By Anna Cates
Ignatius Yeats had just settled down for afternoon tea when a knock sounded at the door. He jumped as if a ghost had spooked him. That someone would occasion upon him was frightening. Nobody ever visited him. Nobody liked him. He lived alone in a three-story house atop the hill, dotted with baaing lambs and overlooking the village and sea. Rumors, not completely true, held that he was rich yet ungenerous. Not caring for the greedy masses, he kept to himself, except for weekly visits to the library and market. People he could do without, but not poetry and lamb butter fried pork kidneys. Still, for all his solitude, he sometimes feared he’d lose his mind.
The knocked sounded again. Ignatius clinked the Earl Grey cup of tea onto the antique saucer with its brown-stained chip, spilling hot liquid on his quavering hand. He winced. He leaned over and opened the end table drawer. A peek at his loaded pistol reassured him.
He closed the drawer then crept across the crimson carpet to the oaken door. Pulling back the lace curtain, he peered through the glass panel. Rain spilled across the verdant countryside, but the stoop was empty. He cracked open the door just to make sure he’d misheard. Then, in a flash of lightening, there she stood, like a specter that appears out of nowhere. An aura haloed her, or perhaps just the full moon, all aglow, unmercifully bright in the stormy sky.
Ignatius gasped. His head rocked back, then it craned forward. He could feel his eyes popping in his head. Was she real, the mysterious apparition? Her bright eyes gleamed like an angel’s. Her unbound hair was damp and streaming down her back. Then, for a moment, she seemed almost ordinary, so Ignatius wasn’t sure what he beheld: human or seraph.
“May I come in,” she asked. “I’ve nowhere to go. It’s cold and raining.” She shivered, brow furrowed. Wet or crying, Heaven’s tears covered the earthy creature. Ignatius puzzled. Then his mouth curled into a grin, extirpated adolescent mischievousness reinvigorating him. “But of course!” He grabbed a fistful of damp brown shawl and pulled her inside.
A year passed. Ignatius found himself down in the parish at the local church, a penitent ready to confess. He sat behind the curtains, his flushed body fidgeting. Visible through a chink at one side of the cloth, a young priest reposed. When he made the sign of the cross, Ignatius followed.
“Bless me Father, for I’ve sinned. It’s been seventeen years since my last confession. . . ,” Ignatius began, easing into the tedious details afflicting his conscience. When his narration ended, his head hung so low he felt as if he were holding it like a pumpkin on his lap.
“Are you sure the child is yours?” the priest asked. “If I’m to christen it, I must be certain of its paternity. Church records must be accurate.”
“It’s mine, Father. I’m certain,” Ignatius replied, though momentary doubts washed through him.
“But you say she came to you with nothing, from nowhere. How can you be sure she wasn’t already pregnant when she arrived at your doorstep?”
Ignatius had had no idea the priest would ask such trying questions. “I know for sure, Father . . . The child is mine, Father . . . for Ona has been with me just over a year now, but the babe was born only last week.”
Behind the curtain, the priest’s gaze shifted to peer at him through the chink. “Illegitimacy is a curse, but I absolve you. Bring Ona and the babe here. I’ll christen the child and marry you two properly. A marriage long overdue,” the priest added, voice rising with indignation before his lips shut tight.
Ignatius had feared such a response. “But I can’t bring Ona down into the valley. People dislike me here. I’d hate to think how gossipers would have their way with the truth. Will you, could you, Father, pay us a visit?” His fingers knotted as if in prayer.
The priest huffed with impatient annoyance. “If you won’t bring them here, you’ll have to christen the babe yourself! Say ten Our Fathers, three times a day, until the day you die, and pray to God to have mercy on your soul!”
Ignatius flew out of his seat in a rage, tearing the partition from its place. “You cannot manage such a simple task? To Hell with you!”
