I started this novel about a month before baby #4 had me hurling my guts out in the toilet, and by the time I was up for writing again, the thread of inspiration was gone.
The characters in this novel are amongst my oldest and dearest, so one day it will be written and published, come hell or high water. For now, it will continue to grow and mature in that secret place where stories reside before they’re ready for the world.
When I re-read this chapter, I thought that the end seemed forced and unnatural, and lacked the strength of the opening. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not tackling this particular story for the time being.
News of the Father’s arrival spread like a wildfire through the town’s grapevine, and after only two days everyone had heard the name: Evan Malachi, the traveling priest. He was staying with their own pastor, would be delivering the sermon on Sunday, and was already completely booked up for lunches and dinners for the entirety of his stay.
Lyra was at the early morning market when she first heard the name. As she studied through her lists of groceries, two middle-aged women passed by chittering about how attractive the traveling priest was. By the time she was juggling three baskets full of vegetables, she had heard all about Father Malachi. No one was able to agree on his age, but they all reported that he had vibrant gold hair and a handsome face. Those who had already spoken to him said that he was engaging and articulate, with charisma to spare.
It was no surprise to Lyra when the first thing out of Mrs. Grady’s mouth was, “Have you heard about Father Malachi?”
Setting one of the baskets down on Mrs. Grady’s table, Lyra replied, “I’ve heard of nothing else.”
“I have yet to meet him, but everyone who has is absolutely smitten with him. Oh, if only there was a way to get him over to our house for dinner!”
“I’m sure that you’ll think of a way to ask him,” Lyra answered, distracted. She was staring at her list, frowning at the realization that she had forgotten to write down the price of the carrots. No matter what everyone else said, that darned Father Malachi was already making her life more difficult than she cared for. She was going to have to estimate low, and suffer the difference in her pay.
“Here’s the price for the groceries, Mrs. Grady. I’ll be back to clean after I finish making the rest of my deliveries.”
“Do a thorough job this time. We’ll never know if a certain visitor is going to be coming over.” Mrs. Grady took the receipt from Lyra and disappeared towards her husband’s study, while Lyra let herself out through the back door.
After her father’s death four months ago, Lyra had taken up employment between three different households, managing the basic upkeep and errands. None of them were rich enough to afford a full-time servant, but they could pay her for a couple hours of work every day. Lyra was barely managing to keep her father’s house, and after only four months she was already beginning to feel worn down.
Her father had been a carpenter, and the two of them had lived comfortably. Her mother died when she was very young, but her father often shared with her the locket he wore that contained her mother’s picture, and told wonderful stories about his deceased wife. Whenever Lyra snuggled against her father’s chest and listened to him talk about her mother, it was easy to imagine that she had stepped out to pick wildflowers, and would come back home soon to pop delicious, puffy bread dough into the oven to bake. When her father died, she lost her mother a second time as well.
Lyra worked hard, and despite Mrs. Grady’s implication, she was one of the best maids around. Her three houses were better kept than Mr. Neils, the only man in town with both cooks and servants. She refused to work for someone who was always holding the subject of rent and threat of eviction over her head, and Mr. Niels already had the rest of the town in the palm of his hand. Lyra didn’t want to give him more power over her than he already had.
Like everyone else, Lyra attended church every Sunday, but not because she believed in it. She wanted her employers to see her there and rest assured in the idea that she was too pious to ever steal from them, but the truth was that Lyra hated God. She would sit in her pew every week and curse Him for taking away good people like her father and mother, while money-grubbing landlords like Mr. Niels continued on in perfect health. Lyra couldn’t love a God who ran the world in such a fashion. She still cried every night over the death of her father, but she was never going to let her sorrow show in public.
As far as she was concerned, Father Malachi was a pawn for a vengeful and petty God, and the sooner he left, the sooner her life would continue on the same as before, though she didn’t particularly like where it was going – or, rather, wasn’t.
Even still, after leaving the third household to return home, having spent the entire day endlessly hearing others talk about him yet again, her curiosity was piqued. Despite herself, Lyra was beginning to look forward to Sunday.
Lyra started her work early in the morning, so she would always have the afternoons and evenings free to herself. She liked to spend them in the meadow just outside of town when she wasn’t busy with her own survival, and had beaten a little path through the woods with her journeying, though she was careful to make sure that it looked like it was only used by deer – the meadow was her secret, and she didn’t want it to become a popular spot for picnics. Her own chores were simple and easy to complete now that she was living alone, and once she was done she set to work making a little basket of food. Then Lyra was off.
It had turned into a hot summer day, but the shade of the trees was cool and pleasant. The worries that usually plagued her began to fade away as she walked through the forest, remaining behind as she moved towards her sanctuary. The birds were singing energetically in the tree tops, and Lyra closed her eyes as she took in a deep breath, taking a moment to feel the forest around her with her spirit.
