by- Tom Kubrak
Newark, New Jersey
After a traditional high mass the priests and deacons went off the altar and headed for the door to greet their parishioners outside like usual.
The church was packed as it was 12 noon on a Sunday. As a standard it usually was families, their children and couples. Many of the parishioners had been coming for years with only a few exceptions.
The Archdiocese had been in quite a stir over the last few weeks as they had to shut the doors to another historic church in the district for undisclosed reasons. The mood was somber. So with that, a few new faces began coming in.
“Thank you father.” A woman said outside to Father Jeff.
“You’re most welcome Mrs. Slater.” Giving her a kiss on the cheek then watching her depart with a wonderful smile of appreciation.
Some others greeted the priest in a similar fashion or with a crisp hand shake. Short conversations of how’s the family and about the sermon.
But it was quick it was almost through now and the priests and deacons had much work to attend to. But.. the door opened again and out came a man.. in his 40’s perhaps, with jeans, a black backpack, and a red sweatshirt. He approached the Priest and shook his hand; he grasped firmly and with a swift motion pulled it to his chest, refusing to let go. The priest was alarmed, but not knowing what to do, stood and then slowly the man in the red sweatshirt moved to a whisper, saying something in the priest’s ear. The silence for a few moments was deafening and Father Robert could smell the rich coffee on the man’s breath now.
“Do you know who I am?”
“ummm” Father Robert replied thinking and then he knew, “Yes.”
“Do you know why I’ve come.”
He swallowed, “Yes.”
“Do you know what happens next?”
“I’ve heard rumors,”
Then as if nothing happened and as the other deacons sensed something was off and began to approach their head priest, he backed away and said,
“Father! I’m in debt to you! That mass touched my heart so much.” a tear began to form, “Just so much with the passing off my dear mother recently, I can’t begin to tell you the whirlwind of emotions that I’ve been through over the last few months and this Father- THIS FATHER– I’m sorry…”
Deacon Harry approached him, “Are you okay son?”
“Yes yes I’m fine, it’s just I’m sorry thank you father Robert. Father Frank” he tipped his head, “I’ll be on my way now.”
While he was walking away a strange aura came over the three men as they stood there and watched the man in the red sweatshirt walk away. As he turned the corner towards the park, Deacons Harry said crisply…
“What was that all about Robert?”
“Nothing – Harry it was nothing- come now- we don’t have any more masses today – let’s have some wine and watch the game.”
Harry smiled “Alright father suit yourself- but I don’t think the Giants are coming out of this one alive.”
The Priests and Deacons residence was equipped with 4 rooms, other than their bedrooms- one room was for entertaining- another for meetings and eating- and they each had their own office- the three men worked hand in hand every step of the way but their love of football was their escape from their many duties of overseeing the many catholic churches in New Jersey
Today they were going to be needing a lot of wine because their team, The New York Giants, was having a rough season.
“Gentleman, “ harry called into the kitchen, I’ll be back! I’m running to the liquor store we only have one more bottle of wine
“Make it quick,” Father Robert called back “games starting in 30 minutes.”
Father Frank and Father Robert were preparing the snacks for the game, like they always do; they had a nice spread of cheese and crackers, a mediterranean olive spread from the supermarket, a dish of Brownies from one of the devoted parishioners Mrs. Jacobs, chips and salsa; and Father Frank was just chopping up some garlic. Preparing for their weekly Sunday dinner.
“I don’t mean to bring up business right now before the game, but do you think we could talk about Elizabeth?”
“Father Robert, this is unlike you, right before the game? he winked at him “of course, give it to me. What do you got?”
“It’s just I don’t know how St Marys is going to recover from .. you know the latest debacle… Do you have any solutions.”
“Right now… father I don’t … but I’ll tell you what I have been thinking about it and we need to do something. Can I give you a proposal to a possible solution on thursday?”
“That sounds great. And again I’m sorry my mind has not been resting easy as of late. I haven’t slept well for a few weeks.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine now let’s get into the room and watch some of the pre game show.”
The Giants had a decent squad but Eli Manning just couldn’t get the 2008 season going in a good direction as of the last few weeks.
Both of them were comfortable and waiting on Harry to come back- they both knew that the wine wasn’t going to last but Frank was itching to get into the bottle.
“What!” he replied in the kitchen bringing the rest of the spread.
“You up to finishing the last of that bottle before Harry comes back?”
“Yea sure why not.” he said laughing, “games gonna start in five and I need a drink in my hand for this potential beat down.”
“You got that right! Let’s get this started.” Frank said getting up from the sofa.
Frank waddled over to the kitchen to grab the rest of the 2003 Merlot- a pretty expensive bottle- but it came as a gift to their office from their secretary who just retired last month.
Frank was a fat man- bald and had a sagging chin. Robert was a little more lean but his body fat, from his addiction to sweets, was evident in his limp arms and legs.
Frank came back in rather quickly and plopped on the sofa with the bottle and two glasses. He poured two glasses and handed one to Robert who was already digging into the bowl of M&M’s
“To good times and this brotherhood my friend.” Frank said, raising his glass. Just then the door swung open and Harry came in with the wine and some groceries. Frank put his glass down quickly to run out the door to help Harry.
“Gentleman! I know you thought I was going to be late. But huzzah I am here and with some ribeye for an addition to our meal tonight!”
“Shut up shut up” Frank called laughing. “ put it down and take a seat. Kick off is in any second.”
Father Robert couldn’ t hear much. He was in the other room and locked into the television. He took a smell of the wine in front of him and while his eyes were on the tv announcers saying “And it’s game time folks The Giants vs the Panthers here we go.”
He raised the glass of wine to his lips and took a large swig of the dark red wine.
COghCOHGH CHoh the coughing came almost immediately.
“Father father” Harry called running into the room “Is everything okay?”
“Ahh he’s probably took it down the wrong pipe.” Frank said smiling, putting the rest of the groceries in the fridge.”
“Cogh COUGHh”- it was getting louder.
When Harry got there Father Robert was on the floor convulsing in agony.
“Frank! get in here call 911 call 911!”
“What in God’s name. Holy… Oh God oh God.”
He ran back into the kitchen to grab the phone..
“Father stay with me stay with me!”
The coughing slowly died down. “Father stay with me. ! single tear came from Harry’s eye.
Many poured onto the street to see all the commotion at the Diocese- there wasn’t a soul that was curious in the neighborhood about what happened. There was a decent sized crowd that formed .
When the ambulance pulled away all the crowd saw, beyond the police barricade was the Priest and the deacon crying. There were a few nuns out there too crying and a couple on their knees crying to God.
The crowd stayed for a while- blacks whites latinos alike-. It was a chilly day in the fall and most seemed to be wearing the normal blacks whites and brown colors- nothing too flashy.
But there was something in the crowd that stood out.
It was of a man in a red sweatshirt.
By- Tom Kubrak