Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Chapter 20 / Suckers

“Putting aside theology for a moment—or for as long as you want—first comes your physical safety,” said Paul. “God wants you to be safe.”

With this information Andrew has isolated you. 

No. She had always been good at using resources. She went to church. She liked the rector. He was in his 50s, a calm, bespectacled man who had been drawn to ministering as a second, if not a third or fourth, career. Word on the street, and in the congregation, was that in his last parish, in Vermont, he had helped smuggle Cuscútlano refugees into Canada. Or out of Canada, people weren’t sure which, and all he would say was that they were friends, these people, who stayed with him and his family while they got on their feet after leaving their home country. 

Annie sat facing Paul, aware of a computer on his desk and a wall of books behind her. 

“I’m dating a man who’s done time for manslaughter,” she said. “Pled down from Murder Three. Depraved indifference to human life. This is a new world for me. I need help dealing with it.” 

And Paul, who preferred to be called Paul, not Father anything, put aside theology for the moment, and asked about her safety. She felt safer immediately.

“I met him on an airplane, Paul. Do you know the Tom Waits song with the line, ‘only suckers fall in love with total strangers’?”

Paul tapped his forefinger three times, thinking. “The one he does with Bette Midler.” 


“So then, you’re in love with Andrew?”

“I like him. I think about him. I mean, I still think about Ed ten times a day, but that’s down from a hundred. And then Andy calls and I’m happy, and I think about something that’s now, not in the past. Or I could, before he started to tell me about his past. 

“I like it that he visits me. The last time he visited was Valentine’s weekend, so I decided I would bring flowers for him, when I picked him up at the train station, and I found some beautiful yellow tulips. I don’t usually buy flowers that aren’t in season, but these were such a lovely pale yellow, closed up, ready to open. I couldn’t resist. 

“And when the train came in, Andrew had flowers for me—six gorgeous yellow roses. We exchanged our flowers, and a kiss. People at the train station applauded us. We all smiled. But do I just go blithely on, or should I worry about what’s in back of us, what no one at the train station sees?”

“When Andrew visits, do you feel safe with him?” 

“Right. Safe. What I was trying to say before, with the song, is that I feel as safe with him as I would with any man who’s a stranger.” 

“Which is . . .”

“He’s been to my house only once. During that sudden blizzard we had in January, remember?”

Paul nodded. 

“It was the middle of the night. We had gone dancing, of all things—my idea—and we had talked, all day, and we had driven through a blizzard together . . . in my twenties, that would have been enough. Now it wasn’t. I locked my bedroom door. 

“On my road, the nights are dark—black. And silent. I can lie in bed with my eyes open and not see or hear a thing. I like it. If that’s the grave, then the grave isn’t frightening. But this night I lay in the dark, acutely aware that a stranger lay upstairs. Someone I knew nothing about. 

“When I picked cotton in Cuscútlan, I lived in a co-ed dorm with strangers from all over the country. And it’s possible that I lay next to Ed for 15 years and didn’t really know him, but that’s another story, let’s stay with Andy today. It was . . . the one-ness of it, or the two-ness, the solitude, the blackness, just the two of us in the pitch dark. 

“I did fall sleep, and when I woke up the sun was shining and we were all still alive. I put on coffee and took Chloe for a walk, and when I came back Andy was up, drinking coffee and playing the piano. I almost burst into tears.

“Say more . . .” 

“There was music coming from my house. Live music, played by a person who loves the piano. These days I barely remember to turn on the radio. Andy had opened ‘Skylark,’ which was the song I was learning when Ed died. 

“Otherwise, we’re alone only in the car, or in public places. It feels like something we both want. We haven’t slept together, if you’re wondering.”

“And you feel he’s attentive to your comfort, your needs? The flowers were lovely, but in other instances . . . “

“Yes. I wish he could drive. Being in jail, out of the country, in the hospital—renewing his driver’s license was a low priority. Now, staying out of trouble for minor infractions like driving without a license is a high priority. But I think it’s more than that.” 

“What does he say about it?”

“I asked him if he’d like to practice in my car, in a parking lot. I told him if he can play the piano, he can drive a car with a stick shift. And it’s easier to take the road test up here. 

“He said he would practice with me. But it might be a while before he could take the road test. That seemed like a start, and he does take cabs when he can.” 

Paul blinked. 

“Yes. He takes cabs as if he were in Manhattan. He likes to talk to the drivers, among other reasons.”

“And he likes to talk to you?”

“I think so. He’s good at tracking things, like what I’m doing at work, what my friends are doing. He’s a reporter, he tracks things.” 

“Not because he likes you?”

“I guess.” 

“You’re not sure?”

“It’s a matter of gaining confidence. One person leaves you. Another comes along. He might leave too. You’ve learned that.

“But I liked your sermon about God’s plan. About how God has a plan, we just don’t know what it is. It was my plan to grow old with Ed. It wasn’t God’s plan. God has something else in mind. It might be better, it might be worse. We’ll find out. I suppose the sermon was more complex than that.”

“No, that’s a good takeaway. In the meantime, if you’re concerned,look into how forthcoming Andrew is about his responsibility in Polly’s death. Does he acknowledge his share in her death? Does he give an honest appraisal of the situation? Has he made an effort to change himself? 

“God forgives everyone. But it’s your decision to forgive Andrew, in prayer with God. Just keep in mind that life is set free by forgiveness. The life God wants for you is freed from the past, by forgiveness. 
“But it can wait for the right time. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, as long as you feel safe with Andrew.”

Copyright © 2013 Debby Mayer


  1. Wow! You always give a lot to think about, quietly, but definitely there. By the way, I like Father Paul and that he doesn't like to be called Father. I wouldn't mind having him in my life.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous! You could have Father Paul in your life if you went to Christ Church Episcopal in Hudson, NY—though the name would change.

  2. Interesting chapter, because I would never think of consulting a religious about my personal problems. You make Paul sound as rational as a shrink and thus possibly approachable. Annie needs his counsel, we suppose.