“I just want to be with you…”
Wednesday morning, 23 February 1944
When Adán awoke, he was clothed and bandaged–as was Madeleine, who was devotedly tending to the slowly rousing deacon. She related that Enrique had taken them to Charity Hospital, which he had archaically referred to as San Carlos Hospital. After advising discretion when speaking with medical staff, he had then left to allegedly “take care of the paperwork.”
With Madeleine’s aid, Adán discovered the extent of his injuries: three broken ribs, a fractured jaw, a shattered septum, internal bleeding, his bullet-pierced palm, and a concussion with a related epidural hematoma and partial paralysis. The latter condition had required a craniotomy or burr hole, as well as a related morphine drip.
Due to that opioid analgesic and his neurological injury, Adán’s memories were fogged. He remembered searching for Madeleine–years searching for her–and a dim, muddled recollection of Mahogany Hall’s doorstep. After that, he could recall nothing till waking up in Charity Hospital. He assumed that he had simply saved her, though he could not recall how he obtained his injuries.
Wracked by guilt and shame, Madeleine was reticent to fill in those details. Indeed, her serial possession had stolen her control of her body for six tortured years, but El Taumaturgo had made sure she was aware of her many forced-upon sins, particularly against the man who had been trying to save her for more than half a decade. Her answers were evasive, and the first of many half-truths she would tell Adán:
“You… you fought off my captors… the Order of the Garter, they tried to… they fought back, but you… won…”
Adán accepted her explanations, only to slip back out of consciousness.
Wednesday evening, 23 February 1944
For most of the day, his grasp of the world around him was tenuous. He had half-remembered morphine dreams, some beatific and others like visions of hell itself. The latter included falling into a millennia-long pit, where phantasmagoric swarms of locusts invaded every orifice of his body; his nose, ears, mouth, nethers, and eyes; where they devoured him from the inside until he was naught but hollow skin like a bag of leather filled with dead cypress leaves. In another, he found himself overlooking a black sea that extended forever, filled with vast waves crashing on rocks that screamed for mercy but were unheard, not even by the host of sleeping cavalry that rested upon them, tending to their dead mounts. Upon spotting Adán, those knights had surrounded him and pierced him seven times seventy with their spears.
When he cried out, Madeleine would take his hand, and in his fevered delirium, he would hold hers like a drowning man clutching an extended sword. Sometimes he would call out names, the names of his dead kin, his past teachers, more ancient saints–and sometimes, he would call out for Ava, confessing his love with an anguish worse that his bodily wounds. It was in those moments that Madeleine first learned to hate the name–and the woman she had not yet met.
Still, Madeleine tried to comfort Adán, as she was well-acquainted with being a victim of both hellish ‘visions’ and morphine. Indeed, she relayed, her first exposure to morphine had been in utero.
Madeleine’s Storyville prostitute-mother, Jessebelle Dorleans, had been introduced to the drug by some of her clients. Chief among them had been Madeleine’s alleged father, Gomer du Luc, a Navy physician who rigorously enjoyed his time in Storyville while his WWI ship harbored in New Orleans. After the horrors of treating so many war wounds, Gomer had nostalgically returned to New Orleans after the war, only to find Storyville’s legal prostitution had ended. He nonetheless started up a small medical practice, and he made a decent (if indecent) stream of income performing abortions for Storyville’s underground prostitutes. During one of these operations, Gomer had been reunited with Jess, who by then had become thoroughly addicted to morphine.
She had claimed Madeleine was Gomer’s daughter–though in truth, she was not sure given her vast number of clients and heavy drug use. Still, she had used the possibility to milk the man for money to “raise their child.” This pattern persisted, with the young Madeleine being made to visit her ‘father.’ Initially, those visits had been relatively happy, as he would buy her candy and take her on ferry rides to Algiers or the Gulf Coast.
