We are continuing with one of my newest short stories, Star Watch. If you would like to read part 1, please see the blog post from October 7, Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.
Synopsis: Last time, we met Alex Rose on an evening in Hong Kong. Her housing situation disintegrated, and is walking the streets of Central–a section of Hong Kong–discerning where to stay for the evening. She remembers meeting her good friend Elizabeth while Alexa Rose was eating lunch at a local dim sum place. We left off with Alexa Rose speaking with her sister, Zoe who had just bought a new home.
Zoe switched ears for her phone as Alexa Rose woke up the next morning and walked into the kitchen. They had been speaking well into the night and Zoe offered her sister the guest bed. She made some bacon and worked on the scrambled eggs while talking on the phone. Alexa Rose meandered to the pantry and pulled out some tea.
“I don’t see why you can’t allow her to live out her own life,” Zoe said, shaking her head. She looked at her sister and shrugged.
Alexa Rose understood. Mother, she thought, giving out a sigh. Dropping some loose leaf jasmine tea into the cup, she watched the water turn pale green. She felt a small smile pull as she saw the small flowers open in front of her, and the rummage of tea leaves give off their subtle fragrance. I don’t want her to cause me a bad day.
Alexa Rose’s smile inverted. Without looking up, she unfurled her hand, feeling a cell phone plop into it. She brought it to her ear. “Yes, Mom?”
She felt her mother’s acrid voice before she heard it. “Groceries? Out of all of the things you ask for Christmas, you ask for groceries?”
Alexa Rose thought of the small room she lived back home. Her entire life was in that room, books on the history of Hong Kong and China, Bible studies, statues of Saints Francis Xavier and Lorenzo Ruiz, books about the Catholic Faith, DVD series related to her work, not to mention her endless array of tea and tiny, glass animals. “Yes, groceries.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with this idea. What does it look like for our family?”
“It looks like reality,” she sighed, forcing herself to speak calmly, “sorry to say.”
“When are you going to stop your work in Hong Kong? You run your credit card bills, then you come back here and pay them off doing all of these odd jobs, just to leave again—“
“It’s not as if my work is sponsored by anyone,” she said, biting back a tear. The only support I get is prayer, but– “I’m here for half of the year—that’s not a way to get a stable flow of resources.”
“You. Are. Taking. Advantage.”
Alexa Rose felt like ice. She stood straight up. She saw the look on her sister’s face. Zoe rushed into her room and closed the door. Alexa Rose walked out of the house. She breathed. She looked over the trees, the clear blue sky, the wispy clouds that reminded her of young children playing in a park. Breathe in. Breathe out. She remembered how free she felt while in Hong Kong, being with Elizabeth and her friends, leading Bible studies and helping others. She remembered being in a room with two hundred Hong Kongers, all singing praise songs together, all trying to love Jesus and each other better. Breathe in. Breathe out. She remembered the joy she felt, waking up, wondering what kind of adventure she was going to have that day. This oftentimes brings a smile to her face. Joy, even. Breathe in. Breathe out. She tried to stay calm. She tried to relax. She tried.
Alexa Rose asked, “…of what?”
“Being on welfare and all—you are taking my tax payer money away because you like partying in Hong Kong all day.”
She was proud of herself—usually, she would have hung up by now. “Is that what I do?”
“Who sees the fruits of your labor, huh?” her mother gruffed. “You need to end this nonsense and find yourself real work.” Her mother cut the connection.
Alexa Rose sighed, clutching the phone. “Merry Christmas, mama.” She looked at the phone’s face. Zoe’s wallpaper is a picture of the family, all smiling.
She went back into the house and placed the phone, gently, against the footboard of her sister’s door. Then, she went into her sister’s guestroom, closed the door, and cried.
Alexa Rose tried to tell Natalie’s story to the pastor. Very hard.
Jordan described the office, and the pastor, as “vanilla with personality”. She did not quite understand what he had meant by that till she was sitting in his office, across from him, next to Jordan. The walls were coated a yellowish white, with caramel carpet and creamy brown chairs. The blonde wood desk had dark pencil holders and file organizers on top of it. The desktop computer was open, occasionally blinking or whirring for attention. Reams of white and yellow paper towered crookedly at the corners of the desk. Behind the desk hung his degrees. One, his Masters of Divinity, and another, his Masters of Arts from a prestigious university.
The priests both had yellow pads on their laps, Jordan with a pen in his ear. He squirmed. Alexa Rose had asked him to be at this meeting.
“I barely talk to him myself,” he muttered, “and you want me to, intentionally, be in the same room with him?”
Looking the pastor in the eye, she continued, “As I was saying, Natalie had been baptized, but she never heard that God loved her. I mean, I was talking about stuff you and Jordan—Father Jordan—talk about all of the time. A message you preach about every week—you don’t hear this in Hong Kong.”
Her pastor bit the inside of his lip. He slouched in his chair like a teenage boy, his arms propped up on the arms. He looked like he were impersonating a spider crab.
Jordan asked, “Alexa Rose, this is really extraordinary work, as I had said to you countless of times. So how would you like the parish to help?”
Alexa Rose fought back a smile. She remembered what he had told her yesterday—Just follow my lead…I’m giving you a script, all you have to do is play. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed them. She pondered how to phrase her words.
Just as she were about to speak, the pastor said, “So you want money.” A statement, not a question.
“Um,” Alexa Rose stumbled, “that’s not necessarily the first thing.” She cleared her throat, buying time. Jordan looked on, panic in his eyes. “Of course, we need funding. But first, we need to tell the community that this is happening—“
“—We have so many ministries, Allison,” he cut in, quietly. “I mean, you want me to tell the moms’ group or the Knights that they can’t have their second collection or whatever because of one girl’s work on the other side of the world?”
“First, I would like us to raise awareness,” she blurted, leaning in. “These are our brothers and sisters, here. Yours and mine. Just because you don’t know their faces does not mean you do not know their needs. How wonderful would it be if the Gospel you preach here every Sunday were said in the middle of—“
“—There isn’t the money.”
“I’m not asking for money. I’m asking for awareness and prayers. Couldn’t we—I—do a talk or have a booth after the Sunday Masses?”
“Accomplishing what?” he torted. “It’s just another fundraiser.”
She leaned back into her chair. She felt like knocking something over. She looked back over her life within the parish. She remembered a time when she and her father were talking to the previous pastor about college football and college rankings. The time when she and her best friend at the time played hide and seek in the parish offices. The time when she and Zoe wrestled near the jungle gym and the old pastor picked them both up and carried them to their mother, asking “I didn’t realize you were raising monkeys! Can I have one for my niece?” Her father’s funeral, her and her sister’s Confirmation. The sending-forth at their Baccalaureate Mass three days before High School graduation. She slouched her shoulders and looked at the carpet….caramel colored swirls with specks of white and dark brown. “I—I was baptized here, was part of core team for the teens, even served at the Altar for like four years. And this is….”
Without looking up, she grabbed her purse, and walked out of the office.
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