"Here are some more photos," Caitríona slid a shoebox from a dust attic bookshelf and returned to where her brother was seated beside the spare cot. She dropped down beside him and smeared the tears in her aquamarine eyes with her palm. "I hate planning Ma's funeral before she's even gone. It makes it seem like we've already given up all hope that she could ever get any better."
"You know she wanted to approve what we plan," Alexander draped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Consider this only a backup plan, in case she never recovers. Besides, it keeps her occupied when she can't really do much else."
"When everything is said and done, there will only be Da and me," she smiled in spite of herself as she added, "and the cat. I really wish you came to the community college with me instead of insisting on that bloody university an hour away."
"There was no way for me to major in art and physical education there. Besides, I graduate this year."
Sunshine streamed across the attic through the single open window, illuminating the drifting dust particles. An antique grandfather clock and sniveling were all that could be heard as Caitríona swept the dust away from the shoebox lid and gently lifted it to set it aside.
Photos were packed together so securely that it was a struggle for either Alex or Caitríona to draw any out without tearing the edges. They stacked each one beside them after observing the visages of old relatives, picnics with previous neighbors, and their mother posing with friends of the past.
"Look at this one," Alex said suddenly as he showed her a photo where their mother posed among the many restaurant waiters and waitresses she used to work with. In an ivory blouse and maroon skirt, their mother was lovely. "Does she not look pregnant?"
"Yes," Caitríona agreed. "Probably with you."
"No, look at the time stamp," he raised it to her eyes as though that would help. Her heart started beating rapidly within her chest when she read the date at the right corner.
"Twenty-seven years ago. Maybe there was an error."
"Perhaps," Alex murmured as he stared down at the numbers. Then he twisted around to look her in the eye. "But Ma waitressed somewhere else when she was pregnant with me."
Oil paintings of every century and many nations covered almost every square inch of the dining room. The cream room was lined with a navy border and furnished with an azure recliner and sofa. Seated upon that sofa was a man with ominous coffee eyes and an olive complexion. He disheveled his ebony hair when he ran his fingers through it. "As I said, I am Cathal ó Súilleabháin. I appreciate your coming."
Calder breathed through the pang in his heart. "You have nothing to appreciate. This is what I do."
"Yes, well, this may be a challenging one. You see, I have been searching quite some time," he smiled at the woman who settled a porcelain teacup painted with bluebirds and holly on the coffee table ahead of him. She retrieved a second one to pass to Calder and seated herself beside Cathal, "and I have not reached a single shred of useful information."
"Please, explain your story."
Cathal raised the cup and to sip the tea and replaced it on the saucer. "I was given up as soon as I was born, and I never lived in one home more than six months. I learned to catch a meal when I lived in a village with a fisherman, I learned to paint when I lived with an artist and his wife, and I even learned how to help animals living with a veterinarian family. Angela went to secondary school with me for one year," he squeezed the hand of the woman seated beside him, "and when we met again two years ago, she encouraged me to pursue me dreams –especially now, because me kidneys are shutting down."
Angela stared aside as tears misted her gray eyes and she pursed her lips.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Calder murmured.
"I appreciate that. Among those dreams is to get me birth certificate so that we can be married, and then so I can trace where I came from. I want to know who I'm related to, and perhaps even make contact with them in case I do not receive a transplant in time."
"And you say you have been at this a while?"
"I have no record of the address of me birth, and I need that to get a certificate. In regards to relatives, not a word has been uttered to me about a single one of them. I suspect me surname must have come from me birth parents, but that is all I have."
Calder analyzed the shelves of antique books and plays and the Spanish guitar propped beside them. He eyed the chocolate bear seated upon the shelves, whose velvet nose was worn smooth and whose crimson ribbon read Lucy. The clock above her was painted with an ornate sun against a cerulean sky.
"Is that literally all you have?"
Calder rose and replaced his teacup on its saucer. He reached out to grasp each hand with a polite nod. "I will get started as soon as I get home. To be direct and honest, I have almost nothing to start with, but I am going to do everything I can. I will report any progress I make to you."
"Go raibh maith agat," Cathal said with a nod of appreciation. "I sense I can trust you."
