In this excerpt, I refer to an English Carol, Joys Seven. Clicking on the title will whisk you away to You Tube to see and hear a lovely performance of it by King's College. Neal, having grown up in a similar English choir school, knows the piece well, and may even have sung the solo verse in his youth. At age 23, his treble voice is long gone, but has deepened to a lovely tenor range, and he is still a fine singer. Lorin is well-pleased to have him in his choir.
Neal has just spent a year and a half of his life having his bad foot/leg dealt with, and is near the end of a very long and difficult road. Lorin, having helped him down that road and knowing what he suffered in those months, is feeling especially emotional as he watches Neal begin to take back the life that has been on hold for so long.
This bit is from the New and Improved forthcoming edition of "O Fortuna." I don't know exactly when it's forthcoming, but I do know it will be available in Kindle format. People who prefer a hard copy might just have to purchase a pdf file directly from me. I'll keep you all posted, one way or another.
P.S. - Neal and Lorin are High Church Episcopalians. For those not in the know about such things, it's liturgically similar to a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Mass. The spiritual leader of the entire organization is the Archbishop of Canterbury, not the Pope. The best way I can describe it, having been a High Church Episcopalian myself some years ago, is they are Catholic without being Roman Catholic. And facetiously speaking? Only half the Guilt and no Pope.
Thanks for reading!
J. St. M.
Though Neal had hoped it would not be the case, he was still on crutches for Christmas Eve. Nevertheless, he insisted on returning to the church choir for the occasion, and was reminded of his boyhood years in choir school as he stood beside the organ during the pre-service rehearsal, watching the music as Lorin played, anticipating and executing the page turns. ‘Next year, God willing, I will walk in the procession,’ he vowed to himself, as he flipped another page.
Everyone seemed happy to have him back, and Father Willis invited him to read the first lesson.
“Mightn’t that be a bit awkward, Father? I can’t move very fast.”
“In God’s eyes, Neal, there is no time as we on earth see time. So, I suppose it’s a bit silly of me to tell you to take your time, because you have all the time in the world, but that is the truth of the matter. It would be an honor to have you read, no matter how long it takes you to get yourself to the lectern.”
“Thank you, Father. In that case, I’ll be delighted to.”
Everything turned out to be easier than Neal expected, because he really had progressed far enough in his physical therapy to walk with both feet on the ground, using the crutches primarily for balance. Sometime after the start of the new year he would begin using only one crutch, and eventually he would transition back to a cane. Things were defintely looking up, and Neal was genuinely happy that night, for the first time in a long time.
It was close to two in the morning before he and Lorin got into the car to go home. They waited a few minutes to let the engine warm up; with such an old, finicky vehicle as the MGA, one had to allow for a good warm-up, Lorin insisted, or there would be trouble. So, they sat there together, waiting. General fatigue kept Lorin silent, as did his desire to conceal the fact that he was feeling more emotional than he wanted to admit. Seeing Neal so happy, and moving about so freely after the hell he had gone through, Lorin couldn’t help choking up a bit. By some miracle, he had kept himself together all night, but now--
“You sounded fantastic tonight, Babe,” he said, his voice soft and husky.
“Yeah. I--I’ve never heard you sing quite like that before.”
“Well, I’m happy, and I suppose it stands to reason that would show in my singing. I’ve just about reached the end of a very long road, and soon I’ll be able to have a life again. Only this time, I’ll be healthier and stronger than I’ve ever been. Lorin?”
“Was there a particular reason you programmed Joys Seven tonight?”
Lorin bowed his head, tears welling up in his eyes. “Yeah, Neal. I couldn’t get the joy of two out of my mind these last couple of months, so I--”
“The joy of--oh!” Neal sang softly, “The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of two; To see her own son Jesus Christ to make the lame to go--” He trailed off. “Oh, Lorin!”
Lorin turned towards him, leaned over, and flung his arms around him. “We have so much to be thankful for right now,” he said, tears spilling over.
Neal hugged him back. “I know, Love. I know.” He kissed Lorin’s cheek gently. “Please don’t cry. This is a happy night.”
“It is, but sometimes I cry when I’m happy, and this is one of those times. Anyway, I was afraid you might be angry about Joys Seven.”
