She could barely see the shops up the street from the parking lot, as the snow began to fall heavily in winds which obviously were growing stronger. Anabelle snuggled up into her duvet, waiting for the intercom to announce the usual arrival of Carole, her flatmate and cousin. The two worked different hours, but usually managed to cook and eat a late dinner together. Tonight was Anabelle's turn to cook. She was preparing Hungarian Goulash, fresh clover-leaf rolls, and a small salad.
Anabelle sighed. She was concerned about Tomas, their mutual cat. He was hiding somewhere again, most likely in Carole's walk-in closet, behind the extra quilts and duvets. Bad sign. This meant the weather was changing for the worse.
The young woman stretched out her legs, covered in Dooley's Irish black leggings. She was thinking of Christmas and David, her soon to be fiance. Would he give her a ring for Christmas? Would it be the one she picked out or would he surprise her? Surprises were a hallmark of David's personality. He was an "IT guy" and the two had been in love for exactly two years, but waiting for David's new position to begin at the end of this year to plan a date.
A loud buzz interrupted Anabelle's reverie. Ah, she thought, Carole. Anabelle went to the intercom. Carole could never find her keys in her huge embroidered bags, which she made and sold in her own shop. Carole was artistic, not practical, and her bags sold like hotcakes this time of year. Each one was different. Her brand name was DaisyChains....Carole had survived every recession in the past ten years selling her bags. She even sold them as an undergraduate at Somerville in Oxford. Carole was "doing well" and had begun to sell her stuff on Amazon.
Carole was almost eight years older than Anabelle.
The voice on the intercom sounded choppy, odd. "Carole?' Anabelle stopped a minute. She decided to grab her keys, lock the flat and run downstairs. The flat was only on the third floor.
Anabelle rushed down the stairs and ran to the double-fronted glass doors. Carols was standing there in the snow. She was wearing a trendy hoody under her short fake-fur coat. She looked distraught.
"Carole, come in. Where are your keys?"
"Anabelle, I think I left them in the sacristy. You know I had to help put things away after Mass. But, let's go up. I have horrible news. Horrible."
Anabelle bent over and picked up a small bag of groceries Carole had dropped. They took the elevator up and in a few minutes were in the cavernous flat. Carole threw her coat and hoodie on one of the orange chairs in the kitchen.
"Carole, I saw Father Andrew after Mass. He waited for me after he said his prayers. I had to clean some wax off the floor in the sacristy where one of the boys dropped a lit candle. All confusion. No fire.
He told me something shocking. Can we sit down?"
"Sure, Carole. Look, I have some Fontana, you know the Frascati, left over from the party You look like you need some."
Carole slumped on the green retro-sixty chair. She always sat sideways. Anabelle was use to this.
"Father said the diocese is closing Sacred Heart, in one month."
Anabelle practically screamed. She and David talked about getting married there. It was her parish for three years now.
"Listen, that is not all. The diocese lost the law suit- you know, the one with Carfore and Jamison-the gay couple who wanted to get married there. The diocese LOST. This was, Fr. Andrews said, the last appeal to the Supreme Court. It is all over the diocesan grapevine. The diocese has to pay 47 million dollars in fines, legal fees, and pay for so-called psychological damages to Carfore and Jamison, who are already married anyway in Iowa, so far away. But, they were living here when they started the lawsuit. They are claiming emotional damages due to stress and apartheid like conditions from the Catholic Church"
"But, the diocese has to cough up the money, now." Carole stopped and took the wine glass from Anabelle. Anabelle was speechless. She had heard of the lawsuit on the news and on line. But, this decision came down quickly, in her mind.
"Father said that all the churches in Seaview will have to be shut in order to pay for the fines, as the diocese is broke, after the last set of fines, which closed down the schools two years ago. I just cannot believe it is necessary to shut down all the churches. I mean, can't other dioceses help us?"
Anabelle sat down on the other green chair. She thought she was in her dream she had dreamt almost four years ago. "Carole, remember my dream, the one about the churches closing and the giant black cloud?"
Carole turned and sat up on the chair like a normal adult. "Yes, I recall you telling me about this low black cloud, like that green stuff in the old movie The Ten Commandments, going through all the churches in the city. Then, they all collapsed, one by one in the fog."