"I value that."
As soon as Calder exited discretely, Angela curled her arm around Cathal and laid a cheek against his shoulder. "This is going to be a difficult process. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"I want to be somebody for once."
"You are an educated, independent, courageous man. You're an actor, a musician, an artist, and a student. Most importantly, you are a man of God and the love of me life."
He pressed a kiss to her dense pecan hair. She rose and reached for his hands to draw him upright.
"Get ready to leave. I made you an early dialysis appointment, because I have to get home."
"Go ahead, and I will be there soon," Cathal smiled after her, then twisted around to the window behind him and peered down into the street, where Calder emerged into the misting rain and started toward his car. He climbed into the driver seat and slammed the door behind him with pursed lips.
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." *
God Almighty, I have absolutely nothing to go on. I need help, please.
He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of rain as it misted against his car. It seemed strange that there was a teddy bear perched in the middle of the room. There was something about it he was positive he saw at some point. Alasdair always owned a bear like that. So did his children.
He snatched his phone out of his pocket and dialed furiously. His heart thundered with the exhilaration of what seemed to be an insane idea. He straightened when the ringing stopped.
"Yeah?" Alasdair asked pleasantly.
"Alasdair, I need to contact information for your midwife."
"The one who delivered me or my kids?"
"Ha. The same one who delivered all of you."
"Why?" he asked suspiciously.
"A case," he answered sharply. "Are you going to answer me?"
"Yes, sorry, here you are," Alasdair said with a creak that made Calder suspect he was rushing toward the list of contact information on the refrigerator. "Kayleigh O'Keeffe is her name, by the way. I can read her information as soon as you have a pen."
Alasdair rambled away the information so swiftly that Calder struggled to keep up with him in writing. At the end, he could Alasdair smile when he said, "So I'm actually helping solve a case, right?"
"Right," Calder softened his tone. "Thank you, Allie."
The moment he ended the call, Calder closed his eyes again and breathed a prayer for success in his endeavors. Then he started the car and pulled into the puddled street, striving to drive with a steady speed until he reached a small brick office with a sign in the window with the name of the midwife. He steered against the side of the street and leapt out of his car without remembering to lock the door.
"Hello," greeted a brunette woman in a denim dress when he slipped inside and closed the door behind him. "Is there anything I can do for you today?"
"You give every child you deliver a teddy bear, am I right?"
"Yes," she answered with an expression creased with bewilderment. "Why do you ask?"
"Me name is Calder McCallister, and I am a private investigator," he raised his identification, which she leaned toward and squinted at. "I am working on tracing the birth parents of a man that owns one of those bears. Would you mind answering some questions?"
"I'll do anything I can," she squeezed her palms together, then gestured toward a rocking chair in the waiting room. He dropped down into the chair, accidentally slinging backward, while Mrs. O'Keeffe drew a whicker chair up to him. "What do you need me to answer?"
"Do you remember anything about a birth that happened about twenty-seven years ago –?"
"I realize that a great deal of time has passed," Calder answered as he leaned his arms on his knees. "I will give you every detail I know. Let me know if anything comes to mind."
"Well, I can certainly try. What was the name of the bear? I always make each one special."
"Lucy. She is a chocolate brown with a red ribbon on her head, and there was an image of the sun embroidered in the middle of the bow," he answered. An image of a woman with almond hair and misted eyes spark of realization sprung open her eyes.
"That boy was a breech! We almost lost him and his mother."
"Do you remember anything else?"
"She was going to give him away," answered the midwife with sorrow in her eyes. "I embroidered the sun on the ribbon because I knew he would need a light in his life to show him the right way."
"Do you remember the location of his birth?"
She closed her eyes again and breathed an unsteady breath. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head so that her lengthy hair swayed behind her back.
She breathed evenly several times until her eyes sprang open again. "What is his name again?"
"Cathal ó Súilleabháin."
"I remember that birth now! He was born on that same street as his name. His mother was so eager to be rid of him, even when I tried to convince her otherwise. The circumstances of her pregnancy were not pleasant ones. Yes, she gave him away immediately."
"Do you remember the address?"
"Not at all."
