out of the ashes

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another Message to Mary

Hail Mary

I am from an Irish-Catholic family.
Right there that qualifies me to be a card-carrying member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and more.

And more.

My mother, God rest her soul, had a particularly deep devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary, in any of her manifold disguises. Ie., Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of County Cork, ad infinitum. I grew up thinking that The Blessed Mary Ever Virgin had more “persons” in her personhood than God Himself! I mean, depending on which spiritual persuasion you subscribe to, the most we see in God is three.
So this in itself threw me into a mental/spiritual muddle. There were just too many Marys to pray to. I began early on to withdraw into a sort of fantasy world in which I created my own Mary. Now, seeing that she was not listed in the Roman Catholic (should have been the Irish Catholic) hierarchy quite as high as Jesus, the Holy Ghost (that title threw me for a long time, too), or God the Father, I figured in my eight year-old mind that I’d be in a lot less trouble by making another her, instead of another them. I would be kind of blasphemous, maybe, but not totally, like I would have if I had invented God the Daughter. See my rationale?


So I grabbed one of Mom’s statues of Mary, including the dime she’d stuck underneath it to make sure the prayer she’d offered way back when got answered (dimes had the power, somehow, to insure this). Grabbed it and spirited it off to my bedroom in the basement. Situating it on my rickety nightstand that Pop had banged together for me in one of his cursing carpentry adventures, I found a white cloth and “decorated” it with numbers—1, 2,3, and so on. Lovingly. Then I draped the cloth over her head and shoulders—a shawl. Voile. My Blessed Lady of Arithmetic. At Our Lady of the Presentation Catholic School, I was an A student in Daydreaming, a B+ student in Cutting Up, but I was flunking Arithmetic. She’d help. And I even swiped another dime out of Pop’s pocket to add to the bribe underneath the statue.

Jim came home late one evening while I slept. Jim was my older brother, my idol, a student at Regis College (taught by the dreaded Jesuits). I’d been having a nightmare about him beating up on Pop, I think. Maybe it was Grandpa.

Jim slept with me in a big double bed. That was cool. All Irish gang up in multiples to sleep. It’s like none of us can afford twin beds or new mattresses or enough blankets. Or pillows.

So, Jim was studying…PHILOSOPHY…at college. Do not use CAPS for emphasis—but in this case it’s essential. God help all of us in our quiet home. He was also majoring in Coors, leading a group of other philosophy students at Joe’s Cave (a local bar) after classes. I don’t know what the Joe’s Cave discussion that night was all about, but Jim came rolling into the bedroom, hit the lightswitch (literally), and wanted to talk to me about Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Hegel, and of course, Augustine. Like I could understand any of it. Mary and all the divinities were hard enough, and I was sleepy; had a test in Arithmetic the next morning as well.

“Leave me alone. I’m sleeping.”
“Now wake up, Paddy. Yoush a smart kid…”

So I learned that Augustine was a Catholic, a good guy. The rest of them were Communists and screwballs. Basically. And then Jim noticed Blessed Mary of Arithmetic on the nightstand, and the dissertation switched gears and headed down a long, dark grade in the direction of Hell.

Grandpa slept in the room adjacent to ours. He was eighty-seven or thereabouts; quiet, well-mannered usually, and a light sleeper. Still, eighty-seven year old men need uninterrupted nights, and being situated next to mine and Jim’s room was bound to lead to a donnybrook in time. I don’t know to this day whether it was God, or Mary, angry about her un-regal shawl, or Jesus or the Holy Ghost, but I think it was one of them who wiggled an angry finger into our household. Someone. Maybe just the devil.

”Ain’t that Ma’s statue of Mary, Queen o’ Heaven?” His mood had soured somewhat, having run the philosophers from Germany into the theological mud. I glanced over at it and asked for help, very underbreath.

“Nope. It’s an old one. Umm…Blessed Mary of…” What?

Hail Mary, full of grace…

“Of what? Hic.” He said this in an unusually loud voice, not angrily, but the way an inebriated philosophy student would when confronted with a serious metaphysical dilemma. Question. Thing.

Grandpa woke up. He tapped on the thin wall separating our rooms with his gnarly old knuckles, which must have offended Jim.

“Ah, go to sleep, Grandpa. Hic.”

…the Lord is with thee…

There followed a rather one-sided exchange, as Grandpa would not back down and just plug his ears, then go to sleep. He kept mumbling. Jim kept answering, a little louder each time. This went on for some time until Jim left the room and went to grandpa. I heard, “Shaint Augustine…mumble, mumble, hic.” Some unintelligible reply. “You woushn’t know, though, woush ya’…mumble, mumble. Hic, hic?”

