View Full Version : Journey to Azmerith - Chapter 2

May 26th, 2012, 09:10 PM
.Chapter 2
Grilled Cheese Mary
14-years later

Karolyn awoke to the pink glow of dawn streaming through her attic window. The sun was rising over the east bay hills and the house was utterly quiet but for the dull drone of traffic of the freeway. An exodus of early risers was on its way out of the city for the weekend. It was Saturday and that meant no school but Karolyn already had her day planned. For her brother Michael she would go to the kitchen first to start the coffee dripping. She knew he liked coffee and he thought it made him more grown up to drink it. If she made it for him it might put him in a good mood. Maybe if she made the coffee and toasted a bagel for him she could get him to go with her to Mass. She hoped so; first Mass, then Confession. Maybe the bagel would do it.

After Mass, she would go to the graveyard to visit her mother’s grave. She threw back her comforter and stood at the room’s center. The attic wasn’t made to be used as a living space and everything in it was improvised. Two poles hung with wire from the slanting roof beams were her closet. A rectangular hole in the floor with the top of a worn wooden ladder jutting from below was her door. The pillow end of her bed, a mattress on the floor, rested against the old red brick chimney and her four-drawer dresser, the only real furniture in the room, was at the opposite end of the attic against the triangular wall, just below the window. It was a cramped room but Karolyn liked it. The best thing about it was the window. She went there and looked out at San Francisco Bay.

She loved the view from her attic; it was the reason she let Michael have the larger bedroom on the floor below. Her window was the only one in the house that looked over the rooftops of the old neighborhood to the bay. On a clear day she could see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island where the federal prison was now a tourist attraction. To the north of Alcatraz was Angel Island where people went by ferry on days like these to hike, picnic, and bicycle. She wanted to go there but the ferry fare alone would cost her a month’s allowance, more than she wanted to spend for just one day. That day the water of the bay was dull grey and choppy, not so choppy that there were whitecaps, but there was a breeze upon the face of the water that broke its surface. Far out on the bay she could see a dozen specks of white sails belonging to the rich Saturday sailors coming out from the Sausalito and San Francisco harbors for a day of sailing. Beyond the Golden Gate in the Pacific, she could see a tiny vessel, maybe a freighter, a tanker, or even a cruise ship, on its way to the horizon. She wondered if the people aboard the ship could still see land or if the waves around them were all that they could see.

About this day she later wrote in her journal: “As I stood there that morning, I thought, One day I’ll go sailing and my sails will take me across the sea to someplace exotic, somewhere romantic and adventurous.’ I had no idea how prophetic my thoughts.”

The neighborhood where she and Michael then lived was near the bay, the poorest part of the city, across the railroad tracks and beside the noisy freeway. It was a working class neighborhood and that was the reason their father rented the home there. As a single parent and underpaid freelance journalist, he needed a place that wasn’t too expensive but also in a neighborhood safe for his children. The house was within walking distance of the private Catholic high school that Karolyn attended. Michael took the bus to his school.

Karolyn put her hands on the top of the dresser and did a standing stretch of her hamstrings and calves while looking out on the bay. She enjoyed her morning stretches. She started them after joining the girl’s track team and made stretches a part of her routine even on weekends. When finished she picked up the hairbrush from the top of the dresser and ran it through her long red hair then set it down next to the picture frame that held the image of Saint Bridget. “Good morning Saint Bridget. Hello mother,” she said aloud.

She then said the first Hail Mary and Our Father, and then the first of Saint Bridget’s fifteen prayers. The prayers were written on a piece of binder paper folded next to the frame but she didn’t need to read it anymore. In her recounting of this in the journal she said, “After saying the prayers for forty-one consecutive days they were fully committed to my memory.” She always said the longest prayer first in the morning to get it out of the way. The other prayers would be said after mass, at lunch, in the afternoon or whenever there was a quiet moment. To this daily routine she was firmly dedicated.

In front of the image of Saint Bridget rested the reason she started the obsessive ritual, a shiny black stick of charcoal, given to her by her father on her thirteenth birthday. The charcoal stick was the only thing she possessed of the mother she couldn’t remember and it was precious to her. Since receiving it she thought of her mother often, sometimes holding the stick in her hand, wondering if her own hand looked anything like her mother’s. Some nights she slept with it under her pillow. She tried drawing with it but found the stick difficult to use. She couldn’t get it to do as she wanted. Once she tried to draw a dress, thinking she might like to be a fashion designer, but the stick kept slipping and going in every direction as though with a mind of its own. The drawing ended up resembling a mountain more than a dress. She put the stick on the dresser after that, a precious memento to remind her that she did once have a mother. She hoped Saint Bridget might notice it.