"Close your eyes and imagine stepping outside to leave. What do you see?"
She closed her eyes again and imagined herself drawing open the door with some difficulty, sunshine beaming into her eyes as she stepped onto the pavement beside a reflecting lantern. "It is right at the corner of the street, beneath the lamp. The corner tenement, with the door with the rusted hinges."
"Go raibh maith agat," Calder clasped her hands with appreciation when he rose and rushed toward the door with lengthy strides, sneaking a glimpse at his golden pocket watch as he emerged into the showering rain. He trotted to his car with the keys already withdrawn from his suit and a smile.
The street was rather close to where he already was. He steered around the corner of the street and crept past the brick apartments, peering at the address as he pulled to the edge and killed the engine. He shoved the door open and climbed out of the obsidian car to stride to the entrance beneath the archway and noted the exact number of the first apartment described to him. He then whisked the phone out of his pocket and navigated around the internet until he discovered the site to order a birth certificate. The moment he completed the form, he sent it with another satisfied smile and returned to his car.
After dinner than night, he celebrated with a glass of wine before settling down with his brother.
Flames rippled and sparked within the brick fireplace, casting shadows across Ruarí curled against Eagan's chest, completely asleep and with a thumb in his mouth. Calder cradled Rupert in the recliner opposite in an attempt to soothe the peels of wailing. Rain showered against the windows and trickled down the eaves outside. Anita and Viola murmured to one another at the sink as they rinsed dishes.
"He resembles you more each day," Calder mused as he observed the pair seated ahead.
"And I'm sorry about that," Eagan chuckled and shifted his chocolate eyes down to his son. The flames ignited his vibrant strawberry blond hair as he appeared to drift into sleep. But then he straightened himself and leaned toward his brother with eagerness. "Also, I have a proposition."
"Look," Eagan cleared his throat and met his eyes. "Anita and I have prayed about who God has in mind for their godparents, and we agreed on the answer we heard. Will you and Vi be willing to keep these lads in the event that something happens to us?"
The pang in his heart made Calder squeeze his eyes shut a moment. When he opened them, he peered down at Rupert and his shock of dark copper hair, sniveling and rubbing his brown eyes, and pressed a kiss against his forehead. "Yes, we would."
Eagan eased back against the seat, pleased. "Good. I hoped someone smarter than me would be able to teach 'em something."
Calder snorted with amusement and cradled his smaller son in his arms with a paternal stirring in his heart. Still, even as he lay awake that night and listened to the rain, there was a hollow reminder that his own unborn child was gone.
. . . April . . .
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Angela smiled at him with shimmering silver eyes and caramel curls cascading down her shoulders as he leaned slightly to kiss her. His breathing was an audible wheeze when she turned her head to lay it on his shoulder and whispered, "I love you."
"No regrets about marrying a dying man?"
With tears in her eyes, she released him and raised herself up on her toes to press another kiss against his lips. "You are still alive, so I still have hope."
There was a sapphire curtain that rippled above them and parted at each window and doorway. A paper lantern shaped as an overturned orchid was strategically attached to the drapery in several areas, and a turquoise crystal dangled out of the middle of each. Liam started to play an eerily beautiful melody on the violin,* prompting Cathal to lead his bride down the crimson aisle to be photographed beside the roses outside by Sarai.
"You managed to organize a beautiful wedding on short notice," Reverend Magee mused to Calder as he and Viola rose to sign the marriage certificate.
"To be honest, I did not," Calder admitted when he observed Aoife kneeling to adjust the ruby rose and sapphire iris at the end of one of the cherry pews, Liam maneuvering the horsehair bow across the violin, and Callum pouring currant wine while Gavin emerged out of the kitchen with a buttercream cake decorated with sugar snowdrops and rimmed with gentian violets with an iris in the middle. "Cathal was a sort of artistic apprentice to Liam, as I learned recently, so I invited him. Liam provided the music while Aoife decorated the sanctuary. Cathal agreed to allow anyone who wanted to contribute something to do so, and as you see, everyone in the family came to help."
