A canticle for Meg – a short story

A Canticle for Meg

ship collage of that long ago summer

 dedicated to and in memory of  two women of the 20th Century, rest in peace. Names and places are changed but thanks to my mom, grandparents and my cousin Sharon, for sharing old family albums and stories. 

stained glass and grace

 Kate stood  quietly with bowed head and lit the tiny votive prayer candle under the icon of the Sacred Heart. The church was filled with a silence so profound she could hear her thoughts and memories swirling around like a softly wailing wind inside her head.  It had been awhile since she had been inside the church.  She watched as the sun broke through the stained glass in smooth golden shards. The window portrayed the child Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist, spilling the waters of grace from a small pitcher into the peaceful corners of the sanctuary.  

As she sat down in the nearby pew, a woman knelt beside her in devotion, fingering pearl rosary beads, while her mouth moved in silent, chanting recitation. The woman had graceful, white hands and Kate immediately thought of her cousin Meg’s hands, not in prayer, but gingerly draping a set of lustrous, oriental pearls around her slender neck. Kate had loved the look and feel of Meg’s pearls.

Meg's ship

 She looked up toward the altar and remembered that the center of the cathedral was called the nave after the Latin word for ship. The curved apse with the raised dais at the high end represented the helm, where the congregation looked for steady guidance in the midst of tempest and storm. She remembered a beautiful summer’s day when Meg’s ship arrived in the town harbour, with the Captain standing tall on the bridge

   The year following Kate’s mother’s death, her older cousin had come up to Seattle to take her down the coast by steamer to San Francisco and San Diego for a holiday. Meg was married to a sea captain and they had sailed all over the Pacific, from San Diego to Shanghai and up to Anchorage. Her husband came from a long line of seafaring men dating back to the old days of windjammers and clipper ships.

   Kate grew up in a neighbourhood of honest, hard-working folk.  There had never been time or money for many luxuries. She had arrived in America with her parents when she was about to start school. Other family members had also emigrated from Scotland and Ireland and all had made modest but comfortable lives for themselves.  The lovely Meg stepped out of these humble beginnings and into something far grander. She was tall and slender, with black hair and ivory skin.  Her every gesture seemed to breathe a sweet grace and Kate looked up to her as an older sister, with great affection and love.

The gull's cry

 

   That early summer on board the coastal steamship was one of the happiest times of her life.  She stood laughing at the ship’s rail with Meg, as dolphins raced in the wake and clamoring gulls filled the wind.   Sometimes her face and hands were wet from the salty, blowing spray of a brief summer squall but she would only go inside when Meg called her for tea.  In the early evening she loved to see Meg’s Captain walking on the bridge and to hear the music of the ship’s bell, as the sky flooded gold at sunset.

   Meg and the Captain often touched each affectionately,  and whether it was a brief clasping of the fingers, or a gentle brushing away of a wisp of hair Kate sensed a wave of electricity that seemed to pass from one to the other. It illuminated them and everything around them.  Kate was affected and her own adolescent heart would race at the thought of the two lovers alone at night in their berth and Meg in the Captain’s embrace.

sandpipersig

   When the holiday finally ended it was hard to return home again, but Kate knew her father needed her, and so it was promised that a strand of pearls would be brought back for her from Singapore.  She waited in anticipation, dreaming of exotic harbours where Meg and the Captain strolled hand in hand, and sat sipping tea in tea shops under colourful umbrellas.

The church bell began to toll in deep, resonating waves calling the faithful to Mass. Kate thought of Donne’s poem as solemn worshipers entered the sanctuary. For whom is the bell tolling?  War had just been declared in Europe. There would be terrible losses to come. She was only nineteen and she thought anxiously of her own young husband and of all the husbands and people who would be caught up in events beyond anyone’s control. She placed her hands protectively on her swollen belly. She felt the baby awaken to the sound of the bell, stirring fearfully inside her as though it sensed the unrelenting summons to suffering. This would be her first child and if it was a girl she would call her Margaret Maire,- Meg for short.

   The kicking of a tiny foot that usually brought so much joy, had in that moment turned into a blow of piercing sorrow. Meg would never be a mother thought Kate bitterly.  In an abrupt and terrible twist of fate Meg never returned from that far off place of monsoons and sudden hurricanes.  

  On a hot, humid night, in a fevered moment of time, Meg was murdered by her husband in a storm of jealous rage and suspected betrayal.  Afterward, in despair he had killed himself.  The news arrived on a merciless tide, overwhelming the family in shock and grief.  No one would ever fully know what really happened, nor ever fathom the madness of such a horrifying and unforeseen tragedy.  

   Kate locked away her emotions and struggled to find a comforting grace in a life that had become unpredictably cruel. Everything in her world  shifted relentlessly.  What hidden shadows could cast such darkness over the hearts of good men?  How did a  grand love story end in this way?  Was the beautiful Meg in heaven with her Captain, or were they forever condemned?  It was much too painful to contemplate. In anguish she withdrew into a stoic view of the uncertainty of life.

