Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

Sunday, March 25, 8:18 a.m.

I drive—yet again!—south to the Nordic ‘hood of Ballard. It is way too early to be carting myself around Seattle proper. I long for my suburb. I long for my bed.

I knock on Jack O’Lies’s front door. It’s army green, the paint peeling away to reveal a gray undercoat. From somewhere within, his daughter yells something.

I think she yells, “Come in!”

I assume she yells, “Come in!” I turn the knob. It’s unlocked. I come in.

I’m met with worn hardwood floors, ancient throw rugs, and a coffee table littered with high school textbooks (depressing), empty vodka bottles (more depressing), and smearily printed Catholic tracts (depressingest of all). In my current state of hungover Sunday morning blahs, “depressingest” is a word. So is “smearily.”

“Hello?” I call. “Lucy? Jack?”

I hear a TV jabbering. I follow the sound.

In the kitchen, a scary looking bald guy in a white suit is grimacing and shaking his head at Lucy.

“You out there!” he shouts from the TV screen.

“Yes,” says Lucy, as she spoons cereal into her mouth.

“You witness to society’s sin!”

“That’s right,” Lucy agrees.

I hesitate in the doorway for so many reasons. So many that it would take hours to list them all.

Perhaps the top five will suffice:

1)     There’s a televangelist on the TV. That does not bode well.

2)     Oh Roseanne-esque kitchen of my childhood!

I thought I had escaped you. White trashy lower middle class, shall I never be free of your seductive embrace?

3)     Lucy is dressed in a black grandma dress with no décolletage and a hand-crocheted collar. She wears four rosaries of varying weight and color around her neck. This does not bode well.

4)     Lucy is eating Lucky Charms. I love Lucky Charms. If offered a bowl, I will accept, ruining the restrictive and scientifically unfounded diet I invented for myself.

5)     I smell not a whiff of coffee in the air. I will die without coffee.

Seriously… I will die without coffee!

“Hi, Lucy,” I say, waving with a limp, decaffeinated hand. “How’re you?”

“Shh!” she hisses between slurps of cereal.

“You watch as society parades its perversions, its sin, and you do nothing. Well, I say, stop!” shouts the scary bald man on the TV.

“Stop!” Lucy agrees.

“Stop! Tell it, don’t you come over here, into my house of God! Stop!”

“Stop!” Lucy exclaims.

“Why? You break another glass?” Jack says from the doorway.

Oy vey, he’s clad in the classic open door bathrobe. Seriously—come on, Jack! I told you I was coming over!

“Want me to go wait in the living room?” I blurt, shading my eyes like a Puritan.

“What?” Jack says. “You had breakfast yet? Lucy, get her something.”

Jack meanders on unsteady, bare legs to a set of folding doors at the far end of the kitchen. He sports a dark bruise on the left side of his jaw.

“That’s fine, I ate already,” I say. “Should I just leave your keys and stuff on the counter?”

“Calm down,” says clearly hungover Jack. “We’re almost ready. Finish up, Lucy!”

Lucy rolls her eyes, continues spooning cereal, and reaches out to crank the volume on the televangelist. Jack slides the doors open to reveal a washer and drier.

Oh God, he is going to disrobe right here and I’ll be struck blind!

Thankfully, I hear the front door open, then slam shut. Christopher, The Future Priest, enters the kitchen.

“Hey,” he says. “Ready to go?”

“Dad’s still messing around,” Lucy snorts, picking up her cereal bowl to drink the milk like a three-year-old. Jack, not entirely oblivious, steps into the laundry alcove and pulls the doors shut. Spared his nudity, I relax. I am a married woman, after all.

From within, he calls, “Hey, Katherine, you want any coffee? Lucy, make some.”

“No,” Lucy snaps. “You just want it for you, because you’re hungover.”

“We have a guest,” he says from behind the doors.

“She doesn’t drink!” Lucy asserts. “Hangover, Dad—”

“Is this all there is? Didn’t you throw the load in like I asked?”

“Wear the good pants, Dad. I hate when you go in your work clothes. You look so sloppy.”

“I hate these things!”

“You look so sloppy!”

”Will you just make Katherine a cup of coffee and get yourself ready to go?”

“Hangover, Dad, is a necessary and a good thing.”

“What?” I bleat. Right now, I’m hungover as hell, thanks to her dad’s boozy conversation with me till the wee hours. I crave a cup of coffee. I would kill for a cup of coffee. I am not in a good or necessary state!

“You see,” she continues, “As you pour unholy poison into your body, the Lord sees and sends a pain unto you. And this pain—”

“A pain unto me?” Jack exclaims from behind the flimsy laundry doors.

“Unto?” I echo.

“Please tell me they didn’t teach you that in English class,” he says.

Bolstered by Christopher’s knowing smirk, Lucy clanks her crucifix covered self to the sink, where she deposits her empty cereal bowl.

“And this pain is meant to cleanse your soul, just as pain cleansed Christ on the cross,” she continues. “So when you drink of coffee, you erect a barrier between yourself and God, who wishes to help you end your drunken ways.”

I feel this is a bit stagy. I feel that she’s acting out for my benefit. Exactly why does she think I’m here at this raw hour of the morning?

“So, can I go? Is your church walking distance?” I ask her. “Did you really say ‘when you drink of coffee?’”