When the couple returned, Sarai served roasted chicken with garlic and honey dressing while Gavin ensured the perfection of the cake prior to its slicing and consumption. As the couple and their minister and guests ate and chatted, shade was cast over Cathal. His heart started to thunder when he gazed at the people around him, sensing for the first time that he could count on someone, but that his time with them was limited. By the time the cake was sliced and served, his mood was downright dismal. Why could he not have time to savor this community of people when he had a sense of belonging for the first time in his life? A realization in the corner of his mind sparked hope like a candle in the darkness. Make the most of the time I have given you with these people who love you. Yes, Lord. He would do that.
When he swallowed the last of the cake, Callum came around the table and kneeled beside him. "I would love to have everyone pray for you, if that's all right."
He agreed. Callum released a pleasant smile and rose to lead him to the middle of the room, with his bride beneath his arm, and everyone else circled them. Callum reached to lay his palms on his shoulders and closed his eyes while his preacher and family also touched the couple and cleared his throat.
"Lord God, we pray complete healing over Cathal. We realize that You can heal him, and I honestly believe that is within Your plan. We ask you to heal him in the name of Jesus."
Cathal released a surprised breath when heat rushed to his shoulders where Callum touched him. He chewed his lip and listened to the prayers arising around him, tears misting his eyes.
"God Almighty, I praise You for this young man and the time he spent with me," Liam continued ardently in a clear voice. "He has an appreciation of art, same as You, and has no idea that he is Your art. He was designed by Your mind and crafted by Your hands and loved with all Your heart. But he does know You, and I pray that You will give him more time on earth to become more the man You created him to be and to bless the entire world in Your time and in Your name."
Every prayer that resounded thereafter also livened the beat of his heart. This marriage and the prayers for a revived life sparked within him a mustard seed hope that perhaps this was a fresh start and the sending into the journey that would be the rest of his life, no matter how short it may be.
When the circle disbanded, Callum approached him again.
"You are going to be in our prayers," he smiled gently and reached to embrace Cathal, who returned the gesture gingerly. Angela released a smile when she saw this, then moved to seek out Calder. She discovered him beside the kitchen door, observing the movements of everyone in the room.
"Go raibh maith agat," she smiled as tears welled in her eyes and started to spill down her cheeks. "I daresay that Cathal has never stayed in one area long enough to cultivate a relationship with anyone else, and that all these things you and your family have done for us are some of the first true acts of love he has experienced."
"It truly is our pleasure," Calder assured with a smile. "We appreciate that you let us be a part of it."
Liam started another melody on his violin and Cathal politely excused Angela to dance. The action was contagious, and soon they were accompanied by some of the other couples. After a song spent dancing with Viola, a break between compositions allowed Calder to sneak to a side table.
As a present to the couple, Calder reached to slip an envelope into the cloth purse of the bride. When the birth certificate arrived, the mother was listed as an Alana ó Súilleabháin and there was an empty space where the father should be. A midnight marital record search with a cup of coffee revealed that Alana ó Súilleabháin married a Mark McCarthy some twenty-three years prior. A current address was listed. But as he reached out to drop the letter in, Cathal approached with solemn dark eyes.
"Is that what we have been searching for?"
"Yes," Calder extended it to him instead. Cathal stared down at the envelope in his palm until he cleared his throat and slipped it into the pocket within his suit.
After an afternoon spent savoring the vibrant colors of the Mount Usher gardens with his bride two days later, Cathal was standing in the street ahead of a two story cottage with strawberry shutters and surrounded by orange, cream, and coral tulips. There were no cars within sight, but there was a closed garage. He approached the door with an edge in his pace and closed his eyes a moment when he knocked.
"I am getting there," the woman who answered clasped an ebony lace shawl around her shoulders and a portable oxygen tank at her side. She scrutinized him with shrewd aquamarine eyes and set the square jaw that he recognized in the mirror. "And what can I do for you?"
Cathal cleared his throat and said, "May I speak with you?"
She straightened as an epiphany alighted her brain. "Get away! Leave, before they get home!"
"I am only asking a minute," Cathal assured her as she patted down the cinnamon hair pulled into a sensible knot behind her neck, suddenly storming around the area as a cage lioness may have done. She gathered her composure rather abruptly and stared him in the eye.