Both girls were silent. Anabelle spoke in a very quiet voice, "All the churches, all 44 in this diocese? All?"
"Father said they have to sell the properties to pay the fees. And, that will not even cover the costs. Some of the churches in the older towns are practically worthless, and with the majority of churches in the middle of nowhere in the country surrounded by wheat fields or potato fields, no one would be really interested, except to plow under..."
"Is this public knowledge then?" Anabelle felt a cold, gnawing emptiness in her stomach growing like a monster fear.
"Yes, and this is not the only diocese affected, as at least three others were connected to this lawsuit, like tags of some sort."
Anabelle worked in a law office. She was a legal assistant. She had studied for the Bar, but got ill with a crippling disease in her back, and this interfered with her ability to work the long hours needed to be a successful lawyer. She made good money, but her prospects were limited, unless she ended up in a wheelchair like a famous tv lawyer her grandparents watched a long time ago.
She knew that what use to be called MDLs were adopted for civil rights cases at higher levels than district courts, even up to the Supreme Court in recent times. That is probably what Father Andrew meant-tag alongs. This was one of the greatest changes to the legal system in years, and done to expedite lgtb civil rights cases against the Catholics, and some of the Evangelicals.
She sighed. So, it was happening. and right before Christmas. Carole most likely did not understand that this would mean that David and Anabelle would have to be married someplace else. But, where?
"Carole, how fast is this all going to happen? Did Father know?"
"Well, as he is the Vicar-General, I assume his information is correct. He said by March, that is within four months, no church in this diocese would be open. Not one."
"And, Father said something really weird. He said that another case has come up. His brother is in Washington, you know."
"What's that?" Anabelle turned off her dinner and sat down again.
"Something about the complete non-recognition of church weddings in the civil law, and only civil law marriages being recognized, meaning Catholic marriages would no longer be legal or something."
Anabelle understood what this meant. She had heard Jack at work talking about the new marriage laws as he worked on divorce and marriage laws exclusively. There would be no recognition financially or legally of religious marriages. Jack was working with a Sikh couple, and they were trying to deal with laws in Europe which made their Hindu marriage illegal. They had come to America, because the husband's mother was American. But, they had heard rumors.....Jack talked about the new laws loudly enough for Anabelle to hear in the next room. Something was happening.
She felt tired and old as if she had all along suspected that her coming marriage with David was not going to be like her parents', or grandparents' or great-grandparents'. She had sensed that they would not have the same life as previous generations of Collineses and McKenzies. Nothing would ever be the same.
"Carole, what will happen to the priests? What about Mass, confessions, funerals?"
"Father said he would say Mass in any house at any time. He said the Bishop was already discussing special dispensations today at a special deanery meeting. Father said that all the movable things were going to be taken out of the churches, like the altarware and vestments, the day after Christmas. He said something about people coming in to "evaluate" propertied the week after Christmas."
Anabelle felt anger welling up, making her pale face red, as anger always did. The pain of her ancestors in Ireland was gathering in her bright eyes."Blasted, visitators!" She practically screamed.
"What are you talking about, Anabelle?" Carole stood up and got more wine.
"Like in England and Ireland and all over Britain under Henry. The visitators came and took down notes. My mother did her doctorate on the visitators' letters to Thomas Cromwell. It was a brilliant thesis examining the authenticity of the letters compared to the archaeological and other legal documentation of the time."
Carole looked out the north window. Cars were slowly moving down the street in the snow. The night seemed very dark to her."Yes, I remember you talking about this. I am sorry your mother died before the book was published."
Anabelle was silent. The death of her mother of cancer when the woman was only 47 shocked many people. Anabelle's mother had taught Medieval History for years and finally decided to get her research published when she was struck with ovarian cancer. That was six years ago now. Anabelle said nothing.
Carole flopped down sideways on the chair again. "Well, doncha think you should phone David?"
"Yes, I suppose. He will be shocked. You know how these IT guys are..."
Carole came over to Anabelle and gave her a hug. "Maybe you should get married next week."
Anabelle smiled and left the room to find her cell phone.
To be continued....