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Authors: Beth Gutcheon

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BOOK: Good-bye and Amen
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That was the first time I ever saw the place. I remember Nicky and Mrs. Moss on the porch of Leeway waiting for me, and the smell of pine and musty books when you stepped inside. The whole weekend is etched, I knew then that my life was changing.

Anyway this next summer, Nicky and I sailed to Beal by ourselves. She wanted to show me the old graveyard. There used to be a settlement out on the island, but these days, there are only hunting shacks. It's not so easy to find the graveyard, you have to know where it is.

It's a beautiful spot on the crest of the island with views to the south past the outer islands to the Atlantic. We had our lunch and then we walked north on what must once have been the main road between farms or settlements. A grassy path wide enough for a wagon. Then the most amazing thing happened. I heard someone weeping, right near us. I said, “Nicky, stop. What's that?” She couldn't hear it at all. It sounded to me like a woman. We'd walk on, then I'd hear it again. I'd stop, and look, and there was nothing but these heartbroken pleading sobs coming from just out of my field of vision. Very eerie.

We saw a meadow with a couple of apple trees, and a
clump of huge alders and other trees that Nicky said meant an old cellar hole was there. We decided to go exploring. The whole world had gone silent, except for that rustle and buzz that summer makes. We found the boulders that must have made up the foundation of a house or barn lining a pit that was filled now with a huge pine and some scrub. A little rusty-colored snake about a foot long was sunning itself on one of the boulders. Before I could show it to Monica, zip! It was gone. A small path led off toward the wood, and we decided to follow it. We'd gone only a few steps when Boom! there was this thunderous flapflapflapping right beside us. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Out of the meadow rose a blue heron. Gorgeous. A farm pond was concealed in the high grass there where she'd been taking the sun, and we must have scared her more than she scared us. She was utterly lovely.

I felt as if some sort of veil that separates us from God's creation had dropped for a moment, that the heron and the weeping woman were all one thing, but Nicky thought it was creepy, that I could hear something that she couldn't, so we went back to the boat.

I kept thinking about that out-of-body weeping. It made me think of Mary Magdalene, with her Lord dead in the tomb. Why could I hear it, and not Nicky? It seemed like a message from the universe. Okay, Norman. You've had your time in the desert. You've built your known world out of the rules of men. Now it's time to turn to what that world of laws leaves out, that still can't be explained or denied. I'd
heard
that heartbroken weeping from a woman who wasn't there. What was I going to do, decide I didn't believe it?

I mentioned it the next day down at the post office. In
Dundee they don't have RFD, everyone goes to the post office every morning. The postmaster said, “Nobody's heard from
her
in a long time. Did you see her?” I said I hadn't, but was intrigued that others knew about her. I knew I hadn't imagined it. I asked if he knew who she was. He said, “Some think they do. You must have gone up into the graveyard. That gets her going.”

Isn't
that
interesting?

 

Bobby Applegate
I assume they went out to the graveyard to screw. It's secluded and peaceful and you're not afraid your future mother-in-law is going to come popping in on you. Some of my fondest memories involve that graveyard. But we never heard anything weird out there.

 

Monica Faithful
A lot of out-of-towners came to the wedding. Mother had all her Connecticut friends up. Jeannie was maid of honor, and Eleanor matron. Norman had some friends from law school. And of course, his mother. I had met Norman's mother once. We went out to Indiana for Thanksgiving to tell her we were getting married. She must have known that's what we'd come to tell her, but she didn't make it easy. There was a lot of sighing over Thanksgiving without children. She had pictures of the Happy Family all over the living room, Norman and Rachel with Sam and Sylvia.

I was determined to make Hazel love me. I was going to be the perfect daughter-in-law.

