CANDLE IN THE WINDOW

One of the first things I noticed about the house across the street was the candle in an upstairs window.

It was December 1980 – two weeks before Christmas – and we had just moved into our new home. My mom quickly located the boxes marked ‘CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’ and put my dad to work decorating outside. When he was done every house on the street was aglow except for the one with the solitary candle. I was fascinated by that candle; it was lit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

About a week later there was a knock on our front door. Mom answered and I scurried along behind her, anxious to see who was visiting us for the first time. Standing on the front porch was a chubby little old lady with silver hair, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks and I couldn’t resist blurting out “Are you Mrs. Claus?” She chuckled a bit saying no, she was Mrs. Granger from across the street and had come to bring us an angel food cake as a welcoming gift. Mom introduced herself and invited Mrs. Granger inside but she declined saying “perhaps another time”. Before she left I told her my name was Eleanor and I had just turned ten on December 1. She smiled slightly at us but there was sadness in her eyes.

Mrs. Granger’s angel food cake sat on one of her beautiful Spode Christmas plates. Mom said we should return the plate on Christmas Day brimming with sugar cookies, which is exactly what we did. We rang the bell and mom apologized for showing up unannounced, adding that she hoped we weren’t interrupting her Christmas festivities.

No, dear. Not at all. I was just preparing myself one of those frozen dinners – turkey, for a special treat.” Mom made polite small talk while I glanced around the living room. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration in sight, not even a card. A fading ember in the fireplace made me think that Mrs. Granger was probably very lonely.

I suddenly found myself asking the question: “Mrs. Granger, why is there a candle in the window upstairs?”

Mom gave me a withering look as Mrs. Granger slowly walked to the sofa and slumped down. I felt awful when she started crying, dabbing her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Mom sat next to her and held her hand, not speaking.

In hushed tones Mrs. Granger told us her story: she married late in life and was blessed with a son, Edward. Her husband died in an accident when Edward was three years old and she raised the boy by herself. When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, Edward enlisted; he was declared MIA on December 1, 1970 and she hadn’t heard a word in the ten years since then. The candle in the window was her way of holding vigil for Edward, steadfastly waiting for any news. We sat together for a few minutes, then Mrs. Granger politely said she wanted to be alone. Silently we left. It was then that I understood why she looked so sad when I told her my birthday; – her son went missing the day I was born.

Two days later mom returned to Mrs. Granger’s. She apologized for the intrusion on Christmas Day and said we hoped she would join us for New Year’s Eve dinner. Mrs. Granger said gently “No, dear. I haven’t celebrated a new year since Edward disappeared.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about Mrs. Granger. Our New Year’s Eve table was set for three, sparkling with mom’s best dishes, silverware and crystal glasses. I sat in the bay window watching the lightly falling snow; then I noticed the candle in the window of Mrs. Granger’s house was not lit.

Mom!” I gasped. “The candle is out.”

Mom, dad and I walked across the street on leaden feet. Mom rapped softly on the door; we could see a dim glow coming from the fireplace. One more knock and the door opened slightly; Mrs. Granger appeared, her face wet with tears.

Are you alright, Mrs. Granger?” mom inquired with obvious concern in her voice.

Oh, my dear! My mind has been preoccupied all day” she replied, her voice trembling. “You see, I received some news today.”

Mrs. Granger turned and walked back inside, leaving the door ajar; apprehensively we followed her. There by the fireplace stood a handsome, smiling soldier; her long-lost son Edward had finally returned home.

We were overjoyed for Mrs. Granger; finally some happiness in the dear old lady’s life. We said our goodbyes and headed for the door.

“Wait, my dears!” Mrs. Granger called out. “There’s something I’ve been waiting a long time to say. Happy New Year to us all!”

We smiled through our tears knowing Mrs. Granger’s deepest wish came true this New Year’s Eve. The candle in the window was out but a new flame burned brightly in her heart. She’d never be lonely again.