"I need you to leave this instant, before me family comes home."
With that, she slammed the door about a centimeter ahead of his aquiline nose. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a business card to sneak into the crack between the door and its frame.
Cathal started with surprise to see a man standing beside the cherry car that had apparently arrived in the driveway. He started sprinting toward Cathal, who rushed away and disappeared down the street and around the corner. Alex and Caitríona emerged out of the car with a package of prescriptions and plastic bags with fruits and meats in their arms.
"Who do you suppose that was?" Caitríona squinted after the man over the car.
"That's the man who's going to get reefed if he ever comes around to vex Ma again," Alex grumbled and started toward the house behind their father. Their mother stormed toward the door the moment it was opened, but she brightened with a smile when she recognized them.
"You got the prescriptions and nectarines?"
"Yes, Ma," answered Alex as he delivered them to the kitchen. "And some meats to make supper."
"And Ma," Caitríona started tentatively, "who was that we saw leaving—"
"Nevermind that man," Alana snarled as she stormed into the kitchen after her son. "Make sure you separate all the meats away from the fruits and such."
"I know that, Ma."
He set a decently-sized chocolate bar on the counter beside Caitríona, who reached toward it. He gave her wrist a light slap, and she punched his shoulder. Alana rolled her eyes and griped something in Gaelic as she crept toward the hall to her room at the end.
Fleece clouds tinged the crisp sky that evening. Alana was propped against the headboard of her bed with a bowl of soup on a tray. She stared at the singing competition at the television screen as she ate. A gentle rapping at the door diverted her attention when it creaked open to reveal her children with tentative eyes.
"Ma," Caitríona started gently as she approached with the photo and set it ahead of her, "we have something we wanted to ask you about in the photo."
Their mother simply turned the photo over and said, "Yes, I was pregnant with you, Alex. Why?"
"Because the time stamp says that was before you even met Da."
"The time stamp is wrong."
"You also waitressed at another restaurant."
Alana raised her eyes and snarled at her son. "What do you want to ask of me?"
Her children exchanged uncomfortable glances until Caitríona said, "We were only curious where you knew that man from."
"I spent a holiday in Greece years ago, and I do not want to remember a single about it. Does that answer everything?"
"Thank you, Ma," Caitríona leaned down to kiss her hair. "We're sorry we upset you. We were only curious. And we love you so much."
She softened and patted the space on either side so her children could lie down beside her. "I know. Come and see these people sing. They're really quite good, except that fella there wouldn't know how to coordinate his clothes even if a professional stylist did it for him…"
. . . May . . .
Stars flecked the azure atmosphere as silver does the sand, and Calder and Viola strove to keep their eyes open in case they were to miss the sporadic shining streak across and disappear. Each meteor birthed hope to see another. They stared above them from beneath a dense velvet quilt on an air mattress, as they had been since the conclusion of their anniversary dinner. Eventually, Viola drifted to sleep against her husband's shoulder, and Calder could not resist sleep anymore, either.
Closer to the city, by the time the sun started to rise and cast its rays across a crisp morning sky, Cathal gazed at a series of oil paintings comprising a perimeter around him. One was a detailed portrait with warmth in color of Jesus curing a leper. Another was a similarly detailed painting of Jesus healing the paralytic being lowered down on a stretcher. Another was of Mary and Martha prior to Lazarus being risen from the grave, followed by one with their reaction to his resurrection.
All around him continued this series of paintings, and he stared at each one in a row until Angela appeared with a smile and came to kiss his cheek.
"Good morning. Would you want to come with me out to breakfast?"
"No," he murmured in such a manner that she almost missed it. His breathing seemed slightly shallow. "I get the sense I should learn something of these soon."
Angela pursed her lips to prevent the tears from welling over her eyes, then bent to kiss him gently. "I will see you as soon as I run out and get something to eat, then."
Cathal remained silent as he stared at the paintings. Angela paused when she reached the door.
"And I am still praying for a miracle."
He started with surprise when she closed the door, then slapped his palm against the chair he was seated upon and shouted, "We already discussed this! I am almost out of time! There are no matches!"
Hope seemed a bitter virtue.