“It’s six point eight miles,” Christopher says.

Damnation.

“Jack? Do you need me to drive you all to the Washingtonian to get your car?”

I think actually I twang, “Need me ta drive y’all?” This white trashy lower middle class kitchen is dragging me back down the social ladder.

Jack slides the laundry doors open. I flinch.

He’s dressed. I relax.

He’s in a get-up exactly like his editor would wear, unattractive pleated front khakis, golf shirt, and all.

“I hate this,” he says. “I told you.”

“And I told you!” Lucy shrills at gauche teenage volume, stomping her foot. “You are so embarrassing! Why can’t you be normal on Sunday for once? Why can’t you stop embarrassing me?”

I glance at Christopher, hoping for an ally in my discomfort, but he’s smirking at Jack with his gangly arms folded across his thin chest, clearly on Lucy’s side.

Crap. That means I’ll have to side with the only other adult here, which is alcoholic, hungover Jack.

“Okay,” Jack says. “Let’s get going.”

All three look at me.

“Go where, exactly?” I say.

Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Lucy says.

“Pardon?” I say.

“It’s in Belltown ,” says Christopher.

Fantastic. Belltown, land of impossible parking, wandering junkies and computer programming bar hoppers. My second least favorite place in Seattle.

“I’ve got stuff to do today,” I begin. Then I realize that Belltown is quite close to the Washingtonian building. I perk up.

“So, I’ll just drop Lucy and Christopher off at church, then we’ll go get your car,” I say.

“Don’t forget the offering,” Lucy says.

“What?” Jack says, grabbing his much-laundered Members Only jacket from the back of a kitchen chair.

“I left it on top of your wallet,” Lucy says. From the back of another chair, she pulls a black lace veil that resembles a mantilla. She swathes her shoulders and head in it, like some kind of Catholic chador.

“Are we gonna drop you two off first? What’s the plan, here?” I say.

“That twenty dollar bill? Forget it! I’m not dropping twenty bucks in a collection plate,” Jack says, as he and Lucy motivate angrily through the kitchen toward the front door.

“Wait,” I protest. “We need to figure out how we’re going to work this.”

“We tithe practically nothing, Dad!”

“We tithe plenty! We tithe away your damn college fund.”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” she snaps.

“God’s last name is not ‘damn,’” Jack says.

“Stop it!”

“Oh my God, are they always like this?” I hiss at Christopher.

“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain!” he hisses back.

Yeah, I’ve been missing this kind of Catholic fun.

Sunday, March 25, 8:39 a.m.

We four pile into my Subaru. I am bereft of an awesome press car until the PR firms brings the next one to my office. Lucy grouses over the grubbiness of the back seat. Christopher protests mightily at being crammed between Lucy’s (seductive?) self and my daughter’s pointy-edged car seat.

I turn to Jack, seated next to me up front.

“Okay, seriously. What’s the plan, Jack?”

“Hurry up, mass starts at nine!” Lucy orders from the back.

“Hey!” Jack turns to glare in fierce father format at Lucy. “Do not speak to her like that.”

“Fine, look, we’ll drop you two off,” I call into the backseat, as I start the engine. “Just let’s all take a breath or something! You’re making me so nervous, the three of you—Jesus! Jeez, I mean. How the hel—heck do we get to this Belltown place?”

Christopher, The Expert Navigator, guides me. Jack and Lucy snap at each other. I think I am going to scream. Out loud. I’m already screaming in my head.

At last, an unendurable seventeen minutes later, I pull up in front of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish. The bells are tolling. Junkies, hungover barhopping computer programmers, and a few non-Lutheran Scandinavians from Jack and Lucy’s Ballard environs are streaming inside. Lucy unbuckles urgently and throws the car door open as I pull to an illegal stop in the fire lane by the immense front doors.

“Hurry up! We’re so late!” she shrills, jumping out. Christopher, equally urgent, pops his incredibly tall self out of the backseat like some kind of devout jack-in-the-box. To my surprise, Jack follows suit.

“Whoa, wait—where are you going?” I say.

Jack leans back into the car, not unlike he did when I dropped him off at the Ballard bar Thursday night.

“Find a parking place. We’ll save you a spot in the pew,” he says.

I recoil. I haven’t been to mass in nineteen years! Do they really expect me to sit through their church service, kneeling, standing, kneeling again, only to be humiliatingly denied Holy Communion by the priest, like back in the old days?

No way!

“Jack! No way!” I say.

Suddenly, Jack’s cell phone chimes. Still leaning into my car, both hands braced on the passenger door frame, he freezes. His eyes go wide and wild.

“Dad! Come on!” Lucy hollers.

“I told you,” he says to me. “I’ve been getting these weird texts.”

From the pocket of his gray Members Only or Eisenhower jacket (depending on how old it and you are), his cell phone chimes again.

“Dad!” Lucy shouts.

“Go in,” he shouts back at her. “I’ve got to go with Katherine.”

“But I thought we were all supposed to be together today,” Lucy says. “Dad, I though she—”

“Go in. Take the bus home. Christopher, get her home afterward.”

Christopher, The Perpetually Smirking, smirks.

“Dad…” Lucy says.

Jack climbs back into the front seat. He turns hunted eyes on me.

“Drive. Please. Hurry,” he says.

