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Authors: Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick

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Mercy of St Jude

Mercy of St. Jude

A Novel

Mercy of St. Jude

A Novel

Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
2011

© 2011, Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF), and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador through the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation for our publishing program.

All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any requests for photocopying, recording, taping or information storage and retrieval systems of any part of this book shall be directed in writing to the Canadian Reprography Collective, One Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.

Cover design by Maurice Fitzgerald
Layout by Amy Fitzpatrick
Printed on acid-free paper

Published by
CREATIVE PUBLISHERS
an imprint of CREATIVE BOOK PUBLISHING
a Transcontinental Inc. associated company
P.O. Box 8660, Stn. A
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador A1B 3T7

Printed in Canada by:
TRANSCONTINENTAL INC.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Fitzpatrick, Wilhelmina, 1958-
       Mercy of St. Jude / Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick.

ISBN 978-1-897174-75-3

I. Title.

PS8611.I895M47 2011        C813'.6       C2011-901879-9

Dedication

For the men in my life - Keith, Ian and Michael.
In memory of my Aunt Beth.

CONTENTS

PART ONE

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

PART TWO: 1932-1955

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

PART THREE: 1993-1994

17

18

19

PART FOUR: 1999

20

EPILOGUE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

PART ONE

1

1999

The coffin is mirrored in the night-black window. A gust of wind batters the pane, exploding the image. Within moments it settles back into place.

Annie Byrne looks past the reflection, shifting her focus to the houses of their neighbours, the patches of lawn struggling to survive on the rocky hillside. Several old tires filled with dirt line the side of her parents' yard, her mother's attempt to nurture a few flowers if the sun ever shines again.

Down the street a car pulls up. The door opens, closes. Annie stares intently at the dark sedan. No one gets out. She gives her head a shake; of course it's not him.

She turns away from the window. Against the opposite wall, the open casket rests on its bier, overwhelming the small room. The faded couch and worn wingback chairs have been shoved together in the corner to make space for it. Above the coffin, a crucifix. Pictures of saints line the walls, and on the wood veneer coffee table, surrounded by holy candles, sits a statue of the Virgin Mary, baby Jesus in her arms. The television is covered with a dark throw. The usual knick-knacks and doilies are gone; Annie's mother has put them away at this solemn time.

Annie does not feel solemn. She feels angry. And guilty, of course. What she wouldn't give for one last chance to confront Mercedes, to ask her what had made her so miserable that she couldn't bear to see anyone else enjoying life, especially Annie. But it's too late for that.

There is a clatter of dishes from the kitchen. “I said I'll wash up later, Mom,” she calls down the hall.

“That's okay,” Lucinda calls back. “Stay put and catch up with your cousins.”

Annie still regrets having let her mother talk her into coming home. Two days earlier in Calgary, she'd been jarred awake by the phone, her heart racing with the panic of a call before dawn. The news did nothing to slow it down - Mercedes Hann was dead. Annie had held the phone tight, trying to stifle her resentment and her tears. The contradiction was not unusual where her great-aunt was concerned.

As she'd listened to the sadness in her mother's voice, she pictured her on the other end of the line, gently rounded with the years but still attractive at fifty.

“Never mind what trouble there was between you,” Lucinda had insisted.

Annie had been adamant. “I'm not coming, Mom.”
And I'm
not sad she's dead.

“Just for a couple of days. It's the least you can do.”

“No, the least I can do is stay here.”

“Always with that mouth. Bad as Mercedes herself, you are.”

“Well, thanks for that.” As a child, Annie had been flattered when her mother compared her to Mercedes, until she began to realize that it wasn't necessarily meant as a compliment. As an adult, Annie never took it as such.

“I don't know when you got so hard.”

“I am not hard,” Annie protested. She lowered her voice. “I'm just tired, Mom.”

“Think of the family. I don't ask you for much, Annie, the Lord knows I don't.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Look, it's five-thirty in the morning here. Let me wake up, will you?” Annie took a slow breath and lied. “I don't think I can get away from work.” As a junior geologist in a large oil company she'd hardly be missed.

“Annie, the woman is dead—”

“See? She won't even notice.”

“And before she died,” Lucinda continued as if she hadn't heard, “she said you had to be here.”

“What the hell for?”

“I don't know but your grandfather promised her you would be. So if you won't do it for her, do it for him. She was his sister and he's right torn up about it.” She paused for effect. “Did you know the doctor's worried about his prostate again?”

Good one, Mom
- Annie almost said it out loud. If anything happened to Callum Hann, Annie would be heartbroken, which Lucinda well knew. From her earliest memories of drifting off to sleep in his overstuffed rocker, to the winter evenings curled up by the fire, listening to the stories her sisters never cared for, her grandfather had given Annie a sense of her history and herself that she could not have gotten elsewhere, especially from her mother, and certainly not from Mercedes who, when it came to family history, was a closed book.

“Fine, all right, enough with the frigging guilt trip.” The words were no sooner out than Annie regretted them. Why did their conversations so often end in argument, with her mother indignant and Annie remorseful? “I'll do it, okay?”

Now here she is, staring at the crucifix on the wall. Below it, nestled in a bed of white satin, a set of rosary beads winding through her interwoven fingers, rests Herself, the Great Mercedes Hann, whose dying wish had been to spend her final days being waked in Lucinda and Dermot's living room.

Across from the coffin Annie's father smiles in his sleep. Annie sits beside him and smoothes back his grey hair. It's thinner than she remembers. He's aged the last few years; his cheeks are more hollow, his forehead more lined. He yawns, his false teeth clacking as they ease out of position. Realigning them with his tongue, he smacks his lips together and opens his eyes. He smiles at her and gestures toward her cousins, Pat and Aiden Hann. “Just like the old days, you three sitting here.”

Annie smiles back. At the end of the day, maybe her mother was right. It is good to be here with them all. She and Pat and Aiden were born within a thirteen-month span of each other. They'd gone through school together too, as a result of Pat being held back in Grade One. Growing up, they were always up to something, from hopping the spring ice pans when they were little and forbidden to go near the water, to skipping Saturday night Mass so they could smoke cigarettes and drink beer with their friends in high school. Thanks to “the boys” as Lucinda calls them, Annie had gotten into trouble far more often than her sisters.

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