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Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Canticle for Meg - a short story

A Canticle for Meg
  Based on a true story and dedicated to and in memory of  Kate and May, two women of the 20th Century, rest in peace

 This story touched me deeply when I was first told it. I knew that time passes quickly and memories can be forgotten so I wrote it down with other stories of time and family. I finally put it to pen (or keyboard)  

Lauren sat in the small side pew after lighting the tiny votive prayer candle under the icon of the Sacred Heart. The church was filled with a silence so profound she could hear her thoughts and memories swirling around like a softly wailing wind inside her head.  She watched as the sun broke through the stained glass in smooth golden shards. The window portrayed  the child Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist, spilling the waters of grace from a small pitcher into the peaceful corners of the sanctuary.  

She bowed her head and tried to pray.  A woman sitting at the end of the pew gingerly fingered pearlized rosary beads, her mouth moving in silent, chanting recitation. The woman had  graceful, white hands and Lauren immediately thought of her cousin Meg's hands,  less precise perhaps, but just as graceful when she  would drape a set of oriental pearls around her slender neck. Lauren had loved the look and touch of Meg's pearls.

She looked up toward the altar and recalled that the center of the cathedral was called the nave after the Latin word for ship. The curved apse with the raised dais at the high end was like the helm, where the congregation looked for steady guidance in the midst of tempest and storm. She remembered  a beautiful summer day when Meg's ship arrived in the town harbour, with the Captain standing tall on the bridge.

  The year following Lauren's mother death, Meg had come up to Seattle to take her to San Francisco by steamer for a summer holiday. Meg seemed so much older and so sophisticated to the younger teenaged Lauren.  Meg was married to a sea captain and they had sailed all over the Pacific, from San Diego to Shanghai and up to Anchorage. Her husband came from a long line of seafaring men dating back to the old days of windjammers and clipper ships.

  Growing up in a poorer neighbourhood of honest, hard-working folk, most of them of Scots/Irish origin, there had never been time or money for many luxuries. Somehow the lovely Meg had stepped out of these humble beginnings into something far grander.  She was tall and slender, with black hair and ivory skin.  Her every gesture seemed to breathe a sweet grace and Lauren looked up to her as a sister might, with a deep affection.  

Lauren remembered that summer on board the coastal steamship as one of the most memorable times she had ever spent. She enjoyed the gulls' shrill cries and feeling soft sea spray wind blowing on her face and hands. She was never seasick. She stood at the ship's rail with Meg, laughing as  dolphins raced in the wake.   She loved watching Meg's Captain walking on the bridge and hearing  the music of the ship's bell, as the sky flooded gold at sunset.   

Meg and the Captain  touched each other frequently, and as gentle as that touch always was, Lauren sensed a wave of electricity that seemed to pass from one to the other. It seemed to illuminate them and everything around them, including Lauren, who sometimes felt her own adolescent heart race at the thought of the two lovers alone in their berth, and Meg in the Captain's embrace.  

When the holidays finally ended it was hard to return home again, but she knew her father needed her, and so it was promised that a strand of pearls would be brought back for her from Singapore.  She waited in anticipation, dreaming of exotic harbours where Meg and the Captain strolled hand in hand, and sat sipping tea in tea shops under colourful umbrellas.

The church bell began to toll in deep, resonating waves calling the faithful to Mass. Lauren thought of Donne's poem as solemn worshipers entered the sanctuary. For whom is the bell tolling?   War had just been declared in Europe. There would be terrible losses to come. She thought anxiously of her own young husband and of all the husbands and people who would be caught up in events beyond anyone's control. She placed her hands protectively on her swollen belly and felt the baby awaken to the sound of the bell, stirring fearfully inside her as though it sensed the unrelenting summons to suffering. This would be her first child and if it was a girl she would call her Margaret Maire,  -Meg for short. 

A stab of grief pierced her and the baby moved again as though trying to escape it.  Meg would never have children, she thought bitterly.  In an abrupt and terrible twist of fate Meg never returned from that far off place of monsoons and  sudden hurricanes.  One hot, humid night,  in a  fevered moment of time, Meg was murdered by her husband in a fit of jealous rage and suspected betrayal,  after which he had  killed himself. The news arrived on a merciless tide overwhelming the family in shock and grief.   No one would ever fully know what really happened, nor ever fathom the meaning of such a terrible and unforeseen tragedy.  

Lauren struggled  to find a comforting grace in a life that had become unpredictably cruel and without reason.   Everything in her world had shifted relentlessly. She questioned how such darkness could overtake the hearts of good men.  How could a grand love story have ended in this way? Was the beautiful Meg in heaven with her Captain, or were they forever condemned?  It was much too painful to contemplate.  She withdrew with her losses into a desolate silence and uncertainty.

The congregation stood reverently, as the  priest and servers began to move  in somber and hushed procession up the center aisle to the altar.  Just then,  the church organ began to play, and the choir commenced a majestic opening Laudate.  The music swelled like a wave on the ocean, engulfing the spaces of the church to the very tops of the tall pillars. As it rose into the domed nave,  Lauren closed her eyes and felt as though she were again standing with Meg near the bow and rising upward on the crest. A shining horizon beckoned them.  She felt her baby leap with the joy of an approaching redemption, like John the Baptist in the womb of his mother when visited by the pregnant Mary.  A  summer rain had begun to fall and she noticed a storm was gathering on the water. The ship's bell suddenly rang out. At the sound, the captain opened his arms heavenward for deliverance, and  the passengers knelt in supplication. It was then that a great sob surged upward from the depths of her, and looking down at her wet hands, she realized that they were drenched in tears.

 Play The beautiful "Laudate" by Taize Monastery in France

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  1. Beautiful writing. I especially loved the way the church music and the recollection of her trip merged.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by!! And for your kind compliments!! They encourage me.