Chilton Williamson, Jr.
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Excerpt from
Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
A Book by Chilton Williamson, Jr.


The priest had just closed the volume by Thomas 'a Kempis on the bookmark and put away what was left of the bottle of wine when the telephone rang. He answered it with misgivings and recognized Mrs. Corelli's voice on the line, begging him to hurry and saying that the doctor was already on his way. Rosa Corelli was a widow in her late eighties who was driven to Mass every Sunday by her grandson, a married man in his forties who came for her when the service was over; in the past six months she had suffered a series of attacks. The priest glanced at the clock that was beside the phone. It said nearly eleven, and he felt sleepy and thick-headed. He promised Mrs. Corelli that he would come as quickly as he could, and hung up the telephone.

In the bedroom he put on his collar and shoes, his fingers working clumsily against the buttons and laces. The snowstorm had caused him to cancel a trip out of town, and for the first time in weeks he had been able to sit alone in the rectory and read, making notes for the book he was writing, without interruption. He was surprised to discover how late it was; also by how much of the wine was gone. Wine was Father Hillary's sole luxury, in which he indulged himself regularly except during Lent. He had acquired a palate when he was studying in Paris at the Sorbonne, learning to discriminate among wines at the same time that he was mastering Augustine and Aquinas. His rule was to restrict himself to two glasses a night at supper, but this evening he had eaten from a tray table while reading The Imitation of Christ in his big armchair, so engrossed that he must have neglected to keep count of the glasses he had poured from the magnum bottle beside him. He finished finally with the shoes and collar and went to the vestibule for his coat, hat, and boots.

The glass panes inset in the outer door were frosted in patterns like cathedral windows where the heat from the forced-air system came up through the grate in the floor. The storm had eased away in great slow wheels to the east, leaving behind it a lake of bitter cold. Father Hillary opened the door and felt the night, like an entire world, rise up against him. The houses in the neighborhood of the church looked like black shoeboxes with yellow squares cut in them, and the only sound was the creak of snow beneath the tires of a slowly passing vehicle. Above the almost lightless town, the stars shone with a brilliant intensity they had lacked in Princeton, New Jersey as well as in France, where they had been obscured by a mixture of smoke and fog in pastel colors. His car was parked outside the garage with an extension cord running from under the hood to the electrical outlet just inside the garage door, which had jammed in its tracks in a halfway position; one of his parishioners has promised to come and repair it in the morning. He went to the car through the dry light snow that lifted in clouds about his boots, aware of the terrible cold against his heated cheeks. Once he set a foot down wrong, but managed to regain his balance without breaking stride in the snow.

The priest switched on the ignition and in the shine of the headlights unplugged the extension cord from the block heater. Then he got in behind the wheel again and drove across the wide and snowy parking area to the street, where he continued for a couple of blocks before making a left turn toward the center of town. The engine had no warmth yet for the heater to pump; Father Hillary's breath fogged the windows and the lenses of the eyeglasses he needed to drive with. Ahead, the street dropped steeply down from one shelf of bungalows to the next, a slope of pale slippery ice descending to the hot colored lights of the bars at the heart of the downtown business district. The priest, though he was in a hurry, did not dare to drive very fast. When he reached the intersection at the foot of the hill, the light-box said DON'T WALK but the traffic light above it remained green. The priest tapped the accelerator and put the signal lever down for a left turn.

He drove with his left eye, the lens in front of the right one having become fogged suddenly. Father Hillary removed the glasses hastily, rubbed them on the lapel of his coat, and was attempting to return them to the bridge of his nose when an earpiece caught somewhere and they were snatched from his hand. They fell at his feet under the pedals and he lunged for them with the one hand while keeping the other on the wheel. The hand groped, and as he straightened up in the seat he saw through the frosty blur a red round light overhead. He jammed his foot on the brake, and felt an impact like a dull blow to the head. By the time he had the door open and stepped out onto the ice-covered street, a patrol car had arrived and children were piling out from the big station wagon, built like a truck, that had hit him. His own car had been spun completely around on the ice, so that it now faced uphill in the direction from which he had come. The priest could not believe that so many children had been riding in one vehicle. When all of them were out of it, they began to whoop and holler and stamp around in the street like red Indians, shouting, "Mommy's had an accident! Mommy's had an accident!

