Unanswered Prayers

Sewing blindly by the dying fire a few nights after, Cecily was wracked by Alis’s incessant coughing. She could almost hear the bones rattle in her mum’s chest with every burst of hacking.

Alis had been weak all through the bitter winter, and now it seemed that the wet spring had settled in her chest and meant to stay. For days she had only been able to manage the lightest work, and a pile of unmended clothes grew daily. Cecily came home every night to help reduce the pile, but inevitably her mum forced her to go, yawning, to bed.

Three watching angels by shaggy359
Three watching angels, a photo by shaggy359 on Flickr.
Alis was one of those women, to be found in nearly every family, who is a born mother. She was always ready to comfort a frightened child in the night, never refused a beggar, and never took the last helping of anything. She had not had an easy life, especially after her husband’s death, but Alis had no enemies, and was loved by everyone—especially her daughter.

Cecily felt a stab of helplessness with every one of the rasping coughs. The slightest draft in the old cottage was her worst enemy. She felt hopeless and more hopeless still when the rye, so depended on by all in Whitcrowe, began to fail. Food had already grown thin through winter, and now it seemed that every new day brought a new front of killing rain.

Alis resettled herself on the stool and gave Cecily a concerned look. She was unusually silent this evening. As if without provocation, Cecily stood up and quietly placed the needlework on her seat. Alis’ eyes followed her as she went over to the door and pulled a cloak off the peg in the wall. “Cessy, where are you going at this hour?”

“Just on a walk, Mum. I won’t go far.” Her voice was straining at normalcy. She opened the door with a jolt and closed it with the slightest slam behind her.

She was on her way to the only place she could think of to find answers. Walking down the road toward the castle, passing the sodden rye fields, and turning to the right, she came to where the little chapel stood bathed in cold moonlight.

It was easy to slip inside unnoticed by a couple of people talking in a corner. She walked up one of the shadowy side aisles to find a place near the altar. Kneeling down with an uncomfortable twisting of her dress, she bent her head as she’d often done and folded her hands together, shutting her lids tight and summoning up a feeling of trust and reverence. She tried to concentrate on a prayer, but her eyes kept drifting open and wandering around the room. She saw the large golden letters written up above the altar and remembered what the vicar had once told her they spelled, “His Will Be Done.” She had always wanted to learn to read; never had the time or chance.

She tried to pray again, mouthed the words, and almost cried with frustration. How many times had she done this? How many times had she sought peace in that dim, smoky chapel, filled with statues that seemed to mock her with their silent lips?

How broad and great and fantastic God seemed when the vicar spoke on frosty Sunday mornings. How her heart flew at the thought of Him when the choir sang their angels’ hymn! Any height of ambition or fantastic imagining seemed possible at those times.

But what was left on a Sculpsday night with a drizzle just starting and Mum hacking herself to death at home alone? Cecily bowed her head even lower, concentrating on her heart where something or someone was supposed to live. She tried to break open her soul before an all mighty God, before a Someone who was limitless and magnificent. She tried to love Him, tried to rouse an attitude of wonder and respect.

But her thoughts would not stay quiet. One more unanswered prayer, how can I keep this up? She gritted her teeth, determined to wait for an answer, for a voice from Heaven, for anything that could signal a response. Why are they asking me to believe something I’ve never felt, much less seen? She banged her fist on the railing and stood up to stamp down the central aisle, purpose in every movement of her body. The couple in the corner turned to stare, and then scuttled out the door as if remembering an appointment. The chapel’s statues were left to themselves, looking into empty air out of soulless stone eyes.

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Constructive criticism is welcome! Please remember, though, that nearly every excerpt posted here is my first rough draft.