A loud thump and breaking twigs made her jump and gasp, and Lyra’s eyes snapped open to see a startled looking man standing in front of her. He had vibrant gold hair that hung freely around his shoulders, and his face was smooth, young, and handsome. His eyes held Lyra’s gaze, a vivid shade of turquoise that held more wisdom than she had seen before, even amongst the eldest members of her community. He was wearing a simple black cassock with buttons down the front, but his figure looked strong and fit underneath, and around his neck he wore a gold cross on a long chain. Lyra didn’t have to guess at his identity.
“Good evening!” he exclaimed, somehow seeming more off-balance than Lyra felt. “I believe we haven’t met before; I’m–”
“I know.” Lyra tore her eyes away from his, then pushed past him to keep going to the meadow. She felt indignant, that he would invade her private sanctuary then look as if she had stumbled across his secret. He followed after her.
“Forgive me if I startled you.” His voice was like velvet, soft yet masculine, with a cadence that penetrated her heart and set it at ease. Lyra liked it, and could easily imagine herself sitting and listening to him preach every day if she didn’t have anything else to do; she now understood why no one could talk of anything else. He continued speaking, “I was doing a touch of exploring, and I hadn’t realized that any people knew about this path. I wouldn’t have bumbled so much if I had expected to find you.”
Lyra stopped and turned to face him. “Look, Father, as far as I know I’m the only person who knows about this place, and I’d like to keep it that way. I come here to be alone.” She hoped that her emphasis would help him understand the hint, though she was conflicted about whether or not she actually wanted him to leave. Somehow, she had ended up with Father Malachi all to herself, to talk about whatever she desired with no one around to interrupt. Lyra found that she had a lot on her mind that she wanted to say to the traveling priest, or perhaps more to God through him.
“I am sworn to secrecy, my daughter.” He smiled as he drew his fingers across his lips.
Lyra quickly walked across the meadow to sit down on her favorite spot of soft grass, biting the inside of her cheek to keep herself from crying. Father Malachi had made her think of her deceased father, and her soul stung with the absence of her parents. She had every intention of letting go and sobbing, but he was still following her and she didn’t want him to see her weaknesses. Lyra didn’t say anything as she straightened her skirt over her legs, then pulled an apple out of her basket and began shining it to give herself something to do.
“May I ask your name?” Father Malachi sat down next to her.
“Lyra,” she snapped.
“It’s a beautiful name, and it suits you well.” Without asking permission, he reached over and took the apple out of Lyra’s hands, then took a big bite through it’s shiny red skin and crisp fruit. “Mm, it’s very delicious. Thank you.”
Lyra was stunned. “That’s . . . mine!”
He grinned and held it out to her. “Would you like it back?”
“No!” Lyra couldn’t make heads or tails out of his behavior, and she wondered if he wasn’t entirely of sound mind, but that didn’t stop her outrage. “That was supposed to be part of my dinner!”
“What else did you bring?” He reached for her basket, but she snatched it up and held it against her chest.
“Got you.” Father Malachi took another bite of the apple and winked. “Are you feeling better now?”
Something new and indescribable filled Lyra’s center, a sort of epiphany mixed with even more confusion. “What?” All of the fire was gone from her now.
“You were on the verge of tears, but you didn’t want it to show. Unfortunately, my dearest daughter, you’re not as skilled at hiding your feelings as you think you are.”
Lyra felt insulted yet relieved. “I was under the impression that everyone else in town was feeding you. There’s no reason for you to take my food as well.”
“Yes, I have been promised an assortment of exquisite meals from the finest cooks that your town has to offer, but that doesn’t change the pleasure of an apple. So, my dearest daughter, is this really the entirety of your dinner?”
Lyra felt herself blushing, partly in shame over her meager meal, and partly because he kept referring to her as his ‘dearest daughter.’ She was already becoming attached to the traveling priest, and she knew that it would break her heart to watch him move on. “Yes . . .”
“But you can cook, with talent as well.”
“How did . . .?” Lyra stared at him, numbly handing over the basket when Father Malachi gestured for it.
“Smoked gouda,” he said as he pulled out her cheese. “It combines wonderfully with fresh apple, yet is a little more costly. From the state of your dress, you are carefully managing your finances, yet you still decided to indulge in this particular treat.”
Lyra clenched her jaw and said tightly, “I stopped cooking after my father died four months ago.”
“Ah, the reason for my dearest daughter’s pain.” Father Malachi set the basket down and wrapped an arm around Lyra, pulling her against him. “It’s perfectly acceptable to hurt. You don’t have to hide from me.”
“I miss my daddy.” Lyra felt like she was reverting to childish behavior, that she wasn’t carrying herself in a manner than was appropriate for a grown woman. Tears slipped out of her eyes, and she wrapped her arms around Father Malachi’s neck as she began to cry. “I miss my daddy so much!”
How did this end up happening?
Somehow, Father Malachi had pierced her mind and stolen the thoughts that she kept hidden there.
Lyra was a small child, crying in the arms of a stranger over the loss of her father, and now that she had grasped him she didn’t want to let him go. She wanted to stay with Father Malachi, to always be his dearest daughter, to depend on him for the safety and protection that she had been living without.
What was it about Father Malachi that made her feel that way?