I slipped out of bed and knelt down to finish the Hail Mary, and threw in a couple more quick ones, just in case she was sleeping too.

Mom and Pop slept on the main floor. Pretty soon I heard stomping on the floorboards. And then, “Goddamit, Jim, go to bed!” Pop. Not Mom.

Jim replied in one of his Ciceroic bursts, with a few deleted expletives added for emphasis.

Pop came down. Mom, too. Marianne and Rosie. Mike and Donnie and Tim and Buddy and Uncle Jack (he lived with us, too). The house was small, and none of them had to travel very far to get to the scene of another midnight fight.

Mostly, the fight was between Jim and Pop because the rest of us were way too young; not in Jim’s league with fists, feet, and teeth. Yes, it didn’t take a genius to predict there’d be an all-out knock-down, drag-out brawl over philosophy that night. And all because I’d made another Mary.

By the way, at breakfast the next morning, Mom pulled me aside after serving up leftover corn beef and hash to everyone except Jim, who was sleeping it off, and told me it had been the right thing to do…dressing Our Lady of Switzerland’s Woes in a new gown; that my prayers would always be answered for the act.

“What’re all them numbers on that hankerchif, though?”

“Nuthin’ Ma. They were on there already.”

Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Message To Mary

Hi Mare!

Nope...wasn't the end of the world last night. That preacher got it wrong. But it WAS something.

I'm writing this message to you on St. Peter's laptop. Yeah. Oh, you're laughing? Well, hold on. "They" were swamped up here with statistics; keeping track of all us humans down there, so Jesus finally told Peter to go ahead and buy the biggest damned computer he could find (He didn't use that one word, lol). St. Peter was beside himself with joy and thanksgiving, he told me when they delivered me last night.
We had a nice chat for a while, him and me. He's a pretty neat guy.
He had to lay off ten million workers after half a dozen angels lugged the monstrous mainframe up here. That was the bad thing; all those now out-of-work souls. But they were able to re-assign them to the War Department, at least temporarily. He said--and I kind of have to agree--that he wasn't sure how good they'd be there, having been stuck behind their cushy desks all those thousands of years. Soft and flabby. Lucifer's guys didn't keep records like they do here, so all his lackeys have been out in the trenches, mixing it up with the leaner, meaner 6th Army Our Father assigned to earth after Jesus came home in 32 B.C. (St. Peter HATES the new term, Before the Common Era). Oh...A.D. Sorry.

Oh, he wants me to shake a leg and sign off. He loves hockey, he tells me, and wants to catch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on CNN Sports. I guess they're rebroadcasting it. He missed the live game. No TVs here. Weird. Maybe he'll let me watch American Idol with him next week. I hope the girl wins. Forget her name.
Anyway, I'll catch you later...and I'll see what I can do about getting you and your husband up here. Not sure why you missed the Rapture. I think his Windows crappy system screwed up. That's what I think. I mean, why in the name of all that's holy am I here, lol? Well, I am, and when they get a Mac and update the records--find out I was supposed to go down there, there'll be a real cat fight to get me to leave! They'll play hell kicking me out now. I expect to see you here pretty soon, though, and you'd better put in a good word for me with HIM:)
Say hi to all my friend's at Bookrix, okay?
I'll hang around Peter's office and after the game I'll see if I can use his laptop again:) I'll be talking to ya'. Hang tough.

Your feathery-winged friend,

He says I can call him Pete if I like. Ain't that cool? :) :) :) He and I are gonna' be real buddies!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Somewhere outside New York, July 7, 2014.

The sky is white-hot blue again this morning. Not the cooling blue we have always known. Blue with a searing reddish perimeter, like a heart wrenched upside down and ripped inside out. The heart that was the world is dying, and soon enough the rest of the body will follow in its wake.

Maggie and I have made it to the outskirts of New York, or what is left of it, yet I don’t think we’ll be able to go any farther east. No doubt everyone this side of the Rockies has tried to get here. It was stupid of me. I should have headed out of Omaha and tried for San Francisco, but I’m certain the same thing has happened there. Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle—anywhere there is, or at least was, a harbor with a boat. Yet, had I gone west I would not have happened upon this child.

The once-magnificent Big Apple bears little resemblance to the grand old center of culture it was just three short months ago when all this hell started. Nothing does. But the trees I’ve seen along the way are what seem to strike me the most; dead already in the heat. Our lovely elms, stately oaks and cottonwoods—mere ghosts, now. The grass everywhere has withered up. The highways have become like heating coils on a stove, jammed with abandoned cars and trucks that explode when the gasoline in the tanks ignites. Cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo stand without movement except for the few who’ve remained on their streets to parade around in sack cloth carrying doomsday signs, or roam like rabid dogs cornering anything weaker. A dwindling number of animals that aren’t yet lying dead beneath burnt out bushes stagger aimlessly, their ribs showing and their tongues hanging out. The once mighty Great Lakes have shrunk like rotten fruit, the shorelines almost lost in the shimmering distance. We all head east, but it is a fruitless journey.