He started with surprise when the crimson phone rang on the table beside him. He rose slightly to reach out and answer it, grasping the arms of his recliner when the room swiveled around in his mind. When he returned the phone to his ear, he answered with, "Hello?"
"Is this Cathal?" asked and thin voice.
There was a moment of silence. "This is Alana McCarthy," came a rather resigned tone. "Would, er… would you mind coming by here today?"
Twenty minutes later, he supported a small clay pot with indigo and ivory pansies on one palm and rapped against the door with the other. After a minute or two, the door creaked open to reveal the pair of clear blue eyes and an unsettled smile. She moved aside and parted the door more.
"I appreciate that you came. Please, come inside."
The kitchen was angular in shape, but warm in color. Lemon paint coated the room with a cherry border and onyx counters. The woman seated herself gingerly at the walnut table and laid the portable oxygen tank beside her on the wood. She appeared even wispy and angular herself than the last time he saw her, and her dress was plain and ebony.
"Picasso," mused Cathal as he gazed around at the paintings around the room.
"You know your art," his mother answered drily.
"The summer when I was twelve, I moved in with a blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry harvester. The owner of the farm where he worked sold some of his produce at a street market. There were a variety of artists who sold their art there, too, and one was Liam. I used to sneak away from the produce stand and sit beside him a while. He once told me Picasso said, 'All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.' That was where I learned to remain an artist at heart."
"And I assume you learned about art in school?"
"No more than every other child. There were only pockets of me life where I could access the internet. When I did, I assumed the responsibility of teaching meself about art, language, business, and literature. In the last couple years, I used that knowledge to compile and open an art gallery with paintings and music originating in every country and age."
"And what else have you done?" she asked, dry as ever.
Cathal cleared his throat. "I have been to Greece," he caught her tense. "Someone once said I looked more Greek than Irish, and because that was the only possible information I had on meself, I learned more about that culture. After secondary school, I traveled there and made a living by stealing and selling random articles. But Greece was the cause of depression to me, so I returned. But I speak the language, as well as English and Irish."
"But you never had a birth certificate to get a passport."
"I made one, and I can't say that was me proudest moment," he accidentally dissolved into an edgy smile, which he smoothed with his palm and closed his eyes. "But I promise that I live within the law."
"Do you plan to keep that gallery the rest of your life? Or do you have another plan in case this fails?"
Cathal pursed his wan smile. "To be honest, there is not enough time for me to see if this succeeds or not. Yes," he answered when she raised her misted eyes, mouth agape, "Me ailment is also terminal."
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut with her chestnut head bowed in shame. "Ta brón orm," she lamented between breaths. "I spent last night speaking with God the first time since before you were born, and I was so convicted about the chaos in which I threw our relationship. I knew that closure was the only answer, and I wanted to get that straightened out with Him because me husband and children still do not know."
He reached across and laid a ginger hand across her clasped ones. "I have lived in more homes than I can count, and I've learned that every family has their secrets."
She separated her hands to clasp his between them and gave them a squeeze. She caressed them in a maternal manner until she brushed across the simple gold band around one finger. "You're married."
"To a lovely woman in April."
Another tear sneaked down her cheek, and she swiped it away. "Go to the shelves beside the table and retrieve the antique music box. That present you gave me was perfect, you see."
He rose and discovered an ebonized walnut rectangle with incised gilt pansies and retrieved it to settle it gently between them. She gave it an affectionate caress before reaching out to accept his hands again as he seated himself.
"You give that to her."
"Please, I could never—"
"Do as I say, and explain how you met after you share more about her."
"Go raibh maith agat," he answered earnestly. "Angela was always orphaned and moved around a lot, same as me. We met in primary school and again in secondary school, but we moved too much to get to know one another. After I returned from Greece, I spent some time living in an abandoned copper mine. Even so, she crossed me mind. She came to me when I started the gallery because she wanted to have a part in something so beautiful, as she said. Honestly, she doesn't realize that she is a much more beautiful creation than anything in that gallery. God has woven her out of every pure virtue there is."
His mother smiled and rested her head against the back of the chair. "I'm listening," she promised. "I want to know how you proposed to her."