  The congregation stood reverently, as the priest and servers began to move  in somber and hushed procession up the center aisle to the altar. When the church organ began to play, the choir commenced a majestic opening Laudate.  The music swelled like a wave on the ocean, engulfing the spaces of the church to the very tops of the tall pillars. As it ascended joyfully into the domed nave, Kate closed her eyes and allowed it to carry her as though she were again standing with Meg near the bow and rising upward on the crest. The billowing sky beckoned them and the baby suddenly leapt, like John the Baptist in the womb of his mother when he sensed the joy of an approaching redemption.  The cleansing grace of a summer rain began to fall as a storm gathered on the dark horizon.  The altar bell rang out an alert. At the sound, the captain opened his arms heavenward for deliverance, and the passengers knelt in supplication. It was then that a great sob surged upward from the depths of her and, looking down at her wet hands, she realized that they were drenched in tears.

Laudate


taize monastery

Be at Peace

47 Comments Add yours

  1. There are very few authors that can draw the reader into the story, where time ceases to exist and you feel like you are part of the tale. You Cybele are one such writer. Thank you so much for sharing both these stories with me. In ancient Ireland you would have been known as a Seanchaí 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am happy to share them with another kindred spirit. And I’m so very honoured! A thousand thanks and for reading!! – a Seanchaí!! it must be passed down in my Scots and Irish blood for sure!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Most definitely, keep them coming😃

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kerena says:

    Such a compelling story, Cybele! There was a gentleness in your telling of it that was so touching to me. You have a gift for drawing the reader in and painting the story with words. I especially liked the movement back and forth in time. Well done! You’ve crafted your own family heirloom with this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so pleased you read it Kerena and for your lovely comment again!! Keep reading!! There are quite a number of writers on WordPress and it’s so encouraging to have people read the stories and be touched by them!

      Like

  3. Such a wonderfully moving and well written story. You definitely have a talent for writing, keep it up. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so pleased you read it and thank you for your generous comment! I will!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cybele, you have such incredible talent as a writer. Your story drew me in and kept me there, with its twists and turns. Love the metaphor of the church and boat! Obviously a story written from the heart. I’m so glad you linked to here from your post photo!

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    1. I am so honoured by your comment. It’s so encouraging to keep going with it!! Thank you Stacy.
      PS: come back and read more anytime!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You can count on it, Cybele!

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  5. jannatwrites says:

    This was a beautiful story. I was surprised at what happened with Meg and the Captain… it seemed they had a beautiful love story so it was a tragedy. I felt Kate’s sadness as she remembered Meg. What an uncertain time… dealing with the grief of loss and the onset of war, while pregnant no less.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks so much for reading and for your lovely comment Janna!! This sadly is a true family story. I’m off for a couple of days but will get back to reading more on your wonderful blog after weekend!!

      Like

  6. t2van says:

    Beautifully written, and so sad, yet with the glimmer of renewal that a new baby always brings. This feels like a teaser of an epic, multi-generational novel…have you ever thought of using this story as way into something bigger? I’d love to read more…

    And I simply love the line, “she could hear her thoughts and memories swirling around like a softly wailing wind inside her head.”….

    🙂 Terri

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    1. I so appreciate your comment Terri- thank you!! Oh some of the stories scare me lol!! But a great idea !!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nic says:

    This is just lovely, thank you for pointing me to it. I love the images you have alongside the written word. Very nice. 😀

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    1. I am so pleased you enjoyed it!! Thank you for reading!!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely story, made even more beautiful with the revelation that it is based on your family history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thanks so much Lore. I’ve had some kind feedback on this one, here and in email. I ‘m quite overwhelmed. Who knows. I may put together an anthology of my short stories and see what happens. (But I need to polish them up of course!! arghh) I am an amateur. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are all amateurs, until world recognizes our awesomeness. 😉

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      2. 😀 right on sister friend!!!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It was a heartbreaking tale!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It shines through, your commitment and emotion.

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      2. thank you dear Lady of the Snow!!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. chaniarowan says:

    I loved this beautifully written but very sad story. You are a real storyteller!

    Like

    1. thank you so much!

      Like

  10. Sharon says:

    Beautiful take on one of our family stories.

    Like

    1. thanks so much cuz!!

      Like

  11. suej says:

    What a sad, poignant story beautifully told. Love your imagery, and the Laudate is a wonderful inclusion to the post.

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    1. Thank you so much Sue. Yes I love the Taize music!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Cybele, O … very moving story.

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    1. yes I think so too Della!! Thanks so much for reading!!!

      Like

  13. Stephen Thom says:

    I enjoyed reading this, it was good to come across your blog. A graceful, gothic swell to the storytelling, laced with sudden tragic turns, lovely phrasing, almost poetic moments. Nice one. Will read more of your pieces soon. 🙂

    Like

    1. I am pleased you liked the story and so appreciate your encouraging comments!! That story is close to my heart as it is from my family history. I am going to head over to your blog later today!! Very nice to meet you and thank you so much for joining me on this blogging journey!!

      Like

  14. Sarah M says:

    Lovely and poignant read. I like the merging of her memories on the ship with what is happening in the church. I hope Kate found peace! The Laudate is lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Peter Nena says:

    An affecting family story. Meg’s life ends sadly in a cruel death. And when Kate is pregnant war begins. There is a hopeful ending for the story, though. Even Meg’s baby feels the joy of redemption. Good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you ! Yes there is always renewal in life!

      Like

  16. Wyn says:

    what a tragic and moving story, wonderful imagery. I enjoyed reading it!

    Like

    1. thanks for stopping by!

      Like

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