~ the raven chronicles ~ 26

13 Apr

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 20, 1932

Mrs. Sullivan stepped out onto the porch with the last lunch sack and remained there chatting with the working men. That I should feel like a thief as I cut a thick slice of roast and made a sandwich for myself, is testimony to the force of will exerted by our housekeeper; everything with a place and everything in its place and woe to those who fail to observe.

I refilled my coffee cup and crept off into the rectory to find a quite place to eat my breakfast; my train stopped at the first station—the dining room table.

The life of a priest consists of regular periods of solitude throughout each day, and I realized as I sat there eating my breakfast, that I had not been alone for nearly 24 hours; I welcomed the respite, and relished the peace and quiet along with my sandwich and coffee.

After the last bite the first thing that entered my mind was to lay down for just a few minutes and then proceed with my morning; I knew that would be an error; once I closed my eyes, if even just for a short nap, I would be of little use to myself or others for the rest of the day. No, I must keep busy; maintain my regular schedule.

Then it dawned on me—’twas Sunday; so lost I’d been for the past 2 days in my own little world, that the day of the week had escaped me. I literally jumped to my feet, so swiftly that I startled myself, then I headed for the church sacristy.

I found Monsignor Byrne, removing his vestments; I glanced at my watch—8:22—I’d missed 7AM Mass, the first time I’d been derelict in any of my pastoral duties.

Good morning, Michael, Father Byrne said; then he gave me that ever-present gentle smile of his, removed his cassock and placed it on a hanger.

Monsignor, I apologize, I said; I spent last evening talking with a good friend, fell asleep before his fire, and awoke this morning without a notion of the week’s day.

How is Mary, the Monsignor replied, I’ve not seen her at early Mass all week.

You could have knocked me over with a feather; I’d not mentioned to the Monsignor anything about Wallace or our endeavors. In quick order, remembrance dawned on me; Annie Sullivan and Mary Wallace were sisters, and sisters do share all. The next question that arose was how much Monsignor Byrne knew of the entire story; or at least the parts that Mary Wallace had deduced from my visits to Sterns-Carson.

Wallace tells me that Mary spends too much time at the Sanitarium, I said; Many nights, without returning home.

She is a compassionate woman and a dedicated nurse, Monsignor replied, but I hope those admirable qualities do not cause her to neglect her marital responsibilities.

You know that they have no children, I said, and she has become quite attached to a foundling that lives at the hospital.

The Monsignor looked at me; that the notion struck him odd, was written on his expression. If he only knew that Zeke was a child one step removed from the wild things, I believe he’d have gone apoplectic.

And what does Mary intend to do about that, he asked; And what does Wallace have to say about it.

If I told him what Wallace had to say about it, that would lead to the Monsignor asking my opinion, which would lead to my judgement, which would lead to the fact of my visits to Sterns-Carson, which would lead to my reasons for those visits. I’ll not go down that road; Monsignor Byrne will know only what he can glean from his conversations with Mrs. Sullivan; his conclusions will be ones that he draws on his own.

William is not happy, I said, not happy at all.

Mary is as independent and willful as her sister, Monsignor said; then he smiled that smile again and added, God love them both. He hung the cassock inside the wardrobe. Will you celebrate the noon Mass with me, Father?

Of course, I said, it would be my pleasure.

I know it would pleasure the Lord, he said. Now I’m off to the kitchen to see what Mrs. Sullivan might have on hand in the way of a sweet roll. Care to join me?

That would also be a pleasure, I replied.


Mrs. Sullivan did indeed have sweet rolls awaiting; piled neatly on a plate on the dining room table, along with a carafe of hot coffee. If I were a sniveler, I’d say that she doted on the Monsignor, anticipated his wishes, and considered me to be some kind of also-ran; I will instead, accept it as a lesson in humility.

We sat and poured coffee and helped ourselves to the pastries, and chatted occasionally, mostly about the coming Advent Season.

Mrs Sullivan entered the room and flitted about the table for a moment, inspecting and rearranging. She asked Monsignor Byrne if he had a preference for Sunday dinner; roast chicken or baked fish; he chose the chicken; I was glad of that, I’d eaten enough fish to grow gills.