“Are you sure? Your daughter—”

He slams the car door.

“She’s fine. Christopher will get her home safe. You’ve got to help me,” he says. “You owe me.”

Were anyone else to make such outrageous requests from my front seat, I’d formulate a cogent counterargument. But with Jack…damn, he must have been such a good investigative reporter. He’s compelling. And I do owe him.

Wait, did he say “owe” or “own?”

“Where do you want me to take you?” I say.

“My office.”

“Why?” I say, though I’m already driving.

Jack hesitates. His cell phone chimes again. He puts his hand over it to hide or muffle it.

“I think I did something terrible,” he says.

Monday, March 26, 10:16 a.m.

“If anyone on earth deserves to be called a saint, it’s my mother,” Lucy says. “It’s an abomination to give Mandy Schirmer the same title as her. My mother’s beyond sainthood.”

What she is exactly Lucy can’t say, as I conduct her to her bedroom and lamely offer to a) call her dad, or b) fix her a peanut butter sandwich.

I get the sense, as she rants her way up the stairs, that in her mind her mother is something like a wronged, violated angel. What Holy Mary would have been, had she been raped, sodomized and mutilated.

Lucy kicks her door open and throws herself on her pink canopied bed, which has been colonized by an army of teddy bears wearing dried crowns of thorns.

“So…you okay? I need to get back to work,” I say.

Lucy stares up at me. Crap, she has such compelling eyes, just like her father! I’m never going to get out of here.

“I can’t remember her,” she says. “But I have a photo. I cut her head out.”

“Why?”

“Because,” she snorts. “It was this gross shot of her and my dad. He looked like a lecher, but my mother’s face was wonderful. Just like the saints in the stained glass windows at church. Wanna see?”

Before I can answer, Lucy is scrabbling under her mattress. She pulls out a 1950s era copy of Lives of the Saints. I’ve seen (and owned) one of these before.

“Look,” she pages quickly to the middle of the book and holds it out.

I take it. The face of Saint Agnes has been decoupaged with a clumsily cut out photograph.

I’ve seen this face before in Jack’s photos. Her eyes are delicately upturned, her lips are half-open. She radiates serenity. Her hair is lit by what appears to be a real halo. She’s very beautiful.

“Do you still have the photo you cut her out of?” I say.

Lucy appears offended.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Can I see?”

“Why?” she says.

“Why not?”

“It’s in the back of the book.”

It’s filed right after Saint Marcellus, The Unremarkable Centurion. I pull it out.

Jack, looking young and not remotely intoxicated, is bending a woman over just like in the movies. He’s about to kiss her. They’re outdoors somewhere at sunset. There’s a golden glow around them, like a halo. His face is pure happiness. Her face is a cruel hole.

Why the hell did Lucy have to disfigure this picture?

I turn back to Saint Agnes, twelve-year-old martyr and almost rape victim. Lucy has carefully glued her mother’s head onto this adolescent Roman, who is dressed in an inky blue toga and is holding a dull-faced lamb under one arm. There’s an old smear of chocolate milk across her sandaled feet.

“Does your dad ever talk about your mom?” I say.

“No.”

“Never?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it was his fault,” she says.

“Oh God, Lucy, it wasn’t.”

“Yes, it was. He’s a drunken, remorseless sinner. He isn’t not a good, strong Christian. He never reads the Bible or prays. He curses and smokes and drinks. I have to make him go to mass every Sunday—you saw! It’s his fault God struck down my mom, because he’s a sinner.”

I can’t follow her logic, but she’s near tears—the angry, hot kind that only guys tend to shed.

“Okay,” I say.

I slide the ruined photo back into its forgettable hiding place. Even farther back in the book is Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr. I page to her and sigh. Her mother bled and bled until Lucy cured her. The Romans sent Lucy to a whorehouse to be raped. Lucy was stabbed to death.

And her eyes were taken out with a fork.

Saint Lucy

Tuesday, March 27, 4:32 p.m.

I take Lucy, the motherless child, bra-shopping out of guilt.

Catholic guilt? She’s Catholic, but I’m not.

Parental guilt? I’m not her parent.

Professional guilt? Well…

I disrupted the status quo of her home life when I interviewed her dad. I feel I owe her a bra or two. Besides, my newspaper went to press today and there’s no better way to celebrate than shopping.

We agree to meet at Northgate Mall in Seattle, located midway between her lutefisk-loving neighborhood of Ballard and the no-man’s-land of my suburb. I knock off work an hour early, since there’s nothing more I can do once the final draft of the newspaper is sent out of reach of my obsessive, copy-editing red pen. We convene in the food court. I buy Lucy a soft pretzel with impossibly orange cheddar cheese dipping sauce. She tells me her bus ride north was uneventful. She doesn’t mention any staring nurses or other alarming specters.

“So, how come your teddy bears all have barbed wire on their heads?” I ask, dispensing with the small talk. I’ve been dying to ask, ever since I saw them lined up on her pink canopied bed like a creepy Marilyn Manson album cover. Behold my subtle interviewing technique!

She rolls her eyes as she gnaws on the pretzel.

“They’re crowns of thorns. I made them from the blackberry bush growing out in the alley.”

“Why?”

“It’s Lent.”

I hadn’t realized. I used to give up cursing for Lent. In recent years, I’ve found it futile.