"There was nothing especially romantic about it, I'm afraid. When I learned what me condition was, about seven months ago, I asked her to supper at me apartment and expressed me love. That was when I had to admit the desire to spend the rest of me life with her, and that there may not be much time. We were permitted to marry within about seven days since I received the birth certificate," she started to breathe more evenly as she appeared to doze, but he continued in case she was listening. "The wife of the private detective I hired used some sort of pearl to make her a pair of lily earrings, and…"
The woman appeared to be asleep. She breathed steadily with a smile. An eerily beautiful melody streamed to his ears, rising and waning as the sea, and he realized it was her humming.
The melody continued until her chest rose and ceased one more time. He remained perfectly still and memorized the angles and creases in her visage, the portrait of his mother. With gentle movement, he removed her clasped hands and laid them on the wood. He raised the wooden lid of the music box, and out streamed the same melody. Several eras of rumpled portraits were stored within, and he allowed himself to peer at them several moments before he rose and made a silent exit, curious if he could manage to outlive those shelved pansies.
Within a week, he was seated at the rearmost pew of a cathedral with an ivory interior in an unzipped obsidian sweatshirt and navy jeans. He rested his eyes every couple moments until Angela reached to grasp the hand resting on his knee, alerting him to the priest making his way toward the alter. He invited anyone who wished to speak and rise to come to the podium and do so.
Mark was the first, with a straight cut suit and a solemn stride. He reached the podium and clasped either side of it, cleared his throat, and said "Alana was severe in nature sometimes, but always because she wanted to raise her children well. She loved the people around her, and she expressed it by meeting their needs whenever she saw them. She will always be missed."
As he cracked on the last words and moved swiftly back to his seat, Cathal eased his eyes to the many photos of his mother on the walls around them. Striving to make sense of them by squinting, he could see that there were many of her smiling beside a private plane, uprooting carrots in her vegetable garden, and standing on the beach with her loved ones.
"My sister and I always visited different places together," he realized that a woman was now at podium, similar in appearance aside from a particularly willowy frame. "We were close in age, and the summer before we started at the university, we saw so many places and cultures. We all but settled down by the time she started working in the school offices, but I always treasured those memories," she pressed a kiss to her fingertips and blew it toward a photo of her sister. "We love you, honey."
Cathal become aware of the painted bluebirds and butterflies sporadically pinned around the photos of Alana while both Alex and Caitríona made their way up to the podium. He was also in a rather elegant suit while she wore a turquoise tea length dress and wiped tears away from her eyes.
"Our mother was taken from us too soon," Alex announced ardently. "And in an unfair manner. I know we can all agree on that. But while she was alive, she inspired everyone around them. She pushed them to get deeper and go further. She encouraged me to play sports when she decided I had too much energy, and as a result, I am going to be a secondary school physical education teacher. I would never have been able to focus me attention on a career without her."
Caitríona moved to the microphone when he stepped back to wipe his eyes. "And she encouraged me to become a wedding planner because she emphasized that I had ability in design. There was a period in my life where I wasn't sure what I was good at, and she was honest with me. She said I was not one to be involved with sports as Alex was, but that I had an eye for beauty. Because of this, I am grateful to my mother. I can hardly imagine what we will do without her."
Cathal closed his eyes until the end of the service, when Angela reached toward his hand and raised him to his feet. She murmured an inquiry about whether he was sure he wanted to be in the procession, and he persisted that he was. She looped her arm around his and clasped it securely to her side as they trailed at the end of the stream of people down the cathedral stairs outside.
The morning was crisp, but only a couple clouds were piled on the horizon. Rain scented the air. The procession continued down the street in a reasonably solemn manner until two corners were turned and the verdant cemetery was reached. As the woman was lowered beneath the earth and each person cast a handful of dirt onto the casket, Cathal could not resist observing the carved stones and the statues of angels around him. After all, he could possibly be residing here soon as well.
As people started to disperse, Angela gave him a squeeze and a gentle "Come on."
Her eyes were downcast and his heart ached when he realized the reason. He searched for the right words to console her, but not one came to mind. They started to their car, and praise the Lord, because he was sure he would drop out of exhaustion before they reached it.
