Nebraska Center for Writers

THE MIRACLE
by JOHN L'HEUREUX

At this time — it is the early 1970s — Father Paul LeBlanc is still an ordinary parish priest in South Boston, a huge Irish ghetto that stretches from the Southeast Expressway down to Quincy and out to the coast. South Boston is very Catholic, with four different parishes and thirteen priests, and St. Matthew's parish, where Father LeBlanc is stationed, is the most Irish of them all. This is a neighborhood of spruced-up three-deckers-gray and white and tan-with some wood and brick two-deckers, and a few single-family houses with driveways. No matter the color of the houses, they all seem gray when you stand at the corner and look down the street. It is a gray parish. There are a lot of Irish bars-McGillicuddy's, Ahern's, Matt Doherty's-and even the 7-Eleven is run by a guy they call Maloney. Actually he is Italian, and his name is Meloni, but it sounds Irish when you say it. So. All the cops are from South Boston, and so are the firemen, and if you own a grocery store or a drugstore or a beauty shop in the parish, most likely you live there. Most people work at Gilette or city hall or one of the utility companies. Nobody has money and everybody has something they are after, a better job or an education for their kids or a house of their own with a front yard and a backyard. Unlike the hippies who spend their time lying down in the street to protest the war in Vietnam, everybody here in St. Matthews works and expects to go on working. Father LeBlanc loves the place and he loves being a priest. There are no miracles in his life except the ordinary ones-waking, eating, speaking, sleeping-and he doesn't aspire to miracles. He just wants to be a good man and a good priest and, mostly, he keeps out of trouble.
Mostly, because in fact he is often in trouble, though not serious enough trouble to get himself exiled. He has protested against the war in Vietnam, as most of the priests do, but it is the way he did it that was bad: at Sunday mass, during the Prayer of the Faithful, he said-it just came to him, he didn't plan it-"Let us pray that our Lord will forgive our country the murders we commit each new day in Vietnam," and the congregation responded, haltingly, "Let us pray to the Lord." The phone rang all afternoon as parishioners with sons in Vietnam called to complain. Father LeBlanc was summoned to the pastor's office and, after a long lecture on common sense and moral responsibility, Father Mackin asked him, please, to think about what he was going to say before he said it. On the following Sunday, Father LeBlanc apologized from the pulpit. That was a bad moment.

Reprinted with permission
from The Miracle
Copyright © 2002
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly Press


HAVING EVERYTHING
by JOHN L'HEUREUX

Philip Tate was forty-five, and he had everything — a distinguished career, a still-beautiful wife, two healthy kids in top schools — and now he had the Goldman Chair. Furthermore he was a good man, essentially.
He was thinking these things, a comfy self-evaluation appropriate to the moment, as that old fool Aspergarter rose to offer his toast. "Philip Tate and his lovely wife Maggie," Aspergarter said, and then blah blah blah, who cares, on and on. Philip looked around the room at his handsome friends in their designer clothes, at the mahogany table and the lead crystal and the heavy sterling, at the deep red walls with the perfectly lit matching Klees, and suddenly he wanted out of here and out of these people's company and out of this straitjacket life that was suffocating him and made him want to rip off his clothes and scream "No" and "No." He smiled instead and tuned into the toast once again. Aspergarter was still droning on — Philip's career as physician, as endocrinologist, as psychiatric voyager blah and blah — but finally, when nobody could stand another second of it, he ground to a halt: "To Philip Tate," he said, "long life, good health, our eternal esteem. Please raise your glass with me to the new Tyler P. Goldman Chair of Psychiatry."
They all raised their glasses and drank.
Philip stood up. He thanked Aspergarter and this splendid group, his friends, colleagues, their spouses, and said that he was speechless — as he often was — but this time he would follow his best instincts and say nothing. "Except thank you, thank you, thank you."
And so it was over. A truly dreadful evening. Then goodbyes and thanks and more good-byes and at last they were in their car, driving home.
It was a beautiful June night, cool after a long sunny day, the kind of night that made people remark how lucky they were to live in Boston — in Cambridge, actually — the spring, the fall. But then there were the goddam winters, the ghastly summers ... well, forget it.
They drove in silence, thinking.
Philip was thinking about the dinner party. From any reasonable point of view, it had been a great success. His friends had been there, some enemies but mostly friends, and they had all been happy for him, or at least most of them had been happy and the rest had pretended, and Maggie had been good, very good in fact, so he too should be happy, shouldn't he? He should be triumphant. But he wasn't.
[MORE]

Reprinted with permission
from Having Everything
Copyright © 1999
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly Press


