Every Sunday morning for the past nine years and one month, my mother-in-law has made her dauntless progress up the centre aisle of Holy Family Church on the arm of my husband. This, she believed, was ample evidence that despite his marriage to an ex-nun—holy women all of them, although those who leave their vocation perhaps not holy enough—her Danny’s primary devotion was still to his mother, not to this drab failure of a Grade Three teacher who got her claws into the school principal, no less, the gentle, much-loved Mr. Lynch. Sweet and kind and considerate with his staff and with the children, but away from school, the embodiment of an ineffectual man. But I didn’t know that then.
Dan, fifty-two at his next birthday, looks on Sunday mornings less like a husband and more like a little boy untimely ripped from his lonely bed. Which is about accurate. And so, although this former Bride of Christ had been given the honour of the Lynch name, she was still relegated to six steps behind the real Lynchs. Head down, hands clasped on prayer book and rosary, the demeanour of a virtuous nun is still deep in her bones. Once long ago, right there on the church steps, I tried to take Dan’s arm while Mother Lynch was busy greeting a parishioner newly recovered from a nasty case of shingles, but it greatly upset her and hence it upset Danny too. I saw him reach for his inner pocket where he carried the slimmest of flasks, but of course, he didn’t dare. Poor Dan, if only he’d said “enough” to his mother, just once.
This morning I wore my plainest navy blue dress and a shabby clip-on white hat. I even pulled the little veil down, overdoing the demure thing a bit, but I wanted no one to detect any waning of my apparent dedication to my married version of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
It was only 10:30, but the church was already hot and stuffy. Two half-windows were propped open but there wasn’t even the tiniest of breezes to flutter the banks of candles on the main altar.
The Lynches always go to the second Mass, the High Mass. Regrettably, it’s the one the layabouts and late-night carousers drag themselves to as well as the one attended by those in the parish who really matter. Mother Lynch times her arrivals precisely, not too early so as to miss the appreciation of the well-heeled, and not too late so as to appear to have made Mass anything other than a priority. She advances with small sedate steps, her eyes on higher things except for a dignified nod here and there to those worthy of note. Incense wafts and benches creak and kneelers clunk while Mrs. Timothy, the ancient organist, plays tuneless melodies as the faithful flock to their customary seats—nearer the front for the righteous, and closer to the exits for those already up and on their way before Father’s had a chance to wish us, Go in peace.
Mother Lynch always dropped something in her wake as we proceeded up the aisle: a glove or a hankie or a holy card, mine to scurry after and retrieve while Mrs. Timothy played her part by dragging out the final pulsing chords until all three of us had safely reached the Lynch pew two back from the altar rail. Mother Lynch then made her grand gesture of allowing me to shuffle in ahead of her before she settled her generous bulk on the kneeling bench squarely between her Danny and me just as Father Tom arrived to welcome us all, sinners and saints, to God’s house.
I always made sure I meet Father Tom’s eye before hebegan, but this morning his eyes flashed over us for only the briefest second.
Tom’s sermon was on the parable of the Pharisee in the temple—a fitting topic for his swan song—but I didn’t listen to much of it. I kept imagining the glorious kerfuffle that will erupt tomorrow morning when they discover that Father Tom and I have left, together. My bags are almost packed, along with enough money to get me to my sister’s in Toronto if, well, that’s probably silly as I’m sure I won’t need it. We plan to leave around midnight. Mother Lynch will be long asleep, oblivious to my careful steps on the back stairs, and my Danny will surely be sleeping the sleep of the drunk in the other twin bed. I actually believed that one day he would become my Danny; I don’t know when I finally understood that even if I’d managed to convince him to try standing up to his mother, it was much too late. It appears that fears and fidelities learned during childhood are as indelibly inscribed on the soul as unforgiven sins.
I’ll probably never hear how the story of Danny and his mother ends, but right now I’m more anxious about my own. This morning while I was saying my prayers I suddenly felt a rush of fear, much like when old Sister Rita used to dig her cold and clammy fingers into my forearm to remind me of the word—and the will—of God. Perhaps the exquisitely perfect first husband of a Bride of Christ will always be a too-hard act to follow.