Father Hillary went over to them, asking, "Are all of you children all right?" but they paid him no attention. The driver of the station wagon, a fat young woman in a quilted coat, stood talking to a police officer; as the priest turned toward them, he was approached by a second officer who wanted to know, "Are you hurt, Father?" He was a heavyset young man with a thin blond mustache whom the priest recognized as one of his more irregular parishioners. "I'm fine", Father Hillary told him. "Are you certain that none of the children is injured?"

The officer looked over his shoulder at the children, who went on stamping in circles and yelling while their mother continued to speak with the other policeman. "They'd damn sure be injured if they was my kids," he said. "Their mom says she's okay too. How about yourself, Father? Maybe you'd like a ride up to the hospital and kind of have yourself checked out?"

Something in his voice made the priest suddenly alert to what he was saying. The young man seemed uncertain of himself, a little hesitant. Beyond the uniformed figure, a constellation of blinking lights swam disconcertingly in a blur or colors. "My glasses," Father Hillary said, passing a hand downward over his face. "I left my eyeglasses in the car."

Instantly, the wide simple face of the policeman cleared, as though the weight of centuries had been lifted from him. "Your glasses! You bet, Father! You just stand right here where you're at now, while I go and find them for you."

The priest passed his hand again across his face, from left to right this time. A pain had started behind his temple and he felt lightheaded and disoriented, as if he were awakening from a dream to some urgent obligation he found that he could not remember. "On the floor somewhere, underneath the wheel," he told the officer, in a voice that sounded to him to be detached from his body. "Thank you very much." His exploring fingers had discovered a raised place just in front of his right ear.

It took the young police officer, whose name Father Hillary managed finally to recall was Tymanski, less than a minute to find the missing spectacles. The right lens was badly cracked, but the priest was able to fill out the form Patrolman Tymanski gave him, and to read the one he exchanged with the fat woman for. Her insurance company was located in Salt Lake City and the priest did not recognize the name she had written down, although her face was distantly familiar to him. Certainly she was not a member of his parish.

While the first officer measured distances with a steel tape, Patrolman Tymanksi invited the priest and the woman in turn to sit with him in the squad car while he asked them questions concerning the accident. Before, the woman, acting sullen, had seemed to avoid Father Hillary's eye, but now that she was speaking with Tymanski her voice became excited and once the priest saw her gesture strongly in his direction as he sat waiting inside his own automobile. He was slightly nauseous and the disoriented feeling had been displaced by a growing sense that something crucial was happening that he had momentarily forgotten but that he needed to be in touch with immediately. When Tymanski was through talking to the woman, he got out of his car and walked over slowly to the priest's. His face had a strange twisted expression, as if one side of it were engaged in a critical struggle with the other side, and for a moment it seemed to Father Hillary that he was unable to speak. Then the face became reconciled with itself, growing suddenly smooth and featureless as a slab of cheese as Patrolman Tymanski reached to touch the priest very gently on his right temple. "You are bleeding, Father," he said. "I will take you to the hospital in my car. The ambulance is on another call."

The priest started at the touch as if he had received an electric shock,. "Oh, the good Lord!" he cried. "Rosa Corelli has just had another of her seizures. I was on my way to her house when this happened. Will you please drive me there as fast as you can? The Lord willing, we won't be too late."

When they arrived at Rosa Corelli's house two minutes later, the ambulance was already drawing away from in front of the small fenced yard having just been dismissed by the doctor, who stood in the open door with the recessed light at his back. The doctor, looking slightly disheveled, had on a faded blue parka worn shiny with age over a heavy sweater, and held a knitted ski cap in his hand. His scant yellow hair was combed over a round red head and the thick lenses of the steel-rimmed glasses magnified the bloodshot whites of his eyes, which were merry and preternaturally bright. He was placing a wafer of breath-mint in his mouth as the priest and the officer hurriedly approached him. "Take it easy, gentlemen," he said, "there's no point in hurrying now."

He stood aside for them to pass and shut the door behind himself when they were inside. "She had a little bit of a problem with the dosage I gave her, and panicked," the doctor said. "She's feeling all right now. Go on in and talk to her, Father, but try and make it quick. I fixed her to where she ought to be asleep in fifteen or twenty minutes."