Yet, when some of Jess’ ‘competitors’ told Gomer that Jess was only spending the money on morphine and bragged about how Madeleine wasn’t even Gomer’s child, the morally damaged doctor snapped. As if to test Jess’ intentions, he started making his ‘child support’ payments directly in morphine–and much to his ire, she hadn’t batted an eye. Eager for more drugs, she ‘adopted’ an orphaned guttersnipe and blatantly tried to trick Gomer into thinking the boy was also theirs–and in need of more “support.” Yet, unlike Madeleine, the boy looked rather nothing like Gomer or his mother. After ascertaining the boy’s age, Gomer had bitterly declared that he could not have been the father, as he had been away for two years in France at the time of the boy’s conception. Jess had tried to suggest that the boy was confused as to his birthday, but she did not press the matter anymore.
Gomer, however, had been less willing to forget or forgive. The next time Jess needled him for “medicine to deal with all the stress of raising Madeleine”, the seething Gomer gave her a hot shot, a mixture of morphine and rat poison. When the toxin started to take effect, he had grimly watched her die, explaining what he had done and how he was happy to “exterminate such a pest.” He had then taken Madeleine into his own care, and initially, her life had improved.
A few years later, though, Gomer married a woman from Carrolton. She disdained Madeleine and continually inflamed Gomer’s doubts as to whether the girl was truly his or just another drug-hungry lie. Eventually, he became convinced she wasn’t his blood, and that decision, coupled with his hidden, but far from extinguished whoring and drinking, doomed her.
One night, Gomer had come back from another tour of Storyville’s illegal speakeasies and brothels. Drunkenly, he had awoken the barely pubescent Madeleine and said they needed to go to his office. She had followed cautiously, but her ill ease had turned to dread and horror when he forced her to strip in order to do a “physical exam.” When he began to fondle her, she had shouted and kicked him in his face. He had drunkenly screamed back, tried to hit her, and accused her of being a “whore just like her junkie harlot mother.” He had threatened to poison her just like Jess if she ever told anyone about her “exam.” Disgusted and terrified, Madeleine had snatched a metal tool tray and bashed the drunk doctor over the skull, knocking him out cold. Unsure what to do, she had raided his wallet and medical supplies–as Jess had well taught her that certain ‘medicines’ were worth a lot of money. With that stash, she had fled his office and returned to the only other home she had known: Storyville.
For a while, she did fairly well by frugally using her money and carefully selling small batches of the painkillers to her mother’s ‘friends.’ But Storyville’s sins soon sucked her in like a whirlpool. She had to repeatedly flee and fight off would-be rapists and pimps. Most of the time, she succeeded. She kept a wary eye for her supposed father, who correctly surmised that she had stolen his supplies and fled to Jess’ old haunts. As she slowly sold off that stash, she frugally hid and stockpiled her monies. Yet, one day, she had returned home to find her money-stuffed mattress cut open and emptied. Despondent, she had turned to the one thing that always seemed to make her mother ‘happy’ or at least carefree: morphine. After that, it did not take long before she had adopted both her mother’s addiction and her former profession. A few years later, she no longer even cared that her most frequent customer was her alleged father.
Nevertheless, that oldest of professions led her to Saul Freneau–and their fateful night with Rosa Bale.
Wednesday night, 23 February 1944, PM
Six years later, Madeleine was free of Alcide and the other unclean spirits. Yet, to her surprise, she discovered that Adán had banished not one, but two, devils: her body was utterly purged of morphine’s decade-long chemical enslavement. When Adán finally roused again in a mostly coherent state, she poured out all her personal and familial sins–all save those of the prior night–to the deacon. He spoke of penance, forgiveness, and grace. He spoke of the atoning, cleansing power of Christ’s blood, or how His infinite suffering could subsume all others.
She had heard others speak of such things, but never had she heard them from someone who seemed to so undeniably believe. It made her want to believe. When she confessed as much, the deacon said that even that mustard seed of faith was sufficient to begin her discipleship and attain God’s grace. Thus, in the last hour of Ash Wednesday, Madeleine burned the physical symbol of her former, sinful life: a Storyville blue book. Adán took those ashes and anointed her forehead with the symbol of the Cross, intoning:
“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”
(“Remember, woman, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”)
In return, she pronounced her Lenten sacrifice: abstinence from morphine, fornication, and the many sins of what she proclaimed was her past life.
“As God wills it,” Adán spoke in approval, then slipped back into morphine dreams.
