The night mark, p.8
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       The Night Mark, p.8

           Tiffany Reisz
 

  “Tell me,” Pat said, looking her straight in the eyes.

  “I’d give up the right to vote just to do one more load of Will’s dirty laundry.”

  She laughed at herself—better to laugh than to cry again.

  “I promise I won’t tell Gloria Steinem on you,” Pat said with a wink.

  Faye laughed even harder at that.

  “Will had these baseball T-shirts,” she said, trying to compose herself. “So many baseball T-shirts. Every team you could think of. Two weeks after he died I found a Bronx Bombers shirt in a bag under the bed. Can you imagine? A kid who grew up on the Sox with a Yankees shirt? Goddamn it, Will.”

  Those stupid baseball T-shirts, they were all he wore when he wasn’t naked or in his uniform. The single time she’d seen him in a suit was at their wedding. Those shirts... He had so many of them she’d wash them all in one load. Laundry was sorted into whites, darks, towels and baseball shirts. She’d given the shirts away after he died to relatives and close friends who needed something of his. She’d kept one for herself—the soft heather-gray one with the big red B on the front that Will had worn on their first date. That was the one she’d always slept in when he was on his road trips. She didn’t sleep in it anymore. Crying oneself to sleep only worked in the movies.

  Pat handed her a handkerchief and pressed it to her burning cheeks.

  “Sorry about the ‘goddamn it.’ I shouldn’t swear in front of a priest.”

  “You must not know any priests. You can say whatever the hell you want. Trust me—I’ve heard worse. Said worse, too.”

  “Thank you,” she whispered, slowly bringing herself back under control. “Will really looked good in his T-shirts. Had the arms for them. Gotta say, there are a lot of perks to being married to an athlete. Having the sexiest husband at the beach was one of them, and I’m shallow enough to admit that.” She laughed again, remembering...remembering... “Will had this great baseball player walk. It wasn’t like a strut, more like an amble. This loose-in-the-hips amble. When he was leaving the house to go on a road trip, I’d always tell him, ‘I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you walk away.’ I didn’t know the last time I watched him walk away would be, you know, the last time I watched him walk away. If I’d known, I would have stared at his ass longer.”

  Faye laughed again and cried again. Her body ached for Will. She could talk about his T-shirts but what she really missed was his body. The way he smelled after a game—sweat and leather. The way he picked her up and threw her into bed like a rag doll just because he could. The way he made love to her. He was twenty-three when they met and had just broken up with his high school sweetheart, the only girl he’d been with before her. But during sex he made her feel like she was the only woman in the world, and he was the lucky schmuck who got to have her. For a long time she had to think of Will to orgasm during sex with Hagen. That wasn’t something she had told anyone. Widows might as well be nuns for the careful way people treated them. What would people think if they knew what she missed most about her late husband was the sex? The hard-core full-body, full-soul, all-in, nothing-held-back sort of sex you could have with someone who knew everything about you. Will filled her up and emptied her out and gave her what she needed. And what she needed was him, just him, but all of him.

  “I should be ashamed of myself for how much I miss having sex with him. Kind of shallow, I guess.”

  “Taking pleasure in your own husband doesn’t make you shallow. I know a lot of husbands who wish their wives saw them like that.”

  “Will was one of those guys born for heavy lifting and getting stuff off the top shelf. He made me feel small, and he made me feel safe, and it takes a special kind of man to make a woman feel both at the same time. One day I teased him that I heard ‘Like a Rock’ by Bob Seger automatically start playing when he walked into a room, and at the very next game, they played that as his walk-up song.” Faye laughed. Will had always looked for a way to make her smile. Even now, even through the tears, here she was smiling because of him.

  “He sounds like one in a million.”

  “He was. And we were so happy it doesn’t even seem real now. As good as it was, it somehow managed to get even better. I found out I was pregnant the same week Will got called up to the majors. Which meant, of course, I got called up, too. I was officially a WAG.”

