Do you have a story that haunts you, awake and asleep, that taunts, teases, compels you? “Grace for the Sinner” is one of those stories. I first attempted to write this story some 10 years ago. Since then, I have tried time after time after time, only to give up, knowing I did not have the skill to do Grace justice. Still she pleads with me, begs me to tell her story, to not let her be forgotten.
This story is like a lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. Slowly, carefully, I shape it, trying to draw out the beauty and meaning into words, to shape the words into a story that carries the depth of feeling I have for Grace. Every time, as I get closer to the end, it slumps back into an amorphous heap of muck. Yet I must try again.
Maybe this time. Maybe this time, I will be touched by Grace and allowed to tase glory.
Herewith, a peek into the soul of Grace.
Grace for the Sinner
By Carter Nipper
Grace came home in the springtime, when dogwoods declared the glory of Christ Resurrected, spreading white-robed arms over the azaleas that covered the Earth in blood and fire. The air was heavy with the scents of honeysuckle and wisteria and the old houses stood haughty and aloof, dozing in the warmth as they dreamed their gray and dusty dreams of glories past and the giants that had walked the Earth in days of old.
Home, she thought. Ross Landing, where the past is now.
She caught a brief reflection in the car’s window, tired green eyes rimmed with fire, weary blonde hair with a touch of flame, strawberry blonde, some call it, though there were no strawberries here any more, only ashes and fading embers. Her skin bleached with fatigue, and her freckles blazed in contrast.
What a mess, she thought. First thing I’m going to do is get some sun, but she knew that, as surely as she relaxed in the healing rays, she would rise later in flames, the price of her ancient Celtic heritage.
The airport was a nightmare collage of faceless hurrying strangers, blaring announcements, and kaleidoscope colors. She groped her way through the crowd, confused, pursued by nameless, formless Furies that came closer with every step. Only when they were at last airborne was she able to relax in her metal and fabric cocoon, anticipating the safety and security, the familiarity and comfort of home.
The car proceeded slowly down Liberty Street, so named because legend had it that the only way for the prisoners to escape the old Penitentiary on the North end of the street was to take the solemn ride to the cemetery on the South end. Grace watched the houses drift past, knowing that their airs of ancientness were only shams; Sherman’s men had done their work only too well along their March to the Sea.
As the car pulled to a stop in front of the only true antebellum house left on this street, one of the small clouds momentarily crossed before the sun, plunging the day briefly into smoky shadow. Grace froze in her seat as she was gripped by a brief frisson, seeing in her mind’s eye a vision of that terrible night, when houses burned like hideous torches, lighting the hurricane of holy retribution that brings a flood of ruin upon war’s unlucky losers. The vision passed as quickly as it had come, and she was left weak and tired, a modern girl in a modern world with the war generations gone and a bright spring day to welcome her home.
The ride to the airport was a smoky reflection in a broken mirror. Miles upon miles stretched out in hazy, half-seen flashes. The cabbie gave up trying to talk to her after a while, and she gazed out the windows, seeing things that were not there. Her thoughts alternated between what had been and what would be, but refused to even consider what is now. It seemed as though the ghosts of her marriage rode alongside, leering and capering in a mocking celebration.
“I’ll bring your bags, Miss Grace.”
“Thank you, Tom.”
“We’re glad to have you home, Miss. If you don’t mind me saying, it looks like you need to be here.”
She smiled and felt the weight of the world she was carrying.
“Thank you, Tom. I don’t mind you saying. I do need to be here right now, and I’m glad.”
She walked up the brick walk to the front door. The creak as she opened it hurt her ears. Daddy should fix that, she thought, her tired mind only then realizing what an absurdity that statement was. She felt the tears rising once more and fought them back with a shudder.
Can’t let Momma see me cry, she thought. It wouldn’t be proper.
She stood in the hall, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness, hearing the silence. The high ceiling and dark, aged wood imparted an air of ancient holiness that should not be disturbed. The only sound that she could hear was the slow ticking of the clock in the study, measuring out eternity in its inexorable beat. She almost expected to hear her Daddy’s voice booming out a welcome, his presence filling the hall with life and laughter, but she knew better, for he had died months ago, and her grief still festered in her heart.
The word spoken querulously sounded like the pealing of a bell in the hushed solemnity of the house. It seemed to hang writhing in the air, her incivility held up for the disapproval of all.
Her mother’s voice came out of the kitchen at the end of the ponderously long hall. It sounded so natural in the eerie atmosphere in which Grace stood trapped. Grace heard soft rustlings and footsteps as her mother emerged from the kitchen.
The words seemed inane as they embraced stiffly, like strangers. Never close, they had moved farther apart over the past few months. As they drew apart, Grace saw fear and pity in her mother’s eyes, and her shame burned within her like a magnesium flare, bright, hot, unquenchable.
“I’m home, Momma, and I’m tired. I think I need a nap.”
“Go on ahead, honey”, her mother said. “I understand. We’ll catch up later, after you’re rested.”
Grace picked up her overnight bag with her essential needs inside.
“Can I leave these bags here, for now, Momma?”
“You go on and get some rest, now, Grace”, her mother said. “I’ll get Tom to bring them up later. They’ll be alright here for now.”
Grace smiled wearily and trudged up the stairs to her room. It seemed alien to her when she got there, as if a stranger had once lived here and had left her spirit in everything. Grace set her bag on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling uncomfortable, as if she were intruding. Finally, she gathered her strength and lay back. She was asleep before she had time to think any more about anything.
She looked around the empty apartment one last time, hearing once more the laughter and the tears, seeing once more the sunlight and the shadows. Dusty ghosts moved through the empty rooms – airy apparitions of the memories that they had made here, memories good and bad now merely dead, doomed to disappear when the door closed behind her. She heard a horn blow outside – her cab. She picked up her bags and walked out the door, each step a struggle, though her luggage was light. The click of the latch was as light as her steps were heavy, and silence once more blew through the empty hall.
Categories: WIP, snips