by Aliset

I open my eyes to utter darkness. Water drips and the air smells like dust and rock. Somewhere, someone is calling “Father...Father...” Looking for a priest, then, as the bombs rain down upon us. Not a bad idea, searching for a priest in the middle of all the fear and shadows of the Blitz. Wish I'd thought of it.

My ribs hurt and pain clears the memory just a bit. It's Vincent who calls...and he's not looking for a priest. He's looking for me. I'm Father.

“Over here,” I manage to wheeze, trusting that he can hear me.

And he does. “How are you?” Vincent asks.

I can tell some part of him already knows the answer. I wasn't joking when I told him some months ago that he had the soul of a doctor. If so many things had been different, he might have gone above and become a true healer...but things are not different and there's no point in wishing them so. Vincent has only the knowledge I've managed to teach him, and it will have to be enough. “I've been better,” I say and Vincent manages a dry chuckle.

Either I try to move or he tries to shift me, but whatever happens, pain thins everything to grey line. Vincent is concerned, warning me not to sleep and when I threaten to quote Virgil at him, it wrings a laugh out of him. He's scared, but he has hope. His Catherine is on the other side of the rocks and rubble that enclose us and if my interactions with her are any indication, she will never give up on him, on us.

Funny that I didn't realize that before. Margaret, you were right. I was a foolish old man....


“It's quite a world you have here,” Margaret had said, that last day before she passed. “I never thought....”

I smiled at her. “Who would? There are times I don't quite believe it myself.”

There was a ghost of her old shrewdness in her gaze. “Every time you look at Vincent, I bet,” she said. “Jacob, how...what happened to him?”

“I don't know,” I replied. “I've speculated over the years, but all my theories never matched the reality.” I shrugged. “It just became easier to stop wondering.”

“He's been good for you,” Margaret said. “You were never that patient before.”

“I never had to be, before.” I flashed a grin at her and took her hand, seeing not the bruises from her last round of chemotherapy, nor the paper-thin skin of age and illness, but how she had been when we first wed. God, we were so young then....

Margaret drew her shawl around herself. “So, Jacob. You must tell me all the gossip.” And that was so like the Margaret of old that I started laughing. We used to fight over the paper in the morning---she would dive for the society section and I'd try to get the front page out from under the mess she made of it. So many brief memories of our marriage. “That girl Catherine,” she continued. “She's something special to Vincent.”

I nodded, remembering Catherine's declaration of love as she'd left me on the subway platform to return home. “She is,” I acknowledged.

“And you don't like it,” Margaret said. At my surprised look, she tilted her head and smiled. “Come now, Jacob. You are pretty easy to read. What's the matter? Has she been bad for Vincent?”

“Oh, no,” I replied. I couldn't damn her like that, not after what she'd done to save me. “She's a very...nice person.”

“So what is it? They're marvelous together; a fool could see it and you're surely not a fool.” Her mouth pursed, not willing to let up a bit.

“I don't want him to get hurt,” I said finally.

Her hand touched mine. “You can't prevent that, Jacob. Pain is the price we pay for loving.”

She fell silent then and I thought of all that had gone between us---decades of separation that needn't have been and now... she was dying. In a few days or less, Peter had said, she would be gone.

“Don't be a damned fool,” Margaret said, her smile taking the sting out of the words. “You must find a way to let him know you understand. Promise me that, Jacob.”

Promise her? I'd have promised her the moon and stars once...still would, even now. “I will,” I said

“Vincent,” I gasp. “I understand more than you think about your Catherine.” In my mind's eye, I see Margaret as she had been that day, stepping out of the cab, yellow dress and red cloche bright against her dark hair. She was a vision. And I realize, as the air thins and greys around us, that I do understand. I haven't told him that enough. I've grumbled and fussed and warned, but in the end, he loves her. And she loves him. If there's pain in it for him---and I'm still not sure there won't be---it is, in the end, their choice to love.

My story finished, Vincent leans against me, the eternal guardian. His gaze in the dimness is turned inward...searching for the threads of his connection to Catherine. The connection that bound them since their first meeting and that alerted her to our danger. What would it have been like, I wonder, to have had that connection with Margaret?

