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Authors: Philip F. Deaver

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Silent Retreats

BOOK: Silent Retreats
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Copyright Information
ISBN for this digital edition: 978-0-8203-4319-8
Copyright information from physical edition of book:
Paperback edition published in 2008 by
The University of Georgia Press
Athens, Georgia 30602
www.ugapress.org
© 1988 by Philip F. Deaver
All rights reserved
Set in Linotron 10 on 13 Trump Mediaeval
Printed digitally in the United States of America
The Library of Congress has cataloged the
hardcover edition of this book as follows:
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Deaver, Philip F.
Silent retreats : stories / by Philip F. Deaver.
229 p. ; 23 cm.
ISBN 0-8203-0981-8 (alk. paper)
I. Title
PS3554.E1756  S55  1988
813'.54—dc 19
87—14313
Paperback ISBN—13: 978-0-8203-3066-2
ISBN—10: 0-8203-3066-3
British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available
Dedication

This work is dedicated with great love and respect, to John Groppe and James Kenny, St. Joseph's College, Rensselaer, Indiana.

Acknowledgments

"Silent Retreats" was first published in
Puerto del Sol
; "Fiona's Rooms" in the
South Dakota Review
; "Arcola Girls" in the
New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly
; "Wilbur Gray Falls in Love with an Idea" in the
Florida Review
; and "Long Pine" in
Sou'Wester
.

Cover image: "Midwest Horizon" © Larry Kanfer, www.kanfer.com

Contents

Copyright Information

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

 

More Flannery O'Connor Award titles

Silent Retreats

One Monday morning on the way to work, the traffic pausing behind school buses, Martin Wolf was suddenly struck by the circularity of life and began to sob. Or maybe it wasn't the circularity but something made him sob and he thought that was it. The air, autumn cool, and the clear sky, the nostalgia of the changing trees, the cars with their small rising trails of exhaust, all conspired to give him existential doubt. He pulled onto a narrow shoulder along Roosevelt Road, two hundred feet from the big intersection at Glen Elyn Pike, slumped in his seat, and let himself go.

He'd gotten up too early that morning, reacting childishly to the muddled rejections of his wife. In the dim light of the kitchen, he poached an egg, half listening to the radio tuned to whatever station he inherited when he turned it on. To keep from bothering her, he'd hit the shower in the dark strange experience: in the shower was a handbrush and as he scrubbed his hands with it he was swept away with a recollection of watching his father scrubbing for surgery back when he was in high school. At that time it was presumed Martin would be a doctor too someday. Now he felt the bristles reddening his hands, and he brushed all the way to the elbows to sustain the recollection. He dressed mostly in the available light of a blue dawn—whatever of it could find its way past the pulled drapes of the master bedroom. Then he'd read a while, sitting near the woodstove in the den. Melissa Manchester and Jackson Browne were on WLS, their love songs, their road songs. Martin pouted through the final routines of tying his tie and finding his watch and keys, finally stepping out the back door around 7:30. The vinyl of his car seat was stiff with the morning chill. He worked as systems analyst at Argon Labs, a short commute. From the narrow shoulder on Roosevelt Road, he watched the cars go by and slowly turned the dial on the car radio, searching for the one station whose wave length he was already on. He looked intentionally into the passing cars. The drivers were looking ahead only as far as the back bumper of the car ahead of them, or, in extreme cases of foresight, as far as the Glen Elyn Pike crossroad. Stopped at the light, the men would pull the morning paper up out of the seat next to them and prop it on the steering wheel, take a sip of coffee from the cup balanced on the console; the women would sit perfectly still, waiting, or they would pull down their sunglasses—all the women wore sunglasses—they would pull them down and check their makeup, cocking the rearview mirror toward themselves, cocking it back.

And all the while he watched, he couldn't stop crying. He sank deeper and deeper into his seat, the warmth and humidity of his tears steaming the car windows until the idling migration on Roosevelt Road finally became nothing but fog around him.

