People travel enormous distances in search of miracles. They will go to Lourdes or Guadalupe, sit in a cave in Tibet, or crawl on their hands and knees to reach the Ganges.

I believe in them, in their effort.
I do.
But miracles, I think, are much more subtle. They come from behind, and brush us with grace rather than beat us over the head with revelation. One hears their whisper as they disappear, just out of view.

When I was a child, my grandmother, would arrive at the door laden with groceries, which of themselves were meaningless to an eight year old. Of greater interest were the one dollar bills that would materialize from the crevices of her purse and which she would push into our greedy little hands with gnarled and shaking fingers. She was less than five feet tall, round shouldered, stooped, and wore black…all the time.

She had much to mourn over.
Throughout the year, she would take the bus cross town with four bags that cut into her fingers, and carried them through the streets, rain or shine, to our door. In the winter, she would step inside, her glasses would fog, and she would be temporarily blinded, often with a dusting of white snow on her hat and shoulders. With two clouded lenses perched on her nose, she would often engage the coat rack in conversation, or shake the sleeve of an empty jacket.
I think she came twice a month, and if my father was home, he would berate her for it, yelling at her in guttural Polish. She would wave him off and mumble something incomprehensible, that often ended in “Porky Pig”, which delighted us, but enraged my father.
Her manner with us was always gentle and loving, stroking our hair; always with the same mantra:
“God loves you…honey”.
As I grew older, I wondered about the phrase…and about her devotion to God. She went to church every day, and sat quietly, saying the rosary, until the beads she used were worn through to the chain. She had a quiet but unshakeable faith that she would someday “be with God”.
I wondered about that too, even as a child…what did it mean?
“To be with God”.
At night she scrubbed floors in the corporate offices of Mack Truck Shipping, and lived alone on the East side of Buffalo. When she arrived, I always had the impression that we were being visited by a female Buddha who couldn’t speak English very well.
I saw her last while on leave from the army, in 1969, prior to being deployed.
She was old, perhaps ninety, and was suffering from many ailments at once. Despite her obvious discomfort, she sat uncomplaining among her cats. She had thirty or forty of them, maybe more…no one knew.
They had taken over my Nana’s house, and ate, slept, shit, pissed, fucked, and had babies anywhere they wanted. The entire house smelled like a cat box that hadn’t been cleaned for months
We sat in the living room of the house, a former Victorian parlor that now had fifteen or sixteen cats of every size lounging around or walking lazily about. Lampshades shredded, stuffing disgorged from gaping wounds on the chairs and every picture in every room askew.
I could hardly breathe and wanted to run, but I forced myself to sit with her and talk for maybe half an hour. I told her I was sorry if I had ever been disrespectful.
She was so far from judging me.
I noticed that on her legs were bandages which were dirty and loose, and asked if she had fallen. She waved away the question, and asked about Mark.
Marky, she called him.
Our last conversation was about me, my getting drafted and the family I had lost.
The Army was taking me far away..

When I heard that she had died soon after, I carried a guilt with me that I didn’t do more, although it never became clear just what that more could have been. The bandages on her legs had concealed gangrenous wounds that would ultimately kill her. They were covered with maggots which the doctors claimed was actually keeping her alive because they were eating the dead flesh

On a rainy summer day, I arrived at a hospital to pick-up a Catholic nun in my cab. She was quite petite, and sat, dressed in a gray habit, in the front seat, while her companion sat in the back and tried to make polite small talk with me.
“She’s ninety-two”, she told me, and I briefly looked at the nun, who looked straight ahead in silence, fingering her wooden rosary.
I remember I answered inadequately…nodding or grunting in my sullen preoccupation with my inner demon.
The radio began to play a Mozart concerto; the haunting, sublime melody seemed to twist and tighten my invisible chains. I was embroiled in a divorce from L.

One that I didn’t want, but felt compelled to enact. We had grown so far apart that the gulf between us was unbridgeable. I had been distraught all day, and now the music was pulling at my heart, dangling it just above an abyss of sorrow.
I drove them to the front of a hospice on Woodside, part of Laguna Honda Hospital, and the companion said: “Don’t get out, I’ll open the door for her”; and she handed the fare over the back seat dividing us. I held the money loosely in my hand and looked out the window to my left,  away from them, so close to tears that I was embarassed.

Amadeus mercifully began to unwind the strings he had tightened.
In all the years driving a taxi, no one had ever touched me…not the wild girls, not the transvestites, the revelers, thieves or whores. My barrier of isolation remained unbroken.
So, when I felt a hand on my knee, light as a butterfly, I turned my head in amazement, and looked into the soft gray eyes of the sister. Her skin had the translucency of parchment, and as she looked up at me, she said:
“God loves you, honey”


~ by theoxherd on February 29, 2012.

3 Responses to “Mercy”

  1. so much history in one short story. very nice.

  2. and such a beautiful ending.

  3. “… I carried a guilt with me that I didn’t do more, although it never became clear just what that more could have been.” I know exactly that feeling! You have awakened memories of my grandma’, born 1899 died 1996 … Thank you!

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