Saint Bridget of Sweden, the patron of Europe, was not always Karolyn’s favorite saint. She learned about her in English class, when Sister Stacy assigned a composition titled “My favorite saint.” Most of the class groaned when they heard the assignment. Karolyn hadn’t thought much about saints but needing to pull her grade up she decided to put her all into finding someone really interesting to claim as her own. “I knew most of the boys would choose Saint Benedict, hoping to score points since the high school was named Saint Benedict’s High School,” wrote Karolyn in her journal. “Many of the girls would most likely choose Mary. Everyone loved Saint Mary and I guessed that for most of the girls, she was the only female saint they knew. I wanted my paper to stand out.”

After going online and doing a Google search for ‘Catholic Saints’, she found that Saint Bridget lost her mother when she was young, just like her. Immediately she felt a special connection to her. In 1999, the year of Karolyn’s birth, Pope John Paul II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_Paul_II) named Saint Bridget as a patron saint of Europe. She was also called the Patroness of Failures, which made Karolyn feel even closer since during that time she often thought herself a failure. “Saint Bridget, please help me to not fail English,” she prayed.

She wrote in her journal, “I thought the prayer must have been heard. The composition, which was mostly carefully reworded material from the website, turned out to be the only ‘A’ paper in the class. Sister Stacy loved it and asked me to read it aloud in front of the other students. It was embarrassing but I got through it.”

Yet there was more to Karolyn’s prayer ritual than simply liking the Saint. During research, she learned about Bridget’s prayers. Saint Bridget said the prayers were received from Christ Himself in a revelation. The faithful believed that if they recited them for an entire year, Jesus would deliver fifteen souls of the worshiper’s family from Purgatory. That was the reason Karolyn prayed. She decided to say the prayers to save the soul of her deceased mother.

She didn’t know if mother was in Purgatory or not but she was suspicious. Without ever being told, she knew there was some secret about her mother’s death. She could feel it whenever her father spoke of her and see it in her Aunt Genevieve’s eyes whenever her mother’s name was mentioned. Father said it was an accident but he didn’t want to talk about it. Karolyn wondered if the death was really something else, something like a drug overdose or a suicide, maybe something even worse. She knew that if her mother was in Purgatory that would for sure delay their ever meeting in Heaven.

Karolyn’s and Michael’s mother died before she could remember. She was told it was before she was one-year-old. There were no photos of her, no clothing or jewelry, nothing left behind other than the piece of charcoal and some secret rolled up sketches that their father kept locked in a chest in his bedroom.

Karolyn found out about the drawings when she asked why her mother owned the charcoal. It was at the Birthday party. The candles on the Birthday cake were being lit by Aunt Genevieve when her father put the charcoal into her hand. “This gift is from your mother. She wanted me to give it to you on your thirteenth birthday,” he told her. “Hold it in your hand as you blow out the candles to make a wish.”

“What did mother use this for?” she asked, studying the shiny black stick.

“Your mother was an artist,” he answered.

“You never told me that before. What did she draw?”

Sam’s expression changed. Karolyn saw sadness in her father’s eyes. She had seen that look before. The look gave her that feeling again, the feeling that made a chill run down the back of her neck, that there was a secret she wasn’t being told. “She drew some landscapes, sometimes dragons, sometimes unicorns. Those are the best ones.”

“Are? You said those ARE the best ones. Does that mean there ARE some drawings? Where are they? Can I see them?” she asked.

Sam studied her for a long moment. He was thinking and his expression was blank like he was thinking of something serious. It was the same kind of look she saw when she asked if she could go on a date with a boy. He was trying to figure out a way to let her down. Karolyn knew then that she had discovered a piece of the puzzle, maybe a small piece, but definitely something new. Aunt Gen was even looking away, like she was hiding something.

“Hey, let’s blow out the candles,” said Michael, oblivious to the discussion and in a hurry to get to the cake.

“Yes, let’s cut your cake and then you can open your other presents.” said their father.

