The Message — #writephoto Flight

Sue Vincent's photo Flight

Bernard lived with his aunt, a widow without children, for the spring semester of the third grade. He was familiar with his aunt’s home where she held Christmas Eve parties late after Midnight Mass. His parents enrolled him in the nearby parish school.

His aunt would send him on errands to the grocer. On his first errand he brought back a loaf of bread, among other items as requested, and his aunt frowned. “See how you’ve pressed this loaf? It is ruined. How can I toast it? You think my money grows on trees! You’re selfish!” On future errands he paid special attention to the bread.

Realizing Bernard didn’t have a rosary, his aunt gave him one. She pointed out the five sets of ten beads for the Hail Marys separated by a bead for the Our Father. She explained the three sets of five mysteries that one had to think about when reciting the prayers. Although eager to learn and fascinated with the beads’ magic, Bernard was confused. He had more questions than his aunt had time for. One night he walked into her bedroom holding the rosary. “I don’t know if I skipped one. My fingers slipped. Does it count? Do I have to start over?” She told him to go back to bed and not bother her. The next day he was sent to the rectory after school.

In the rectory Bernard was told that his aunt wanted the priest to talk to him about “scruples”. Bernard was embarrassed and he didn’t remember what the priest said, but this was his first realization that the magic was very deep. Over the decades he came to understand that it was not just Catholic or Buddhist rosaries or Hindu mantras. The magic included every single word humans said or even thought to each other. He looked back on that five-minute visit with a parish priest as a life-changing miracle.

After that semester, his parents took him back to his old school. The parties at his aunt’s stopped. In a few years, his aunt moved to a drier climate for her health. He did not see her again, except unexpectedly once many years later when Bernard rented a house with five other graduate students.

As Bernard was heading toward the kitchen, he saw the top half of his aunt appear about ten feet in front of him. She was walking away as she turned to him. Her words appeared in his mind: “I’m sorry.” What could she be sorry for? Bernard remembered the deformed bread. He mentally thought, “It’s OK.” She vanished.

Three days after seeing his aunt, his mother called him. She told him his aunt died a few days ago. They were just informed. His aunt did not want his father to drive the distance to the funeral and what little she had she left to the church.

Bernard told his mother that his aunt appeared to him. He didn’t tell her about his aunt’s message. He never told his parents about that damaged loaf of bread and he didn’t want them to think badly of her now. Simply saying he saw a ghost would be enough of a shock and maybe worth a joke the next time they met. He didn’t mind. He was too old to be sent to the priest.

I met Bernard when he was retired living in a high-rise condo. Looking out the window at a party, we saw two pigeons playing like children over the tops of houses as the sun set deepening the shadows. They reminded him of his father and his aunt, now both deceased. He found it hard to imagine either of them as children although now he had no problem imagining them as birds. It occurred to Bernard that maybe his aunt’s message wasn’t for him but for his father, her brother, and he failed in his task that day to pick up the phone and tell his dad that he should give his sister a call.

After hearing this story from Bernard, I teased him. “Hey! Did all this really happen?” He thought for a while and said, “I suppose this story is a mixture of truth and fiction. The part I can’t forget, and the part you probably found unbelievable, is the part that actually happened. The rest, the parts you probably found believable enough, are the parts I can’t remember so well. It is as close to the truth as I know but telling the full truth about anything is thankfully impossible and unnecessary.”


Linked to Sue Vincent’s Flight #writephoto.
Photo provided by Sue Vincent for the prompt.

Sue Vincent's #writephoto icon
Sue Vincent’s #writephoto icon

Author: Frank Hubeny

I enjoy walking, poetry and short prose as well as taking pictures with my phone.

27 thoughts on “The Message — #writephoto Flight”

  1. Brilliant tale Frank. Only a couple of days ago I was discussing, with my daughter, false, or imprinted, memories. I find that, as I get older, I am no longer sure that what I remember is, in fact, a true memory, or is it just the fact that the story has been told so many times that it is filed, in my brain, as such! Not that it matters a great deal anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think our stories grow on us especially if we can’t remember details clearly. Bernard’s inability to remember what the priest said, but felt it to be significant, was like a seed that developed throughout his life. His remembrance of his aunt appearing before him, since he couldn’t forget it, was different. The event was clear, but details around it filled in its significance as he grew older. I am surprised at what I have forgotten and then remember. Where does that forgotten memory come from? Thanks, Peter!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a lot to think about here. “The magic included every single word humans said or even thought to each other.” Yes.
    I do think spirits return as birds. And those undelivered messages…(K)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A most thought provoking post, Frank. I often think of my childhood memories and I wonder if they really are memories that I have myself or whether they are my memories of discussions I overheard about the particular incident I think is a memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a lot we forget or confuse with what did not happen. I tried to present two different perspectives on this. On the one hand, Bernard couldn’t remember what the priest said to him, but he remembers being deeply affected by it. There are memories, on the other hand, he can’t forget like his aunt’s appearance and perhaps the bread incident. Other less stable memories circle around that experience. In either case, I wonder where our memories come from or go to. Our brains filter them, but I don’t think it stores or generates them. Thanks for the comment, Robbie!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What I appreciate most about this story is how you handled the shift from Bernard’s memories to your conversations with him. The change is tone is very well done, and really lends the right atmosphere to the ghost story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wanted Bernard to comment on the truth of his own story in the first person and so I felt I needed to enter the story to give him an opportunity to affirm it. I am glad you liked that part.

      Like

  5. HoMe oF EMoTioNs
    And SeNseS ATtaCHinG
    WorDs
    SpiRiT
    aS EsSeNce
    aWay froM LabELs
    WriTinG Love’s Hope
    For Life and Liberty
    Happiness Pursuing
    more
    than
    empty
    bones
    oF FActS
    EMoTioNs
    SeNSes Move
    Connect Create
    Words after affect
    in effect as Love Most
    Flesh and Blood RiSinG
    OrgaNiC
    aS
    TeXt..:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Words get attached to our senses and emotions. I don’t think they are ever able to replace those sensations, but they bring us back powerfully to them and guide them. In the story Bernard received some words and gave some in exchange and they influenced his entire life. Thanks, Fred!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. SMiLes.. Great
        Story mY FriEnd..
        TruELeTTeRs
        WoRDs
        EDiFiCE
        LoVE
        For
        Those
        CapAble
        oF FeeLinG
        SeNSinG More
        Than Empty
        SHeLLs..
        As that applies
        To All Symbols
        Including
        aLL
        We Come
        To FeeL anD
        SeNse.. ESsenCE
        oF LiVinG
        ShELLS
        ALiVE
        oR NoT
        As LiFe
        aS LoVE..:)

        Liked by 1 person

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