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Hughie Hewitt tramped down the cold sidewalk, downcast, his thoughts haunted by the captivating redhead he had just left.  The cold blistering wind whipped snowflakes into his face, blinding him momentarily as he forged his way toward St. Paul’s Catholic church.

He needed to pray.

Oblivious to the cold and the murmur of crushing snow beneath his thin-soled shoes, his thoughts kept drifting to Boo.

“God, I need help,” he thought.  Alcohol usually calmed his passion for women, but tonight it had the opposite effect. He was wrestling with the desire that raged deep in his soul. 

He wanted her.  He needed to feel her, to hold her, to taste her sweet essence, to savor her young firm body on fire next to his, her precious lips pressed intimately against his own.  These visions tormented him.

Hughie had never allowed himself to succumb to these urges. The yearning for female companionship sizzled unbearably deep inside him, setting his loins on fire. Alcohol had been his only escape and now that was failing. He needed strength—he needed to pray.

He stood in front of St. Paul’s and watched the snow cover the high-pitched roof of the old church.  In the distance the mournful cry of a siren pierced the silence of the night. Holding back his tears, Hughie wondered if he should go inside.  He needed his God.  He entered the house of worship.   

Hughie paused briefly to dip his slim fingertips into the holy water. His light touch sent shallow ripples to the sides of the vessel—ripples like the pangs of agony he felt within him. He genuflected. Only the tapping sound of his heels could be heard as he made his way down the marble floor to a pew. Hughie knelt down.  He saw the statue of Jesus before him on the crucifix.  He wept openly.  

“What’s wrong, Father Hewitt?” An elderly, heavy-set woman wearing a black sweater walked up to him, a broom in her hand.

“Oh nothing, Mrs. Sullivan. I just had a very sad thought.  It’s gone now. I’m fine.  What are you doing here this time of night?” said Hughie.

“Now, Father Hewitt, you know perfectly well what I’m doing here.  Tis nearly five a.m. and I have to sweep up the place before Father O’Brian’s six o’clock mass,” said Mrs. Sullivan, her Irish brogue tattling on her immigration many years before.

“Oh, is it that late already? I seem to have lost track of the time.  Well, goodnight Mrs. Sullivan. Ah, I mean good morning.”  With each word he sent his alcoholic breath toward her.

“Good day, Father,” she said, twisting the broom handle. Through her wire-rimmed glasses, her eyes reprimanded him.

  Father Hewitt slid somewhat awkwardly through the brown door next to the hand-carved confessionals and disappeared into the confines of the rectory.  He snuck quietly through the hallway, toward the craggy staircase that led up to his private quarters.  Father O’Brian’s bedroom was at the other end of this dark corridor.  Hughie stepped quickly but softly, hoping not to encounter him; he didn’t want to have to explain himself again.

Father Daniel O’Brian, an Irishman with a full head of white hair, looked much older than his sixty-four years. He was sitting in the rectory library, perched on his favorite overstuffed chair. With a flick from his liver-spotted finger, Father O’Brian thoughtfully turned the page of his sermon notes for the imminent six o’clock mass. He wetted the lead of his pencil with his tongue, and jotted notes with penmanship not unlike that of a physician. 

He heard a “swooft, swooft” in the hall.  It was the soft sound of Hughie’s light footsteps, muffled further by the oriental carpet on the floor.

“Father Hewitt?” said Father O’Brian, rising to his feet.  Hughie froze in the open library doorway.

“Heavens, Father Hewitt, you haven’t been out all night drinkin’ again, have you now?” said the old Irishman.  He wasn’t always this stern with his colleague and friend. Although Hughie was in charge of the parish, he stood sheepishly before Father O’Brian, like a schoolboy caught dipping his little sister’s ponytail into an inkwell.  He said nothing.

“I’ll not be taking your place again like I did Sunday last when you were in such a pitiful state from over-imbibin’ the night before!” The ire in his voice rose until he sensed the deep sorrow in his comrade. Then he said gently, “Don’t you think you’ve been over doin’ it a wee bit of late?”  Still silence. “Well Hughie, I’m off to prepare for the mass then. Rest yourself. We’ll talk of this tomorrow.” He reached up to Hughie’s six-foot three-inch frame and patted him on the shoulder.

With his head hung low, Hughie climbed to his bedroom apartment.  The staircase creaked as if wounded by the extra weight that tugged at Hughie’s soul.  He entered his chambers.  He went straight over to a cherry wood cabinet, opened it, and grabbed a half-empty bottle of Dewar’s scotch whiskey.  With trembling hands he poured a generous amount into a water-spotted glass.  He slurped down the whiskey and quickly poured another, his hands less shaky now. 

As he undressed, he finished off the second glass and then fell into bed.    The alcohol was doing its job—the turmoil inside him was succumbing to the numbing effect of the drink.     His mind drifted to the strong smell of incense that had hung in the air the day he took his vows.  He remembered how joyous he had felt kneeling before old Bishop Newhart, finally becoming a priest. It had been his boyhood dream.  He knew he could never leave the priesthood; it was who he was and all he had ever known or wanted to be. But this secret yearning for companionship in recent years had grown painfully present in his thoughts.  In the darkness and warmth of his bed a tear glided from beneath his closed eyelid and down his cheek, soon swallowed up by his pillow.  Boo was his last dreamy thought as he sank into a welcome state of unconsciousness.





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