  “WAG? What on earth?”

  “WAGs. Wives and Girlfriends of pro athletes,” Faye said.

  “I see,” Pat said. “We don’t get to have those in the priesthood. At least, we’re not supposed to.”

  Faye grinned as she wiped her face. “Probably for the best,” she said. “A couple days after Will went to Boston, I got invited to a WAG party at the house of one of the pitcher’s wives. Nice women, but every last one of them warned me my life was about to change, and not for the better. So many women told me about the jobs they’d had to quit, the dreams they’d had to give up for their husbands’ careers. And if I wanted to keep doing my little photography thing, they said, I should probably save it for the off-season, treat it like a hobby. I thought they’d be happy when I told them I was expecting. I just got this look like...”

  Faye mimed the look of disapproval.

  “I had committed the cardinal WAG sin,” Faye continued. “I was going to give birth during the season.”

  “Shameful,” Pat said. “How dare you? I shouldn’t laugh, but...”

  “You can laugh. Will did. He rolled his eyes so hard I thought they’d fall out of his head. He told me...” Faye paused, caught her breath. “He told me he would quit baseball before he missed the birth of our child. And he would never ever forgive me if I let his dreams get in the way of my own. He said the day I put down my camera, he would put down his bat and glove. He made me promise I would never give up my work for his. And if you were wondering why I said he was the best man who ever lived, that’s the reason.”

  “He’s giving Carrick a run for his money.”

  “There are no words for how happy Will was, how happy we both were. Then I went to shoot some pictures for a project I was working on, and Will went out to buy flowers to surprise me when I got back. On the way home, he sees two guys on the side of the road trying to change a flat. This was Will’s area. Son of a mechanic. He helped more stranded drivers than AAA. But they weren’t stranded drivers. They were a carjacking team. They went for the car, and Will tried to stop them. One of them hit him in the head with the tire iron. He died on the operating table from a rapid intracranial hemorrhage. They killed my beautiful husband for drug money and a 2005 Ford Focus.”

  Faye exhaled and leaned back on Pat’s sofa, her hands on her face, trying to stifle the animal howl of grief welling up within her. A gentle hand touched her knee, and she grabbed Pat’s hand and held it like her life depended on it. She breathed through it—In and out, babe. The world’s not ending—and slowly found her voice again.

  “He’d been in the majors all of one month. Batted .364. Best September of our lives. I’m always a wreck in September now. And I can’t even watch baseball anymore.”

  Pat bowed his head and she wondered if he were praying for her. She’d take any help she could get.

  “The police got the guys who killed him. Even got the car back. But they couldn’t bring me my husband back. I had that car, though. That stupid car.”

  Pat clasped his hands between his knees and sighed. “If there’s anything fifty years in the priesthood taught me, it’s that I can’t say a damn thing to make you feel better right now.”

  “At least you know that. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ sure doesn’t cut it.”

  “Everything does happen for a reason. Sometimes it’s a bad reason.”

  “Sounds like my second marriage,” she said, sitting up again, wiping at her face and then giving up. Too many tears, not enough tissues in the world. “After the funeral, Will’s best friend from college, Hagen, started hanging around our place all the time. It was nice. It help
ed, it really did. He said it was what Will would have done. And then a couple weeks later, he sat me down and told me he thought we should get married. It wasn’t much of a proposal. More like an escape plan. Like this would solve all my problems. I thought he’d lost his mind. Then Hagen said the magic words again—‘It’s what Will would have done.’”

  “Was it?” Pat asked.

