Winter is here! The Columbia Gorge got hit with a massive snow storm this week, so needless to say I’ve been wearing my warm socks and drinking extra coffee. Not to mention tucking in with a book and playing Nintendo’s new Smash Bros. game. Then I thought, why not share the wealth? So, check out this story I wrote (perhaps with your warm socks and a cup of coffee and maybe some tissues).
The Merits of Orange Juice
Archbishop Bramble was not a man who smiled. In fact, not many had ever seen his lips turn one direction or another. His face was as a stone tablet—hard, and flat, and unfriendly. On this particular day, however, Bishop Henry Dackson saw the archbishop’s lips in an unpleasant frown, the likes of which pulled all of his stony face down with it.
The archbishop’s office was all dark wood and yellow lamps that revealed the dust in the air. Only one window gave natural light to the space, but the sun was swallowed by a storm, leaving much to be desired and the room smelling like wet oak. Henry had been sitting patiently, but the quiet wore on him, as quiet always did, so he opened his mouth to break it. However, not a word escaped his lips, because Archbishop Bramble’s hand came up, wrinkled and shaking gently with age, to stop his underling from speaking a word.
“You know why you’re here, Bishop Dackson.”
“I do,” answered Henry. Lightning struck. Rain pitter-pattered against the window.
“Just tell me…” Archbishop Bramble paused, sighed, leaned heavily on his hand. He looked altogether distraught, and he was whispering as if in pain rather than to keep a private conversation private. “Just tell me what possessed you to take such a path as this?”
“I am very sorry, Archbishop. Believe me. But the heart wants what it does. It wants the Lord, yes, but cannot it want both the Lord and the love of a dear woman?”
“Not in the capacity that it can love the Lord alone, Henry,” said the archbishop in a tone unwavering, unforgiving. “I’m sorry. But my hands are tied. You’re finished here. May the Lord forgive you in ways that I cannot, but indeed, I cannot. Celibacy is as much our duty as tending to our flock. A sheppard can’t tend the sheep and pick the flowers at the same time, you see?” Archbishop Bramble shut his eyes tightly, a chest locking away its treasures. “There was a time when I thought you would rise to be my understudy, Henry… I imagined you to be my protégée. And even that has been taken in this trial set upon you by the forces of humanity.”
Henry frowned now. It had once been his dream to train under Bramble, to be the archbishop. But as the moon pulls the tides, the heart pulls the mind. Henry’s brown eyes somehow seemed even darker to the archbishop, until Henry cast his face down so that only his perfectly combed hair was cast in the yellow light. “I am sorry, Archbishop Bramble. If I could make things happen another way—“
“Don’t spin hypotheticals, m’boy,” the archbishop interjected softly. His stone face was, for maybe the first time in a long time, kind. “But, tell me, leaving this life behind you, what is it that you seek? What could you find out there, with this woman you so love?”
Henry shrugged, smiled awkwardly. “To be honest, Archbishop, I’m not sure. I don’t know. But that’s part of the excitement, you see? What lies at the edge of the horizon, I wonder? What hides just beyond the mountains?”
Henry thought the archbishop chuckled, but he also thought that he couldn’t have heard such a thing. “Oh, Henry,” the archbishop sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to move my son into your position now that he’s next in line, but he’s just not ready. Is he?”
Henry bobbed his head back and forth, considering, and said, “I think Lance will do fine. It is in his blood, Archbishop.”
“Being born with it isn’t the same as adopting it, though. Testimonies only make waves when they’re from cave to sunlight, not from pasture to pasture. Your story was one worth telling, and Lance…well, he’s been a good son. A good priest, at least.”
“You won’t miss me for long, Archbishop Bramble,” said Henry. “Or the congregation, I expect. Lance will pursue this life, and I’ll chase something…” Henry took a deep breath between words and shrugged again, “different.”
“Indeed.” Archbishop Bramble rose from his desk and extended a spindly hand, and Henry rose, too, to meet the handshake. “Whatever you do find on this chase, Mr. Dackson, I hope it’s worth it.” Outlined in the yellow light of a dusty office in that stormy West Virginian parish, Henry thought he might be shaking Archbishop Bramble’s hand for the last time.
“It will be, Archbishop,” said Henry with a smile. “It will be. But, before I go, Archbishop…” Henry hesitated, took a deep breath, and pulled a small black box from his pocket. “Can I show you the ring?”
Archbishop Bramble agreed despite himself. It was, indeed, he thought, a beautiful ring.
Henry approached the cash register with a carton of orange juice in tow. Orange juice was Cassidy’s favorite. They’d met in Morgantown, West Virginia, where they both wandered into a small shop at midnight, hunting for a craving, and were quickly discussing the merits of orange juice versus those of apple juice, walking side-by-side along the river’s edge. Henry lost that debate, but he was happy to. It wasn’t until Cassidy looked up at him with her blue eyes watery in the winter air and her hair brushed back over one ear that he realized what his feelings meant. She leaned in slow, and Henry, with every second that her lips drew closer to his, thought only of the vow he’d taken before God and before Archbishop Bramble. Panic swelled. Guilt oozed from his brain. But even still, Henry Dackson wouldn’t pull away from Cassidy Juniper.