“Wait! That’s bogus. It’s my birthday and you tell me my only mother drew drawings and now you make me wait to see them!”

Aunt Gen looked very concerned now. In fact, she was scowling at Sam. It was obvious that she didn’t like the discussion and wanted it to end. “Come on, there’s twenty-six candles lit on the cake, thirteen for each of you. Make your wishes and blow them all out if you want them to come true,” she said in a higher than usual pitch of voice.


“Maybe later sweetie. They’re locked up and well…. I don’t want you to get sad on your big day. Looking at old drawings isn’t exactly Birthday fun.”

“Forget it Karolyn! The cake’s gonna get cooked a second time if we don’t blow out these candles,” insisted Michael.

Karolyn let the subject drop that day but wasn’t about to forget it, having seen the sorrow in her father’s eyes when he spoke of the drawings just made her want to see them more. She guessed that they wouldn’t make her sad. Her father was talking about the drawings being sad for him. Maybe in the sketches were the answers to her questions. Maybe they were the note she left behind.

Karolyn did another standing stretch at her dresser, this time stretching her upper torso with her hands over her head, reaching up and bending to the left and right. She looked out again at the bay. The sun was risen now and the color of the water had changed to a greenish-grey. More sailboats were now dotting the water. Her routines completed she dressed and descended the ladder and then the stairs to the lower floor. In the kitchen, she started coffee dripping and put a fresh bagel in the toaster before going to Michael’s room. “Wake up sleepy,” she chimed, opening the door.

“Go to hell,” returned Michael. He rolled onto his side and pulled the quilt over his head.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day. You don’t want to waste it.”

“It’s Saturday. Leave me alone.”

“Come on, I’m making coffee for you. Get up and we’ll do something fun.”

“I’ll think about it. Now get out of my room.”

Karolyn turned and went next to her father’s bedroom, opening the door quietly just far enough to peek inside. She didn’t want to wake him too early as he was usually up late into the night writing or reading. Her father wasn’t in bed and wasn’t at his desk. “Dad?” she called. There was no answer. She went back to Michael’s room and opened the door. Michael was sitting on the side of the bed in nothing but his underwear.

“God damn it! Don’t you knock? Or are you just a perv?” He quickly pulled his bedspread over his lap and glared at her.

Karolyn felt her face going crimson. She averted her eyes. “I thought you were still in bed. I’m sorry. Do you know where dad is?”

“He left a note. Now get out you little perv!”

“Where did he leave it?”

“I don’t know. Look on his desk. He said he’s going somewhere. Go read the note unless you want to stay to watch me dress.” He stood up, holding the bedspread around his waist. Karolyn quickly stepped back and shut the door.

On her father’s desk she found the typewritten note on a piece of typing paper:

Got a lead on a BIG story. Going to your Grandfather’s. Will call when I get there.
Aunt Gen will be coming over while I’m gone. MIND HER. Do your homework.
I might have some comp tickets to a Giants game if you’re good.
Love Dad

“Oh God!” thought Karolyn. On her way downstairs she knocked on Michael’s door but didn’t open it. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything but you better come downstairs. Disaster has stuck. We need to talk.”

The door swept open. “Interrupting anything? Gross, pervish one. What’s the big disaster?”

Karolyn turned and descended the stairs before answering, “Aunt Gen,” she called.

Michael bounded down the stairs after her, hopping over the last three steps to land with both feet and a loud thump on the foyer floor. He turned to the kitchen. “Aunt of the Baskervilles? Lady Cruella of Berkelevania? ”

“She’s coming to babysit! Dad’s gone and he told her to come watch us.” She handed him the note and he looked at it.

“Oh crap!” was all he could say. He poured himself a cup of coffee and grabbed half of the hot bagel from the toaster, putting it on a small plate.

“If he went to Grandpa’s he’ll be gone for days, maybe a week even,” said Karolyn.

“I know. We’re screwed if that freak is watching us.”

“Dad said he might have some tickets to a Giant’s game if we’re good.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So if I told Dad you went to Confession while he was gone, I bet he’d give them to us for sure.”

Michael sat at the table and looked into his coffee cup. “Tell him that. I’m cool with it.”

Karolyn smiled. “Then you’ll go to Mass with me?”

Michael didn’t look up or answer. He was busy scraping at his bagel with a butter knife.