Wednesday morning, 24 February 1944
Adán spent most of Lent in the hospital. After Adán entrusted Madeleine with discretely contacting Father Fontenot, the Society of Leopold provided a cover story of the deacon being in a car accident, with the archdiocese postponing his ordination till his most severe injuries fully recovered.
For Adán’s own Lenten sacrifice, he convinced his medical staff to help him ‘fast’ from analgesics, at least from sunrise to sunset, consistent with the Black Fast’s traditional time frame. During the evenings, he broke his fast, not only from morphine, but with Lent’s traditional single meal. Often, this meal was with Madeleine, who brought him mussels, pretzels, and waffles. As they ate, he would answer her questions of doctrine and faith, teaching her the Catechisms and scriptures. She in turn would confess how she had faced and resisted certain temptations. Even addled by pain and opioids, Adán began to intuit that Madeleine’s confessions were sometimes incomplete, such as when he pressed her on how she was routinely obtaining the Lenten fare:
“It would be sinful of me to partake in a meal purchased carnally by your flesh.”
“St. Cyprien!” she cried, as she was wont to only use his surname after he forbade her from using his given name. “No, never, never again!”
“Then how did you purchase this meal, as you have not spoken of gaining honest employ. If you have, then speak plainly of it, that we might rejoice together.”
“Yes, I… I got a job, um… working as a… streetcar driver…”
Adán needed no divine aid to see through the lie. Instead, he simply held her gaze. As shame slowly stole over Madeleine’s face, she burst into tears, confessing how she was sincere in her vow to avoid her past sins, and rather than whore herself, she had stolen the food.
“Beloved daughter,” Adán replied gently, but firmly, “was not theft also one of your past sins? Your theft of your father’s medical supplies ultimately led you to your diabolic addiction. Indirectly, yes, but the Devil helps us pave our paths to Hell, brick by brick. With eternal damnation, he can afford to be patient, so we must be vigilant against his subtle deceits–including those we tell ourselves.”
“Yes, St. Cyprien,” she conceded, wiping her tears with the long, shape-concealing Lenten robe she had ‘found.’
“So let us not disparage the cost of Christ’s precious blood for an earthly meal that only satisfies the flesh for a fleeting moment. With each sin, we sell our souls to Hell, like Essau giving away his spiritual birthright for a mere bowl of porridge. Yet, even then, the Lord of Host offers His blood to purchase you, me, and all his children back from Hell. Let us not reject that blood price.”
Madeleine pondered Adán’s short sermon, but her thoughts became snagged like a log-caught fishing lure:
“You said that God offers His blood to purchase me, but also you from Hell?”
“But… what sins did you commit that would condemn you to Hell?”
“Madeleine, though you call me your saint, I am just a man, and like all men, am fallen save but by the grace of God.”
“Yes, but you taught me that only mortal, not venial, sins could condemn a soul to Hell. So… what were your mortal sins?”
Adán laughed gently, “I wasn’t aware, Sister Dorleans, that you were taking confessions.” He then attempted to explain how without Christ’s atonement, all sins, even venial ones would condemn everyone to Hell. However, his explanation was interrupted by Madeleine, whose face had turned darkly curious and less than innocent look:
“Was it with Ava?”
“What?!” Adán exclaimed with shock, for they had never spoken of Saul’s sister, at least not of his conscious recollection.
“Did you fornicate with her? Before taking on the collar, is that why you–”
“No more, Madeleine,” the injured cleric said in stern rebuke that transcended his injured body. “I will not have you speak her name or make such accusations. Not here or ever again.”
The former prostitute-addict bowed her head, though her dark curiosity and gnawing jealously only grew at his adamant reaction. “Yes, St. Cyprien… I did not mean to upset you. Please, forgive me.”
Adán closed his eyes and rode out a wave of bodily pain. Exhaling in its aftermath, his voice was strained but soft:
“You will ever have my forgiveness. But… let us return to the original subject of discussion. It is true that man does not live by bread alone, but daily bread is still necessary to live.”
He then proceeded to tell her of several local charity houses and soup kitchens–places where she could not only receive meals, but also perform honest labor and avoid the temptations of “lucre.”
So Lent progressed. Thaddeus occasionally came by to visit, as did a few of Adán’s peers from Immaculate and students from Jesuit High. Most of the time, however, Madeleine had Adán to herself.