 

Jeannie Israel
Mrs. Faithful was a tough nut. In my clinical opinion, she was in love with Norman. I sat beside her at the rehearsal dinner, which Monica's grandmother gave at her
house since Norman's mother had no idea that usually the groom's family did that. It was lobster, to give the out-of-towners a treat. Mrs. Faithful had never eaten one, and she didn't know not to wear her Sunday best. She was mostly silent, struggling with this red armored bug on her plate. I showed her how to use the cracker to open the claws and she tried it and fish juice squirted all over her dress, which looked like her church dress to me. Silk, with a white shawl collar. Oh dear.

 

My wife and I gave that party. They called me Uncle Bernard. Eleanor was my special charge, but they were all fond of me. I think.

I was very good at giving parties and presents, because I watched well, and remembered.

 

Eleanor Applegate
I looked across the table just as Norman's mother got lobster guts right down the front of her dress. Jeannie Courtemanche was trying to help her, but on the other side, right at that moment, Jimmy started to eat with his hands. Hazel went critical. Her face got this closed-up stony expression. She sat eating coleslaw with her fork, trying not to let it get involved with the fish juice while her lobster lay there draining on the plate. When the serving girl asked if she was still eating, she just shook her head with her lips pursed. Jimmy said, “I'll take it,” and lifted it right off her plate and started to eat it with his fingers.

 

Bobby Applegate
That was a bad scene. It was August, so the lobsters were shedders, and they're messy, they just are. Hazel's condition improved when they passed the wipes
and you could clean your hands, but then the toasts began, and I guess she'd never seen anything like it. The Danish cousins tried very hard to be nice to her but Kjeld said she kept referring to Monica as “an heiress.” She was good and sick of the whole lot of us by the time she left town.

 

Monica Faithful
We got off to a bad start. None of us had realized in advance that it would be so foreign to Hazel and she'd take it personally. We meant so well. Except maybe Mother, but even she had worked hard, and tried to make it perfect for everybody. She was never going to be best friends with Bobby's parents and I truly think she'd meant to take Norman's mother up, to show her a great time, adopt her. She pictured them as pals, taking care of the grandkids together, that sort of thing. Sorry, wrong number.

 

Norman Faithful
I don't think Mama was feeling well at our wedding. She was quieter than usual. But she's never been a boisterous person and I'm sure she enjoyed it. Sydney was at her best and I was pleased that Mama got to see her do her stuff.

 

Eleanor Applegate
Mother was at her worst, of course. Bobby's parents didn't come, which annoyed her no end. They sent a beautiful silver cream and sugar on a little hammered silver tray from Tiffany, and Sydney put it in a corner mostly hidden by a huge vase from the Maitlands. The presents were all laid out at The Plywoods on tables draped in white cloths, with the gift cards from each person propped in front of the gifts. Except for the Applegates' cream and sugar. Somehow she misplaced the card for that one.

The Plywoods? Grandmother Candace's “cottage.” She'd torn down the summerhouse Mother grew up in, which had stairs that were hard for Uncle Bernard and was impossible to heat, and built a big modern ranch house on the site. It was supposed to be called The Elms, after the old house, but Mother refused. When Candace died, Mother sold it practically before the will was read. She never even asked us how we felt about it.

 

Amelia Crane Morriset
Norman gave the best toast I'd ever heard, bar none. He looked sensationally handsome and he spoke without notes. He thanked the Mosses for the parties and for welcoming him, and then he toasted his bride…standard stuff, I know, but it brought me to tears. For a split second, I was actually jealous of Monica.

 

Monica Faithful
We moved into a parlor-floor apartment in Back Bay. I loved my job and Norman was doing well at Ropes & Gray. We took Norman's children every other weekend. At first they were like feral animals. Sam was four and the baby, Sylvie, was just over two. Sam used to hiss at me when I came into the room. Once he actually spat, but Norman had him out of his chair and over his knee for a whack on his bottom with scary speed. He said, “Don't you
ever
show disrespect to your stepmother again. Don't you ever show disrespect to any woman again, not even your sister.” He was like an Old Testament prophet. After that, Sam only behaved that way when his father wasn't in the house. He was mad at me because I wouldn't let him put ginger ale on his cornflakes.