“Do you always do that? Decorate your stuffed animals for the holidays?” I say.

She glares at me scornfully and licks gobs of cheese off her fingers.

“It’s a penance. They poke in the night. See?”

She used her cleanly lapped fingers to tug down the modest white turtleneck of her school uniform. I wince. Her collarbones are raw with scratches.

“Wow. Okay. Jeez. Um…”

“I also read at least three pages from the Lives of the Saints each night. And I got this copy of the Biblical Apocrypha from a yard sale. I’ve gotten through 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, and the Additions to Esther.”

“Wow. Okay…” I stammer.

“There’s only five days left till Easter. I’m way behind because they keep giving us too much geometry homework and I suck at geometry.”

“Um. Time flies,” I say.

“What do you do for Lent?” she demands.

“Ah, look, the lingerie department,” I announce in the most expository manner ever. “Let’s find you a bra.”

I steer us into the J.C. Penny, the site of her preteen humiliation. I chose to stage her undergarment redemption here, not for a therapeutic reason, but because it’s cheap and I get a discount if I use my store credit card.

“So, Career Day at your school,” I say, as we enter a forest of metal stalks sprouting lace and elastic. “Did it give you any new thoughts about what you want to be when you grow up? Besides a nun, I mean.”

I really want to ask her about her meltdown over her raped classmate, but I chicken out. Her dad ought to do it. I’m not wise to her unbalanced ways.

“I want to be martyr. Or a saint. But I’m not sure how. Christopher’s trying to help me. He’s practically in seminary already. I think he might do better as a monk, though. They’re more saintly, coz they aren’t worldly.”

“How about a friar? He could be a friar—a monk that goes out in the community and does stuff. You know, like Friar Tuck,” I suggest.

She glares at me derisively and crams the last of her pretzel into her mouth.

“Okay, here we are,” I say, to fill the void. “Discount rack. Let’s load you up with a bunch of sizes and styles, and you can figure out what works.”

“Nothing slutty,” she says through a mouthful of pretzel.

In her dumpy white turtleneck topped with a heavy navy blue sweater vest, oversized plaid skirt that reaches past her knees, and knee socks as thick as soccer shin guards, she’s the farthest thing from a slutty schoolgirl I’ve ever seen. I doubt any bra on the planet could change that.

“Don’t worry, no one will see it, and if no one sees it, it’s not slutty,” I say, with a logic that makes sense to me, sort of.

“Sluttiness is evil because sex is evil,” she says. “Those who indulge in it are evil. I want something that isn’t sexy or slutty.”

“Fine, fine, whatever. Did you happen to get any counseling after your mom died?”

“God is the divine counselor. Jesus and Holy Mary and the saints are the only confidants any of us need. Shrinks are the devil’s lawyers.”

I’m not sure if that’s a yes or a no. I grab an unobjectionable mom bra off a rack.

“Hey, half-price! And not slutty, in my opinion.”

“It’s got lace.”

“The lace is structural,” I lie. “It keeps the garment from sluttily revealing too much.”

I’m not sure if “sluttily” is a word. I’m sure Lucy will be using it for the rest of the week, however.

“All sex is evil, though a martyr can be touched by evil, yet be made more holy by it. No lace.”

“Okay, okay, fine. Here, no lace. It’s blue. Nothing slutty about blue. Mary wore blue,” I say.

Lucy grudgingly eyes what I secretly consider a much sluttier bra made of electric blue satin.

“Sex is evil. You should remember that,” she says significantly. Too significantly.

“You do understand that I’m not your dad’s girlfriend? Right?” I say.

She shrugs.

“Has there been anyone since your mom?”

She shakes her head.

Great.

That means in her sheltered, sex-fearing, Catholic school attending mind, I must be her dad’s girlfriend.

Let me take this opportunity to vigorously reiterate that I am happily married, with my own life and my own daughter! And because I have my own daughter, I have an inconvenient soft spot for ill-tended daughters who are teetering on the brink of becoming either crazy virgin cat ladies or serial killer victims.

“Just try it on for size,” I say, pointing at the dressing room. “I’ll wait out here.”

I may be spending time with Jack’s daughter in the lingerie department of the J.C. Penny, I may be bearing witness to her creepy theories about rape and martyrdom and the evils of sex, but there is one line I will not cross, and it is helping her try on a bra. That would be too slutty for my bones. For all the de-Puritanizing aftereffects of my hippie college, I still cannot accept the communal nudity most women shrug at—namely gym showers, video taped childbirth, and underwear shopping with a pal.

Nope. I’ll wait out here and let her figure it out herself, as I did in my youth.

“Fine,” she snots, rolling her eyes. She holds out her hand for the bra.

“Hey, what happened to your hand?” I say.

Her palm has an angry red welt in the center, which I expect and at least a dozen smaller pricks, which alarm me.

She ought to snatch her hand back and hide it.

She ought to snap that it’s none of my business.

She ought to hastily change the subject.

Instead, she looks smug, stands up straighter, and holds her hand out with the fingers spread like a statue of Holy Mary offering a blessing.

Statue of the Virgin Mary

“Christopher came over last night,” she says. “He was supposed to stay, but he left early. I tried to tell him about Mandy Schirmer, the whore, but he kept going on and on about that stupid roommate of his. He left because he bought beer and a new rock CD and was gonna try to convert his roommate.”