“Angry? Now, why on earth would I--”
“Because I was calling attention to you, or at least, in my own mind, I was.”
“It didn’t even occur to me until you mentioned it just now, and besides, I was not the only lame person in attendance tonight. No one else needs to know the real reason for your programming choices. But as for me, I’m really touched that you chose this way to give thanks for my healing. I’ve always loved Joys Seven, though I confess, occasionally I did have a bitter moment wondering why Jesus Christ wouldn’t make me to go, but--we did sing it in choir back in England quite often. I thought maybe I had told you at some point, and you remembered, and that was why you chose it.”
“No, you never did tell me that.” Lorin brought his mouth to Neal’s and they kissed for a few minutes. Then he broke away and reached behind the seat. “Hey, I have something for you.”
“I thought we agreed not to bother with presents. Making dinner and eating together tomorrow night was supposed to be our present to each other.”
“And it is, and it will be, but--look, man, if you’re always going to have to carry a cane, you might as well carry an interesting one. I’ve taken it upon myself to start your collection.” He retrieved the cane and presented it to Neal, then turned on the map light so he could see.
Neal turned it this way and that, admiring it: smooth, glossy ebony with a scrolled silver handle, and his monogram engraved in the plain band where the handle joined the wooden shaft. It was so much more elegant than the plain workhorse canes he had always carried. “This is far too nice to use, Lorin. My walking sticks see an awful lot of hard wear. I’ve broken at least one in the time I’ve known you.”
“Two, actually, and didn’t you hear me say this is the start of your collection?”
“Well, if the cane is going to be a permanent fixture, you might as well have some fun with it.”
“I never thought of that! Different canes to suit the weather, my mood, or a special occasion. Well, why not, since my shoes can never make a fashion statement. Thank you. Sorry I won’t be able to use it for awhile yet.”
“Doesn’t matter. At least you have it now, and it will be ready and waiting as soon as you’ve been cleared to give up the crutches.” Lorin took hold of the wheel and backed the car out of the church lot, then shifted into gear and headed for home. “Think you might still have a little life in you yet, before we have to hit the hay?”
“Very little. It has been rather a long night.”
“I know, but I’d really like a smoke and a cuddle. We don’t have to screw. I just want to be close, and pass out in your arms.”
Neal smiled. “That I think I can manage.” He was silent a moment, then started to sing quietly, “Wassail, wassail all over the town--”
Lorin laughed, recalling their first Christmas together, just as Neal had intended. “Given how drunk you were, I’m surprised you remember that.”
“I don’t, but you’ve told me the story often enough, it’s almost like I was there.”
“Well, your body was, at least. God knows where your brain was. Looking back now, it was funny as hell, though I failed to see the humor in it at the time. I really do hate drunkenness, and it upset me to see you that way. I didn’t know you very well then, and I was afraid you had a problem, or at least, the beginnings of one. See, there’s a history of serious alcoholism in my family, so I’m hypersensitive when it comes to booze. I can drink, and I do, as you know, but I’m really careful not to over-indulge.”
“Well, not to worry. You won’t see me in that state again, I promise.”
Lorin held out his hand, crooking his little finger. “Pinky-swear?” he asked, sounding poignantly childlike.
Neal smiled, and restrained a laugh, and hooked his little finger around Lorin’s. “Pinky-swear,” he agreed solemnly, and Lorin released him.
“Maybe that seemed silly, Neal, but thank you. It means a lot to me.” He fell silent for a few moments, then spoke again. “You’re a very different man now from the one you were that night, in so many ways, but the main thing I’m gratfeul for right now is that you’re stone-cold sober, and I won’t have to carry you upstairs.”
“And I’m grateful that this year I’m not stuck in hospital, believing the best gift anyone could give me would be a whopping dose of morphine. What a hellish time that was!”
Hellish indeed, Lorin remembered, with Neal deeply depressed as he confronted what was left of his foot, and frustrated at having to remain in the hospital during the holiday and into the new year. Nothing in the world could have made that Christmas merry!
“Hopefully, this is the first of many happy Christmases for us,” Lorin said, as he pulled the car into his space in the garage beneath the house. He switched off the engine, yawned, and rubbed his eyes sleepily. “Come on, Babe. Let’s go upstairs and call it a night.”