Thursday 18 December 2014

Day 18: Small Miracles by Tracy Fells

Maria waited for me outside the church hall, huddled against the redbrick wall, hunched and hidden within her fur-lined hood. My breath hung in the air like lazy mist. “You can wait inside the church - the main chapel door is always unlocked,” I said, fumbling the key into the ice-glazed lock.           
Inside Maria trudged behind, following me all the way to my office. Papers and books lay across the desk where I had been working late the night before on my sermon for the Christmas mass.
“Don’t you worry about vandals?” said Maria.
I tried to smile but my teeth felt more inclined to chatter; the air temperature had dived into minus numbers that morning. “I believe a church should be freely accessible to anyone and everyone. Sanctuary for those who need it.”
Maria kept her hood up concealing one half of her pale face. 
“If I show you where it’s stored then could you set up the nativity crib,” I said, half-turning towards the doorway leading to my office. “Otherwise a usual vacuum round will do.’ The Eskimo hood nodded back at me.
After a second cup of black coffee, more sugar than coffee, my headache began a strategic retreat. I rubbed the absence of sleep from eyes. Maria was squirting the baby Jesus with cleaning fluid. The other carved figures of the nativity scene, now smelling of sharp lemons, were lined up patiently waiting to be assigned their places in the crib. I thought Maria would enjoy this task, but she performed her work with solemn concentration. 
I missed the usual background soundtrack of her girlish voice, as she chattered on about Dave, her boyfriend, and his mates in the dockyard.
“Father Benedict?”
I hoped for an easy question.
 “Abortion is a sin, isn’t it, according to the Catholic Church?”
Glancing upwards to St. Mary’s famous marble Christ, poised above the central altar, I sought guidance. Most of my parishioners were living on the wrong side of seventy so the subject of abortion rarely came up in conversation. Maria’s question made me fidget with my collar. “Abortion is not sanctioned by the Holy Father.” Despite my lack of confidence with this topic I tried to answer her truthfully. “All life is sacred and beloved by Jesus Christ, but… ” I faltered.
“What do you believe, Father Benedict?”
I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know what I believed anymore.

About the author:
Tracy Fells has won and been placed in numerous competitions for fiction and drama. She was shortlisted for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize. Her short stories and flash fiction are published online, in anthologies and in national magazines. Currently she is working on a novel and an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. She shares a blog with The Literary Pig ( and tweets as @theliterarypig.
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