Steven Michel Photography and Art
Seth sat on the bench trying to think of the right words. In actual fact, there were no words for what he had to say; for what he was about to do. He looked at the paper again, which he’d stared at for the last thirty minutes. Dear Grace. It was as far as he got.
His hand was unsteady, and the letters uneven, and though his fingers were unused to writing, it was not this that made the pencil quiver. Outside, the wind cried mournfully, and frigid air crept into his thin clothing, but it was not the cold that made his body shake.
He only hoped she could forgive him. His hand finally allowed him to scribe.
It was not a decision easily made.
He sat at this bench when he first saw her, not yet seven years old. Even then, he knew a bond would be created as strong as whaler’s rope. For many Sundays, he was invisible, too shy to speak, shielded by his father’s leg or the Priest’s robe.
Even then, her capacity to love astounded him.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
It attracted him: the kindness she showed to others, to him. She gave love to all, expecting nothing in return, as she’d learned herself through the lessons of God. Her strength was like no other, never even saying a bad word about another man or woman.
Hallowed be thy Name.
It was here he sat during their first communion. He watched her as she walked back down the aisle in her white gown after taking the body of Christ. Her veil could not obscure the gleam in her eyes.
Thy Kingdom come.
On their wedding day, the sun and the joy of the congregation warmed the grey stone of the Church.
‘Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?’ the Priest asked.
Seth glanced at Grace as she affirmed her vow. She knew no other way. And then, he promised to love and honour her for all the days of his life.
When you receive this letter, I shall be gone.
Caleb’s birth only added to their happiness. A son. A glorious son. Until they realised he was not like other children.
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
When he saw village children running in the fields, and skipping in the school yard, it filled him with rage.
‘It is pride, Seth, nothing more. Caleb is sent to us for a reason. You will see.’
She stroked his hand, kissed his forehead, and he relaxed against her. In the end, he saw she was right. He loved Caleb for what he was, and he learned to ignore the mutterings of the villagers.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
Though he had the mind of an infant, by his twelfth birthday, Caleb was big and strong. He helped his father with the simplest tasks on the farm, and Seth’s chest expanded with love and sadness.
‘What will happen when we are gone?’ he asked Grace.
‘Have faith, Seth,’ she said, ‘God will find a way.’
I could not tell you goodbye, because you would try to stop me.
Outside, he heard the storm; the waves crashing against the cliff-top on which the Church was perched. And within its four walls, the darkness of the descending clouds shrouded him.
He recalled the wind slowly building that day, the smell of the salt from the sea. They’d worked the field, and Caleb’s face was flushed and hot.
‘Go back to the house,’ Seth told him. ‘Rest. You will be fit again tomorrow.’
And yet, though only a simple fever, Caleb became weak. They called the doctor when his breath grew shallow, but it was too late.
As Seth watched his son’s coffin lowered into the ground, heard the incantations of the Priest as handfuls of soil thudded onto wood, he realised this was his son’s final bed, in which he would rot. The maggots would eat his brain and eyes, and he would never go to heaven. Seth tightened his fists; held them against his thighs.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Though, he did not tell Grace, she sensed his fury.
‘God’s love will prevail, Seth,’ she said, her voice fortified by years of prayer. ‘It is His plan.’
‘What plan, Grace? There seems no sense in it.’
‘Have courage. Pray with me. He will show us the way.’
She urged him to kneel and pray with her then, but he could not.
‘Tomorrow, I will speak to Father Matthew,’ she said. ‘He will guide us.’
For thine is the kingdom,
In truth, Caleb was his life, and without him, he could see no purpose in carrying on. Though he admired Grace’s devotion, and he wished he still had the same strength it gave her, his days were empty now. He missed Caleb’s laugh, his clumsy attempts to hoe the ground, his pleasure in simple things: a dewdrop on a flower, the underside of a ladybird. Seth would never regain his faith, and without it, life with Grace was meaningless.
My mind is made.
If he went now, Grace would not know he was missing for some hours. She thought him at the market, and with the arrival of the storm, she’d expect him to rest in some sheltered place. He’d leave his note on this bench, and let the sea and rocks do their work. The bitter squall outside meant he would not survive the fall.
There is nothing left for me now.
Seth rose, leaving the paper on the seat. His legs were heavy. Yet, as he turned towards the door, a faint light filled the room, and a shower of colour speckled the stone flags beneath his feet. The luminous glow of sun strained through the stained glass window.
There in the aisle, Seth fell to his knees, and wept.
Yes, Caleb’s beauty was gone. Gone forever. As was the beauty of God’s hand. He also knew he could not have Grace. But out there, was something else. Something Caleb had shown him. There was another kind of beauty. One never explored.
The power, and the glory,
Seth slipped the paper back into his pocket. He knew what to do.
He would go home.
He’d tell her.
And then he would take his bag and leave.
For ever and ever.
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