The Memory of Us(16)

by Camille Di Maio

“Mine?”

“Yes—you’ve heard all about me. It’s my turn to ask the questions.”

“Not much to say. I’ve helped my father in his work as long as I can remember. I’m here for the summers and in Durham during the school year. The end.”

He made it sound so simple, but I had the sense that I was getting the brush-off. That wouldn’t do.

I felt emboldened tonight. I’d been a success at the auction. I had revealed the secrets that troubled me. Surely I could delve into the questions that I most wanted answers to.

“But—a priest. How did that happen?” As if it had been an accident. I tripped on a pavement crack and became a priest.

“It’s something that I’ve been drawn to for many years,” he said. “The traditions, the rituals. I served as an acolyte, and I always thought that it could be a worthwhile life, saving people’s souls.”

“Won’t you have to speak Latin and wear a dress?” And give up women, I wanted to add. But I couldn’t bring myself to say that. So much for audacity.

“Well, I’m fairly proficient in Latin by now. And priests don’t wear dresses, they wear cassocks. It’s not the same thing.”

“I just don’t understand, though. It seems so—hmm—” I bit my lip, trying to think of the right word. “It seems like such a drastic thing to choose.”

“God has blessed me with much. It’s a small thing for me to give in return.”

Again, he’d had the last word. How could I come up with a smart retort when he said things like that?

We continued to talk, and I was blissfully unaware of the time. He asked me more about my school plans, and I asked what Durham was like. I told him about Lucille, and he entertained me with some Irish jokes. I basked in the glow that I felt from being near him.

“Do you think we’ll get in trouble for being here?” he asked.

“No, this is the Eckleys’ barn. They’re visiting family in Formby right now. Besides, they owe Father a favor, so I don’t think they’d mind.”

“What favor is that?”

“Some developers wanted the land, and Father petitioned his friends in the city government to let the Eckleys keep it. He says it’s because there’s too much development, but I think it’s because they export a lot of wool from their sheep farm in Knowsley and store it in his warehouse until it’s ready for shipment.”

“That’s a little cynical.”

“That’s business for you. Still, he does like his open spaces, so maybe there’s a little truth in it. It’s a good thing we live on the park.”

“Oh, I completely agree. Ideally, I would love to live out in the country. Just me and the hills and the silence. What about you?”

I couldn’t exactly tell him that I couldn’t imagine living more than five blocks from a good dress shop. “Oh, absolutely,” I said instead. “Hills and silence? What else could one want?”

The livestock had long since become used to our presence and stopped looking at us altogether. Although one of the cows eyed me with suspicion, as if she disapproved of my white lie.

I could see that we were each stifling yawns, but neither made a move to leave. At one point, he lay back against the stall and closed his eyes. I thought that he might be sleeping. I curled my knees up to my chin and put my arms around my legs, avoiding the painful area. Head on my arms, tilted to the side.

I looked at him, so still. Handsome. Good. Funny. He was so wonderful with Charles. He was unlike any other man that I knew, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to him. Was this what love felt like? Or the beginning of it? I dismissed that thought, rationalizing that I had known him for too little a time.

I stayed in the same position, even as my joints stiffened. How I would have liked to sit next to him, to ask him the things that burned inside of me. To hear him tell me that he liked having me here.

Why didn’t you bid on me? I can understand, with the priest thing, if you didn’t bid on anyone, but you did. “Why didn’t you bid on me?”

He shifted and I gasped—had I said that last part out loud? I hoped that he hadn’t heard. It couldn’t have been more than a whisper.

Still lying down, he said, “So you noticed that.”

No turning back. I didn’t try to hide the resentment in my voice. “Of course I noticed it. I saw you bid on Anne and Irene and Melody. I didn’t even know that you knew them. But you didn’t bid on me.”

“I didn’t know them.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“That’s the best one that I have.”

“No, it’s not. Why did you bid so low on them and then stop? Why did you leave when my name was called?”

“You really want to know?”

“Yes.” We were almost yelling now. “Yes,” I repeated in a whisper.

“I bid on them because I figured that raising the money was important to you. I didn’t expect to win with those bids, but I wanted to drive up the price to help you—to help the cause.”

He always surprised me with his answers.

“But that doesn’t answer my other question.”

“Which was?”

He knows perfectly well what my other question was, but he’s going to make me repeat it.

“Why did you bid on them and not me.” It was more of a statement, a small accusation, than it was a question.

He didn’t answer immediately, and instead, sat up and folded his hands over his crisscrossed legs. He looked me straight in the eye, promising the truth. When he spoke, his voice had softened.

“I didn’t bid on you because you are the only girl that I didn’t want to go out with.”

My eyes widened at this admission until he backtracked.

“Wait—my fault. That’s not what I meant. It came out wrong. What I meant was, you’re the only girl that I didn’t trust myself with. I am going back to the seminary soon, and I couldn’t risk—”

“Risk?”

He sighed and hesitated for a moment, juggling his thoughts. I felt electricity in the air, and we leaned toward each other slightly. I could kiss him now . . .

“I couldn’t risk falling for you any more than I already have.”

Abertillery

The baby nursed until she had her fill. It was unlikely that Mrs. Campbell would still be part of this world at the time of the next feeding, so I started to look for something that could substitute until a permanent solution was found. Perhaps they could put out an advertisement for a wet nurse. Everyone was trying to make an extra shilling here and there. Not that the Campbells could spare it, but what choice did they have?