Father O'Leary's All-Night Mission
by Kevin Reigle
It’s not the congregation that needs saving, it’s the church. At least that’s what the lady says who pays the bills. All she does is complain about Father O’Leary opening up the basement as an all-night mission and soup kitchen between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She says the church can’t afford it.
As I walk through the nave before heading downstairs, I think about something I’ve heard, but I’m not sure where. If God doesn’t love us, I hope he loves stained glass. Well, if he does, he must love our church. Every window from the sanctuary to the narthex is stained glass.
In the basement, Amy and Joe are standing behind the counter serving soup and sandwiches. It’s been cold out and now they’re calling for snow. If that happens, this place will really fill up.
We don’t have anywhere for people to sleep, but some hang around until we lock up around 2 am. The church used to be unlocked all the time, but now it’s only open during services and at night for the soup kitchen. Father O’Leary isn’t thrilled, and he blames the bishop for spreading the fear of vandalism among the congregation.
I hop behind the counter to help Amy and Joe. Amy’s cute and I’ve thought about asking her out, but it seems awkward since I grew up with her cousin, Joe. Besides, I’m still trying to get over this other girl who keeps texting me all the time and won’t leave me alone.
Also, Amy’s mom likes to spread gossip. She started telling people that Father O’Leary drunk dials women late at night. I mean come on. Maybe some of her other gossip could be true, like the stuff about the janitor, but saying things about Father O’Leary like that is going too far.
A television hangs from the celling in the far corner of the basement, but no one really watches it. At some point, Father O’Leary will come down and give a sermon. He’s such a charismatic speaker and even the most cynical personage leaves Father O’Leary’s All-Night Mission with belief and renewed hope.
Joe gives me a nudge and looks over at his cousin who is sitting at one of the tables having a conversation with an elderly couple. At first, I can’t believe he’s serious. I think about telling him how weird it would be to date Amy but then I’m like, well, if he’s okay with it, maybe I should go over and talk to her. So, I do.
At the table, Amy introduces me to the venerable couple. She asks if I know where Father O’Leary is. I see she’s concerned, so I decide to go look for him.
I walk to the side door and climb the stairs. The sacristy is empty. I thought Father O’Leary might be here, but he isn’t. I try the office, but it’s locked. There’s no reason for him to be in the confessional at this hour, but I look anyway. He’s not there either.
I call out his name, my voice echoing through the pews. The only other place he might be is the parsonage. I unlock the massive double doors and step out into the night. Across the parking lot, a single light glows inside the house.
I step up on the porch and knock. There’s no answer. I try the door and it opens. The living room is dark with little furniture. Down the hallway, a ring of light frames one of the doors. When I don’t get a response, I hurry down the hall and push open the swinging door.
A bulb hangs from the kitchen ceiling. It rocks slowly, casting shadows on the ripped linoleum. At the table, in the middle of the room, Father O’Leary is hunched over, face pressed against an empty plate. An open bottle of rum is clutched in his left hand and a phone in his right.
A voice crackles from the receiver. His pulse is weak, but it’s there. I lean closer to his face, and I’m hit with the hot breath of alcohol. I put the phone to my ear and hear a woman yelling.
Before I can ask for help, she calls Father O’Leary a disgusting old man and hangs up.
About the Author
Kevin Joseph Reigle’s short stories have appeared in Beyond Words, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys, Bridge Eight, Pensworth, Prometheus Dreaming, BQW, Bright Flash and others. He is an English Professor at the University of the Cumberlands.