Lucy gives a snort that indicates the sort of lie she believes this to be: far beyond white, almost at the level of courtroom perjury.

“He really left to drink beer and listen to rock music with his pot smoking pagan roommate,” she continues. “He isn’t so pure of heart, after all. He’s as bad as Dad. I’ll never drink anything ever!”

She doesn’t stomp her sensibly-shod foot, but I think she wants to.

“So I did this,” she says. “I was working my cross stitch. I had nine needles threaded with different colors. I pushed one into my hand. Then the rest, one by one. It was like Christ’s blessed blood in a painting, flowing in a rainbow from my hand. And then the rainbow mingled with my blood. It was very holy.”

“Where was your dad during all this?”

“Talking on his cell phone,” she says.

To me.

Great. Now I have this psychotic shit to feel guilty about, too. I don’t think an electric blue bra is going to absolve me.

Friday, March 30, 12:39 p.m.

Lucy eagerly consents to leave her Catholic school and come with me. Her school eagerly consents to release her to me without consulting my I.D. or ascertaining whether her father has given permission for me to take possession of his only child. Lucy’s teacher, the cool jeans-wearing nun, says she remembers me from Career Day and calls me “Mrs. O’Lies.” Only Jack’s sense of urgency, conveyed through multiple notes and text messages, keeps me from energetically contradicting her.

“Where’s Dad?” Lucy asks, as I hustle her out of the school into the parking lot.

“I was hoping you might know,” I say, hunting for the press car. I’m constantly losing these temporary rides of mine, their unfamiliar shapes and colors blending in with dozens of other strange cars.

Lucy shrugs.

“He said he’d be home late tonight,” she says. “He told me he’s gonna go out with you after work.”

“Oh my God, he did not say that!” I exclaim, suspending my search to round on Lucy. “He absolutely did not say ‘go out.’ He didn’t. Did he?”

Lucy shrugs.

I spy the press car over her shoulder, bite my bottom lip and hoist my purse purposefully.

“Come on, I need to drop you home, then get back to work. The PR guys are coming to pick up the press car in an hour,” I say.

Lucy is infuriatingly slow as she dogs me to the car. She takes long minutes to put her backpack, and then herself, into the front seat. I’m already in the driver’s seat, the engine running, my hands squeezing the steering wheel like I’m trying to wring water from it.

As she buckles her seat belt in slow motion, she says, “I met a priest yesterday.”

“Oh yeah?” I say, whipping the car out of the parking lot. “I don’t have GPS in this thing. Remind me how to get to your house.”

“Could we go to the mall first?”

“No, Lucy, no way. I have to get back to work. Left or right?” I say.

“Left,” she mutters, folding her arms across her as yet unharnessed bosom. I still owe her a bra. I forgot.

“Maybe I can take you shopping this weekend,” I say.

She brightens. For Lucy, brightening involves little more than ratcheting her scowling eyebrows up half a centimeter.

“Where’s Dad taking you tonight?” she asks.

“Lucy, listen to me. I am not, never have been, and never will be your father’s girlfriend,” I enunciate. “We do not ‘go out.’ We are professional acquaintances and that’s all. Understand?”

“Whatever,” she says.

“So, what’s that you said about a priest?” I say, to prevent myself from swearing at her willful density.

Lucy brightens yet more, which means her arms unclench and settle at her sides, her hands clasping piously in her lap.

“It was at Bible Study at the church. Christopher was supposed to go with me, but he called and he’s such a jerk because he wanted to try to convert his roommate again. Again! Last time, the Evil One made him drink a whole six pack of beer and eat a whole large pizza and watch some stupid movie about I don’t even know what gross stuff with girls in bikinis. And by the time the Evil One was willing to hear the Good News about Our Lord And Savior, it was two in the morning and Christopher had to go to bed, coz he had to be at work by eight.”

“So young Christopher plans to try again,” I say sagely. I feel very old and wise. “I presume there will be more beer and pizza?”

“Exactly!” Lucy says, throwing her hands up. “He just wants to sin, so I told him to go to hell.”

“Wow,” I say. “So we’re swearing now.”

She rolls her eyes at me.

“It’s not swearing. It’s where he’s headed if he keeps drinking and watching unchristian movies with that pothead.”

“Ah,” I say. “Straight through the stop light?”

“Right,” she says.

“Right I should go straight, or turn right? Quickly, Lucy, come on!”

“Go right, turn, jeez!”

Instead of apologizing for snapping at her, I say, “So, some priest was teaching your Bible class last night?”

“Well, Father Bertrain was teaching it like always. But there was this other one I’ve never met before.”

Lucy’s normally flat voice has grown curves. I glance at her. There’s color in her pasty cheeks.

“Was he cute?” I say.

She turns to me and glares.

“That is irreverent,” she says.

“Sorry,” I say.

I can tell from the way she twists her fingers around each other in her lap that he was indeed cute. I smell a juicy scene straight out of “The Thorn Birds” coming.

The Thorn Birds

Salaciously, I prod, “So…?”

“I had to go to the bathroom,” she says, staring at her fingers. “I thought I was the only one on that side of the building. The church is pretty deserted that time of night.”

“How late at What time of night was it?” I say.