  “If it had been Hagen who’d died, Hagen with a pregnant wife left behind, Will would have stepped in and been a father to that kid. So Hagen and I got married. Hagen had money, a big house. He told me I could have my own room, that he wouldn’t expect me to act like his wife until I was ready for it. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful romance, doesn’t it? Hollywood thought so, too. A story ran in the Boston Globe about Will and me and Hagen, and the next day a producer called and said he’d already talked to a screenwriter about putting Will’s Cinderella story on the big screen—nobody kid from Nowhere, Mass, drafted in the forty-first round, ends up playing for the Red Sox. And it would end with me giving birth to Will’s baby. Triumph out of tragedy. Whatever. I talked to them because you go crazy when you’re grieving like that. And I just wanted Will to be remembered. Then I lost the baby at sixteen weeks and they stopped calling. Not even Hollywood could give me a happy ending.”

  She didn’t tell Pat about the years of trying to get pregnant that came after losing Will’s baby. She could barely face her grief over losing Will. If she had to grieve for those lost years, she’d never make it out of this house in one piece. And Hagen? She couldn’t talk about Hagen, how once she’d lost the baby, he’d turned into a ball of quiet anger, like it had been her fault she’d lost the last part of Will left in the world.

  Faye took a shuddering breath and forced herself to drink her tea. Crying so hard had given her dry mouth, and her throat felt like it had been dragged down a gravel road.

  “I promise I’m not vomiting this whole story onto you for the fun of it,” Faye finally said, carefully lowering her glass to her knee. It left a wet ring on her white jeans, but she didn’t care. “I’m just so...freaked out, I guess. And I don’t even know why. So what? So Will and Carrick Morgan looked alike. What does it mean? Nothing. I know it means nothing. I’ve seen those internet clickbait stories where they show celebrities who look like people who’ve been dead for a hundred years. It happens. There are only so many faces in the world, I guess. But it feels like it means something. Do I sound crazy? You can tell me if I do. I can take it. Oh, and I think a stork is stalking me. Yeah, I sound crazy. I can hear it.”

  “My job entailed me turning wine into God’s blood, so I don’t think I can judge you too harshly. I’m an open-minded spiritual man by trade.”

  “I appreciate you listening to me. I can’t talk to anyone about Will. Hagen and I are divorced, and we can’t talk about anything anymore without it turning into a fight. Will’s parents are doing better than I am. They have grandkids from Will’s sister, and those kids are their whole life now. Every time I visit them, his mom has a breakdown and it takes weeks for her to get back on her feet again. I stopped talking to Will’s family two years ago. Too hard on all of us.”

  “And your parents?”

  “Dad died. Mom has dementia. I was an oops baby when they were both forty.”

  “Friends?”

  Faye shook her head. “I had friends. They were great until the funeral. After that, they had their own lives, and nobody knows what to say to a twenty-six-year-old widow. Will’s friends and teammates weren’t thrilled with me for getting married again so soon after he died. The medical bills and funeral expenses wiped out the life insurance. There I was, almost broke with student-loan debt up to my eyeballs and pregnant. I ran out of shoulders to cry on a long time ago.”

  “You’re Lady Job,” Pat said with a sorrowful smile.

  “Who?”

  “Job, in the Bible. A very old Jewish story, very strange and mystical. You’ve heard the phrase ‘the patience of Job’?”

  “Oh, that guy. Yes, I’ve heard of him. I don’t know if I’ve ever read the story.”

  “Odd little book, but some of the loveliest poetry in the Bible. A man named Job has a wife, children and wealth. And he’s a good man. Satan goes to God and makes a sort of bet with him, saying that Job is only good because he’s blessed, but if you take his blessings away, he won’t be righteous anymore. God takes him up on that bet and wipes out Job’s entire family, his wealth and his health. He’s literally sitting in ashes using potsherds to scrape the sores off his body.”

  “Oh, my God, that’s disgusting. Even I didn’t have it that bad.”

  Pat laughed. “I told you it was a strange little book. But it does have a happy ending. Job keeps his faith in God, though he demands God explain himself.”

  “Does he?”

  “God shows up and gives the ‘who do you think you are?’ speech to end all speeches. The short version is basically ‘I am God. You’re not, so stuff it.’”

