The bedside clock was at 02:37. The soft tick…tick…tick was adding some Ella Fitzgerald to the candle lit room and shadowy ghosts were dancing against the ceiling. An enormous ginger cat was stretched across the double bed; his eye slowly opening and closing in delicious sleepiness.
But there was nothing sleepy or delicious about Mabel’s directed gaze. Another night’s sleeplessness. She was spread out on her bed, comfortable in high thread count linen. It was the one thing from her well-to-do upbringing that she couldn’t part with. But as it turned out Egyptian cotton did little to sooth the aches of loss.
Mabel was staring at the ceiling when an image formed against the white wooden canvas. A woman. Older. Hazy at first, the image grew darker. Mabel focused her eyes and the woman smiled down at her. A sharp, perfectly shaped nose. Friendly eyes and Mabel’s own broad smile.
‘Mom?’ Mabel whispered.
The image faded again…then returned. This time the lovely woman seemed older. Much older. And she was sitting upright in a bed, her back against a multitude of pillows. Her head was laid back and an oxygen mask was covering her mouth and nose.
Mabel stared at the image and a teardrop ran down the side of her face. Just one. But then many. Air stopped moving into her lungs and Mabel sat up quickly, gasping for oxygen. The Black Wolf does that…
She reached for her cellular phone. She pressed a few buttons with her lazy cat looking on indifferently.
‘Hi…I’m so sorry for bothering you this time of night…can we get together? Yes. Now.’
Mabel and her wild, curly hair was sitting in the corner of the badly lit coffee shop staring at the empty, dark streets. She loved night. Sure, stuff happens at night…but somehow – for Mabel Ackerman – night brought clarity and calm.
The corner of her eye caught movement by the shop’s front door and her breath seized just a little bit as Father Peter walked over to her table. He wasn’t wearing his usual Anglican bishop’s robe. Just jeans. And a sweat shirt. His hair not the usual preppy boy picture of neatness, but disheveled. Others might describe him as…well, average. ‘Oh, we can’t remember exactly what he looked like, but he was mid-thirties, average height, average weight, average looking…’
But for Mabel, Father Peter was everything but average. He never looked at her like she was nuts. He never called her weird. He never laughed at her…only with her. He somehow seemed…familiar. And then there were his eyes. Fierce…almost angry. Mabel felt that if she could keep holding that gaze, it meant that she was still a good person…
Father Peter didn’t sit down at first. He stopped right in front of Mabel and looked down at her with an expression Mabel couldn’t read.
He’s totally gonna tell me to drink arsenic.
Slowly and without looking away from her, Father Peter took a seat across from her. Mabel suddenly felt the Black Wolf scratching his way up her throat and the corners of her mouth started to feel very heavy.
Oh, don’t go into the ugly cry. Not the ugly cry. Keep it together…
And suddenly she felt like a big ol’ idiot.
It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. What the hell was I thinking? I’m a needy asshole. What am I expecting him to say?
‘You miss her,’ Father Peter finally said.
Mabel look at him. The lump in her throat was too big and disallowed her to respond. She just nodded her head and her wild hair shook accordingly.
Mabel did a double take.
Lucky? Did he just call me lucky?
‘Yes, lucky?’ Father Peter smiled. ‘That hurt you feel…what you call the Black Wolf…describe it to me.’
How do I verbalize such a thing?
‘Uhm…I’m not sure how to describe it…’
‘Don’t think about it too much. I’m not looking to be impressed.’
For a moment, silence.
‘Imagine you’re pushed into the Vaal River at its highest.’ Mabel took a moment. Then felt the words come flowing out. ‘Your feet are lead and you can’t reach the surface. You’re drowning. You realize that every last ounce of desperation for life is stuck in your head and throat, and that your next breath will be nothing but water and choking and end. And then you breath air. You can’t believe it! But then the realization that you’re still just in the deep end of the river and that that breath of air was probably just luck and that you will die next. Then another breath of air. Then the fear and agony again. And that becomes your life. Every breath feels like it must be the last. But it’s not… You’re in that spot of agony forever…’
Mabel found it difficult to look at Peter and just played with her coffee mug.
‘I’ve never felt that. Ever.’ Father Peter said.
Mabel was taken aback a bit. In the short but intense time she’s known Father Peter, he’s never spoken about himself much.
‘Still think I’m lucky?’
‘That’s exactly why I think you’re lucky.’
Mabel frowned. ‘How can you say that?’
It was now Father Peter who looked down. He seemed more serious somehow.
‘Mabel, the Bible is clear about few things, but it’s pretty clear that death cannot kill love. It can’t touch it. That pain you feel? That agony? All of it is directly proportional to the love you have in your heart.’
He looked up at Mabel again. His voice was even and deep and calm.
‘And here’s the thing about love…at least real love. It cannot exist by itself. It needs to exist in a symbiosis, you see. And your pain proves that your love is still alive and that proves that your mother is still alive. She’s just not here. But her physical absence does not disprove her existence.’
‘What was your favorite thing about your mom?’
‘She thought I was funny. We could talk non-stop when we went for coffee. And I love how curious she was about things. And how she always, like always, took my side.’
‘So if you could replace that woman with another woman who would live until she’s 100 years old, would you pick her over your mother?’
‘I know where you’re going with this. And I know the night we met I was bitter about her death. But tonight…this night…I just miss her.’
Mabel felt tired and no longer empowered to maintain appearances.
‘I guess I just needed…I don’t know, maybe I just needed to talk. Someone to tell me it’s gonna be okay.’
‘You have a sharp mind, you already know everything is going to be okay. You already know…’
‘Stop it, Peter.’
Father Peter…Peter…looked at Mabel, stunned. It was the first time she just called him ‘Peter’. And she looked annoyed. She suddenly looked annoyed.
‘Stop it, I don’t need a minister right now. I don’t think I ever needed one. I just need you to be my friend right now. Stop being Father Peter.’
‘I was never your ‘Father Peter’. You’re not Anglican.’
‘I know! I just….I just…’
‘Ackerman. It’s three in the morning. It’s three in the morning, and I’m here. Talk to me…’