“Six-thirty,” she says. “When I came out, he was standing in the hall. I didn’t notice him at first. I bumped right into him.”

Lucy’s voice is soft. I’ve never heard her sound like this. She sounds like a real, live girl.

“It was so embarrassing! I knocked him down. I was in a hurry to get back to Bible Study. I felt so bad,” she says.

“You knocked him down? Actually down to the ground?” I say.

She nods.

“I felt so bad. I tried to apologize and help him up, but he said, ‘No need, Sister.’ Like I was a real nun.”

Lucy sounds flattered beyond words.

“Just how old was this guy?” I say.

She shrugs.

“Pretty old. Thirty. Thirty-five maybe. Not as old as my dad.”

If she adds, “Or you,” I will put her out on the side of the road here in Ballard and let her find her own way home through this Norwegian neighborhood, overrun with bad drivers darting around in their kitschy Volkswagens.

Lucy continues, “So then, he said, ‘Actually, maybe I could use a hand after all.’ And…so…I…”

She falls silent. I glance at her. She’s studying her hands.

“What? You helped him up?” I say.

Lucy nods mutely, her pale face turning a genuine shade of pink.

“He held his hand out,” she nearly whispers. “And I…grabbed it.”

Wow, he must have been so goddamned cute! A handsome, thirty-something priest gazing up at her from the floor, offering his hand. Their hot palms touching…“palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” and all that. Sorry, Shakespeare.

“I helped him up and he smiled at me, even though I’d profaned him,” Lucy says.

I start to reply, then realize that I’m puzzled by how exactly she “profaned” him. Was it the blundering bump to the floor or the evidently erotic touching of hands?

“He said his name is Father Anthony and he’s new at Sacred Heart of Jesus. When I told him my name, he said…he said that he was looking for me,” she says.

“Whoa,” I say. “Hold on. What do you mean, he was looking for you?”

“I do a lot of volunteering at church. I know where everything is. Father Anthony said that the moving company made a mistake and his stuff got stashed in the basement. He said someone at the rectory told him to get me to help find it.”

Lucy is positively beaming.

Suddenly, this cute, young Italian stallion priest is making my skin crawl ever so subtly.

“Who told him to get you, exactly?” I say.

Lucy shrugs.

“So anyway, I told him that I bet they stuck his stuff in the basement storage closet where they keep the church Christmas decorations. They’re always sticking random stuff in there,” she says.

“Who’s ‘they?’” I demand.

“Y’know, stupid people,” she says.

“So you and the priest went into some storage closet together?” I say. “Alone? How much did that profane him?”

Lucy darts a hostile glance my way.

“We did not go into the closet together,” she says. “Only bad kids from the weekend catechism class do that.”

I can imagine.

So I do: Catholic schoolgirl skirts skidding up under eager, groping teenage hands. Tongues sliding over braces. Awkward, dusty fumbling in the dark under the benevolent eyes of the three wise men from the Christmas crèche.

I must be smirking, because Lucy’s eyes widen in horror.

“I just took him to the basement and showed him around!” she says. “It’s huge, you can get lost real easy if you don’t know where you’re going. There’s all this stuff—old pews and broken pianos and these huge paintings of the Madonna that got water damage and this massive bronze bell that used to be in the tower before they put in that mechanized chime thing. I checked the storage closet where they keep the church Christmas decorations—by myself! But his stuff wasn’t there. He waited while I checked.”

“Where did he wait?” I say.

“He sat on this bale of tracts the church had printed in foreign languages for mission trips,” she says.

“He sat there watching you dig through the closet?” I say.

Her Catholic schoolgirl skirt riding up before eager, priestly eyes?

“You have a dirty mind!” Lucy cries.

My God—she can read my thoughts!

“He talked to me,” she says. “He was nice.”

“Sorry,” I say.

And I am. Given how instantaneously she latched onto me, I think socially awkward Lucy must be starving for attention from an adult—any adult. Considering Jack’s habit of drinking himself into oblivion every night, is it any wonder she would gravitate toward a father figure that actually has the title “Father?”

“What did you two talk about?” I ask.

“My mother,” she says.

I am surprised.

“Really? You told me you can’t remember her,” I say.

“I can’t,” Lucy says. “But I read Dad’s articles about her getting killed.”

I feel like I’m sinking down to the darkest depths of the ocean.

“Oh Lucy, why did you do that?” I say.

She shrugs.

“And then Father Anthony told me why he decided to become a priest,” she says.

“What did you tell him about your mom?” I persist. “Did you tell him about your book, where you pasted her face onto Saint Agnes’s body? What did he have to say about that?”

Lucy loses a bit of her preternatural pink.

“That’s private,” she says. “You can’t tell anyone about that.”

“Have you told Christopher?”

She hesitates, then slowly shakes her head.

“Your dad?”

“No!”

“Anyone?”

She shakes her head.

Wow. I should feel honored to be her one and only confidant. Instead, I get that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling that always comes over me when I sense that people are trying to get too intimate with me. I get this feeling all the time with Lucy’s dad. I’ve got to cut these lies out of my life.

O’Lies, I mean.

“He told me why he became a priest,” Lucy says again. “It was really interesting. Wanna hear?”

“Left on Leary, right? I mean, I go left on Leary, correct?” I say.