  “Very poetic.”

  Father Pat smiled but didn’t laugh. He took a breath and met her eyes.

  “‘Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with its doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in search of the depth? Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?’”

  Pat stopped and sighed. “It goes on like that for a long time. God wanted to make sure Job got the point.”

  “That’s beautiful,” Faye breathed. “What does it all mean?”

  “It means a lowly man may never understand the ways of God.”

  “And you find that comforting?” she asked.

  “A little. If lowly little me could understand God, then he wouldn’t be much of a God, right?”

  “I guess,” Faye said.

  “I do find this comforting, though—even after God tells Job off, he restores him. New wife. Children. Even more children than he’d lost. Twice as much wealth. And a life so long he meets his great-grandchildren.”

  “If only,” Faye said.

  “Yes,” Pat said. “If only.”

  Faye wiped her face with Pat’s handkerchief again. She didn’t know many men who still carried handkerchiefs. Will always had—a red bandanna in his back pocket just like his dad.

  “When Will and I got married, we did all the usual wedding vows. Love, honor, cherish, until death do us part. But that wasn’t good enough for Will. He added one more vow. He said...” She stopped to breathe even though it hurt to breathe, but she kept on doing it. Will would have wanted her to. “He said, ‘Come heaven or hell or high water, I will love you and take care you of you as long as you live, Faye.’ I asked him, ‘Don’t you mean as long as you live?’ He said no. He wasn’t interested in till death do us part. Even if he went first, he would find a way to take care of me. I treasure that vow. I hold it right here,” she said, touching her chest over her heart. “But I’m still waiting for him to keep it.”

  Faye squeezed Pat’s hands again. He had nice hands, a younger man’s hands. A painter’s hands even if they did tremble.

  “You can’t go back, you know,” Faye said.

  “Go back where?” Pat asked.

  “Once someone loves you that much, loves you more than you deserve, you can’t go back to being loved the normal way,” she said. “You ever been loved like that?”

  “Only by my creator.”

  “Pat, I have to tell you something else crazy,” she whispered.

  “Tell me something crazy.”

  “I think I’m supposed to go the lighthouse,” she said. “I think... I don’t know. I feel like someone wants me out there.”

  “What do you hope to find there?” Pat asked, and Faye could tell he really wanted her to th
ink about it before answering. So she thought about it and admitted she didn’t know the answer.

  “I don’t want to see any ghosts, and I know Will’s not going to be there waiting for me. But it feels like I’ve had a nightmare, and if I got out there, I’ll wake up and know it was all a dream. I just... Maybe it would help me. Like it helped you.”

  Pat took a steadying breath and nodded his head.

  “All right. I’ll get you there. But if Ms. Shelby’s out there and catches you, you don’t know me, right?”

  “Right. Promise. Never met you.”

  “And you have to swear to me you’ll be careful. That lighthouse is old, and the water there is choppy as hell. It’s more dangerous out there than you can imagine. You swear you’ll be safe?”

  “I swear,” she said.

  “You swear you’ll stay out of the water?” he asked.

  “I swear,” she said again. He gave her a long, searching look, then sighed like he knew he was wasting his time. Pat got a sheet of paper and scribbled a little map for her and walked her through the steps of how to find the road with the bridge, what turns to take and when to take them.

  “Good enough?” he asked.

  “Perfect,” Faye said, folding up the map and shoving it into her back pocket. “Thank you. I should go. I haven’t eaten much today, and I know I’ve taken up way too much of your time.” Faye’s head throbbed from hunger and crying so hard. She’d lost control of herself, something she rarely did. She didn’t want to lose it again in front of this kind old man.

  “You made my day, young lady. Beautiful woman in my house? The neighbors are loving this. They can’t wait to find out what I’ve been up to with you in here.”

  “Keeping me from having a nervous breakdown.”

  “That’s not a very sexy rumor. We’ll have to do better than that.”

 
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