The sun rises up from the abyss of the earth like a giant orange over the rocky Sunny Meadows mountains this morning to awaken the locals to greet what promises to be yet another perfect day in their beloved town. The birds are chirping their esoteric songs. The honeysuckles bask in the morning dew and the bees are buzzing in a mad frenzy to pollinate the flowers.
It is the quintessential Middle America small town, replete with meadows, marshlands and spattering of wild life. Its population is barely two thousand with one school. The neighborhoods look dilapidated with old dirty broken down cars and mechanical junk in most of the driveways. The houses have paint that is peeling off, surrounded by un-mowed lawns and over grown trees. In the yards of some, there are rusty old swing sets and broken hammocks that have seen their hay days come and gone.
Father Uri Maher is the respected town priest towering over the only church in Sunny Meadows. On Sundays, the bulk of the town dress in their Sunday bests, get into their beat-up automobiles and make their way to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church; which sits on top of a rural hillside and where the town gathers to catch up on the latest gossip, see old friends and break bread together during coffee hour. Father Maher is grateful to have a young apprentice priest under his charge and smiles when he sees the demonstrated gusto and exuberance of his young protégé; whom he hopes will prolong his legacy.
Sunny Meadows in the evening is the best part of Father Maher’s day. During the night he ventures out to the woods contiguous to the rectory to clear his head. There in the still of the night, he can hear the caterwaul of katydids; stumbling onto a fawn as it tiptoes from the woods to the often dangerous human grounds; the rustling of leaves in the towering trees above his head; a doe rustling to life after a nap; mysterious eyes carved obsidian glaring at him. Yet he remains fearless. Perhaps it’s his faith or perhaps it’s something born of the nucleus of his being. He stands under the starry skies gazing into oblivion while rocking back and forth with his hands in his pockets and begins to whistle, competing with the supple blow of the night breeze weaving in and out of the dancing trees. He looks down to see a rabbit peeks its head from its burrow, he tries not to draw his breath too harshly less he frightens it back into its hole. While a conglomeration of broods chirp in their nests, Father Maher looks up, closes his eyes and contemplates his conundrum. He knows it can compromise his tenure in the Church as well as his life in Sunny Meadows. He adjusts the tight Priest collar around his neck in an attempt to free his breath. This thing inside of him, something he feels he must keep concealed, like a stain in his white Sunday service apparel.
Just then, he hears a grunting sound. “Is someone there?” He asks in a monotone voice.
. “It’s me Father,” a male voice responds. “Oh, Billy my boy, what are you doing out here all alone?” Father Maher recognizes Billy’s voice immediately. After all, he baptized him and has known him all his life.
“Father I must confess, I’m out here drinking. Well, actually I’m celebrating, I turned eighteen today!” He says in a high pitched voice.
“Oh, well…happy birthday my boy. But why are you here alone? Where are your chaps?”
“Well Dilly and Scalli just left ‘cause they had to get some chores done before bed.” Billy pauses then with a sly grin asks, “What about you Father? What are you doing here all alone?” Father Maher is nonplused by young Billy’s bemused and knowing tone. Is it possible that this young man knows something? Suspects something? His eyes twirl with wonder and paranoia.
“Well, I…I wanted to clear my head about some things…” he says trying to sound blasé. Billy pauses once more and with growing confidence and a twinkle in his eyes asks, “Well care to help me celebrate Father?” Father Maher’s heart accelerates as he considers the invitation. What’s the worst that could happen? He thought. He can sense inklings of sweat forming on his forehead in spite of the cool evening breeze. “S-sure Billy, why not?” He saunters over to Billy who is standing in the shadows under the glare of growing moonlight. Billy twists off a beer from the pack. “Here Father…” He hands him over the beer, its fizzle made more audible in the halcyon surroundings. Father Maher reaches over to grab the can, their fingers overlap and Billy runs his thumb over his and he can see Billy’s moonlight colored grin along with a knowing smirk, reminiscent of Elvis Presley; who was Father Maher’s first furtive enthrallment. Both eyes meet and are transfixed, as if speaking a covert language; like the cryptic mating calls of wild animals. They are drawn closer together as if by the orbiting electrons of the waters of the muses, with only the hard coldness of the beer can between them.
“Shush…” Billy puts his index finger over the Father’s lips, “I know. I’ve always known.”
“But…but…how could you possibly…” the Father mumbles incredulously.
“Father, I can’t explain it…like, birds of a feather…like…you know?”
“I…I’ve loved you for a very long time Billy. But this isn’t right. The Bible says…”
“Father… What does your heart says?”
“Billy, I’m a Priest. The bible is my spiritual conduit. I…can’t…just…”
“You’re a good man Father. Love of any kind isn’t wrong like, you know?” But before Father Maher could say another word, Billy abruptly forces his lips upon his; which he instinctively resisted at first before he fully surrenders with the voracity of a predator for his prey, after a protracted famine. Both men are locked in a harried embrace fueled with reckless and intrepid desire on the part of Billy but fraught with feelings of guilt and fear on the part of Father Maher. Yet something besides culpability implodes inside Maher; his heart having been jolted awake from hibernation causes blood to blunder through its chambers and for the very first time, he knows the sheer joy of experiencing what Billy must be feeling at this moment: young, wild and carefree.
In the years to come, Maher continues a cautious relationship with Billy. To keep Billy close by, he hires him as the grounds keeper for the church and rectory. No one ever gives their relationship a second thought and Maher is vigilant as to how he conducts himself around the strapping young lad, careful to keep a tight lid on the boiling pot of their amalgamated hearts. On Sundays, when Maher preaches about sin, he looks directly at Billy, who bears a knowing smirk; reminiscent of Elvis Presley.
Jacques Fleury is the author of Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue. His collaborative CD A Lighter Shade of Blue with folk group Sweet Wednesday is available on iTunes.
Art can illuminate even the most elusive and difficult to comprehend ideas. Visual rules and tightly codified visual metaphors help scientists communicate complex ideas mostly amongst themselves, but they can also become barriers to new ideas and insights. Dr. Regina Valluzzi’s images are abstracted and diverged from the typical rules and symbols of scientific illustration and visualization; they provide an accessible window into the world of science for both scientists and non-scientists.