Dec. 24, 1983

In honor of this week's Fiction Contest, an encounter with a mysterious priest

"Yeah, I’ll just walk — no biggie.” Todd’s old Riviera wasn’t going anywhere. We tried pushing, but it was stuck up on the snow berm. Funny, we made it all the way from Seattle — ice above Vantage, blowing snow from Ritzville — but a block from Katherine’s house, we wipe out into some guy’s yard.

Oh well, close enough. It was the last ride home — I waited three days for my make-up test, a last shot at mercy from that hard-ass Hathaway. Hopefully I knew my Emerson better the second time. No way I’m flunking out of UW after one quarter.

Under the streetlight, the fat snowflakes looked like falling stars; my path ahead, nothing but pure white in every direction.

My house would be empty: The clan was out in Coeur d’Alene for Christmas Eve. I needed to walk. I was feeling all pumped after coming down Sunset Hill — the Spokane lights hit me hard. For the first time, I got all that Home, Sweet Home stuff.

I counted the Christmas trees in the windows. In one, a girl — a woman, I guess — paced, a baby on her shoulder. I pretended to adjust my backpack to linger there a moment, out in the cold.

Soon, faintly at first, came my old school — St. Augustine’s, the place my parents got married. I walked up the long stairs to the front doors.

“Young Theodore, you’re home.” Suddenly, a priest — black robe, a wisp of gray hair, gaunt face. I didn’t remember him.

“Merry Christmas, father.” He looked up, eyes closed, flakes bathing his face. “It never snowed where I grew up.”

I didn’t say anything. “That Psalm,” he went on, “The heavens declare the glory of God — I knew what that meant after I got to this Territory.”

He looked down, right into my eyes. “This snow, this night — it feels like the currents of God running through us.” He paused. “That’s a line from Emerson.”

“Hey, I’m studying Emerson…” “I know,” he whispered. “Don’t forget what we taught you: Keep seeking. You’ll find what you’re looking for.”

Just then the doors opened. A nun peeked out.

“It’s just me and Father, uh… Where’d he go?”

I left the lights off in my house and walked slowly through each room — all those familiar knick-knacks just gray outlines. I’d only been gone a few months; it already felt different.

I sat in my dad’s favorite chair and closed my eyes. The city lights. A girl in a golden window. “Keep seeking.” All that white everywhere.

I went in the kitchen and dialed for Coeur d’Alene.

“Hello?!” one of my cousins yelled to be heard over all the Christmas chaos. “Santa?!” “Hello?” my mom grabbed the phone a half-second later. “Is it you?” “Hey mom,” I said, flipping on the lights. “It’s great to be home.”

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