Alex didn’t see Tersa again during the next few days. He took it as a good sign that most likely she was getting the care that she needed. Besides, he had his own family’s issues to deal with.
His mother’s wake had all been paid for and arranged. It was a true testament to her character to see how many people showed up for it that Saturday. Alex stood away from his mother’s casket to avoid as much of the heartfelt commiseration as possible. Sympathy wasn’t his thing; he really didn’t need to hear anyone else tell him how sorry they were. He appreciated the semtiment, but it did not make him feel any better.
The next day was his mother’s funeral. Saint John’s in Windsted was a small wooden church. Like everything else in the town, it was very old. There was no air conditioning during the summer hours and only minimal heat in the winters due to the building being poorly insulated. Alex remembered the pastor, Father Moran, saying that it was a good test of the steadfastness of the parishioners.
Alex didn’t appreciate the joke, both because he was one of those poor people stuck either sweating or shivering, and because he was not so steadfast. To him, being there was a reminder of his failure. There was no getting away from it.
As he entered the church, he looked at the Holy Water. Instinctively, he moved his right hand to dip his finger in, but then stopped. As his fingers hovered over the water, it began to feel like it was burning. It was an odd sensation that gave him pause for a few moments. As it subsided, he shook his head and pulled away from the fountain. He didn’t view himself as worthy enough to be blessed anyway.
The funeral lasted about an hour as the normal rituals and annointments were performed. Alex stood with Stephen near by, though neither one spoke to the other. Stephen was barely holding himself together and Alex, try as he might, was barely there at all. He felt bad, but his mind was distracted with a million questions.
The funeral ended and everyone made their way to cemetery in town. Alex was the last in line. He stayed near the head of her casket. His eyes stared at the black marble gravestone throughout the final farewell.
Once it was over, the guests slowly left the gravesite while the undertaker worked to get the casket lowered into the ground. Many of them proceeded to Jake’s, a small restaurant in town that Alex’s mother used to frequent. Little by little, the crowd thinned until Alex stood alone, or so he thought.
Alex’s solemn vigil over his mother was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind him. Someone was approaching. He could see the shadow of a tall man standing behind him.
“Am I disturbing you?”
Alex turned to face the man, “Not at all, Sgt. McConnel, thank you for coming. My mother would have appreciated it.”
“Your mother and my wife were good friends, she wanted to be here, but she couldn’t take herself away from Tersa.”
Alex nodded, never taking his eyes off of the grave, “I can understand that. How is she?”
“Better than she was but…”
Sgt. McConnel frowned, “Listen, I want to apologize for my behavior at the hospital. I was out of line. Tersa is actually very upset with me now because of it. She told me everything. You were very kind to take her in.”
Alex smiled faintly, “No apology necessary, I would have reacted the same way. So did the doctors give you any answers?”
“Not really… they conducted all sorts of tests and even had a psychiatrist talk to her. As far as they can tell, she’s perfectly healthy. None of them can explain what happened then or now…”
“Now?” Alex asked concerned.
A look appeared on Sgt. McConnel’s face that made it look like he’d seen the devil himself, “I… things have been happening that I can’t explain. My daughter’s eyes go dark, she speaks in languages she that couldn’t possibly know, and it’s like one minute we’re talking to the girl we raised, the next minute… it’s something else.”
Sgt. McConnel’s words sent a chill down Alex’s spine, “Something else?”
Sgt. McConnel shook his head, “I’m not a man of faith, Alex. My wife is about as superstitious as they come and my daughter frequents church, but I’ve always been sort of agnostic.”
“I don’t blame you for that.”
“Look… I need your help.”
“Yeah… your mother told us how you were in the seminary. She told us what you were doing there. Could you maybe…”
Alex backed away and shook his head, “No, absolutely not! Go ask Father Moran, he’s actually ordained.”
Sgt. McConnel lowered his eyes and spoke in a defeated tone, “Fine…”
As he turned to walk away, he stopped and stood for a few moments behind Alex, “You know, my daughter was the one who convinced me to let you off on the underage drinking charge.”
“Yeah I know.”
“She really liked you. Whenever your mother would visit, she’d always want to hear about you and even bought and read your books.”
Alex sighed. Sgt. McConnel was apparently very good at laying a guilt trip on good and thick. Every fiber of his being told Alex to remain silent, but he ignored it, “If I have time tomorrow, I’ll come by and talk to her… but I make no promises and I doubt I’ll be able to help.”
“Thank you all the same.” A relieved Sgt. McConnel replied.
A moment later, Alex was alone next to his mother’s grave. Looking at the coffin, he’s head began to shake ever so slightly and the voices from behind entered his mind. He quickly reached for a cigarette, only to discover that he hadn’t brought any.
The voices got louder as the moments passed, “I see you… I’m here… you’re too late…”
The words echoed through his mind. He pressed on his temples with his hands and attempted to force the voice from his mind, “Go away… you’re not real… Get out!”
“Hey buddy, you okay?”
Alex immediately looked up to see the undertaker eyeing him suspiciously. He was an older man in a rather worn out leather jacket. Alex nodded, “I don’t suppose you smoke?”
The undertaker laughed, “Are you kidding? It’s like a job requirement… all though the wife has been trying to get me to quit.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack, “Here, looks like you need this more than I do.”
Alex nodded, “Thanks!”
He immediately lit one up and took a puff. The voices in his head went silent, at least for a little while. The undertaker watched him as he worked the cigarette, “You look terrible.”
“No I mean you look like you haven’t slept in days.”
“So people keep telling me.”
The undertaker scratched the back of his neck, “Look, kid, I get that she was your mother, but you need to take better care of yourself.”
Alex was in no mood for a lecture from this guy, so he politely nodded and began to walk away, “I’ll take it under advisement, thanks.”
He didn’t wait for a response and instead headed down to his car. The old Cadillac was the last car in what was a big line going down the winding road of the graveyard. It stood silently, alone and waiting for him.
Alex opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat, taking a drag every few minutes before tossing the remains out the window and the pack on the passenger’s seat. As he started the car, he began to reflect on his situation. He didn’t like being alone, in fact he hated it. What he feared above all else was being in his late 60s or 70s, sitting alone at a bar, drinking himself stupid. A man, who wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone, ever and was little more than a pathetic has-been with no family to comfort him at night and no friends to confide in.
Alex sat back and embraced the grim reality. That’s exactly what he was. His books had earned him a comfortable life, but how long would that last? He was once someone who was surrounded by friends and never truly knew the meaning of the word ‘alone.’ How did that change?
That’s when it came to him; he should never have joined the seminary. He was a man who deep down wanted a family and wanted people around all the time. The vows that were about to be asked of him, he would never have been able to accept. He was kidding himself.
That realization hit him in the face as hard as any brick could have.He buried his face in his hands so that he wouldn’t see his face in the rear-view mirror. Dear God…
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