the bridge, I must hold my ground. I pray again for God to give me the strength to perform my duty.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved


One Response to “~ the raven chronicles ~ 8”

  1. Kris April 19, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Very moving Ed… your soul really goes into your work, that’s too obvious to mention, but I am anyway.

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