Cathal craned his neck over one shoulder to see the son striding toward him with a concerted expression, the daughter right behind him and the husband observing a distance away. He released his wife and pivoted around upon the approach of the man, who stopped suddenly ahead of him. He was evaluated by a pair of aquamarine eyes until the son extended his hand.
"Me name is Alexander McCarthy."
"Cathal Xenos ó Súilleabháin," he accepted the hand and gave it a polite squeeze. Alexander eyed him another second, then suddenly wrenched him into his arms. Cathal returned the almost-constricting embrace, and raised one arm to allow Caitríona beneath it. Tears misted his eyes and started to trickle down his cheeks. The strength of the arms around him and his own seemingly increasing weight caused him to sink against them.
The arms heaved him onto their shoulders and helped him to a wooden bench, where he lay with crossed arms and closed his eyes. Angela rushed to crouch beside him and met the two pairs of stunned eyes above them. Cathal also saw them and murmured, "It's all right."
"No, explain what it is," Angela murmured back to him.
"I have end stage renal failure."
. . . June . . .
Cathal peeled his eyes open to see his brother and sister kneeling ahead of him. He eased onto his shoulder to better face them and curled the woven blanket over himself, squinting drowsily. They came over a couple times, he remembered. And at the moment, they seemed to come with a mission.
"Caitríona and I realized immediately when you shared your condition with us that we could not lose another loved one in the family," Alex explained as he strove to keep his eyes open. "She and I went to the hospital where you have been treated and got ourselves tested to see if either one of us was a match to your kidneys," he released his breath and smiled. "I am."
Cathal furrowed his brows more as he started to realize what that meant.
"Angela has been lovely to us," Caitríona smiled. "She mentioned that, in a sense, you have spent most of your lives alone. We wanted you to know that you are never going to have to be alone again."
"I could never ask that…"
"You're not asking," Alex crossed his arms with determination. "And we have it all settled."
Angela smiled as she crossed the room and kneeled down beside the side of the couch. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "I know you're surprised," she managed, "and I know you were already prepared to… to… but we can be together as a family now. We have more time."
There were several seconds where he could not seem to process the news. He was so prepared to die at any moment that to consider anything else was beyond his mind. But when he raised his eyes to see his wife cover her mouth as tears streamed down her cheeks and splashed onto his, and the expectant expressions on his brother and sister, tears emerged in his own eyes even before he realized the reality of the situation.
He was going to survive.
I cannot express my appreciation toward what you have done. I have a brother and a sister who somehow realized who I am, and they have embraced me as their brother. Alex has been matched to me as a kidney donor, and we have recovered from the surgery. Angela is smiling all the time. These have become the most important people in the world to me. The ones at your church have become important to me as well, and we plan to attend services. I asked my brother and sister if they knew how I came about, that perhaps my circumstances may diminish their love for me. They already knew, and it did not. Their father Mark is distant and refers to me only as "the Greek," but Angela has managed to make him smile a time or two. I am going to employee Alex at my gallery during the summers, because as it turns out, he has an eye and an appreciation for art. Caitríona has asked to plan a vow renewal ceremony on our five year anniversary, to which I hope you will come. I have been painting with your brother Liam again. When the dust settles, Angela and I plan to start fostering children with the hope that we can make the sort of differences in their lives that he made in mine. I also want to mention that Angela and I are going to have a daughter this next year. I must admit that I am still getting used to the permanency and the commitment involved in these new relationships, but I would not trade them for the world. I will see you soon.
Cathal ó Súilleabháin
* Matthew 19:26
Going to dialysis – "Be Somebody" by Thousand Foot Krutch
Visiting mother the first time – "Portrait of an Apology" by Jars of Clay
Visiting mother the second time – "Tea and Sympathy" by Jars of Clay
Stargazing into morning – "Cairns Hill" by Dervish
Staring at paintings – "Something Beautiful" by Jars of Clay
Driving – "The World's End" by Dervish
"The Voice" by Celtic Woman
* Wedding: "Romance 2" by Beethoven
Funeral procession – "Amazing Grace" by Celtic Woman