“Left, yes, turn left,” she says. “Are you coming over for Easter dinner this Sunday? I can make a ham. I know how, with pineapple and cloves. I make one every year for me and Dad. We don’t eat much, so we end up having ham sandwiches for months.”

“I’ve got an Easter egg hunt thing with my daughter at the park. Sorry,” I say.

Lucy looks stricken.

“But I’ll take you to the mall Saturday to get you a bra. Several. You should have several bras. Okay?” I say.

She shrugs.

“So, the cute priest had an interesting reason for becoming a priest?” I say.

“Turn left here,” she says.

I turn. The silence stretches taut between us

“Could you maybe stay for dinner after the mall on Saturday?” she says. “With me and Dad?”

I sigh.

“I don’t know. I’ve got a family of my own,” I say. “I kind of want to spend time with them, if you understand.”

I don’t dare look at her. I feel like a rejecting monster. Now she’ll go use meth and get pregnant. I’ll forever represent the ruinous turning point in her life. She’ll always recall my closed, unaccepting face. At least I’ll be remembered.

“So…why’d he become a priest?” I say into the awful silence.

“Here’s my house,” she says.

She grabs her backpack as I brake.

“So, I’ll come by Saturday to take you shopping, maybe noon? Maybe two or three? I don’t know, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do this weekend. Can I call you?” I say. “Maybe next weekend would work better.”

Lucy doesn’t answer. She opens the car door and gets out. She hefts her backpack onto one shoulder and turns back to me. She leans into the car, bracing one hand on the door frame exactly like her father did the night I liquored him up and then left him.

“He said it was Easter. He was my age. He wanted to know what it was like to be crucified,” she says. “He was nice. He wore a weird cassock, though. Green. Evergreen with a mint green collar. I’ve never seen one like it.”

I have moments when things assemble themselves in my brain and I suddenly get it. At this particular moment, with the force of a Mack truck, the pieces of the puzzle violently come together in my stunned brain.

The priest is bad news.

The priest is phony.

The priest is the stalker.

Lucy is in his priestly sights.

Lucy cannot stay in this insecure white trash Ballard enclave tonight.

“Lucy, get back in the car,” I say. “Now!”

My “mom voice,” generally ignored by my kid, shocks Lucy and impels her back into the passenger seat with alacrity.

“You can’t stay here alone,” I say. “I don’t know for sure if your dad is coming home tonight. Is there someone else you can stay with? Not me! But maybe Christopher?”

Lucy recoils in virginal horror. Her hand goes to her throat. What a great saint she would make.

“Okay, not Christopher. But a relative? An aunt or uncle, maybe?” I say.

She shakes her head.

“Or a girlfriend—a friend who is a girl?” I say.

She shakes her head again.

“Grandparents?” I say.

“My grandma,” she says eagerly. “Can I?”

“Yes, let’s do that, let’s have you stay with her for a night or two,” I say. “Where does she live?”

“Real close,” Lucy says with more excitement than I’ve ever heard in her voice. “Go to the end of the block and turn right. What’s wrong? You look mad.”

“I’m not mad,” I say. “Your dad is worried about you. I didn’t get it at first. Nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine. But don’t tell anyone where you’re staying tonight, okay? No texts or emails or Facebook or whatever you kids are using now.”

My God, I sound like I’m older than her grandma! Maybe I should be the one to stay in whatever active senior living community she occupies. I’ll fit right in.

The Golden Girls

“I haven’t seen my grandma in so long!” Lucy enthuses, glowing and looking nothing like her usual dour self. “This is so great! Can I stay all weekend? Can I? Dad never lets me stay at her place. This is so cool!”

Her enthusiasm and Jack’s historic reluctance do not bode well. I confirm that my uneasiness at Lucy’s uncharacteristic joy is well founded as I pull into the parking lot of the Ballard Memory Care Center.

Alzheimer’s. Lucy’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s.

“Okay,” I say. “Maybe this won’t work after all.”

I take a deep breath, drawing on all my internal reserves.

“Maybe…maybe you can stay with me. God, what will my husband say?”

When Jack turns up killed or arrested, I’m going to end up her default foster mom. Crap. If I’d wanted a fifteen-year-old daughter, I would have had fun in high school and turned up pregnant at seventeen instead of being grade-grubbing and dull.

“No, no, it’s fine, they have guest rooms. This is so cool! Is Dad staying at your place tonight? This is so cool!” Lucy says.

She bounds out of my car and jogs to the entrance, which is dominated by frosted glass and neutral beige siding. I follow uneasily. And not just because I’m suddenly wondering where, exactly, Jack plans to hide out tonight, now that his home is compromised. Not with me, that’s for sure! My God, what would my husband say?

Lucy presses buttons, gabbles at some unseen receptionist, and gains admittance.

“Come on!” she urges. “I haven’t seen my grandma in ages and ages!”

The door buzzes, granting us entry into a realm of urine smell, loud TVs and wandering old folks. I tighten up inside. Lucy appears to be in heaven.

Grandma O’Lies’ nursing home, like Lucy O’Lies’ Catholic school, is unconcerned with who I am and why I have Jack’s daughter in my possession. The overweight nurse at the duty station waves us by, recognizing (or pretending to recognize) Lucy, all grown up since she was last here. We take a sterile-looking (but not sterile smelling) hallway of white tile and white paint to a room labeled “O’Lies, Marion. DNR.”