NAR © 2018

Mrs. Granger

HIS MOTHER’S LOVE

Fish” Mulally didn’t come by that nickname accidentally. There’s a good reason: there wasn’t another man who looked more like a cold-blooded vertebrate animal with scales, gills and fins than “Fish”. Radical as it may sound, it’s not an insult; it’s a fact.

Born in 1959, Brendan Mulally was one of those tragic thalidomide babies. His mother Maeve suffered terribly from morning sickness and took the unapproved drug during her pregnancy. She’d heard rumors about the anti-nausea medication being dangerous, possibly resulting in abnormalities to the fetus, but Maeve’s doctor assured her the drug was safe. The moment she gave birth, the delivery room fell silent. The only sound was Brendan’s whimpering.

Maeve knew immediately something was wrong and pleaded to see her baby. The doctor walked to the head of the bed and told her the baby was malformed and it would probably be best if she didn’t see him, but Maeve was of hardy Irish Catholic stock and demanded the baby be brought to her. A nurse gently cleaned Brendan, wrapped him in a blanket and put a little bonnet on his head. With sorrow in her eyes, she reluctantly handed the baby to Maeve.

Even though Brendan’s eyes were closed Maeve could see they were large and protruding. His face was long, his lips flabby. With trembling hands she removed the baby’s cap and drew in a startled breath. Where there should have been hair there were scales – massive amounts of tiny shimmering bony plates overlapping one another. His right arm and hand were covered in the same thin scales. Summoning all her courage Maeve carefully unfolded the swaddling; at first glance her baby appeared perfectly normal and she tenderly placed her hands beneath his back to lift him to her breast. It was then that she felt the two small fins sticking out of his shoulder blades.

The doctor spoke softly. “Maeve, I know this must be a shock to you but surely you realize your baby will not thrive. I suggest we call the hospital chaplain to perform the sacrament of baptism while we still have time.” Maeve silently nodded in agreement and the priest was summoned. At least now little Brendan would go on to heaven and not languish in Limbo with other unbaptized babies.

Maeve insisted that Brendan be placed in a bassinet next to her bed instead of the hospital nursery; she didn’t trust the doctors and nurses and wanted to keep her baby close. The doctor rambled on about going against hospital policy but Maeve would not back down; begrudgingly the staff acquiesced.

Maeve’s husband Patrick paced impatiently with other expectant fathers in the hospital waiting room. He toyed with the packs of cigars in his pocket, looking forward to proudly passing them out to his friends. Finally his name was called and he was allowed to see his wife and meet their baby. The nurse gave Patrick no information other than to say his wife had delivered a boy.

Patrick entered his wife’s room, his face beaming with joy. He kissed her forehead tenderly then turned his attention to his son sleeping in the bassinet. With eyes wide in shock and disbelief, Patrick flinched and recoiled.

Holy Christ! Saints preserve us!” he exclaimed. “This is the work of the devil! He’ll not be coming home with us!”

Maeve was not surprised by Patrick’s reaction; he was an arrogant and inflexible man. It would take much convincing on her part to bring him around; however, Patrick was imlaccable and stormed out of the room. Maeve never saw him again. The first night home alone with her newborn son, Maeve knelt before the statue of St. Brigid and prayed for courage and patience.

Despite the doctor’s opinion, Brendan grew strong and healthy under his mother’s loving care. Maeve made sure he wore a cap and glove to conceal his scales but there was no hiding his face. Brendan was bullied relentlessly and everyone called him “Fish” but he never caved under the pressure. He gave as good as he got and eventually earned respect and notoriety.

Brendan’s fighting skills were impressive and he caught the eye of crime boss James “The Prophet” O’Neill who asked him to become his bodyguard. Brendan accepted the job with one condition: for his mother’s sake, he would never take another person’s life.

O’Neill respected Brendan’s devotion to his mother and agreed to his request. “Fish” Mulally made Maeve proud until her last breath.

NAR © 2021