The priest crossed the parlor among the marble-topped tables, antimacassared chairs, and the breakfronts crowded with porcelain and glass into the bedroom where the old woman lay on a high-standing oak bedstead under a quilted comforter. Her gray hair on the pillow appeared freshly set and her nightgown had been tied carefully at the throat with a piece of blue ribbon. Over the gown she wore a bed-jacket that maintained her head in a forward position against the pillow, the black eyes open wide in a gray, eager face. From the glass half-filled with water on the bedside table and the firmness of the wrinkled cheeks, Father Hillary saw that both sets of false teeth had been set securely in place. One hand lay on top of the comforter and held a rosary. "Not yet, Father." Although the voice was strong enough, it seemed to the priest that it was the eyes, not the mouth, that actually spoke.

"No. Not yet, Rosa. But I'm going to anoint you all the same."

"Father, your head. You're bleeding."

"I had a small accident on my way over. No one was hurt, but it's why I was so slow in getting here."

The eyes closed while he touched her forehead with the oil and recited the prayer for the sick. When he had finished, they opened again and resumed their steady gaze. "No one anointed Our Lord when He was dying," Rosa Corelli said.

"But He died innocent of sin. There was no need."

"He wouldn't drink the vinegar and water they offered Him."

"Because He was looking forward to drinking the new wine with His disciples in Heaven."

"Father," the old woman said, "there is a bottle of wine down there under the bed. Would you give me a little of it to drink before you go?"

The priest looked and saw the glint of green glass beneath the edge of the quilt. "Is that wise after you've taken your medicine, Rosa? Maybe I should ask the doctor first."

"Doctors don't know everything," Rosa Corelli said sharply. "Rinse this glass here, and take another for yourself from the bathroom."

Father Hillary carried the glass into the bathroom and washed it under the hot water tap. When he returned to the bedroom, Mrs. Corelli had slid the bottle clear of the bed skirts and propped the pillow higher against the headboard. He bent for the bottle, poured a small amount of the wine, and gave her the glass to drink from. "Where is your glass, Father?" the old women asked.

"Oh, nothing for me, thank you," the priest answered quickly. The odor of the wine affected his stomach to the point where he was afraid he might need to return to the bathroom. He set the bottle on the floor again where he could not see it and concentrated on putting the idea of wine out of his mind. "When I was a girl in Italy," Rosa Corelli said drowsily, "nobody ever drank water, it made you sick, only wine .. Why don't the Protestants understand wine, Father?"

Father Hillary took the empty glass from her hand and replaced it on the table beside the bed. Then he helped her to resettle the pillow on the mattress and drew the comforter up to her chin. Already her breath was becoming more regular as she slid toward that littler reward of faith called sleep. The priest turned out the light and went back to the parlor, where the doctor sat waiting in one of the overstuffed armchairs. He looked redder in the face than ever - from being overheated inside the heavy park, the priest thought. "She's asleep now," he said. "Her grandson will be home from Salt Lake tomorrow afternoon. I'll look in on her in the morning to see if she needs anything."

The doctor nodded as he rose heavily from the chair. He took the woolen cap from the pocket of his coat and pulled it over his skull until the edge of it reached the tops of his ears and his yellow eyebrows. "She should do fine with the new medication now," he said. "Thank God, it wasn't anything serious. This time of the evening, a man isn't exactly at his professional best. 'No man knoweth the day or the hour' - isn't that how it goes, Father?"

He held the door wide in a broad gesture of professional courtesy, and the two men walked side by side under the penetrating stars to the doctor's car.

2.

He walked steadily uphill through soft new snow that rose, as the night waned, from his ankles to above his knees, while the electric torch he held cored the dark in a narrow tunnel of pale, thickly falling flakes. Just when the blackness had thinned to gray, the snow stopped. Richardson stopped with it and looked about himself at the timbered slopes and the heavy gray clouds that lifted from them. The draw by which he had ascended dropped away through high parks and close stands of pine, widening as it approached the valley where the creek meandered between thickets of willow. His pickup truck was a humped white shape isolated in an expanse of solid white that covered the trail behind and ahead of it. Richardson estimated that he climbed approximately three miles from the creek.