 

Jeannie Israel
When I first met the children, I thought they were appalling. I was doing my psych Ph.D. at the time, so a little inclined to diagnose everybody, but really, they were ferocious little things. I thought the boy might be possessed. It happens.

 

Eleanor Applegate
Monica was amazing. With your own kids you've got some instinctive connection. You're in love with them, they're part of you. Monica was without a road map with those two, but she was patient most of the time.

 

Bobby Applegate
I thought they should have been drowned at birth, Norman's children. I offered to do it myself, but Monica discouraged it.

 

Monica Faithful
I made a wonderful kid's bedroom out of the room Norman wanted to use for his study. I got bunk beds and made Marimekko curtains, and let the children each choose a color for one wall. Sam's wall was the color of eggplant; Sylvie's was orange. I did the painting myself and I brought them a little play desk from home. I brought a lot of my favorite books from my childhood and put them in their bookshelves. Then one day I came home from school and found Norman home from work hours early. I asked him what was the matter, but I could see he wasn't sick; if anything he was entirely too well. He was excited, sort of inflated, and he couldn't sit down; he was pacing up and down and gesturing with his arms, the way he does.

My first thought was that he'd been fired. But no. He
said, “Today Mr. Cantwell offered me a raise and a change of title. He said he was very impressed with my work and the partners wanted me on track to join them.”

I said that was wonderful, because it was, it was much much sooner than we had any right to expect. I said, “Darling, how fantastic,” or something like that and went to give him a kiss. In my head I was already thinking about what we'd do with the extra money. But Norman wasn't through. Mr. Cantwell invited him to lunch to celebrate, and Norman's answer was “No, thank you, I have thought about this for a long time and I've come to understand that Christ has a different plan for me.” Then he resigned.

 

Jeannie Israel
Monica called me and said she needed a break, and I asked her to come to New York for the weekend. She took the train down Saturday. I'd bought theater tickets, but we never went. She spent a lot of the time crying. She couldn't understand how a man with alimony, child support, and I don't know how many thousands in student loans to pay off could quit the best law firm in Boston to go to seminary. How was he going to pay for
that,
she kept asking.

She was frightened. She didn't have any money of her own. Her grandmother paid her tuition, but she didn't keep a car in college, or take fancy trips or spend money on clothes. She was afraid that Norman thought she could pay off his loans, or put him through seminary, or both. She was shocked at that.

I asked her if she believed in him and she said yes. I asked her if she believed he'd had a true call from God, and she said she guessed
he
believed it. We had both grown up in pretty secular households.

What kind of man does a thing like that without discussing it with his wife? Without even seeing that he
should
have discussed it with his wife?

 

Owen Cantwell
Norman Faithful may have been the most talented litigator I ever saw. There's a quality you have to be born with. Jack Kennedy had it. When Norman was on his feet talking, you couldn't look away. And his memory was phenomenal. I was dumbfounded when he turned me down. He had his detractors in the firm, but the rising young Turks always do. I had put a lot of eggs in his basket, pushing him for partner track so early, and I came away with some of it on my face. I told him, you can survive doing this in public once, but don't make a habit of it. I was thinking that he meant to run for office down the line. I never pegged him for a priest. Never.

 

Bobby Applegate
We had rented a tiny house up on the mountain that summer. On the Dump Road. The real estate lady called it “Turkey Farm Road,” but I preferred Dump. I wanted to buy it so I could have Dump Road on my stationery. One night during their visit Norman and Monica came up to supper with us, and Norman announced that he had quit the law to become a priest. I was speechless. Eleanor blurted out, “Why?”

 

Eleanor Applegate
He said he'd come to know Christ had a plan for him. I asked him
how
he'd come to know that. A voice spoke from clouds? Monica said that not all calls are so dramatic, and that she thought it was very exciting.

BOOK: Good-bye and Amen
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