I remember that acronym from my fourteen-year-old hospital candy striper days: Do Not Resuscitate. Jack’s mom, never to be revived. Oh God…poor Jack.

Lucy yanks the ergonomic stainless steel door handle with one hand and beckons me to follow with the other. I do so apprehensively. If I pretend I’m working and this is just research for an article, it will be so much easier.

Grandma O’Lies lies in a hospital bed replete with bags and tubes and electronic monitors. Her face is slack, her eyes taped closed. A feeding tube snakes down one nostril. She’s dead to the world.

Lucy is oblivious. She eagerly grabs her grandmother’s skeletal hand and commences an animated, one-sided conversation. Jack told me his mother kept Lucy for “a while” after his wife died. I naively assumed it was for a couple months. Was it longer? A year? Two? More? How long did Jack spend sunk in his drunken hell? When exactly did he pull himself together, miss his abandoned child, and come to collect her?

And where the hell is he right now?

Friday, March 30, 1:01 p.m.

Jack’s mother is a vegetable. A very Catholic vegetable. The walls of her nursing home room are paneled with framed photos of Pope Benedict,

pope benedict

Pope John Paul II,

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul I,

Pope John Paul I

and Pope Paul.

Pope Paul

There’s the classic long-haired Jesus

Jesus

and a nice shot of Mother Teresa with some cute Indian kids reminiscent of late night appeals to sponsor a child for pennies a day: less than the cost of your weekly caffeine infusion from Starbucks.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was originally named Agnes. She ought to be Mother Agnes. Or maybe Saint Agnes. Is that why Lucy was drawn to the image of the ancient Saint Agnes in her copy of Lives of the Saints and pasted her murdered mother’s face on her body?

Lucy is jabbering at her unresponsive grandmother, her hands clasping the limp, arthritic paw she plucked from the bedcover. A catheter bag hangs from the side of the hospital bed. The room smells of urine and bleach. Monitors beat rhythmically. I glance uneasily at the five crucifixes on the wall, ranging from genuine Jesus mounted models to clumsily painted, glitter-ridden Popsicle stick creations clearly made by Lucy in her younger years.

“This is Katherine, she’s Dad’s friend. I think they really like each other and you’ll like her, too, Grandma,” Lucy is saying. “Can I show her your rosaries?”

She jumps up abruptly.

“Look, wanna see?” she says to me. “They’re amazing. Some of them are over fifty years old.”

I glance at comatose Mrs. O’Lies, then gingerly approach her jewelry box, which Lucy is digging through. She holds up three rosaries, her eyes alight with religious fire and something more. Love? Yes, familial love. I’ve seen pale sparks directed at her dad, as well as a few incongruous embers shot at me. But here, with her empty sock puppet of a grandmother, she’s aflame with the radiance of being at home and accepted and cared for.

Poor Lucy. Poor Jack. If the murder hadn’t ruined their family, would they be gloriously average and happy, like the households on the 1980s TV sitcoms I was weaned on? Or would Jack be divorced, his daughter just as screwed up, and his mother still a Do Not Resuscitate Alzheimer’s case?

And most important of all, to me at least: would I be exactly where I am now, reaching out to take a particularly attractive onyx rosary of luxurious luster?

“That was Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy’s,” Lucy says reverently. “Presented to her by the Pope in 1963 when she and the president went to the Vatican.”

JFK with Pope

“Seriously?” I say.

Lucy nods.

“Grandma’s friend gave it to her,” she says.

I run the rosary skeptically between my fingers. On second inspection, there’s a plastic sheen to the onyx. The weight seems to come solely from the cross, which looks more like chrome than silver. I think Grandma O’Lies’ friend included a toaster oven if she was one of the first hundred callers.

“It’s very nice,” I say, as I hand it back to Lucy.

I glance at my watch. It’s nearly 1:30. If I don’t get the press car back to work by two, the PR firm that loans the cars out will probably report me to the cops for stealing it. I enjoy my zero arrest criminal record. I’d rather not join Jack among the ranks of those who have been booked for a vehicular offense.

Lucy barely acknowledges me as I wave myself out of her grandmother’s room. She is reading aloud from a Bible with a cracked white cover, her face as lively and animated as a preschool teacher reading Dr. Seuss.

The nurse at the duty station confirms that the facility does indeed have guest rooms for family members to stay in. Lucy is more than welcome. The bill will be sent to her father. I silently question the wisdom of allowing an unaccompanied minor to stay overnight in a nursing home filled with Alzheimer’s patients, then I leave my cell phone number as well as Jack’s with the nurse.

As I walk myself out of the nursing home, breathing shallowly to keep the urine smell out of my nostrils, I pull my cell phone from the depths of my trench coat pocket. No calls. No texts. I call Jack. It goes straight to voicemail.

“Jack? It’s Katherine. I got Lucy from school. She’s staying at your mom’s place. They said it’s okay. Where are you? Call me. Please call me. I’m getting scared.”

Saturday, March 31, 8:01 a.m.

 Jack’s cell phone voicemail

“Ephesians 5:18, ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Holy Spirit,’ Dad! You better not have gotten drunk in front of Katherine last night. She took me to stay at Grandma’s. And I’m never coming home!”