“What are you doing? There’s no butter on the knife. The bagel isn’t burnt is it?”

Michael kept scraping, removing some of the dark brown toasted face of the bagel. He held the bagel up for her to see. “Look! An image of Christ appeared on my bagel! It’s just like the cheese sandwich miracle.”

“What are you talking about? You scraped that. It doesn’t even look like Jesus.” She was inspecting the bagel but only to see if her brother scraped a picture at all. Actually the image wasn’t bad, she thought. There was a small round head looking area with scraped out eyes and mouth. He had even made a head band that was supposed to be the crown of thorns.

“Don’t you know? The cheese sandwich Mary. Some lady in Florida said that the Virgin appeared on her grilled cheese sandwich. She made a sandwich and took a bite out of it and then saw the Virgin staring back at her. She kept the thing in a plastic bag on her nightstand for ten years and it never molded. No mold for ten years! She finally sold it on eBay for twenty-eight thousand bucks.”

“You’re kidding.” Karolyn poured herself a cup of coffee and took the other half of the bagel from the toaster.

“No, I’m not. I swear. You can Google it on the Web.”

“Who would buy a ten-year-old sandwich for that much money?”

“I dunno, some casino I think. They sell T-shirts and stuff with pictures of the sandwich on them.”

Karolyn looked at her brother and laughed. “I know you’re pulling my leg but I’ll believe you if you’ll go to Mass with me,” she offered.

Michael shook his head and turned the face of the bagel to look at him. “Lemme see what my good friend Hey-zeus has to say on this matter,” he said mockingly. He put the bagel up to his ear and acted like he was listening, raising his eyebrows and nodding his head. “What’s that Jeez? Oh, I see.” He nodded. “You say you want me to be a fisher of fishes today Jesus? Not a fisher of men? And what? You want me to put butter on your face and eat you?”

“Michael! That’s blasphemy! Now you have even more reason to go to Confession.” Karolyn’s tone was angry but she was suppressing a laugh. Michael could always make her laugh.

Michael put the bagel back on his plate and reached for the butter dish. “I ain’t going sis. That’s that,” he said flatly. “I’m never going back to that hell hole church and you shouldn’t either.”

“That’s wrong! You’ll end up in Hell if you don’t go to church. We’re all born in sin.”

Michael took a bite out of his bagel and followed it with a gulp of coffee. He let out an exaggerated sigh. “You can believe that crap if you want but don’t push it on me. I’m going fishing today. That’s real. You cast out a line and sometimes you get a fish, sometimes you get trash, and sometimes you get snagged. There’s no magic man up in the sky who’s gonna make it any different.”

Karolyn slowly shook her head. “Is that it? You lost your faith because you can’t catch fish? You used to love being an altar boy. I remember when you couldn’t wait ‘till you turned nine so you could help the priest. You even said you wanted to be a priest once.”

“I grew up,” stated Michael. He took another big gulp of coffee.

“Well, you might think it’s grown up to reject the church but the church won’t reject you. I talked to Father Neffam and he said that he wants you back. He said you were next in line to carry the Processional Cross. He said….”

Michael suddenly stood and threw his coffee cup against the backsplash of the sink. It hit with a loud crash and shattered into a hundred pieces. His face was flushed and the veins on his neck stood out. “Shut up!” he shouted and stormed out of the room.

Karolyn sat stunned. Ever since Michael quit the church his temper had grown worse. He stayed in his room more and never wanted to talk about why he stopped believing. He even dumped his friends who had been altar boys with him. He didn’t seem to have many friends at Berkeley High either and she wondered if he was being bullied there. As she stood and began picking up the broken shards of cup she resolved to talk to her school counselor, Sister Jessica, about what she should do. Michael wasn’t a student at Saint Benedict’s but Sister Jessica was a good advisor, someone who she could go to like a mother when there were problems. She heard the front door slam and knew it was Michael leaving to go fishing.

December 18th, 2012, 03:12 AM
My only comment as to error is when Karolyn writes, “As I stood there that morning, I thought, One day I’ll go sailing and my sails will take me across the sea to someplace exotic, somewhere romantic and adventurous.’ I had no idea how prophetic my thoughts.”
I think it would be better to say, "I had no idea how prophetic my thoughts would be."
Other than that, awesome writing! :) I'm really enjoying it!