Concerning Love

by Thom Brucie

(This is an excerpt from the novel, Children of Slate, EnRoute Books and Media. Morgan O’Bryan has suffered losses of love: a fiancée, a child, a friend, and Father Christopher, his mentor. Morgan is sitting alone in Father Christopher’s old workshop, in a state of despair. In the dark of the night, the ghost of Father Christopher appears, and Morgan and the ghost talk.)

Morgan did not know how long he slept, but it was not eternal, for sometime deep in the night, he heard a rustling sound, and he awoke. His body remained fatigued, and the dangerous claws of despair clamped about his heart. He went to the wall and felt around for the light switch.

With the light on, he noticed the kerosene lantern on the workbench, a pack of matches next to it. He struck a match and lit the wick. When the fire flickered, he turned off the light.

The tangerine glow of ephemeral fire against the ancient stone of the Earth’s core drew shadows at the edge of its light.

He sat on the stool, put his head in his hands, and sighed.

“Feeling lonely?”

Morgan looked up. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to talk to you.”

“Are you a saint?”

“We’re all saints, Morgan. Read your Bible. You don’t have to die to be a saint. You just have to believe.”

“Are you here to punish me?”

“Punish you? Why would I want to punish you?”

“Because I failed you. I didn’t heal you.”

“But you did heal me.”

“No, you died.”

“My body died; but you healed me anyway.”

“How, Father?”

“You let me know the truth.”

“The truth?”

“Sure. You let me know God’s real gift to me. I demanded a gift He didn’t want to give, and I missed the gift He gave me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The stigmata, Morgan. That wasn’t the gift God wanted me to have.”

“It wasn’t?”

“It wasn’t. God’s best gifts are the people He gives us.”

“I don’t know if I’m interested in God or His gifts right now.”

“Not happy, huh?”

“Are you happy?”

“Me? I’m in heaven. Of course, I’m happy. It’s a nice place, heaven. Clean. Lots of food. And God, He’s got a sense of humor. Loves to laugh. Know what else?”

“What?”

“He likes music. Gave me a violin when I got here.”

“That’s nice.”

“Did you know that most of the sound modes in a violin are transferred to the walls and then to the surrounding air?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Except the Helmholtz mode. Helmholtz mode radiates out through the F holes.”

“Father.”

“What?”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Listen.”

“Listen?”

“Sure. God loves when His children listen. Listen like you listen to music; not with your head, with your heart. That’s where God talks most clearly. You know, where love is.”

“My heart is no good, and love? I don’t know about love. Besides, you talk like it’s human love and not Divine love.”

“There’s no difference. Did you know it can take two years just to get the finish on a violin?”

“What do you mean there’s no difference? Isn’t there a difference between the way I love God and the way I love Nadine? Or the way I used to love them. Or the way I tried to love them.”

“I don’t know. You decide. First, you have to scrape the wood gently to raise the grain. Then you have to oxidize the wood, which turns it brown. Ozone gives each one a unique shade.”

“You mean it’s okay if I love Nadine? How could He allow that after what’s happened?”                                                          

“It’s not a matter of permission, Morgan. Love is love. All it takes is courage. You don’t need anybody’s permission to love. It’s a choice. You either love or you don’t. What you do with it when you get it, well, that’s when life gets interesting. Like the violin. You hang it in the sun and the UV rays form ozone when they strike the surface, oxidizing the wood. You never know what color you’re going to get. You leave the raw instrument in the sun about one summer if you’re near the equator; here in Pennsylvania, about a year.”

“Father, you’re confusing me.”

“Don’t worry, He understands.”

“If He understands, what am I going to do?”

“After a year in the sun, the wood will absorb moisture, especially in a place with high humidity, so it goes in the drying box for a month. Then it’s ready to stain and varnish.”

“Father.”

“Don’t interrupt. Here’s the interesting part. The first two coats of varnish are applied, one after the other, to seal the wood. Again, you hang it in the sun for a week to dry. Then you apply two more coats each with a week’s drying time.”

“Father?”

“Loving effort takes time to reveal its beauty, Morgan. When those coats dry, the instrument is ready for the first coat of color. You squeeze about two inches of oil color from the tube onto a piece of window glass and mix in a little terpene-resin varnish. Working time is only two hours. Here’s what’s important. You use your fingers to apply the color, using a circular motion, moving constantly. You smooth out uneven areas with the heal of your thumb. Every little part, ribs and plates, F hole, peg box, and neck. All of it. You let it dry. Do it again. Let it dry. Four, five, six times. Always with the fingers. It takes another year.”

“Father, what am I going to do?”

“You’ll know. Don’t worry. That’s what faith is, not worrying even when you can’t see what’s coming. Eventually, something will happen. It always does.”

“That’s it?”

“After that, you want more?”

“Father, please.” “Okay. How about this? What you love stains you.”


Thom Brucie’s books include the novels, Weapons of Cain and Children of Slate; a book of short stories, Still Waters: Five Stories; and two chapbooks of poems: Moments Around the Campfire with A Vietnam Vet and Apprentice Lessons. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and his short stories and poems have appeared in a variety of journals including The San Joaquin ReviewCappersThe Southwestern ReviewPacific ReviewWilderness House Literary ReviewNorth Atlantic Review, and many others. Dr. Brucie is Professor of English at South Georgia State College.

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