[Father Mike] installed me upstairs in three connected rooms originally intended for the housekeeper: bedroom, sitting room, bath. I don't remember my first days there except in pieces, spangled with light. His own grief must have been unspeakable. His father succumbed at forty to the faulty Murphy heart, his uncle James at the age of thirty-eight. His little brother, Bobby, died of pneumonia during the winter of their mother's cancer, a run of bad luck so preposterous it seemed like a message from a wrathful God. When my twenty-year-old mother left their Prince Edward Island farm to try her luck in the Maine mills, my uncle, a fourteen-year-old with no other family, went with her. It was my parents who sent Father Mike to college, who took his emerging taste for classical music and fine reading, his studied vocabulary, his longing for a life of the mind, as evidence of the calling he had declared at the age of twelve. They sent him to Notre Dame and then to Grand Seminaire in Montreal, where he studied Latin and learned the ways of the Church and, according to him, felt complete for the first time in his life. When he was returned to the Diocese of Maine, he and my mother, together again, lit a votive for each of their buried loved ones.
When I arrived at the rectory with my teddy bears and ruffly ankle socks and my mother's store of dishes, some of the parishioners welcomed the idea of a child. But not all of them. Priests, especially then, in the early seventies, were expected to behave like the statues in church, their unmarked faces listing chastely heavenward, their palms turned up: Your wish is my command. They came to him at all hours, and the phone rang so often the cats moved nary a whisker at the sound, but now he had a kid to get to bed just like everybody else. A toddler with sleep problems. The parish council retained the longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hanson, to get meals and watch the baby. Still, Father Mike was a real father now. Some people didn't like this.
He read to me at night from the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery, fusty books that lived with the glassware in my mother's breakfront. I see us there, nestled in the only comfortable chair, an amber flow falling across our faces from a donated floor lamp. How grateful we were, being there together, he in a plain cotton shirt and black pants and shiny shoes, his day's work finished; I in a nightgown and fleecy slippers, willing him to turn the pages faster, even when I didn't fully understand the words; the bachelors collapsed on our laps like socks we'd forgotten to darn. His voice- that satiny tenor-filled the parlor with the story of Anne's grand plans and Gilbert's unrequited love.
We read. We cooked. We tended our "moon garden," an idea he'd gleaned from a ladies' magazine, turning up a patch of earth beside the back porch and planting it with pale flowers that showed best in moonlight. All through the warm summer nights into the crisp of fall, we sat on the porch steps at day's end, sipping Moxie and watching the river rise and naming our flowers, spring tulips to fall sedums, after angels and apostles: Gabriel, James, Michael, John -even Judas got a flower, one of the shabby ones. We were nothing if not forgiving.
Why did the people not love us? "Here come Father Mike and his little girl," he crooned, carrying me across an icy road, lifting one hand from my back, but not too far, to wave to a parishioner happening out of Stanley's Meats or Hinston Variety. Their faces, even the smiley ones, held a reserve of disappointment, a disquiet that showed in their faulty features.
"He makes arrangements," Father Mike said of God, meaning me, his treasure. God had taken Elizabeth and Bill Finneran before their time, and I was the thing He had given their brother in return.