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
Reprinted with permission
from The Miracle
Copyright © 2002
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly Press
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,
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.
Reprinted with permission
from Having Everything
Copyright © 1999
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly Press
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."
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?
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
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
"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
"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