As the storm continued to lift, the air became rapidly colder. He switched off the torch and stepped aside into a coppice of pine with a dense under-skirting of dead branches surrounding it. Richardson ducked under these and dropped the torch on the waxy needles, twisting his bent body to shrug the heavy pack from his shoulders. He set the pack with the lashed snowshoes on the dry ground and untied the flap. Then he removed from it a plastic bottle containing lighter fluid, a box of windproof matches, water, a tin cup, and a tea bag. With his glove he brushed aside the needles to clear a circle of soft, unfrozen earth; at its center he built a small pyre of twigs broken from the lifeless branches of the tree. The branches took fire easily and burned down to a bed of bright coals while beads of air formed on the bottom of the cup, broke loose, and shot to the surface of the water. Richardson dropped the tea bag into it and sat looking out through the screen of branches, drinking tea.

The clouds lifted until they cleared the tops of the ridges, leaving the black forests shaggy with new snow. Richardson transferred the cup to his left hand and extended the right one above the fire. When the tea was gone he ate a strip of jerkied elk meat while he watched a hawk break from the tops of a tall tree in a burst of snow and glide against the white slope on its black upturned wings. He added the cellophane in which the meat had been wrapped to the fire, and extinguished it by a handful of snow and another of earth. In a crouched position, he worked the pack onto his shoulders again and emerged from the scraping branches into the open snow.

The man had left the boy, who had become too exhausted to go farther, in the upper part of the drainage adjacent to the one in which Richardson was climbing, but the kid must have struggled on later because when the rescue team reached the place at around ten o'clock that night he was gone and his tracks were covered by the new snow. Richardson calculated that if he had been moving as late as five that morning, the footprints would be discernible beneath the powder. A few hundred feet below the shoulder of the mountain the north-facing draw in which the boy had sat down to die shelved steeply to form the head of the south-facing one that diverged from it, by which somebody blinded by snow and fog might have been diverted into the drainage leading away in the opposite direction. The question Richardson had was whether anyone foolhardy enough to go into the mountains in early October wearing running shoes, jeans, and a windbreaker could be presumed to be able to distinguish between one drainage and another in the first place.

Richardson felt little pity for the boy, but he liked very much being alone in the mountains. In the hastily thrown up searchers' camp, he had sat on a stool drinking black hot coffee with whiskey and listening to the father tell how they had been surprised by the storm while returning to their truck after having spent the day scouting on foot for elk; how the boy had sat down finally on a log and refused to walk any farther; and how he - a strong-looking man in his middle forties - had instructed his son not to move from the log and plunged on forward down the mountainside. The man had told the story over and over while the lanterns hanging from the crosspole breathed against the flapping canvas walls of the tent and Richardson, drinking spiked coffee, heard only the howling of the blizzard, until one of the search teams had come into the tent wet, cold, and exhausted. Then, while the father was still talking, he had laced up his boots, put on his coat and slung his pack and, after a word to the search leader, gone out silently through the tent flap. He had driven the truck to the end of the rutted track and climbed steadily uphill through the storm until dawn.

Richardson climbed higher through snow that broke now against his thighs. The steepness of the slope dissuaded him from stopping again to strap on the snowshoes, but he was beginning to be winded. He quit following the fall line and started to switchback, crossing and recrossing the tracks made by descending deer and elk, surprised out of the high country by the early snow. At every third or fourth turn he stopped, squatted in the snow, and surveyed the wilderness surrounding him. The clouds had lifted away and moved eastward from the mountains. Their leading edges caught the early light which struck beneath them and infused the stony cliffs above the timberline with a rosy intensity that moved down, as he watched, upon the forests below. Wreathes of cloud ascended hurriedly from the deeper canyons to join and be annealed with the gray and frigid mass as it slid toward the snowy plains.

He climbed higher and saw the plume of steam from the generating plant at Fontenelle thirty miles way, steady and immovable on the horizon as a pillar of dirty salt. At this moment, his family was eating breakfast near the foot of the pillar, but they seemed infinitely remote to him and almost unreal, as the rest of humanity did. Richardson leaned out from the steep as he waited for his pulse to slow. Then he took a pair of binoculars from the pack and through them examined the smooth white shoulder of the mountain and the basin below it. In the north the triangular points of the highest peaks showed cold and white, of a Cartesian perfection. Pink sunlight settled lower on the slopes, and suddenly its warmth fell like a beneficent hand upon his head.

