The following short story appears in our Spring/Summer 2020 which we’ve decided to share not just with our paying subscribers but with our full community free of charge during these astonishing times. If anyone wishes to make a donation, it would be appreciated.
There’s a bird in the chapel. Anne and I notice it as soon as we settle into a spot in the middle of one of the long wooden benches in the guest area. There are two other people here, a guy at the end of the third row and another guy at the opposite end of the second row—they’re the only other guests besides us at New Melleray in this late-January, middle-of-the-week moment. They’re both devout Catholics; we saw them genuflecting and crossing themselves before taking their seats along the rows during the two services we went to yesterday.
The bird wasn’t here yesterday. It flies madly from one side of the ceiling to the other: a flash of white up by the rafters above the monks, swooping and circling, disappearing for a while—maybe perching on the ledge that runs along the edge of the ceiling—then appearing again. The monks’ chanting seems to bring it out.
This is Vespers, the canonical hour that starts at five-thirty. Vespers lasts for about half an hour and afterwards you get to go down to the big empty dining room in the basement and eat dinner. The monks eat their dinner in a different room; someone told me they’re strictly vegetarian. A local woman comes every day and cooks for the guests. Last night there was chili with hamburger and cottage cheese and carrot sticks and miscellaneous salads plus desserts and home-baked bread and red jello. You set a white china plate and bowl on a tray and move your tray along the line cafeteria-style, serving yourself what you want. In my regular life, I don’t eat most of what they give you here, certainly not chili with hamburger or jello, but I eat it here and like it.
Click here to read the rest of our Spring/Summer 2020 issue for free.
MARY ALLEN is the author of The Rooms of Heaven, published by Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage Books. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Real Simple, Library Journal, CNN On-line, and in the anthology If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings.
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