As Mrs. Sullivan turned to go, I asked her a question that had been gently tugging at me.

Mrs. Sullivan, those men on the back porch, where are they working on a Sunday?

She gave me that peeved look of hers, and said, Anywhere they can find it; Most of them don’t have regular work, they search it out each day; Sunday is a day when they might find the odd job clearing brush or cutting wood, or sweeping out a factory floor if they made the arrangements ahead of time.

Some of them will look for work, find none, then give up and go home; Their wives will take the beef from the uneaten sandwich, toss it in a pot with some carrots and potatoes and make a stew for the whole family. Tomorrow morning, it will start all over again.

She concluded by staring at me for a moment, then looked to Father Byrne; Will there be anything else, Monsignor?

No Annie, he replied; Thank you very much.

She bestowed something like a smile on us both, then went back into the kitchen, leaving the door swinging behind her.


I celebrated Mass at noon with Monsignor Byrne; we had a delicious roast chicken dinner about 3PM, courtesy of Mrs. Sullivan. Her way with food is heavenly, even if her demeanor leans the other direction.

I retired to the parlor, intending to read the Sunday paper, but got no further than laying my head back against the chair and closing my eyes.

Before long, I was plunged into an intense, yet unfocused, dream.

A dark, indiscernible figure pursued me across a dank and foggy landscape; over desolate moors; through a large and ominous cemetery; and finally into a great cathedral, where I clambered like Quasimodo up a high steep ladder into a cavernous bell tower; the brass behemoths swayed and clanged, louder and louder, as I cowered in a dark corner dreading the moment when the thing pursuing me breached the top of the ladder and had at me.

The bells suddenly fell silent; Mrs. Sullivan’s voice, sounding like miles away, pulled me out of my dire circumstances.

Father, wake up, she said; You’ve got a call on the telephone.

I sat forward and nodded to Mrs. Sullivan in attempt to reassure her that I understood what she had said and would act accordingly; I believe I only succeeded in reenforcing her opinion of me as being somewhat slow-witted. That I instinctively wiped a fleck of drool from my lips with the sleeve of my coat, did nothing to dispel that notion.

It’s the telephone in the hallway, she said, before mercifully leaving me alone to collect myself.

I expected the call to be from Wallace, even though he has no telephone at his home; I couldn’t imagine anyone else calling me on a Sunday evening.

Then I thought, of course it would be a parishioner, in need of the last rites for a loved one, or counseling on some personal dilemma.

The call I received was not any one that I would have expected.

I picked up the receiver and said, This is Father Leavell.

A heavy, dark voice on the line responded.

You ought to mind your own affairs and not truck with whores, Father; It’d be best for you if you stick with your prayer books and genuflecting; Stay out of what don’t concern you.

The line went dead and I just stood there, staring up the hall like a dumb ox.

As I replaced the handset in the cradle, Mrs. Sullivan approached from the other end.

Mr. Sullivan, I said, did the caller give their name when you answered.

She wouldn’t give her name, she replied; Just said that she had to speak with you; That it was urgent.

She, wouldn’t give her name, I said; It was a woman that called?

Yes, Father, Mrs. Sullivan replied, peevish with me once again; There was a woman on the line, when I answered the telephone.

I made no reply and Mrs. Sullivan continued on to her destination.

I returned to the parlor and slumped hard into the chair. I pondered the possibilities, and made my best guess; Sadie had called me, with information that she thought I might find useful, and been caught at it before she was able to speak with me. That seemed the only plausible answer, considering the threat that awaited me when I answered the telephone.

After mulling it over for some time, I concluded that I’d best let things lay; if I drove out to Echo Lake and sought out Sadie at the hotel, it probably would makes matters worse; after all, I am not in law enforcement, I have no jurisdiction to take any type of action, preventative or punitive.

I concluded with the decision to visit Sheriff Blackwell in the morning and draw him out, see if I could garner his support without revealing my motives.

I exhaled longly, sat up in the chair, and retrieved the newspaper, determined to put my own travails from my mind and see what had transpired recently in the world around me.

I unfolded the Plain Dealer, took one look at the front page, and all my troubles, once again, came crashing down around me.

©2012 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved


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