Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reflections on Subtext

Peter was in the store again. This was the day before yesterday, so... Monday. He shuffled up to the counter, smiling beatifically at everybody, and asked for me. I collected his Diltiazem and went up to meet him. He was waving at Claire when I got there.

I’d expected him to go through our usual lord-of-this-world exchange, but he didn’t. Instead, he asked: “How are you and Claire doing?” He kept his voice down. It seemed pretty natural for someone as old and frail as he looks, but I knew he could make himself heard if he wanted to.

“Good,” I said. He’d caught me off-guard. “Better than that, actually.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said. “I worried, you know. It’s never easy for young couples, especially coming from different religious backgrounds.”

I chuckled and shook my head. I had to force myself to make the gesture look natural; what I wanted to do was gape, or study him a lot more warily than an offhand comment like that deserved. How much does he know, anyway? “It hasn’t been a problem. Not so far, anyway.”

He nodded, and for a moment his expression turned... thoughtful? “Well,” he said, “if it ever does become a problem, feel free to call me. I haven’t done counseling in years, but I like to think I was pretty good at it.”

This time I did gape at him.

He chuckled at my expression. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just an old busybody. All priests are; it comes with the job. And I hate to see souls lost, when there’s a chance to save them.” He paused, then added: “Do call me if you need to, though. And have a good afternoon.”

Then he took his prescription and shuffled back out of the store.

I have no idea what to make of that. How much does he know? What does he guess? What in the hell was he trying to say? Is he hoping I’ll give up my worship and become a Roman Catholic? I mean, I could see him wanting that, but it’s delusional. On the other hand, if he is what I strongly suspect, he might be interested in recruiting me, as well as converting me. That I could see. And the fact that I was coming to his church with Claire must look like a brilliant opportunity.

And there’s still the possibility that he’s entirely innocent - though very sharp - and only interested in bringing a professed non-believer into the church. In that case, his offer might be entirely legitimate; if Claire and I ever get serious enough to start thinking about marriage, her Catholicism is going to be a big consideration. It’s still possible that that’s all there is to it. I don’t really believe it, but it’s possible. And, of course, I can’t just ask him.

Actually, I couldn’t even take the time to think about it just then. A girl in her late twenties was at the counter, insisting that we’d shorted her on her pain pills, and there was a steady stream of people behind her. I’ve thought about it a lot in the days since, though.

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