The sun breached the ridge in a brilliant flood, blinding him in the instant as if the world were being born anew in a cosmic explosion of light. Richardson fitted in place the sunglasses he carried on the cord about his neck and rolled back the rubber guards on the eyepieces of the field glasses. Carefully he surveyed once more this world of icy brilliance, holding on a small area of ground at a time and examining it painstakingly, tree, snag, and boulder. When he had finished with the upper reaches of the basin, he dropped the glasses and scrutinized downhill to the dark line of the trees. They made a small triangular woods with the apex uphill, on whose far side the trees threw blue individuated shadows against the blazing whiteness of the snow. On the near side of the woods the sun struck directly, working itself between the trunks of the outermost trees. By a down log just inside the timber, something that was not snow glittered. Richardson looked again and made out a water canteen with an orange strap attached to it, resting against the log. Deliberately, he put the binoculars in the pack again and fixed the sunglasses more firmly on his nose. It took him close to twenty minutes to work his way down hill through the loose snow and across the basin to the small triangular forest.

He found the body lying just the other side of the log, as if the boy had been sitting there and got tired and gone to sleep and fallen over backwards into the snow, from which the toe of the shoe protruded. Richardson dug until he had uncovered the body, which was bent slightly and had its arms spread out. It had on a nylon windbreaker and under that a T-shirt with a picture of a dog across the front. The dog had a black spot around one eye and wore a party hat as he rode a surfboard down a bright blue wave. The corpse's eyes, which were open, looked almost colorless and had no expression at all.

Richardson gave the body a short push with his foot. Then he sat on the log with his back to it and took a drink from its canteen. Most of the water had frozen in a plug at the center of the canteen, but a little remained liquid around the plug. Richardson drank what he could, recapped the canteen, and placed it upright against the log in full sunlight. Then he took the two-way radio from his belt and called in headquarters.

3.

Morning light filled the room where Lacey Fitzpatrick lay in bed writing a letter. Beyond the tall windows that were most of the walls on two sides of the room, fresh snow lay spread like dazzling linen beneath an intensely blue sky the color of a woman's robe. The sky and the snow met in the far distance where the barren hills came rolling in from the horizon. In the middle distance Lacy could see the roofs of houses with their steaming chimneys and the iron points of the fir trees where the land dropped steeply away from the heights; most of the foreground was Thomas Fitzpatrick's back yard, where the shrubbery - unlike the front of the house where it had been allowed to grow up against the street - was kept pruned to the level of the low fence in order to preserve the view of the distant hills and of the sun dropping from sight behind them. The yard was crowded with wren houses and bird-feeding stations ordered by Lacey from a catalogue sent out by a company in Denver and installed by her father, who replenished them with seed every few days while complaining about the expense. For most of the winter the stations were visited by cardinals, waxwings, chickadees, and a variety of finches, but in early spring great flocks of redwinged blackbirds and their grayish hens arrived, sweeping all before them like the Goths invading Europe. Each year Thomas Fitzpatrick invented new ways of poisoning them, which his daughter forbade him to put into practice. They fed ravenously in early morning and again at evening, and spend the rest of the day blackening the bare cottonwoods where they twittered and shrilled and fluttered, and out of which they rose in erratic pouring flights of alarm, spreading their droppings around the neighborhood. Even with the afternoon sun shining full on the window glass, Lacey, by slowly raising her arm from the bed, could send them up in a black cloud shot through with flashes of the orange chevrons on their wings.

Her wrist was fairly supple this morning, allowing the large loose characters to spread themselves across the sheets affixed to the writing-board that rose and fell almost imperceptibly with the turtleshell that regularly massaged her diaphragm. Lacey's writing was large and loose, looping cheerfully across the halfsheets on which she corresponded; it slanted backward here and there and went wobbly in other places, as though the writer were working from a deckchair in the middle of the ocean. Lacey had been born right-handed, but while in the hospital she had taught herself to write with her left one. For extra strength she had had the long muscle of her left ring finger transplanted in her left thumb, where it showed taut as an iron band beneath the skin. Slowly Lacey Fitzpatrick wrote: "To make wolves outlaws in Wyoming is tantamount to outlawing nature itself. As the daughter of a sheep rancher, I can promise you that outlawing nature is impossible, as well as undesirable. The result of outlawing nature must finally be to make the unnatural lawful." After more than twenty years of practice, her hand struggled awkwardly with the pen. When she was through writing the sentence she paused to rest and to compose in her mind the conclusion of the paragraph. Then she rearranged the hose that ran like an umbilical cord from the turtleshell across the blanket and downward between the bed and the table beside it to the big steel box with the round dials and leaping needles set in its face.

