That summer, I fell into the habit of spending every Thursday afternoon in the church. Not because I’m religious, but because that particular church was a quietly magnificent place, and quiet was what I needed. Also, I’m a sucker for old-time mystique.
The church wasn’t small, but it was made entirely of wood and so seemed rather plain and unassuming outside, belying the beauty of the Baroque-era sculptures surrounding its altar; old paintings in thick gilded frames; and local nobility’s memorial plaques dating back some three hundred years. It was on the registry of national heritage sites; but being located in a small parish in the backwoods of eastern Poland – with the nearest sizable town two hours’ drive away – it was hardly a tourist magnet.
Perhaps that was why, when I emerged from the vestibule – pleasantly shady at the height of a July afternoon and smelling of centuries-old timber – into the sunlight and saw him come out of the bell tower across the lawn, I knew he wasn’t there by accident. With more than three hours before the evening Mass there wasn’t a soul around, and it was my favorite time to come, which I did once a week since I had arrived in the village two months before. I had long since stopped going to church, having lost any interest in organized religion at the Catholic high school I had gone to, but this place was special to me. It was where I had spent every summer until I was twelve years old and we emigrated to America – every golden, sun-filled, sometimes dusty, sometimes damp, but always glorious August; scented with the heady mix of flowers, cut grass, and barn odors; infused with the drone of bees and the rhythmic croaking of frogs in the reeds along the river at nighttime.
He had a foreign air, I could see that right away. With a long, lean face, fair-complexioned and set in an expression of quiet concentration, he exuded a sophistication hard to find among the wide-boned, ruddy countenances of the good local folk. My first thought was a university professor, a historian or an ethnologist perhaps, a quirky type who liked to spend his holidays driving around pretty but obscure places.
He nodded in acknowledgement when he saw me and walked over. “Are you visiting, too?” he asked politely in English, with an accent I couldn’t place.
“Yes and no,” I replied, smiling. “My mother’s family is from here. I’m spending the summer.” Trying to get my life back on track.
[Full text will soon be available via KDP and on Smashwords]