“Marg, I just received an email from Gwen asking if we’ve tried any of the recipes she sent us yet.”
She looked up with one of her don’t-disturb-me-when-I’m reading frowns. “We only got them three days ago,” she said. “She’s a pushy pest, your daughter.”
“Our daughter, Marg. She means well, trying to stay connected. It must be hard having boring parents.”
With a sigh she put down her book and patted the seat next to her. Frank obliged.
“It just so happens I’ve pulled one of them out to try tomorrow,” she said. “Thai Chicken Burgers. It sounds lovely. Only one problem, it calls for cilantro, which we don’t usually bother with. We promised to follow the recipes faithfully.”
“So why don’t we?” asked Frank.
“Follow the recipe. Get some cilantro. “
Her face crinkled. “It only needs a few teaspoons, and they only sell it in huge bunches.”
Frank resisted the urge to comment that no doubt cilantro bunches fetched the same price as a truffle, for he was within her striking distance. Instead he suggested that when she went shopping she should look at the cilantro display, for there was sure to be a few loose sprigs there that escaped from bunches, and she could pop these in the bottom of her shopping bag. She picked up her book and waved him away.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
A faraway voice was calling her.
“Mom, here’s someone to see you.”
She opened her eyes. Gwen beside the bed, standing over her, a tall young man hovering just behind. Good looking, sharp dresser.
“Mom, this is Father Mandy from our church.”
“Your church, dear, not mine.”
“Hello Mrs. Pryor, may I call you Marg?”
“No. It’s Marjorie, only Frank could call me Marg. Are you really a priest?” He nodded and smiled. Good teeth too, she thought, what a waste. “Well it’s nice to see you people no longer go about dressed like Dracula. Though I suppose it makes it easier for you to creep up on people.”
“Mom!” Gwen turned an apprehensive eye towards the priest. The smile was still there, undimmed.
“Never mind Nervous Nellie here,” said Marg with a chuckle, “you hear a lot worse in your business, I’m sure. But why are you here?”
As if answering her own question Marg suddenly broke out into a prolonged spell of short coughing fits, each of which had her flailing her stick-thin arms on the bed covers as she fought for air as each fit subsided. While an alarmed Gwen hurried out to find a nurse, Fr. Mandy sat down beside Marg. He had the good sense not to try and take her hand. With Gwen barely keeping pace, nurse Bridges strode into the room, picked up the abandoned cannula, promptly inserted the prongs back into Marg’s nostrils, and strode out again.
“She’s almost a grumpy as me,” said Marg in a broken glass voice. “She doesn’t want me to go on her watch. I just might do it to annoy her.”
“Mom, don’t talk like that.”
“Why not, I must be getting close if you’ve brought Fr. Randy along.”
“Yes, sorry. Understandable error.” Sly grin detected. “But you’re out of luck here Father. Don’t take it personal, I’m not buying a policy from any of you after-life insurance companies.”
“Your daughter is a Catholic. And you were baptised one.”
“Can’t blame me for that, I had no say in it.” She paused for breath, it was getting harder, but she was determined to have her say. “Frank and I did our best raising Gwen … kept her from drugs, sex … but she snuck out, got religion. Poor pet.”
She watched for a reaction, noticed Gwen and the priest exchanging glances. Here it comes, she thought.
Fr. Mandy turned to her and beamed. “Well, notwithstanding, Gwendoline thought I should come and see you, by way of comfort, as it were. I would be happy to hear your Confession, Marjorie, if that would give you peace.”
Marg, with a weary smile, shook her head. “You haven’t been listening,” she said, still croaking. “Why would I do that? How much sinning do you think I’m up to? Make a nice change! I’m ninety two, at death’s door and I’m tired of knocking.” She looked up, carried away by her thoughts. Her tone became softer. “Dear Frank, such a lovely man, quiet, gentle; he deserved better than me,” then more quietly, “Dead these eighteen years and I think of him every day. When the time comes, he said, don’t let me hang around; put me on the ice floe. But when the time did come he knew that wouldn’t happen. He wanted one last trip to the mountains with some younger climbers. Darned fool, he promised me he wouldn’t go beyond Base Camp.” There was a long pause, her eyes watering. “Annapurna got him; slipped into a crevasse, maybe he jumped.”
Marg slumped back exhausted. The room fell silent except for her rapid, high pitched wheezing. Outside, mimicking her with the cadence of its threep…threep a solitary house sparrow perched on a scrawny, leafless sapling. Down the length of the corridor came a muted burst of laughter from the nursing station. Gwen, sitting examining her hands could not see the priest’s enquiring look directed at her.
Then with start Marg sat bold upright, producing the same effect in both the others.
“There is one thing Father. A theft I never confessed to. Sheer wickedness. I’ll tell you about it, but I don’t want all that rigmarole of ‘Bless me for I have sinned.’ Then if you want to give me absolution after, fine. But not too many ‘Hail Marys’, I haven’t much time and I pray really slow.”
She did not wait for his answer, took a deep breath and began her contrition.
“Many years ago I was at the store one time when I made a startling discovery: It was that flat leaf Italian parsley and cilantro are remarkably similar. I needed parsley and a tiny bit of cilantro. So I pulled a few sprigs of cilantro and inserted them in the middle of a bunch of parsley. It was so well disguised I added a few more. I was brazen; I handed the bunch to the check-out girl, practically pushing it in her face. She never said a word. Got away scot-free!”
Her laugh was more of a cackle. Father Mandy stopped smiling. From his expression it was hard to tell if he was displeased or disappointed, though his tone was surly.
“That’s not what we are talking about.” He shook his head and shrugged. “It’s hardly a sin, Marjorie!”
“I know, but I didn’t want to disappoint you, having come all this way.”
It did not help that she was grinning, but perhaps it was a rictus. She made a sign to Gwen and patted the arm of the chair next to her. She took Gwen’s hand.
“Thank you for coming Father. Be off now. I think someone just opened that door.”
She closed her eyes.
by Hugh Marchand