Friday, March 25, 2016

Chapter 16

Sunday, September 27, 1964

Sunday dinner went better than I expected. Sarah had taken me aside last night, after I returned the kids, and invited me. It had been a family tradition, busted up by my misbehavior and forced emigration from the house. Sarah had kept her distance for months, interacting with me only as much as necessary, handling legalities and the logistics of allowing me to see Butch and Sissy. The only hint of a thaw had been the other day, in front of the library.

It was late afternoon, I sat in my room, lit up a Hav-a-Tampa Jewel, and bit down on the wooden tip, I knew I should check in with Hank, but I needed to think about my day, which had been a surprise. My expectations for the family gathering had ranged from disaster to nothing good. It wasn't horrible, better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as my father was fond of saying. Sarah clearly had put some effort into the meal itself and into her conversation, which was not substantive but mainly facilitated my interaction with Butch and Sissy. They were uncomfortable at first, but Sarah shepherded the three of us onto safe terrain. They told Sarah about yesterday's activities, I told Sarah about my teaching activities (skipping the secret reason I was there), and they told me about their school activities. The last subject was a little ticklish, given that Sissy was still smarting about being forced to switch from St. Joe High to Adams High, but Sarah gave her "the look" and she dialed it back. The family interplay wasn't much, but it was better than we had managed in five years.

By the end of the meal, I realized Sarah had been acting more like a hostess than as my wife, which was a smart play on her part. It hinted more at a beginning than a return to the past, which was not where either of us needed to go. 

With that thought in mind, I stubbed out my cigar and headed to the faculty lounge. 

As I expected, I found Hank there, watching a football game and enjoying a glass of scotch. Brother Rufus was there as well, which confined our conversation to sports chatter. When the half ended, Brother Rufus excused himself, at least for the next fifteen minutes, and left the room. That gave us a chance to talk. 

I filled him in on what I learned yesterday, mainly about Dingo Dave. I had nothing new to share, but I pointed out that I now had a  "man on the inside" in the form of my son. Hank approved. 

I also told him about my surprise Sunday dinner.

"You think you're getting back together?"

I wasn't sure whether Hank really cared or he was nervous about losing his inside man on the premises. "I have a hard time imagining that she'd let me back on the house," I said. "On the other hand, I'm thinking she may not want a divorce."

"She's a serious Catholic, right?"

"Oh yeah," I said. "To the point of rigid. Divorce may not be in her vocabulary."

"It's getting easier to get an annulment, you know," Hank said. "I could help."

"Maybe, but I doubt it," I said. "Of course, I'm at a disadvantage here because we haven't talked about it. At all."

"That would be a start."

With that, I changed the subject, asking if he had any news about the Jimmy Parker funeral. 

"News to come, perhaps," Hank said. "Bernie Fox is giving the eulogy at the wake, which is tonight. That should be interesting. Joe Ferry will be there and will report back. He'll be attending the funeral and the gathering at the house afterward. I've asked him to keep his ears open."

"How's he doing? This had to be rough on him."

"You betcha," Hank said. "I spent the better part of the evening with him yesterday, and he got pretty sloshed."

"And you of course were sober as a judge." I probably shouldn't have said that. 

"Years of practice, my man," he said, not appearing to take offense. "Anyway, it wasn't so much dealing with the grieving parents. That's always tough, but priests are used to being in the thick of grief. Some of it was that he felt responsible
in loco parentis and all of that. But for him, the worst of itand some ways the best of itwas just finding Jimmy's body like that."

"The worst of it. I get that. But the best of it?"

"You were in the war," Hank said. "You saw death up close and personal. Joe and I were pretty sheltered in that respect. We went into the seminary in high school and came out as priests. Like I said, we've done a lot of funerals. We've sat with people in their grief. But seeing an eighteen-year-old, someone you were responsible for, hanging from a tree and facing a crucifix. That got to him. And taking the body down from the tree, that did him in. I dunno, maybe it's a good thing, somehow."

"Maybe," I said. Somehow.

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