Maybe he fell asleep a few minutes—at least he lost touch. Presently he realized there was a car very close to his, stopped next to him, and he wiped a hand over the fogged-up window to look out. It was a woman, leaning from her driver's seat all the way across to the window on the passenger side, which was already down. Martin opened his window, peered toward her.

"Hello," she said, "is everything okay?" She had to talk loudly over the traffic.

"Right," Martin said. "Fine." He was trying to think if he knew her. He didn't.

"Are you sure? I have a CB here—I can make a call."

"I'm fine, thanks."

She looked right at him. "I have the feeling something's wrong—are you sure?"

"No," Martin said, answering the wrong question, rolling his window up again. "I mean yes, I'm sure," he said, slumping down in his seat. When he looked back, she'd driven on.

He dropped a dime in the booth, and had to open the door again to bend down and pick it up. There were watermelon seeds, gravel bits, butts, brown stains in the corners. He heard his phone call go through.

"St. Michael's rectory." The voice spoke quickly but also seemed casual, a young man; the voice was deep, resonant, accustomed to speaking from the pulpit in modestly didactic sorties on the values of suburbanites.

"Hello." Martin was staring up the long street. From the booth, there was a gradual slope upward toward the outer suburbs presenting a retreating panorama of plastic franchise displays and the high-mounted signs of car dealers. The Radio Shack sign and the far off Dunkin' Donuts sign were turning; the tasteful bank sign, with gold bank logo on black, was giving digital readouts on the time, temperature, and up-to-the-minute interest rates.

"Anybody there?" the priest said. With the Chicago accent, he sounded like a cross between a LaSalle Street speculator and an Irish city cop: the practiced tone of an urban populist.

"I'm here. Yes. Sorry," Martin said.

"Don't apologize," the priest said. "It's just . . . you called me so you have to talk." There was a smile in the voice.

"Sorry," Martin said, then winced that he'd apologized again. But the priest was silent.

"Father, you don't know me," Martin said, conscious of the halting way he was speaking. "I'm actually not a Catholic anymore. I work out at the labs."

"Lots of Catholics survive working at the lab, pal. Are you in a booth?"

"Right," Martin said. A Triumph and a Camaro were doing a ritual revving at the stoplight, intersection of Roosevelt and U.S. 54·

"Sounds like the Daytona 500 out there. Roosevelt Road, right?"

"You got it," Martin said.

"Why not drop by if you have time. You know where we are? I've got some iced tea." The cars tore away from the mark. The Camaro left the Triumph after first gear, catching rubber in all four. "Mercy," the priest said when the noise relented.

"Sorry," Martin said.

"You know the Heiss family? Rick Heiss? Out at the labs?" Martin caught a sunbeam off a car bumper and it went all the way through his brain. "Heiss has a lovely family," the priest said. "He was a seminarian for a while, you know. They come to St. Mike's."

Martin was squinting, looking around through the grimy windows of the phone booth. "Father, I'm sorry to bother you this morning, but I'm on the way to work and I started wondering if . . ." He paused. Call a person "Father," it made you seem like the child, it made you seem innocent and the father all-knowing, like in the old days. It made life seem solid instead of liquid and gas. Intervention was possible; solutions existed and were only as far away as a rosary, a confessional, holy water. Tears were filling his eyes again. "I'm wondering if they still have silent retreats like they used to. I went on one with the Knights of Columbus once, when I was seventeen. Down around St. Louis someplace. I figured you guys might know if they still have things like that."

It was quiet on the other end. There was clicking in their connection.

"Hello? You there?"

"Well, usually they aren't silent anymore, to the best of my knowledge. But they do still have retreats. We've got marriage encounters and renewals, held at the old Maryknoll convent. And the diocese has a retreat consultant come through from time to time, usually in conjunction with special diocese-level initiatives." The priest sighed. "The stress these days is on community. I guess the silent retreat stuff—they used to have retreats like that all the time—I guess the silent ones are considered self-indulgent. These days, in keeping with the community thing, community of the faith, of the faithful so to speak, these days at retreats they get in small groups, you know, and share perceptions. Building a sense of community, you might say. That's the idea."

