What Would Be Lost?
B. A. Tyrrell
The mornings are quiet. Lying alone in bed in the Parish house, the dark room slowly fills with light. The droning of crickets gives way to the almost curious chirps of the birds, yielding to the cycle, the very order of things, and Thomas rises in turn. After the long, empty night, there’s pleasure to be taken in preparing for the day. The small things: cooking breakfast on the three-quarter sized cook top. Chopping onions on the two feet of countertop between the refrigerator and the basin sink. Mixing eggs in the chipped ceramic bowl that’s kept on the top of the cabinets, which jut out to form a hidden shelf where, perhaps, a small boy might climb up and fall asleep. Even a boy he never saw. If he looks up there, who will he see? Will he recognize him? Will he know?
He looks out the back door into the fields which run on and on without stopping, never turning back, never. The vastness of the world, something so beautifully contained about it, like maybe the whole world could fit into one palm. He could almost believe it.
What would become of this place? What would be here after he was gone? Another minister would come, would take up the burden, the residence, but would anyone stand here ever again and look out this window and see these fields? What would be lost with his leaving? Anything?
The bells across the field ring six o’clock. The older folks will be milling around, waiting out front of the old Episcopal church, eager to get started, but Thomas takes his time ironing out the shirt, picking the slacks, the jacket, which will be hidden beneath his vestments. He collects the sheets of his sermon—his last sermon—which lie across the end table he has used as a desk the last years. Where he stayed up all night writing. He gathers the Book of Common Prayer and the old dog-eared hymnal he was given by his preacher before he went to seminary. He leaves the leather Bible he pilfered from his parent’s house. He’s read it so often recently. When will the time come he’ll ever need it again? Perhaps it will give solace to the next poor boy stationed out here in the middle of nowhere.
He locks the door behind him—though no one would ever enter uninvited—and walks across the fields. The wind is constant, but not brisk. It is a dead, empty wind. The only thing that travels this way is dust.
The key slides into the rectory door just as the bells chime six-thirty—he’s late, the old men will be grumpy—but the handle is already unlocked. Inside, Alice Cunningham measures out new wicks for the candle lighters.
“Father,” she says as he enters, not turning from her task, and he almost says, like he always has, that he doesn’t have any children, that Thomas is fine. But that seems insensitive now. Tactless. Alice lost a daughter ten years ago. Her husband, Phillip, struggled with alcohol as a result. They came every week for months, prayed together, held hands and spoke of their memories and dashed hopes, their regrets, their fears of loss and of losing themselves and each other. How can he tell her he wasn’t her father, or father to her husband, or daughter? That father left long ago and had never come back, had maybe never come in the first place? That we, the children, are all immaculately conceived, and left in the woods by mothers who could barely take care of themselves?
He can’t tell her he’s childless now that it’s true.
So he says, “Good morning, Alice,” and she drops her head as he passes. He doesn’t know what that means or what it is that she’s thinking, isn’t brave enough to ask her, or lend his shoulder, barely here as he is, no more than a ghost, fading away, a passing dream to these people.
(pp. 100-101, The Hong Kong Review, Vol. II, No. 1)