“$2.79,” said the woman at the cash register.
“Pardon?” asked Henry.
The woman, whose name tag said she was Jolanda, looked at Henry with a shine in her eyes that one might come to fear if one gazed upon them for too long. “The juice, that you are holding, and buying, is two dollars, and seventy-nine cents,” she said with a slow drawl that made Henry break a sweat. “Did ya’ hear it that time, friend?” asked Jolanda.
Henry held out four one-dollar bills. “Got it,” he said, forcing a smile. “Keep the change, Jolanda. Buy yourself a Snickers or something.”
“I oughta buy you a damn hearing aid,” she muttered as Henry walked out of the store. He unlocked his car and climbed in. It was a discreet black sedan with tinted windows and a single bumper sticker that read, We are the head gasket and not the tailgate. He started the engine and pulled onto the street, headed to home.
The three months that passed after meeting Cassidy in Morgantown were three months of bliss, he thought. She’d come to visit a week ago and was supposed to be there through Sunday, two days away. After talking to the archbishop, though, Henry would propose that very night, after dinner at a local Italian restaurant and a walk through the park. He’d had it planned for a month. Kal, Henry’s brother, was a florist, and he’d given Henry a big discount on several dozen flowers to be spread out on one of the paths in the park, which Kal was also going to do once Henry gave him the heads up that dinner was almost over. Besides Kal and Archbishop Bramble, no one knew Henry’s plans, though he’d found out from Cassidy’s sister that roses were her favorite. A bit basic for Henry’s tastes, but he didn’t mind. He liked that Cassidy balanced out his eccentric mind.
He pulled into the driveway outside his small, manicured home in the suburbs. Grass lawns lined the streets and basketball hoops dotted the sidewalks and children rode by on bicycles. It was, in Henry’s mind, the ideal community. Small. Intimate. Safe. He stepped out of the car, took a deep breath of the neighborhood air, and exhaled in a quiet hum. He walked to the front door, red against the white house, with a pep in every step, and extended his key towards the doorknob. But, the door was unlocked.
The door opened easily, without creak or rumble, to a dark living room. Somewhere in the house a clock ticked gently, and from around the corner ventured a brown and black cat, mid-stretch. It was, to Henry’s ears, silent. “Cassidy?” he called. It was almost difficult for him to step over the threshold and into the house, though he didn’t know why. “Where’s she at, Princeton?” he asked the cat, who almost seemed to shrug. Light streaked through the drawn blinds, slithering across the blue and white furniture, across the small television and the stone carving of Jesus Christ, still nailed to the cross. His bearded face was wrought with pain, and his body was frail. “Cassidy?” Henry called out again.
He carried the orange juice into the kitchen, where everything was just in its place, exactly as he’d left it every morning. Except, he noticed, a small folded paper held down by an apple, one that he could tell was freshly picked from his backyard. Oh, he thought, Cassidy might have gone out for a bit. He smiled. She always had something she forgot she had to do. He moved the apple, without acknowledging his trembling fingers, and set it down, lining it up squarely with the small tiles on the counter, placing his keys beside it. He unfolded the paper tenderly, as though he was removing a band-aid from a small child.
Dear Henry, it began…
Thank you. I want to say thank you. You are the best man I’ve ever met, and maybe the best person. I love you, and I think I always will. I know that we’ve talked about our forever, and I want that. So bad. I want it so bad that I was about to let you go and ruin everything you’ve made of yourself… I can’t do that. But, I also can’t face this. Y’know? I can’t do this face to face. I don’t want you giving up your bishophood for me. I want you to keep doing what you love, what you’ve been working for since you were a little boy. I love you, Henry.
Henry lowered the note, but did not place it back on the counter, did not let go of it. He had a memory then, a memory of himself as an altar boy when he first saw then Bishop Doc Bramble preach, or rather the first time he listened. He knew, without a doubt, that that was what he wanted for the rest of his life. Until three months ago, when Cassidy Juniper kissed him. His heart didn’t feel like it was beating anymore, his eyes still gazing at the note. He did want to be a bishop. He didn’t want to give it up, but he had. He couldn’t go back now, not after he’d shown Archbishop Bramble the ring. Not after he’d sounded so sure.
He wanted Cassidy. He wanted her more.
He looked into the living room one more time, just to check. Cassidy wasn’t there. He ran down the hall and threw the bedroom door open. Cassidy wasn’t there, and her suitcase was gone. He went back the other way, peeked cautiously into the bathroom. Empty.
Princeton sat at the edge of the living room, somewhere between the kitchen and the door, watching Henry scramble for a thread of hope. Henry walked past the cat and looked at the door, dark and brooding in the unlit house. Slowly, gently, as though he wasn’t in control of it, he lowered to his knees next to Princeton, tears falling jaggedly down his cheeks. A strip of sun slipping through the blinds danced across his agonized face.
Cassidy wasn’t there.
Stories don’t have to have happy endings. In fact, sometimes they shouldn’t, right?
Have a great week!
Where is Cassidy?
(Send your responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via DM on one of my socials, for a chance to get them shared on this blog in the next post!)