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an excerpt from my fiction ms.

The Parish

This selection is the opening of Chapter Twenty One wherein we learn that the popular Fr. Mickey McCormick has been accused of abuse!

Mickey McCormick stared at the small digital clock on his desk, watching the numbers flash from 12:15 to 12:16. It was like watching the countdown to a blast-off. At 1:00 pm he would leave the rectory for his 1:30 appointment with Bishop Jennings. He dreaded facing the bishop again, but at the same time he was relieved to know the suspense would soon be over. He had not the slightest idea what would happen at that meeting. He didn’t want to think about it.

The last few weeks had been a nightmare. After a rash of crank calls St. Rita’s had found it necessary to screen every in-coming call. Now, instead of the secretary’s pleasant, “Good morning, St. Rita’s church, how can I help you?” There was a recording with an official-sounding male voice that said, “You have reached St. Rita’s Catholic Church. Please listen to the following options…” There was a number for Mass information, the sacraments, church records, the school, and maintenance. The last option informed the caller, “If you wish to speak to a priest, please leave your name and number at the tone, along with a brief message, and someone will contact you.” Then, almost as an afterthought, the voice said, “Fr. McCormick is not available at this time.”

Mickey knew exactly what the recording said. He had dialed it on his cell phone, listened with revulsion, then hung up and dialed it again. How could this be happening? Still, he understood the necessity – he had spent most of the last two weeks with his cell phone turned off. It was a private number. He had given it to very few people – of course the office had it for emergencies. But somehow, someone had given the number to someone else – and the calls began. “Fag!” The first time he heard it he had stared at the phone in shock for a moment before he hung up. That was all the caller said, “Fag”. The second time Mickey turned off his cell, and left it off.

The numbers on his desk clock read 12:29. Mickey pressed a handkerchief against his cheek and examined it to see if the blood had stopped where he had nicked himself shaving. He grimaced. That’s what you get when you don’t shave for a couple of days. He had actually shocked himself when he looked in the mirror and saw the unfamiliar derelict face with it’s uneven stubble, staring back. “I wouldn’t give that guy a dime if he came up to me on the street,” he thought.

Mickey put the handkerchief back in his pocket and reached for the folded paper he kept under his desk lamp. He did not unfold it, but he could still see the word, just as it was when he found it pinned to his stole in the sacristy, FAG. He could hear it chanted in his mind, over and over: Fag, Fag, Fag. He pressed his hands against his ears. It was a lie. It was all lies.

Mickey returned the folded paper to its place under the base of his desk lamp. He had no idea why he kept it instead of shredding it into tiny pieces and flushing it down the toilet. Could it be to remind himself that someone had really done this? Or to show the bishop? Or to trace the source with the handwriting – or rather the printing – or the brand of magic marker? What difference would it make? Or maybe he kept it just to counter his own disbelief that what was happening, was really happening. It was like something out of a Kafka novel - "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning, accused but not certain of what…”

The clock read 12:40. Fr. McCormick tried to think of what he might say to a parishioner who was involved in this sort of deep personal trouble. He recalled the kind of things he used to say to console people in the past – to someone who had just been fired or discovered their wife was cheating, or they’d just learned their cancer was terminal. He was never very good at that sort of thing. He called to mind a little ruefully his complacent advice. “Pray”.

That was what he always told them first off. “Pray.” Then he would tell them, “God can do anything. If he doesn’t fix the trouble he will give you all the strength you need to face it.” He would remind them that nothing happens without God’s permission, that God was a loving Father, that this was part of God’s plan for them. He would tell them the key thing was to trust in God – that they should pray for the grace to trust in God completely. And now here he was. In the same place, and his words sounded just as hollow.

Mickey had abandoned his pre-dawn Masses at the church when he found the paper pinned to his children’s stole in the sacristy. It made the incident more ugly to him that they had chosen that particular stole. He had no idea if it actually was a ‘they’, or just one person. There had been the calls on his cell phone, then a couple of vicious letters, and a few days ago someone sent him an anonymous gift that gave him a surge of encouragement until he saw it was a basket of fruit. Evil, he thought to himself. Just plain evil.

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