But eventually, Adán’s cranial surgery, related paralysis, and broken bones healed well enough to discharge him from Charity, just in time for Holy Week.
Sunday morning, 2 April 1944
Adán’s parish was delighted to have him back, just as his peers and superiors were glad to have his assistance with the week’s many liturgical ceremonies and duties. Adán too was happy to immerse himself in those rituals and related acts of service.
Madeleine, however, was less than pleased. She was not used to “sharing her saint.” And though Adán continued to help her with her Catechisms, it was not in the intimate one on one way they had spent their time in Charity. As if sensing the woman’s improper possessiveness, many of Adán’s peers started to block her from seeing him, especially when they discovered she lived in another parish.
Saturday evening, 8 April 1944
Adán was initially unaware of this growing conflict, and so was shocked when after the week’s Black Saturday and Easter Vigil services, he walked home to the Iberville Projects and discovered Madeleine inside his apartment. He was particularly alarmed since he had never shared his address with her.
The almost-priest did not take kindly to her confession that she had been trailing him to and from his home. Initially, she said it was because she had been having terrible dreams about the Order of the Garter and how it was going to harm Adán. When he inquired why she had not talked to him at Immaculate, she accused his peers of stonewalling her, which she attributed to them persecuting her for her past. She pled with Adán to let her stay with him. She accused several shelter leaders, upon learning of her past, of trying to pressure her into sexual acts for extra food and a place to sleep. Although some of these accusations were true, Madeleine had told too many half-truths and lies to Adán, causing him to think she was once again lying. Seeing he disbelieved her, Madeleine’s begging became even more pitched, saying that she not only needed his protection, but he needed hers.
When he still denied her request, she broke down and claimed she was pregnant and feared for the child’s safety. As if reading Adán’s thoughts, she loudly shouted that she had kept her Lenten vow, that despite “all the Devil’s temptations” she had “remained chaste and faithful.” Confused and increasingly alarmed by the woman’s histrionics, Adán asked her how then the child had been conceived. The question drove the woman to frantic, desperate tears and moans of despair. She looked at him longingly as if desperate to share some secret, then proclaimed that her conception was a miracle, something like Mary’s virginal pregnancy, that it was “God’s will.” These claims as well as her hysterical fervor made Adán think she had relapsed. She did not take his inquiries about such kindly, but began to smash his sole chair and throw his books, screaming how she would never poison her child like her own mother did, nor would she break her promise to Adán.
Unsure what to do, Adán tried to pacify the overcome woman. To prevent any more violence, he embraced her, causing her to sink into his arms and sob hot tears upon his collar. As soon as she seemed to regain some measure of composure, Adán released her, stepped back, and then tried to calmly, patiently explain that he would help her as best as he could. However, he insisted that she could not stay with him. It was the night before his already delayed ordination as a priest, and if any found out about her staying with him, it could jeopardize his entire life’s labor to become a priest and all the godly service he might thereafter render.
“But we… we would not be sinning. I just want to be with you…” she said with another sob and imploring look.
As if finally recognizing the emotion behind her gaze, he stepped back further, shaking his head:
“No, that is not God’s will. As a cleric of the Church, I especially must be mindful of Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to ‘abstain from all appearance of evil.’ As should you, Madeleine,” he added with a tone that tried to be compassionate, yet firm, “For you are right that men will be particularly likely to see or think evil of you if they discover your past. The world does not see things as we do, nor understand the mystery of God’s mercies.”
Disappointed at Adán’s rejection, but placated or at least no longer hysterical, Madeleine nodded slowly, wiping her tears. “I… understand. I would never want to hurt you.”
“Nor I you,” Adán said. He then offered what little money he had to help her pay for a motel room “where she could feel safer.” Seeing her off, he then expressed his hope of seeing her at Immaculate’s Paschal services and his subsequent ordination.
He did not.
Indeed, he did not see Madeleine for several months–though sometimes he thought he glimpsed her in crowded streets or services, only to vanish. Similarly vanished were several of his letters–including the unopened ones–from Ava. While their absence bothered him on more than one level, he accepted their loss, and indeed discarded the rest, believing that as a fully ordained priest, he needed to put such “worldly things away.”
But the world is hard to escape.