Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part ii)

John was Catholic, devout in a childish, clumsy way. Insistent on their weekly church attendance, he kneeled in reverence and took communion directly into his open mouth, not the way Murielle did - holding out her hands so she could feed herself. She didn’t believe it was the body of Christ anyway since she saw the wafer crackers for sale at the Bible Bookstore on Fifth Avenue and she knew for a fact that Father Michael drank off the rest of the wine each Sunday after mass.

On John’s request, Father Michael came to their house and confirmed that the burn was indeed the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He too made the sign of the cross - over himself and over the shirt Murielle had draped over a kitchen chair. Before the priest arrived she had tried various ways of presenting the shirt: on a hanger, on a coat hook, or folded on the table. Nothing looked right. When she heard his car pull into the yard she’d quickly tossed it over a chair.

“The Lord has blessed this house,” Father Michael said. He felt a rush of excitement, of envy.

Murielle looked from the shirt to the cracked linoleum, the sagging ceiling and around the rest of the ramshackle house that wore years of neglect. The windows were dull, the roof leaked; the yellow and pink wallpaper was peeling. She looked again at the burnt shirt and sighed.

But John was breathless with agreement. He and Father Michael stood side by side with the shirt reflecting in their eyes. Father Michael was dressed in black, the thin white clerical collar tightly wrapped around his neck. His hands and face were pale; the skin under his eyes a consumptive yellow. His chest was like a birdcage. John, towering above him, had a torso like an oil drum. He wore a checkered flannel shirt, faded blue jeans and old boots. His neck was thick and red with wiry, rust-coloured hairs extending up into a dense thatch on his head and down into a thick coat on his muscular back.

“This is a sign,” Father Michael said.

“A sign,” John repeated.

“A sign,” Murielle sighed.

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