Chris put a note on the door. It had instructions directing Lilly to stay with Missus Minelli, if she should come back. He got Missus Minelli from next door to watch for Lilly. Missus Minelli, an older widow, had children and grandchildren who lived some distance away. She did not get visited very often by her own family. She loved Lilly, and watched her from time to time before these last few months, when Mary moved in. Chris said nothing about Lilly being missing, though Missus Minelli might have guessed something was up. Hers had been the very first door they knocked on when they started knocking on doors. Still, Chris let the assumption stand that Lilly had gone out, perhaps with friends, though he did not say exactly where she might have gone.
“Lilly knows, if I am not home, to stay with you until I get home.”
“I remember,” Missus Minelli said. “Lilly is such a nice, polite child. But where should I tell her you are going?”
“Mary and I are going to church,” Chris said. “And thank you for being there for me, and for Lilly.”
“Happy to do it,” Missus Minelli said. Her old, craggy face wrinkled up in a big smile as she eyed Chris and Mary. “You two make a lovely couple.”
“Oh, we’re not…” Chris started to say something, but looked at Mary, who looked back at him with those big, puppy-dog eyes, wondering what he would say, and how he might feel about that idea. Chris let his voice drop and said, “Thank you,” to Missus Minelli. “We won’t be long.”
He walked beside Mary to the elevator. She dropped her eyes to the floor. He never stopped staring at her, even on the elevator; but she never looked up at him. At last, they stepped outside, and Chris took Mary’s hand; and then he would not look at her. But Mary looked at him and smiled with all her might, and her heart danced the three blocks to the church.
Cue: Angels We Have Heard on High
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
Chris, like so many his age, made it through church confirmation, and did not go much after that. He was not sure what he believed, exactly, but he knew he believed in love, and so did God, apparently. That seemed to be what the church believed in, even if most Christians did not live or act that way. He believed in love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and all that God supposedly taught, even if most people did not live it or really believe it for themselves. He tried to do these things in his life, and he tried go to church since he and Lilly got left on their own. He felt it was important for Lilly to hear and learn about God—about love, joy and peace. She certainly would hot hear about such things on the street.
He found his Episcopal church closed and locked up tight. He took Mary slowly down the street, and mumbled something about it being a week before Christmas, and Sunday no less, and the church had no business being closed and locked. They tried several other mainline churches in town before they got to the Catholic church at the end of the street. Chris never stopped holding Mary’s hand, and Mary never stopped smiling. Chris did not smile at the thought of the churches being closed the Sunday before Christmas. It irked him.
They found a small side door open at the Catholic church. It let them into the sanctuary. They found a very old priest there, setting up the nativity scene for next Sunday. It would be Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day on the following Monday. The priest noticed as they came in. He waved, but kept to his task, while Mary genuflected briefly at the altar and Chris went to sit in a pew and cry. He wanted to cry out to God for help, but he did not know how. He could only hope God could read what sat so heavily in his heart.
Mary wandered to an alcove where there appeared to be a statue of a saint. It might have been Nicholas. She was not sure, but in any case, her heart and prayers went out to the one above all the saints. Her tears were large, but quiet. Her words got whispered.
“He is broken. How can I abandon him? He is such a good and wonderful man. I cannot leave him alone to suffer.”
“And you love him,” the words came to her, as a tall, thin blonde, with the lightest eyes, that sparkled with specks of gold, appeared before her. It was the Christmas angel. Mary trembled in the presence of the angel, and a holy fear gripped her heart.
“Merry.” The angel called her by her name. “Do not be afraid.”
“Holy one,” Mary responded, and found herself opening-up, almost like her heart could not keep quiet. “I do love him. He is my heart,” she used the well-known fairy phrase. “I know the little spirits are not supposed to form attachments with mortal humans, but I would become human in a heartbeat, give up all the glories of the second heavens, and never return to the land of Christmas, if only I could be with him for the rest of our days.”
“That was…I…” she could not say the angel was wrong. Such words were unthinkable. Clearly, the angel allowed Lilly to be taken quietly in the night. Lilly belonged with her mother, and generally, it was better if humans did not know about such things; but Mary had to express her feeling. Neither would the angel accept anything less than the truth. “He deserves to know what happened to her.”
“No one deserves,” the angel said. “What humanity deserves for sin and rebellion is horrible beyond imagining. Instead, what they got was a baby in a manger, who grew and died so they would not have to get what they deserved.”
Mary lowered her head. She knew, and above all honored the story of how the source chose to deal with humanity on that most basic and deep rooted level. The trouble was, as a non-human, her place was to be obedient to the source as represented in the form of the angel that stood before her. She was to do her work in the world, and could only hope that she might be included in the miracle of grace. Mary said no more. She could not argue with such a statement. All she could do was turn her head and look longingly at Chris, and maybe pray for him.
“Two brothers,” the angel spoke over her shoulder. “The older brother, the most fortunate of men, both loved and was loved in return by a fairy for however brief a time. Now, the younger brother has captured the heart of a young elf maiden.”
“Now and forever,” Mary said, and watched as the old priest finally stepped over to talk to Chris.