Ana presents the original prologue of her time travel romance.
Father Dominic stood at the foot of the open grave and raised his hand for the final benediction just as another squall of ice-edged rain blasted through the old churchyard. He stopped, mopped his brow and wondered if the Heavenly Host were complaining about the soul he was ushering into their eternal care.
Dust rag in hand, Roswyn Littlejohn had greeted him on the day he started ministering to the working class Irish of South Boston. He'd quickly learned she served a vengeful and demanding god.
Now her casket sat on a flat-topped mound of dirt and rock unearthed by four glum-faced workmen. Their picks and shovels leaned like hired mourners against the crude headstone.
“Amen.” He signaled for the internment to begin.
The workmen slid ropes under her coffin and lugged it to the tomb-shaped hole that had contained the remains of her daughter and son-in-law for nearly sixteen years. Grumbling and grunting, they played out the ropes that lowered the casket until one lost his grip.
The box landed with a sickening thud.
Father Dominic and the four laborers peered anxiously into the chasm.
As if pushed by an invisible hand, Roswyn’s box slid slowly to the center and dropped onto its side between the two decaying palls. In life, she'd stood between her daughter and her daughter's husband. She seemed just as determined in death.
“The devil’s touch,” the head workman intoned superstitiously.
Wide-eyed, his fellows nodded.
“You finish this, Father,” he continued. “We’ll not stay longer.”
Father Dominic didn’t order them to come back. His pledge to honor Roswyn's wishes had been exacted in return for her silence about a night long ago, the night he had had been tempted.
He had always hoped he’d find peace when the old woman died. Now that feeling eluded him.
He pitched a dozen shovelfuls of dirt into the hole. Then he remembered—Roswyn’s granddaughter was still in the church. She had insisted on staying after the service.
Angel Foster had been like his flesh and blood since she was orphaned to her grandmother’s care. Barely a year old, she’d sat in a rusty stroller while Roswyn scrubbed the rectory floors. By the time she was three, she was trimming candlewicks in the sacristy. She spent as many hours in his company as her humorless caregiver permitted. He delighted in her endless questions about fate and free will as much as he sought to soften the harshness of her home life.
The slim, young woman knelt still as a statue in a shadowy corner of the empty sanctuary.
He rustled his vestments to avoid startling her.
“Is it done?” Angel lifted her veil.
“Yes, my child.” He held out his hand. “Tis well you stayed inside. A cruel wind blows this night.”
She slipped her fingers between his, leaned against his protective bulk and jerked back. “Father, you’re soaked. You must go to the rectory and warm yourself at once.”
“I’m fine.” He patted her hand.
“You’re not fine,” she replied indignantly. “The hem of your cassock is dirty. Oh, Father, did you fall in?”
“No. I was helpin’ the others so they could get out of the rain.” He cleared his throat. “Angel, there are things that must be said.”
“Then say them. I’m not a child.”
“True. You are not. Angel, yer granny left everything to the Church. The house isn’t worth much, and the Bishop has decided to raze it for a new parking lot. The furnishings, therefore, are yers to take.”
“These are all I want.” She tightened her grip on three framed pictures. “Give to the needy and bulldoze the rest. I never want to see any of it again.”
“Very well,” he said soothingly. They resumed their slow recessional. “Have ye decided what ye will do now?”
“I have a room at the YWCA and enough credits to graduate early.”
“Did ye speak with Mr. O’Shaunessey about being his check-out girl?”
“And let him feel me up in the back room again? I’d rather starve.”
“Oh, dear.” He’d heard rumors, but few parish teens were as outspoken as Angel. “With yer head for numbers, I thought it would be a good match. No matter. In no time ye will meet a nice Catholic man to marry, have a houseful of wee ones, and yer life will be full. Twill give me great joy to officiate at that ceremony.”
“No. My life is mine to do as I say now.” She trembled, but he recognized it was from fervor, not from fear. “I mean no disrespect, Father, but I want more out of life. I want to wear something other than mission box clothes. I want a job that folk will respect. I want to go to France and see where Saint Joan crowned the Dauphin.” Her voice grew stronger. “I will sleep ‘til noon on Sundays, and you’ll be stiff in your grave before I have a ‘houseful of wee ones,’ because I will never, ever get married.”
“Remember, child,” he admonished, “tis God who guides yer life.” He regretted his perfunctory, sanctimonious response. She had already been through so much in her short life. “I’m counting to five. Whose day is this?”
“February 9th.” She answered before he got to three. “Appollonia, patron saint of toothaches and dentists.”
“On the button, as usual.” He chuckled and cleared his throat again. “I have the Bishop’s permission to grant five thousand dollars towards yer granny’s hospital expenses. It won’t wipe them clean, but it will buy ye time to find yer way.”
“Bless you, Father.” Her big, blue-gray eyes glistened, but he knew she would not cry.
“Have you been plagued by dreams since she died?”
“No, Father.” The knuckles of the hand holding her pictures turned stark white.
“Oh, that’s fine.” Silently, he prayed the picture glass would not crack and cut her.
All too soon they reached the front doors. He thought about explaining what had happened in the grave, but it was almost dark, and her room was twelve long blocks away.
And he had not yet reclaimed his equanimity. “God goes with you, Angel Foster. I’ll watch for you next Sunday.” He drew the sign of the Blessed Cross on her forehead.
She picked up her small, battered suitcase and walked out into the storm. The uneven hem of her shabby, gray coat flapped cruelly against her legs.
He waited on the church steps, just in case she needed an encouraging wave.
To his dismay, she stopped in front of the churchyard gate.
“There’ll be plenty of time to pay yer respects,” he called out. “You’d best go along home now.”
She ignored him and walked into the churchyard.
“Angel, stop. It’s not done.” He chased after her. When he caught up she was already beside the grave.
“You said when Granny Roswyn died we wouldn’t have to listen to her any more,” she accused. “But you always did what she wanted.”
He seized on the first platitude that rose to his lips. “Remember, child, love is built on forgiveness.”
“She never forgave them,” she shouted, pointing down at the mildewed, worm-eaten boxes. “And she never loved me. But at least she was honest.” She pulled away from him.
“Come back inside, Angel,” he pleaded. “I can explain.”
“You mean you’ll tell me more lies.” Her voice was full of loathing. “You never cared about any of us, Father.” She turned, darted through the rectory gate and disappeared.
The wind swirled savagely around him. Its strength made him feel small and insignificant, and its pitch evoked Roswyn Littlejohn’s shrill, self-righteous voice.
He welcomed the penance. He picked up the shovel and pitched earth onto her coffin.