“It wasn't meant to be for us, Jacob,” Margaret says, just off to my right. Her yellow dress is the only bright spot in the dimness.
I open my mouth to say something, but Vincent speaks first. His voice is more raspy than usual with the dirt and the dust in the air. “The air is getting thin, but we'll be out of here soon. Try not to talk.”

Vincent's right, of course---the air had been growing foul probably for hours before he decided to tell me. What a front he's been keeping up, being strong for both of us. What a leader he'll make one day. Perhaps today. Or the next day. I know how badly I've been injured---one of the downsides of being a doctor, I suppose. No matter what happens to me, though, the community will be strong and protected in his hands.

“Now, Jacob, don't press the boy,” Margaret says. “He's got his own path to lead, just as we did.”

Vincent looks down at me, an expression of dawning hope. “They've returned.”


Click HERE to return to the Shades of Gray project list - Eternity in an Hour


Vicky June 21, 2010 at 9:07 PM  

Ah, those inner voices of yours... I loved this, Krista! And you're so good at fitting in flashbacks! No no: Backstory. ;-)

Krista June 22, 2010 at 5:32 AM  

Thank you, Vicky. :) This is by far just about the only group project I've ever enjoyed working on. :-) I'm so happy you enjoyed this.



Three Writers June 22, 2010 at 6:43 AM  

Krista, I thoroughly enjoyed this! I like your Father. I like Father a lot, as you know, but it seems so many writers punish him for being human and trying so hard to be more...for his family. This was wonderful. I liked the back and forth with Margaret especially. Of course with her he'd not have created Below nor saved infant Vincent but she'd have been good for him. Thank you for bringing them together once more! Nancy

Krista June 22, 2010 at 8:00 AM  

Nancy, thank you so much for your kind comments. There are a lot of times when Father deserves a good thwacking with his cane, but in the main, he's a good man...imperfect, as we all are, but still a good man.

That's the irony of the whole Jacob-Margaret story, isn't it? Out of that singular tragedy came such miracles as the rescue of the infant Vincent.

Thanks again for reading :)


Cyndi D June 22, 2010 at 3:31 PM  

Oh if only this had been filmed!!!

Krista June 22, 2010 at 6:34 PM  

Thank you, Cyndi. But if it had been...what would we write about? :-)


Krista :)

OKGoode June 23, 2010 at 2:33 PM  

"The only group project I've ever enjoyed working on!" AMEN, Krista!

Michelle K. July 17, 2010 at 6:14 PM  

As a newbie to our little group, this is my first read to "catch myself up". And what a read! Thanks for the intro, Krista. It was lovely. I adore Father and I hate Father - all the time, every time. He is cruel and kind, bruised by life and so eager to prevent others from being bruised. And as we discussed not so long ago, so guilty of terrible ... and wonderful ... things. I look forward to reading the rest!

Krista July 17, 2010 at 7:39 PM  

Hi Michelle! :)

The thing I always find fascinating about Father is this: whether by accident or design, he was given a lot of contradictions and complexities. He's not the easiest person to like (I certainly do my share of Father Walloping :-P) but at the same time, he is so much fun to write.

I'm glad you stopped by---please do check out everyone else's stories :)

-Krista :)

Renée October 22, 2010 at 7:41 PM  

Dear Aliset I want to thank you for the wonderful stories you write. I feel spoiled but I hope to never take anything for granted. These stories feed my soul, I'm a sucker for romance and happy endings and you provide all of it. Thank you and bless you. Renee

Krista October 22, 2010 at 7:55 PM  

Thank you, Renee---I'm so happy you've enjoyed the stories. We all feel Vincent and Catherine deserve their happy life.. :)

Thank you again for reading and commenting,

Krista :)

NYC Utopia July 17, 2011 at 10:44 PM  

There! I keep finding stories that are new to me.

Krista July 18, 2011 at 4:58 AM  

Hi Claire!

Glad you're rediscovering (or discovering :)) our site. :) Thanks for stopping by,

Krista :)

NYC Utopia July 18, 2011 at 6:26 AM  

(Re)discovering? It's rather like I'm keeping a permanent eye on it (via RSS). The drawback of trying to keep a semblance of online life as a "background task" is that RL has its ways of letting me forget what I finished reading or not during those stolen moments. The good thing is, I keep finding "Easter eggs" in sites I thought I knew by heart! By the way, have I mentioned you guys are the very best?

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