A short story by

Marvin Arnold

 

 

January Seventeenth

     The enemy had invaded John’s country in December. John was nineteen and his girlfriend, Mary, was eighteen. They had planned to be married in June, but John like thousands of other patriotic young men volunteered to join the military service and defend his country.

     On the evening of January 17th, John told Mary that he would be shipping out the following morning. Mary promised to wait for him and to write every day. She could never love any other man, except him.

     A year went by. She had written faithfully as she had promised. Mary had received dozens of letters from John, but then they stopped coming. John’s letters started being returned to her. It was on January 17th, that Mary received the news. John was missing in action and presumed dead.

     Mary cried every day. It was months before she could make it through a day without crying at least once. Mary made the decision to devote the rest of her life to God. She took her vows and became a nun. In a couple of years, Mary was assigned to the old cathedral downtown across from the large city park.

*

     Five years later, on a January 17th Mary entered the sanctuary for her daily prayers. There was a tall frail, middle aged, man waiting in the darkened hallway. It was John. The war was over and he had been found in a prisoner of war camp nearly half dead.

Mary ran to him and held on to him for the longest time. John told her what he had been through in the years they were apart. He wanted her to marry him now, if she only would.

Mary told him, “You own my heart and you always will. I will never love anyone the way I love you, but I can not, I will not, break my vows to the Lord.”

*

Over time, John came to accept this. He took a job at a local factory. In a couple of years, he met a woman and they were married. A year later, on January 17th, a little girl was born. John named her Lisa after his grandmother. John’s marriage to Lisa’s mother was not a good marriage. She was a lazy and unhappy woman.

On Saturday afternoons, John would take Lisa to visit Mary at the Church. Lisa called her Sister Mary. On an afternoon when Lisa was about six years old, John came home from work and found Lisa alone.

“Daddy,” Lisa said, “Mommy left a note in an envelope on the table for you. She said for me to be sure to tell you.”

John went to the table and read the note. “I am leaving you. Please don’t try to ever find me. Take good care of our daughter, I know you will.” John was sure the she had ran away with another man, he had his suspicions for some time now.

On the following Friday afternoon, John left work at the factory early. It was January 17th and it had been storming all day. He did not want Lisa to have to walk home in the freezing rain. He was there waiting on her when school was out.

When Lisa got in the car she asked, “Can we go see Mary today?”

“Sure, why not.” John replied.

The rainstorm was getting worse and John was trying to drive carefully. A car passing him swerved to miss an oncoming truck. It forced John off the road and his car crashed into a tree.

“Are you alright, Lisa?”

“Yes, Daddy I’m fine.”

John got out to look over the damage. The damage was bad. His car was not going anywhere. “The rain has let up now. Come on, Lisa, we’ll have to walk to the church from here. It’s not far.”

Lisa held her fathers hand as they walked. When they entered the church, Lisa said, “Oh, look Daddy, there’s Mrs. Wilson from the grocery store.”

“Yes, Lisa, but don’t bother her now she’s going to prayer.

In the hallway, they passed a priest. Lisa spoke to him, “Hello, Father Murphy.”

The priest walked on past them without speaking.

“It’s okay Lisa, Father Murphy was just deep in thought. He was probably just had his mind on his liturgy for this coming Sunday morning.”

“Where is Sister Mary?” Lisa asked.

“She’s most likely over in the west tower. You’ve been up there with her before. She likes to go there, it is quiet. She often goes there to meditate and pray.

John and Lisa entered the tower door and Mary was so very happy to see them. Lisa ran to hug her neck. “There are some coloring books over there and I have also gotten you some paper dolls to cut out. I just thought you two might be coming by to see me today.”

John took Lisa’s coats off and laid it with his over a chair. Lisa went over to see the things Mary had laid out for her. The sky outside was clearing now and bright sunlight flooded the room and filled it with warmth.

*

It was summer, two years later, in the park across the street from the cathedral. An old man was seated on a park bench reading a newspaper.

A young couple walked by and the old man spoke to them. “Good morning.”

“Yes, good morning to you, sir,” the young man said, “Say, maybe you would mind answering a question for me?”

“Sure, son, will if I can.”

“I used to play in this park when I was a young boy. The church across the street, well, it looks different now.”

“Yes, it does. They did an excellent job of repairing it. A couple of years ago we had a bad storm, didn’t let up for days. Lightening struck the west tower and collapsed it. Happened on a January 17th as I recall.”


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