THE HANDMAID OF DESIRE
by JOHN L'HEUREUX

The flight attendant, serene in her Donna Karan pants suit, stopped halfway down the aisle. She frowned briefly and then allowed a business smile to play on her face as she pointed an accusing finger at Olga. Her fingers were long and white and on the accusing one she wore a turquoise ring, a terrific gift from her Denver boyfriend, a Thomasite priest.
"Your seat belt," the attendant said, admiring her finger with its big ring.
"Turquoise is lucky," Olga said.
"Oh God, you know!" the attendant said. "Isn't it wonderful!" She looked again at the ring, forgetting her role as flight attendant and becoming for the moment simply what she was, a lucky young woman with a husband and a lover. She bent over and held out her hand to give Olga a better look.
"Lucky," Olga said, her fingertips barely touching the mottled blue-green stone. "Unless it's from a monk. From a monk, turquoise is not lucky. This is true."
"A monk?" The attendant yanked her hand away and hid it behind her back. There was something wrong here. This woman was peculiar. Dangerous maybe. Besides, she had an accent. The attendant stared at Olga for further signs of craziness. Olga stared back, innocent, or maybe just stupid. "Your seat belt," the flight attendant said in a firm voice. "You've got to fasten it."
Olga reached for the belt, perhaps fastening it, perhaps not. "I'm doing my job, only," the attendant said, conciliatory now. "It's the law."
Olga smiled.
The flight attendant stood there in the aisle. She was troubled, uncertain what to do next, tempted — for no reason she could see — to throw herself into this woman's arms and weep and ask forgiveness. One last chance.
As the flight attendant moved away, hand to her hair, Olga added, "Take care with that ring."
Olga had her notebook at the ready, but she did not bother to jot down the flight attendant. The flight attendant was irrelevant. Who could care about this silly woman with her priest lover and her anonymous husband? She mattered to God, of course, if there was a God, and to her lover and maybe even to her husband — but not to Olga, not now, and not in the future, at least not in any narrative conceivable at this point.
Olga sat back to consider the multifariousness of human nature and to endure the flight.
The plane landed in San Francisco at the appointed time. There had been delays, of course, first in New York, then in Denver, but good tail winds and good luck had brought the plane in at exactly 3 p.m.
Inside the terminal a small crowd had gathered, pressed against the velvet rope. Everybody was looking for some one person. Professor Zachary Kurtz would be looking for Olga, so his letter had promised, but nobody approached her even though in her black rain cape and floppy hat she was highly visible. She smiled impartially at everyone, at no one, as if she were a Hollywood star at a premiere. She touched her dark glasses with her free hand and gave the crowd this smile which, if they wanted to, they could understand. Several people turned and looked at her, and Zachary Kurtz also looked. Someone pointed and said, "Isn't she that actress? The homely one that does those serious parts?" "Where?" someone said. And then she was gone.
It was Friday afternoon, rush hour, when luggage is always delayed but Olga's luggage was at the carousel, waiting for her. And, for her, a cab stood ready at the curb, even though rain was falling and important executives stood about, diminished, cursing. Olga ignored them and got into her cab.
"I want to go to the University, to the faculty club," she said.
"S.F. State? U.S.F.? Berkeley? Which?"
"The university," she said. "I know it's a distance, but not to worry."
The cab driver examined her in his rear view mirror. He could not place her accent, which surprised him because he was a student of comparative literature and spoke five languages reasonably well.
"That's gonna be nearly fifty dollars, lady," he said.
"Forty-one," she said, "and a few pennies. But I'll pay you fifty providing you don't talk. I have my thoughts to do."
"Sure thing," he said. "What part of Europe you from? Eastern? Belarus?"
He said, "I thought I heard an accent."
He said, "I'm from Denver myself, but I study languages. My name is Daryl," he said.
Olga said nothing.
"I just wondered about your accent?" he said, his brows up.
Suddenly Olga took off her dark glasses and leaned forward so that her head was almost touching his bushy red beard. In the mirror he could see her face clearly and he could see the hard expression in her eyes. He did not wait for her to speak.
"Okay, lady," he said. "You're the boss."
"Yes," she said, and put her dark glasses on again.
Just outside the city the rain stopped and they drove in silence through the lion-colored foothills toward the green fastnesses of the university. Olga was seen studying the distant mountains as the driver shot her occasional furtive glances in his mirror. She was his age, thirty, maybe more. And she had just the trace of an accent. Rumanian? At some point she took off her glasses and her floppy rainhat and he could see her black hair pulled straight back and knotted in a large bun. Very severe. Very middle European. Though she wore no expression whatsoever, her face seemed somehow tragic. Or perhaps menacing. She sat swathed in her black cape, impassively staring at the speeding landscape, thinking what?
Olga was thinking of the next hours, of her new book, of her task here at the university. Her task was to rescue some lost souls from the effects of their scandals, satisfy a few passions, answer some importunate prayers, and, on the side, to teach a little course in feminist drama and another in literary theory. She did not feel tragic and certainly not menacing; she merely looked that way because she was contemplating the final end of all things and the path that led there. She was wondering what form her invention would take.
As the cab fumed smoothly into the long avenue of palm trees leading to the heart of the campus, and thus to the faculty club, Olga unsnapped her collar and in one deft gesture slipped the cape off her shoulders and from under her body. She pulled a large pin from her hair, and then three small ones; as she shook her head, her long black hair cascaded about her face and shoulders. The cab driver, sneaking a glance in his mirror, was astonished to see that his formidable passenger had completely disappeared and in her place sat this young woman with lots of black hair and a yellow skirt and sweater. The cab lurched to the right and then to the left, but it did not upset Olga who continued removing all traces of lipstick with a tissue. From her large leather handbag she took a pair of beige shoes with flat heels and exchanged them for the black pumps she had been wearing. She ran her tongue over her lips, her long fingers through her hair; she sighed as if she were at last ready to begin.
When the cab pulled up in front of the faculty club, the meter read forty-one dollars and eleven cents. The driver checked the meter and then checked Olga yet one more time. He took her bags from the trunk and would have carried them into the faculty club for her, but she would not let him. Instead she handed him a worn fifty dollar bill and waited for him to leave. He reached in his pocket for change.
"Don't do that," she said. "We made a pact."
"Well, thanks," he said and got into his cab. But he did not drive away. He sat there watching as Olga, ignoring her luggage, went up the stairs, light and quick, a schoolgirl in a yellow outfit with a leather handbag slung over her shoulder. How could he have thought she looked tragic? Or menacing.
"Daryl's the name," he called out. And, to Olga's surprise, he added, "Be seeing you."
She stopped then. At the start of a book you could never be certain which characters would eventually come to matter. She cautioned herself to keep an open mind. She went on.

Reprinted with permission
from The Handmaid of Desire
Copyright © 1996
by John L'Heureux
Soho Press


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