Our lovely planet has stopped rotating.

No one knows precisely why, but we all know that it happened. For those lucky enough to still be connected 4-G, we know that physics was turned upside down. We know that the spinning slowed, and then stopped entirely. We haven’t been told why. The leading physicists don’t know why. It couldn’t happen, they said, but it did. The western hemisphere is facing the sun; the eastern is in continual darkness. We burn, they freeze, and all of us watch as the Atlantic rises. We wonder how long it will take until the Pacific is a gigantic graveyard of desert sand. Will the Atlantic and Indian Oceans attempt to fill in the void? No one is certain. Wild storms arise over the Atlantic as the earth tries to regain its balance. Did we cause this catastrophe? No one is certain. No one is certain of anything except that we will all perish, likely sooner rather than later.

We continue on in the direction of darkness and the only hope of salvation, like animals driven by instinct. I’d rather freeze to death than feel my blood begin to boil inside my veins. Who wouldn’t? And so we flock toward the sea, all of us, there only to be caught in a net. If the heat doesn’t kill us, the crazed search for food and water will. We will kill each other in the war to get these two things alone. We will kill each other to find a boat or a log so that we can leave this continent. In time, those left will need no particular reason at all to kill.

Maybe north.

Maggie cries. She wants her “Moomy,” but her moomy is dead. I have no idea about her father or her brothers. Dead too, I imagine, eaten by dogs or those who are starving and have no humanness left in them. Had I left her there outside Chicago two weeks ago, little Maggie would be no more. I couldn’t do it, and though it is difficult enough for me to find a scrap of bread or a thimble-full of water, I cannot abandon her to certain death. One of these animals will rape her and then eat her. Such is the insanity and depravity that has infected us. I’ve seen it.

Maggie tells me she is six years old. She’s black, and very pretty with tight ringlets of velvet hair, eyes the color of jet, and soft, intense features. She attended school and liked reading, spelling and recess, but cared little for arithmetic, she said. She and her family lived in a highrise tenement—I took it to be one, though she didn’t use the word tenement, just home. Two long months after the anomaly, her father and two brothers told Maggie and her mother to stay put; keep the door locked, that they’d return with food and water. Two more weeks passed and they failed to come back. Her mother took her hand in desperation, then, and left. They made it one hundred-fifty miles after having wandered through South Chicago for days looking for her father and brothers. I found her the morning after her mother died. I had to pull her kicking and screaming away from the body, but I knew what would happen if I left her behind.

“You’ll see her again someday, Maggie, but right now we have to keep you safe,” I said to her once her screaming subsided a few miles down the highway. She didn’t answer. Of course she couldn’t understand any of this horror. What six year-old could? How could anyone?

Still, by the time we reached the outskirts of Toledo she began to trust me a little and open up. I told her that I’d been a schoolteacher, that I too liked spelling and reading, but not so much recess as I was afraid of the monkey bars on the playground, and the terrifying prospect of returning to the schoolhouse to face arithmetic when the bell rang. At last she smiled up at me with those sparkling coal eyes.


We’ve taken to hiding at “night” under a vicious blue sky that has grabbed hold of the ravaged planet so that even the stars have fled forever. There is no beauty left in the heavens, only an ugly foreboding. The roads are unsafe, littered with the dead and nearly dead; the roving bands, and so when this never-ending hike has exhausted us we detour into the fields that were planted with corn in the spring. None of it has been harvested, nor will it ever be. Like all the other fields, this one we are in stretches over the cracked earth, with tall brown stalks that catch the hot winds and whisper further of death. Still, it is safe here, safer at least than beside the road or in one of the farmhouses.

I have devised a shelter to protect us from the searing rays of the sun out of a blanket we found outside Newark three days ago. Maggie gathered up four light, thin branches with Ys on one end from one of the dead trees near the road, and we sharpened the other to push into the soil at four points—far enough apart to carry the blanket. Without this crude shelter we would be forced to find an abandoned building and the dangers lurking within. I don’t know how the Bedouins stay cool, dressing as they do, sleeping in tents. Ours is stifling, but at least we’ve created a semblance of darkness. She will sleep soon, I hope, but I will not.

...For the complete story and the surprising conclusion, visit my book at Smashwords soon:)

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2011