|The Stargazer's Apprentice
Author: Daylily PM
Clara takes a job assisting an astronomer, even though his heliocentric theories are the laughingstock of town and a thorn in the clergy's side. Together they discover a meteor heading straight toward town. But of course, no one believes them...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi/Friendship - Chapters: 8 - Words: 15,542 - Reviews: 5 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 02-16-13 - Published: 11-02-11 - id: 2966840
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"So Clara," said Father Lorenzo, passing her a plate of bread, "tell me about your first day working for Gianpaolo."
Clara had been dreading this meeting, but it was her mother's stipulation, so she had to do it in order to keep her apprenticeship. Sitting across from Father Lorenzo in the kitchen of his sad, bare manse was almost worse than the confessional. His dry bread reminded her of communion, only without the relief of wine.
Chewing the tough bread crust bought her a few moments to think. Should she tell him about putting on her pretty new dress, bought with the first money she'd ever earned on her own? Should she tell him how she, once again, threw an apple blossom into the river for luck on her way? These things would make her seem like a silly little girl, but perhaps that's what Father Lorenzo wanted to hear.
Still, this was the closest thing to confession she'd done since her father's death. There was a certain sacredness in the air.
"Father Lorenzo," she said, taking a deep breath, "As you've no doubt noticed, I haven't been to confession in some time."
He nodded. She continued. "I'd just like to preface this meeting by assuring you that my avoidance of confession is in no way related to my new position with Gianpaolo. I don't wish to sound unrepentant, but— well, he's had no influence over my—that is, there is nothing unchristian about what he's been teaching me, and he hasn't—"
"Clara, my dear, it's quite common for even the most devout followers to fear confession after the death of a loved one."
"I wouldn't call it fear…"
"Of course not. You're not afraid of sitting in a little wooden booth. You're not afraid of talking. You're not even afraid of recounting your sins, as I'm sure they're not too many, and not too condemning. No, you're not afraid of the act of confessing. But Clara, you are old enough to understand… how old are you?"
"I just turned sixteen," she answered.
"You are old enough to understand the honesty and self-reflection that God desires from your confession, and that self-reflection is what, I believe, you're really afraid of, Clara."
Clara didn't answer. She picked at another piece of bread. She should have expected this. But she had thought, like Simon, Father Lorenzo would only be interested in what Gianpaolo was up to. Am I really afraid of self-reflection? she reflected.
"After the death of a loved one, many people find themselves doubting God's plan, or even doubting his very existence. For someone who has never know doubt, it can be quite frightening, like looking into a dark abyss. You may not wish to confess to it, because it means something you've never questioned is now suddenly completely questionable. It changes your entire perspective on everything you've ever known. Now, you don't have to tell me if you feel this way or not. This isn't the confessional. But Clara, though it seems sinful and wrong, this doubt is actually the first step toward true faith."
She looked up, questioning. He continued.
"As a child, you believe and follow because those you love and respect tell you to believe and follow. Your parents. Your grandparents. Your community. But as you grow, you must develop your own faith, and that can only begin by questioning what you're told and discovering him on your own."
"But isn't that hurtful to God?"
"When you get married, do you want your husband to love you simply because his parents told him to love you? Or do you want him to question who you are, and, in doing so, discover for himself all the things that are loveable about you?"
Clara thought. Not about her future husband, but about Gianpaolo calling her a "question-asker."
"Now, I don't have to lecture you on the importance of confession. You're nearly a grown woman, and you can make your own decisions. But I promise, it will ease that burden on your shoulders if you just give it to God."
"Father Lorenzo? I thought I was supposed to talk about Gianpaolo; to make sure he isn't teaching me anything unchristian. Isn't that why my mother wants me to come here every week?"
Father Lorenzo picked up a piece of bread too. "It seems like your mother just wants you to meet with a priest every week so that you don't appear unchristian. And I suppose so she can tell Mr. and Mrs. Harmon that you're not turning into a heretic yourself."
"So we can discuss your work with Gianpaolo if you'd like. We can discuss anything you want. But I'm glad that today you chose to discuss your spirituality. And I hope you can continue to trust my guidance with any of your fears or concerns. Now, how do you like your new job?"
Clara told Father Lorenzo about her first three days; how he was teaching her how to map the stars and planets, how to measure distances in the sky, how to recognize each planet by its position among the constellations. She could remember Jupiter from the first time she saw it, but she had to study to learn to recognize the other planets just as well. It would be her job to chart all the stars in a specific quadrant each night and check them against the previous charts for discrepancies. But for now, she and Gianpaolo were each making their own charts, and he would compare them at the end of the night, correcting her errors before she could go home. And they were full of errors.
"It's harder than you think," she said. "But it has to be precise in order to be of any use. And anyway, my chart from yesterday had fewer errors than the one from my first day, so that's a good sign. I'm learning not to feel bad when he corrects me. It's just the way he teaches."