"Well, I'd like to go to a silent retreat," Martin said.

"I understand. You know, the new thinking—I know you know what you want and pointing this out is a pain, but the new thinking is that silence like in those old retreats is a kind of self-indulgence—part of the problem, you get me?"

"Well." Martin felt a huge swell in his throat and chest, the fear of tears and yet the need for them to come on. "I don't know," he said. "I'll say this. I don't want to spend a week sitting around in small groups sharing, if that's what you're talking about, sharing perceptions and everybody getting a warm feeling inside. I know about that stuff and it's a big goddamned joke." He tried to wrestle himself back.

"Okay, well," the priest said. "I've got some time this morning—why don't you drop by the rectory? You know where we are?"

"Nah, thanks. I only wanted to check on retreats, maybe get a schedule. I thought you could tell me if there are still the silent ones. I've gotta go to work."

It was cool in the booth and Martin's headache felt like hangovers he'd had.

"If you want, I could meet you over at the confessional or something. Keep it anonymous. No problem—whatever you want." He cleared his throat. "You upset?"

"They think silence is self-indulgent? I'd be interested to know what they think of the Trappists. What a bunch of hedonists, right? Seriously!" Martin said, and found his hand kerchief. The tears were flowing freely and it was a relief for him not to have to hide it from the man on the phone.

"Look. Would you do something? Get out of the phone booth and drop by? I'm free all morning—we could just sit around and talk."

"Nah, I'm fine. I've been crying all morning, is all." Martin looked down the road. He could remember when he was a little boy. When he felt like this, there was someone who could make him feel better. "I appreciate your concern, Father, but . . ." Right then Martin noticed the turning bank sign. "Jesus! Nine o'clock!" He wiped his eyes, almost laughing. "I can't do this all day—I don't have the energy. Excuse me a minute." He clanked down the phone. He opened the door to the booth and blew his nose. "I'm coming apart here," he mumbled to himself. He leaned back in and picked up the receiver.

"You still there?" the priest said.

"I'm sayin', I just wanted to get some information. Thanks for your help."

"What's so great about a silent retreat? They've got retreats for execs, they've got 'em for young marrieds and old marrieds and singles and psychologists. They've even got 'em for cod fishermen and neurotic priests." The priest laughed, tried to bring Martin along with his laugh. "No kidding. Retreats are still with us, it's just the silent ones that you don't see much."

"I understand."

"They even have retreats on educational TV. Do you have cable?"

"We're talking about two different things, Father. You're not talking about the kind of thing a person can go to and just be quiet."

There was no response from the priest. Martin decided he was a Franciscan. The Dominicans were parish priests, acculturated; Martin was thinking this guy sounded slightly more missionary—defying gravity with faith, so to speak. Suddenly, over the phone, Martin could hear the rectory doorbell.

"Hold on a minute," the priest said. "Please, hold on and maybe we can chat a little longer. I've got to get the door. While I'm up, I'll try to find the number for the Jebbie retreat house in Des Plaines."

Martin heard the priest go to the door. "Have a seat," he heard him say to someone, "I've got somebody on the phone. He's asking about retreats—you know the Jesuit place out north? Know anything about it?" The priest was talking to someone he knew well, someone who didn't know anything about the Des Plaines retreat house. Then Martin could hear pages turning. Then the priest was back. "Here we go. Call Father Hollins—661-3428. Gotta pen? 661-3428—no, wait a minute, that's the business office, hold it. Here we go: 661-3477. I think I know that Hollins guy—from Catholic Charities or something. Anyway, give him a call, ask him if he's got something in the way of silent retreats. Just tell him you don't want a bunch of sharing, you never can tell. That's all I can suggest."

BOOK: Silent Retreats
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