After Communion she had the letter to finish and then her coffee guests would arrive at ten-thirty. The videotape of Cosi fan tutte would not go over a couple of hours; later she would have a late lunch and make telephone calls. The new video machine was enormous, and when shut off seemed to yawn like a black hole in space; to Lacey it appeared to have a comic regard for itself as being superior to everything else in the room, including possibly herself. The wall that had been the outside of the house before her father added her suite of rooms was entirely concealed from floor to ceiling by book shelves in which hardly any space remained, and books, magazines, and newspapers covered the big table between the shelves and the bed. At the center of the table beside a carved wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin a plain silver frame stood. It enclosed a large color photograph of a beautiful young woman wearing a cowboy hat fastened beneath the throat with a string and a western riding shirt in a shocking pink color, elaborately embroidered. The white straw of the new hat, the auburn hair that fell on either side of it, and the pink of the shirt were dazzling against the unfaded blue of a perfect summer sky.

The crystalline air carried the sound of a motor in the drive; quickly Lacey finished the paragraph in her head and laid the pen down on the table that was just within her reach. While her mother was greeting the new priest at the door, she set aside also the writing board with its fixed sheet of paper. When Mrs. Fitzptrick, preceeded by Father Hillary, came into the room, her white level chest above the turtle-shell was bare to receive the Holy Eucharist. "Good morning, Father," Lacey Fitzpatrick said.

"Lacey, good morning. How are you today?" The priest put his things on the table and removed his overcoat, which her mother took from his hands and laid carefully over a chairback. Instead of a clerical shirt, he wore, as he always wore, a cassock, which Lacey had previously seen only in pictures and that made him look very European. His intelligent, rather scholarly-looking face was pink with cold but the scalp was pale under the thin graying hair. On his right temple, Lacey observed a livid contusion that had not been there when he had brought her Communion the day before. "Lacey, just look at Father's poor head," Mrs. Fitzpatrick said.

"What did you do to you head, Father?" Lacey asked him.

"I had an automobile accident last night. Nothing serious, and fortunately no one was injured, thank the Lord."

"I told Father he must go straight to the hospital from here and have his head X-rayed," her mother added. "People with head injuries like that, you never know, they can drop dead at any moment from a blood clot in the brain. I was watching a program about it on television the other night."

Father Hillary shrugged. "If I drop dead," he said, "I drop dead, that's all. That was an awfully severe storm for so early in the season, wasn't it?"

"Tom is delighted," Lacey's mother told him. "He says he hopes it snows like that every day from now to Memorial Day. We need the moisture so badly, Father. The Mormons have been seeding the clouds over in Utah and stealing our snow for years."

Lacey said, "Go on up to the hospital and have yourself looked at, Father. We can't do without you here."

"I'm not so certain about that," the priest said.

Lacey Fitzpatrick heard him read from the Gospel and received on her tongue the Blessed Host. Afterward she said, "Father, you must come later one of these mornings and stay for my coffee hour. Everybody in Fontenelle comes, sooner or later. The thing about Fontenelle is, if you stay here long enough, you get to know everybody. And I've stayed here long enough."

# # #

When Father Hillary had left, she replaced the writing stand against the turtle-shell and wrote out the sentences she had composed before his arrival and held in her head during the Eucharistic service. After more than twenty years, mentally retaining formed ideas was something that Lacey Fitzpatrick was very good at. The letter was addressed to the Governor in Cheyenne, who was probably going to want to call her and talk about it with her after he had read it. She wrote: "When we try to deal with nature by dominating, rather than by accommodating it, we are actually defeating ourselves in the interests of the Woolgrowers' Association - of which I am, by the way, a life-long member." And worked at it, she told herself. Up in the morning hours before dawn to dress in the cramped space of the wagon, reheat the coffee left in the pot from the night before, curry and saddle the horses by lantern-light, measure out the oats, whistle up the dogs, and be in the saddle when the first light rose in the east to draw the boluses of gray sage out of the darkness in which they had been no more than a pungent composite smell. Lacey recalled very clearly the feeling of the sudden intensified cold of just before sun-up, burning at the tip of her nose and in the ends of her gloved fingers.