"Well Clara, I'm glad you're finding your work so rewarding. I'd love to hear more, but I think it's time you head home. I'll see you next week. And at church on Sunday."
As Clara walked home, she thought about what Father Lorenzo's said about faith and asking questions. Oddly enough, she wasn't dreading their next meeting, as she had been dreading this one. Though she wondered if Alfonzo would have been required to meet with a priest every week had he ended up with the apprentice job.
"Wow, you were right, this would be easier with thinner paper." Clara put her star chart over Gianpaolo's and held it to the light. This time, Gianpaolo was having her check her own star chart to see if she could spot the mistakes herself
"You should have listened to me…" Gianpaolo teased.
"I'll see what I can do," said Clara, "perhaps a different bonding agent. Or maybe there's a different method I haven't thought of."
She took the charts to the window, where the sun was rising, and held them up against the glass. She beckoned Gianpaolo over and pointed out where she had messed up.
"There, there, and there. Only three!" Clara beamed with pride.
He gave her a judgmental look. "Never get excited about mistakes, Clara."
"But that's twelve less than yesterday!"
"They're still mistakes."
"Well, teach me what I did wrong then."
"Nope," he said.
"What? What do you mean by 'nope'? Did I not do anything wrong?"
"I mean, nope, you're going to figure it out yourself." He handed her a quill and pointed to the desk, where her notes were spread out all over.
"I've taught you everything you need to know. So any mistakes are your fault, not mine." He crossed the room and stretched out on the settee. His tall frame looked silly on the small piece of furniture. Silly, yet comfortable. "Well, I'm going to go to sleep," he said with a yawn. "Wake me when you've figured out how to do your job."
He put his hands behind his head, crossed his ankles, and closed his eyes. Clara glared at him from across the room. A nap would be heavenly right now.
So she'd have to work fast.
On Sunday, Mrs. Lucas informed Clara that, once again, they were going to join the Harmons for Sunday luncheon. And would she please wear that beautiful dress Orianna worked so hard on. And this time, could she pay attention to the sermon so she'd have something competent to say to Mrs. Harmon.
Clara put on the dress. She took her time with her hair for the first time all week, and picked out her most serious looking hat. She had to tell him. Today. Before it came up uninvited at luncheon. She would have rather gone to confession.
After church, Clara took a deep breath and made an effort to catch Alfonzo's eye. "Could we talk?"
"Aren't you coming over for Sunday luncheon today? We'll be talking all day."
"Yes, but, there's something I'd like to talk about… in private first," she said.
"Yes, you know, I think I'd like to talk with you too," Alfonzo replied.
She led him out the side door into the little garden with the statue of Mary on her knees. Luckily there was no sign of Simon this time.
"I've never been here before," said Alfonzo, looking around the little enclosed garden. "I never thought to look through this door, I guess." He turned back to Clara, "So what did you want to talk about?"
She took another deep breath. "The job. Gianpaolo's apprentice job."
"Oh, good. I wanted to talk about that too. I turned down the job."
"You turned it down?" Clara was confused.
"Yes, I was offered a better job. At the university."
"Oh, Alfonzo, that's fantastic! Will you be a professor?"
"Heavens no, Clara. Don't be silly. I've barely just graduated. Professors have to have experience."
"Oh. Well, what will you be doing then?"
"I'll be assisting a professor. Then, once I've gained some experience, I'll be able to become a professor myself."
"How exciting! What does he teach?" Clara asked.
"Clara?" Alfonzo looked into her eyes. "Why are you asking about that? Aren't you going to miss me?"
"Well the school year doesn't start until after harvest, right?"
"But I'll be spending much of the summer at the university, learning my duties."
"Oh. Well yes, of course I'll miss you, Alfonzo."
He smiled and took her hand. Clara was suddenly very nervous. "I know being Gianpaolo's apprentice would have kept me here in town. But working at the university is better in the long run, for my future. The only problem is, I'm having a hard time picturing my future… without you."
Clara suddenly pulled her hand away from his. "Alfonzo, stop, I have to tell you something."
"Gianpaolo asked me to be his apprentice," she forced herself to spurt out. She raised her eyes to his, to check if they had changed. He looked surprised mostly. She couldn't tell what else.
"But you're… you're just a… you just make paper for him. Why would he even…? How did this happen?"
"Well sometimes he would just teach me things when I came by. Like when I saw a sector on his desk, like Papa used to have for measuring heights and distances. And then he showed me Jupiter's moons, and then it all sort of happened all at once."
"Ah, I see. I suppose he misses teaching, so he was eager for a blank slate to fill."
"Teaching is a very rewarding profession, you know."
"Well Papa always seemed to enjoy it… you know, when he was teaching both of us… the exact same things… you know, filling our slates."
"Clara," Alfonzo took her hand once more. She caught her breath. "I want to ask you something, before I leave for the university."
