First Time, part 1 (Davies Tales #9a)

On the third Sunday in June, Aidan Davies woke up in the bed in the guest room of his parents’ house. This was not his room, though it featured several artifacts from his childhood like a haphazardly designed display at the natural history museum. This is where young Aidan struggled to open the broken drawer of his bureau for his entire childhood, he mused, looking at the dingy piece of furniture. If you’ll direct your eyes above the dresser, this is where he simply had to own a poster from each Star Wars film, even The Phantom Menace. And now, if you’ll look to your right…

Davies’s thought trailed off as he examined another cheap piece of furniture that had been in his room for as long as he could remember. Since his contact lenses were bathing in solution in the bathroom, he couldn’t really see the squat shelving unit. But he could tell you exactly how much the middle shelf bowed under the weight of old books and how many CD cases would fit up top. However familiar the furniture was to him, though, the room itself was not his. His parents had moved when he was a junior in college, and he had needed directions to find his own house when he came home for Christmas that year. The move had happened five summers ago, and during that interval, most of Aidan had stopped grieving the loss of his bedroom. But the part of him, the part that would rather root around in the closet under the stairs for his old LEGO sets rather than go through with the events today held in store for him, still cherished the memory of the sky blue walls and beanbag chair reading nook of his old house.

Today. Sunday. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. He didn’t have to get up for another hour, but he was restless. Today was an important day. He rose, brushed his teeth, and showered. He pulled the dark suit off the hanging bag and laid it on the bed. He donned his black shirt and snapped the white collar in place around his neck. He looked in the mirror. Yesterday morning, he was a deacon; today, he was a priest. A dozen other priests and Davies’s bishop had laid hands on him and prayed to God to make Aidan a priest, too. I suppose it took, he thought as he reached around and touched his left shoulder blade. His father had laid a firm, yet trembling, hand there yesterday, and Aidan could still feel a faint echo of the blessing held in Alastor Davies’s touch. He traced the lines of a cross, imagining he could feel the relief carving of his tattoo through his clothing. Then, picking up his jacket, he padded out of the room.

“Aidan?” The door to his parents’ room was cracked to let the cats in and out and his mother had spotted him.

“Morning,” he said as he poked his head around the doorframe. Lucy Davies was up to her chin in sheets and blankets, despite the early summer warmth rising with the sun. Anselm had annexed most of Lucy’s pillow, while Aquinas staked his claim to the foot of the bed.

Aidan’s father began the tradition of naming the family’s cats after medieval theologians during his time in seminary. Lucy took Aidan and his older sister Brigid to the animal shelter, and they argued all the way home over what to call their new pet. The argument continued inside the house, making Alastor look up from his reading. He tapped the cover of the book: “How about Bernard?” he suggested.

“But it’s a girl kitty, daddy,” Brigid said.

“No problem, dear. Bernard was from Clairvaux, so we can call her “Clair.”

Brigid beamed at him. Aidan, at age three and a half, hadn’t followed the conversation very well, and he thought his father had said “éclair,” which Aidan had recently discovered to his delight, so he beamed too. Clair was with the Davies family until the summer before Davies himself began seminary, but she had succumbed to a combination of old age and fear of the vet’s office. Six months later, Lucy and Alastor brought home two new cats. “Who are you studying in systematic theology right now?” Alastor asked Aidan over the phone.

“Anselm. Aquinas is next,” came his son’s reply. Luckily, the cats were both boys.

Aidan sat on the corner of the bed and scratched Aquinas behind the ears. “Nervous?” his mother asked.

He looked at her. When his mother asked him about his emotional state, she was usually reflecting her own feelings. What does she think is going to happen? Maybe that I’ll trip on my vestments and bang my head on the altar, he thought. Lucy had always had a fairly vivid imagination about how his various sporting engagements could end in brain damage or missing fingers. Perhaps, she’s confusing church with soccer. “Mom, the words are printed, I took a class in this, and I’ve been watching Dad do it my whole life,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

The last three words sounded hollow, even to him. Lucy eyed him appraisingly. “If you say so, dear. Just don’t forget that God is there, too. That’s the whole point.”

She spoke the last words in the middle of a yawn, rolled over, and began rhythmically breathing a little too convincingly to be properly asleep. Aidan took that as his cue and left the room while Anselm resettled himself on Lucy’s pillow. As Aidan shut the door, Lucy’s breathing slowed, and Aidan wondered if anyone in the history of the world had ever feigned realistic sleep. It’s like wondering if the refrigerator light stays on when you close the door, he thought.

He moved down the hallway, passing the collages of his and Brigid’s infancy, of his childhood athletics and Brigid’s recitals, of their prom pictures and graduations. He arrived in the kitchen to find his father sitting down to his ritual bowl of oatmeal. You could set your watch to his Sunday morning routine. Aidan sliced off two thick pieces of the banana bread Lucy had made yesterday and sat down opposite his father. Always the sports section first. “Did the Sox win?” Aidan asked.

“Walk off double in the tenth. Hit the top of the scoreboard just out of reach of the left fielder’s glove,” said Alastor without looking up from the paper. “But they blew the save in the ninth so the extra inning heroics shouldn’t have been needed.”

“So the musical chairs at closer continues,” Aidan said. During the spring and summer (and into autumn if the Red Sox made the playoffs), baseball accounted for about eighty percent of the conversations between Aidan and his father. Even on a day like today we’re talking baseball. Aidan picked up the discarded sports section as Alastor moved on to the comics. I find that oddly comforting. Aidan’s hand strayed once again to his left shoulder blade. Alastor looked up. “Nervous.”

The word wasn’t a question as it had been when Lucy had asked. It was a statement, one that a veteran paratrooper might say to a new recruit before his first jump. It was the kind of statement that gives permission to feel the emotion but withholds permission to remain safely in the aircraft. “A little, I guess.”

“Just remember,” Alastor began.

“I know, I know,” Adain cut him off. “Mom already reminded me. God is there, too.”

“That’s true.” Alastor suppressed a smile, the crinkles around his eyes growing heavy. “But that’s not what I was going to say.” Aidan put down the sports section. “What I was going to say was: don’t forget to go to the bathroom before you put on the chasuble.”

Aidan let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding and started laughing, first quietly to himself and then louder and louder. Alastor joined in, and soon they were laughing just for laughter’s own sake.

An hour later, Aidan left the restroom at the church. He thought he might vomit like he had before many a high school soccer game. But he didn’t. His father was waiting for him, an ornate poncho draped over one arm. Aidan took the chasuble, put his head through its hole, and smoothed out the sleeves over his alb. He turned to the mirror in the sacristy. Well, you look like a priest, he told himself. You’re first celebration of Holy Communion. Are you ready?

Aidan put a hand on his father’s shoulder and pushed him toward the doorway. “I’m ready,” he said.

(…to be continued.)

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