But in the days that followed, word spread throughout the village that Ignatius abode in sin with a woman he wasn’t properly married to, and who possessed unnatural beauty. Some wondered how he’d gotten so lucky. Some declared he’d ruined an innocent. Some simply wanted to behold the controversial pair. Travelers, townspeople, and wayward youth loitered along the dirt road near the pasture beside his home to gain a peep at the odd couple. They’d climb the fence, just sit there, and stare or snigger at the three-story Victorian. Ona couldn’t breastfeed without drawing the curtains. Ignatius monitored the rabble with clenched teeth. Finally, a few pistol shots through the open window scattered the masturbatory pack.
Season verged on season. One day, Ignatius was returning from the library with Song of the Fairies, by William Butler Yeats, a poet he believed must be a distant relation. Looking forward to reading the poems to Ona, he strode up the hill just as the first drops of rain began to pepper him. He looked up. Dark skies churned, heavy laden with clouds, and he felt relieved to be getting home before the storm struck. But when he arrived at the porch, the front door was cracked open. How unlike him to not lock up. Sensing something terribly amiss, he dropped the book in the dirt, and heart racing with dread, ran inside.
“Ona!” He rushed into the parlor, but nobody answered his call. No baby’s things were scattered across the floor as they had been. His stomach fell into his leather boots.
“Ona!” He bolted up the stairs and dashed into their bedroom. The bed’s patchwork quilt was tucked snugly over the pillow as usual. His ancestor hung on the wall in a hulking frame, crooked as ever. But in the closet, all of Ona’s clothes were missing. The room seemed so empty. It was as if she had never lived there at all. Momentarily, he wondered if he’d imagined the whole affair. Were the last of his wits finally failing him?
“No! This cannot be!” Ignatius tore back down the stairs and dashed outside into the rain just as the first crackle of lightning split the heavens. “Ona!” he called, but the deluge engulfed him, drowning out his futile cries.
He ran into the field, staring at the wooden fence dividing pasture from roadway. He, they, those monsters had taken her. Her and the baby! Who could be responsible for such a devilish kidnapping? But he could think of no one in particular. The whole town hated him, had maligned him, and as he remembered each odious face, each sour expression, each condescending grin, no one person seemed more insidious than another. He didn’t even trust the women! It was unimaginable, impossible, that she would leave him of her own accord. Where would she go?
Wet wind beat against him. He stood among the lamb patties, motionless as a tree, just soaking up the rain. Still, he couldn’t blame the villagers, though they deserved it. He couldn’t feel bitter. Ona had destroyed that part of him that felt antipathy for man. He could only let himself grow covered by Heaven’s tears, as Ona had been when she first came to him.
Her face flashed with the lightening in his mind. Ignatius let go. His body hardened, extending. His feet sank into the earth, rooting throughout the soil. His head tilted back, and his arms lifted out to his sides, expanding. Fingers elongated. Skin textured into bark. The memory of the flush of her cheeks—pink blossoms—burst forth at the ends of his branches. Indescribably sweet, the scent . . .
The villagers never saw Ignatius again. But years later, sojourners passing by the house in spring couldn’t help but note the beauty of the weeping cherry in the splendor of its bloom, growing beside the weather-beaten Victorian atop the hill, overlooking the restless sea.
Anna Cates is a graduate of Indiana State University (M.A. English and Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction/English) and National University (M.F.A. Creative Writing). She teaches college writing and literature and graduate education as an online instructor. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Dwarf Stars, Elgin, and Rhysling awards. Her books include: The Meaning of Life (Cyberwit Press), The Frog King (Cyberwit Press), The Darkroom (Prolific Press), The Golem & the Nazi (Red Moon Press), The Journey (Wipf & Stock), Love in the Time of Covid (Wipf & Stock), and The Poison Tree: A Peace Play (Wipf & Stock). She presently resides in Wilmington, Ohio with her cats, Freddie and Fifi and is a member of the Tower Poets of the Yellow Springs, Ohio area.