"Yes?" Clara looked up into his bright blue eyes, trying to control whatever nerves were making her tremble.
"While I'm away, I'd like to write letters to you. Would that be all right with you?"
Clara smiled, almost feeling relieved. "Yes, that would be lovely."
Alfonzo hugged her close, with his arms circling her waist. It was only for a moment, and then he pulled back to look at her.
"I'll see you at luncheon," he said, letting go of her hands and leaving her in the garden. With Mary's empty eyes looking up at her.
Clara had paid meticulous attention to Father Lorenzo's sermon. Not just because she was afraid Mrs. Harmon might ask for her thoughts again, but also because it was about faith, something she had been giving a lot of thought to lately.
But alas, Mrs. Harmon never brought up the subject.
"That's a pretty dress you're wearing today, Clara," she said sweetly.
"Thank you, Mrs. Harmon. Orianna made it for me."
"Indeed? Perhaps I should commission something myself."
Orianna smiled. "I'd be happy to come by any time for your measurements and specifications."
"Lovely. Your daughter is very skilled, Mrs. Lucas," she continued. "In fact, as I've heard, both of your daughters are quite skilled."
"Ah," said Mrs. Lucas, trying to breach the subject first before Mrs. Harmon, "I suppose you're referring to Clara's business endeavors? Yes, she's always been so helpful around the house, and now she's found herself a way to profit from her helpfulness."
"Helpfulness? Good heavens Donatella! Give the girl some credit. She must be quite brilliant, to be working for the astronomer. I'm sure he requires a little more than simple helpfulness. Well done, Clara. "
Clara had been expecting a diatribe about the role of women in the home, not a compliment. This was going much better than she'd hoped.
"Thank you, Mrs. Harmon." Clara said, hoping to leave it at that.
"Yes Clara, well done," said Alfonzo, eying her over his lifted wine glass. Clara took a drink of her own wine, wishing it wasn't so watered down.
"You know," Mrs. Harmon continued, "Alfonzo was after that same position, not one week ago."
Mrs. Lucas took in a sharp breath. Clara stopped mid-sip. Alfonzo understood the implication. "Mother, you know—"
"No, don't be modest, Alfonzo. Tell them about your new offer."
"Well, starting next week, I'll be the assistant to Professor Friedrich Gerder at the University."
"Oh, Alfonzo, how exciting!" Orianna exclaimed, perhaps too eager to smooth over the situation.
"And after that, he'll be all set to become a professor, right Alfonzo?" said Mrs. Harmon.
"Yes, that's the plan," he said.
"No chance of becoming a professor if you're working for Gianpaolo, unfortunately."
"But I would have been able to spend more time here with you, Mother," he joked, tilting his head to the side.
"So," Mrs. Lucas spoke, sounding worried, "this means you'll be leaving Port Severage? For good?"
"Well, I'd love to stay here, with my family, with everyone, but I also want to make them proud of all the things I can accomplish. Working at the university ensures I'll have a better life, a better future. For when I start a family of my own. His eyes slid over to Clara for a moment, then back to Mrs. Lucas, who had clearly noticed.
"And speaking of my future," Alfonzo continued, as Mrs. Lucas leaned forward, "I've taken the liberty of asking Clara to write to me, while I'm away this summer. That is, only if you approved Mrs. Lucas."
Mrs. Lucas vigorously nodded her approval, smiling. Mr. and Mrs. Harmon exchanged a look.
"Clara-Clara! You did not tell me Alfonzo Harmon was after the same apprenticeship as you!" Mrs. Lucas started scolding her the minute they got home.
"Mama, he said he turned it down!" Clara objected, though she was beginning to wonder whether this was true or not.
"It doesn't matter, Clara! It still makes him look bad! Thank God he still wants you, after all this nonsense you've caused."
"Mama, I didn't even know, that's not fair!"
"Sometimes smart boys prefer smart girls," Orianna observed, trying to help.
"This has nothing to do with you, Orianna. Go collect some water."
Orianna slinked out the door, trying to apologize to Clara with her eyes. Clara's eyes tried to thank her back.
"Mama—" Clara tried.
"Well. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps Alfonzo doesn't mind. After all, he still wants to write to you."
"And you know, your father was an educated man, and he always said he liked that I could do large sums in my head. I still can. How do you think I keep this household afloat?"
"Mama, you're incredible at sums, and at running the house," she offered. "Don't you know that I just wanted to help?"
"Don't try to appeal to me Clara, you didn't just take that job to help with the money. You have too much of your father in you. You wanted it because of that, I suppose," she said, attempting to roll her eyes, but they got distracted somewhere above her. "Though I suppose it's good that he ended up in someone…"
Mrs. Lucas trailed off. Clara took her leave and went to help her sister with the water, hoping they both were right. Orianna, about smart boys liking smart girls. Her mother, about having her father in her.