Often as she lay in bed with her head and shoulders propped on the pillow, she felt the cantle hard against her bottom and the barrel of the horse between her pressing knees. She felt the cushioned shock of the legs before they extended themselves in the lope, felt the easy rocking gate and the wind in her face, and then the break to the gallop in which she was one with the straining muscles and the violently expanding lungs. She felt the horse on one leg going into the turn, leaning in to the barrel as she gripped the bat harder between her teeth (hair flowing back, hat far behind them in the dust) and pressed again with her knees, slapping the reins against the palomino neck... Then she felt the pivot go, the great mass of bone and muscle and flesh pitch forward and sideways under her, the shocking hardness of the yellow sand, and the weight that could only be that of the entire world and all its countless ages on top of her. After that, she felt nothing at all.

Lacey found that she had been staring at the portrait of the girl in the white hat and pink shirt and not writing her letter at all. Her left hand, the fingers still clutching the pen, lay uselessly upon her chest. She was about to make the effort to raise it and continue writing when she heard in the hall the whisper of the serving table on its rubber tires and the chink of china and glassware. Already it was ten-fifteen; her guests would be arriving for coffee in a quarter of an hour. Before she was through putting aside the pen and the writing board, Lacey Fitzpatrick had composed three more carefully-worded sentences in her mind.

4.

Each time the priest wheeled about to face the wide front window, the glare of the sun on the snow exacerbated the pain behind his eyes and made him wince. The pacing caused his bandaged head to throb terribly; it also kept him from jumping out of his skin and escaping by the back door. I might have killed those people the priest thought, over and over. I could have wiped out almost an entire family in a single act. Or worse, in what couldn't be considered an act at all.

He had risen at five with a good deal of pain, but very clearheaded. He had dressed and prayed, prepared his sermon, and said Mass at seven to the same six or seven people who always attended the daily service. After Mass he had prayed again, eaten a light breakfast, and met with his secretary when she arrived at the rectory at nine; afterward he had taken Communion to Lacey Fitzpatrick, using the car the local dealership had lent him while it was making repairs on his own car. He found that his head hurt worse the more he moved about, several times he experienced nausea, and once what was nearly a fainting spell. Finally he had gone to the hospital, where the doctor diagnosed a mild concussion and wanted to keep him overnight. He had refused absolutely to be checked in, and driven himself to the pharmacy to have the prescriptions the doctor had written for him filled. The pharmacy was in a corner building at the intersection where the accident had occurred. The priest saw bits of shattered glass in the icy street, and along the curb small shards of plastic and a piece of chrome.

The church, with the rectory attached, was an ultramodern structure, surrounded by several acres of asphalt marked off in painted yellow stripes and built on a low treeless rise at the edge of town with higher but equally barren hills behind it. To Father Hillary, who thought the architecture depraved and the surroundings repellent, the place appeared more Godforsaken than ever as he approached it past blocks of raw-looking frame houses. If someone had told him when he was still in Princeton that in eighteen months he would be living as a parish priest in Wyoming, he would have been unable to believe such a thing, for the simple reason that he would have been unable to imagine it. For many years he had been assigned an assistant pastor, allowing him to devote the better part of his time and energy to the Theology and Society Institute, a research enterprise publishing newsletters, articles, and books on topics related to the subject of religion and the crisis of modernity. His expectations had been that he would be granted early retirement from all parish duties so that he might devote his late middle age to a study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, regarding which he had developed certain quite startling and controversial theories. Indeed Father Hillary was quite sure that, were it not for his extremely frank booklet addressed to the American Council of Bishops and endorsing the doctrinal and liturgical recommendations of Cardinal Raztinger, and for the death of his friend from their seminary days at his remote parish in the Rocky Mountains, he would within a few years, have been enjoying a studious existence within the sunny eucalyptus groves of California, instead of a laborious one in the snowy wastes of Wyoming.

The garage door was all the way down; the priest touched the electronic button and it swept up at once and folded smoothly back against the ceiling. He left the car in the garage and went on to his study, where the secretary had left a note to remind him that he had a marriage preparation appointment at two o'clock. Father Hillary took his medicine with water in the kitchen. What remained of the magnum of wine stood on the countertop beside the sink. Gripping the bottle by the neck, he carried it into the bathroom and flushed the contents down the toilet. Then he returned to the living room and began to pace the floor. He paced and paced, and each time he turned again toward the terrible white brilliancy beyond the window, the pain behind the bandage was so excruciating as to be almost unbearable.

END OF EXCERPT
 

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