I Am a Man
by Theodora McKee
(Lynne wrote a lovely story called Choices, which she brought to a most satisfying
conclusion, but in the first part of her story, she had Peter say " I AM
a man, Assumpta." That took my breath away, it seemed like such a sexy thing
to say, and it stayed with me, so here.)
Assumpta had been running errands in Cilldargan, and on her way home, she
found herself, almost without thinking, at the spot where she and Peter had
looked out over the valley the week before. She was leaning against the van,
lost in a daydream, when she heard a car drive up. Annoyed to have her solitary
moment spoiled, she looked up, and was shocked to see that it was the Javelin.
Peter looked as astonished as she felt. "Hiya," she called.
"Hi," he answered, getting out of the car. "I didn't expect to see you here."
He looked away, at the view, and then at her.
She took a breath and said, "I was driving home and I remembered when you
and I were here…and suddenly here I was."
"Me too," he said. They were both silent for a while, then he spoke.
"What I said that time….."
"That you are, after all, a man."
"What did you mean?"
He looked down, kicked at a small pebble. "Leo gone?" he asked.
"You're changing the subject. But yes, he's gone."
He swallowed hard, licked his lips, and almost in spite of himself, blurted
out, "I couldn't stand it that he was so close to you, that he could hold
you, kiss you."
"He didn't," she said.
"No? I could see that he's still in love with you."
"But I'm not in love with him," she said softly. "The only thing he held
was my hand."
"And I can't even do that." Bitter.
After a moment, she held out her hand. Startled, he hesitated for a fraction
of a second, and then took it. He held her hand and then brought the palm
to his mouth and kissed it.
"Peter…." She leaned into him and he put his arms around her, holding her
close. After a minute or two, he pulled away.
"I'm sorry, Assumpta, I had no right…." He walked a few steps away.
"Peter," she said softly.
"What do you want? Out of life?"
He looked at her, surprised. "I'm a priest, Assumpta. It's what I've wanted
for a long time, and I've accepted it as my life. The… feelings…I have about
you are a distraction, I admit it, but I have to learn how to deal with them.
And this doesn't help, meeting this way."
"What about my feelings?" she asked.
"Your feelings? I know those feelings. You hate the clergy!"
"I don't hate you."
"I thought that was fairly obvious."
He looked down. "Maybe. I didn't believe it, though."
"It seems ridiculous," she said, annoyed. "Here we are, two young, healthy
people, attracted to one another, enjoying one another's company. Only obstacle
being the stupid choices one of them made years ago!"
He gasped, then shook his head as he looked at her. "I can't talk to you
about this," he said. He turned away from her and walked back to his car.
As he opened the door, she called out to him.
"Peter, don't leave. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that." He hesitated
at the side of the car, started to slide in, then stood and closed the door.
He walked back to where she stood, not moving.
"Okay, maybe we should finish this conversation, once and for all."
She looked shaken, "Sounds a bit final," she muttered. They stood quietly
for a moment, then Assumpta found a large boulder to perch on. "So?" she
He fidgeted. "Assumpta, I don't know what to say, I haven't really thought
"It's not what's in your head I need to hear."
"You know that I have these feelings for you, feelings I've struggled with,
tried to put aside. I should have asked for a transfer – Father Mac would
have been happy to be rid of me – but I just couldn't bring myself to walk
away from you, to never see you again. I told myself I'd get over it, be
able to just be your friend."
"And?' she questioned.
"What do you think?" he said sadly, not looking at her.
"What do I think?" she said, temper rising, "I think you are such a wuss,
can't make up your mind, back and forth, back and forth. I don't know how
I can love you when you make me so mad!"
Now he looked at her. "What did you say?"
"That you're a wuss, you heard me!"
"No," he smiled, "back up a bit."
She looked confused. "What?"
"You said you love me?"
"Oh, that…..Yeah, I guess I do, eedjit that I am." She smiled a small, rueful
He walked over to her, and put his arms around her, holding her close. "I
never thought I'd hear you say that," he whispered.
"Me neither," she said, her head resting on his chest. He looked down at
her, kissed the top of her head, and gently pushed her back.
"You know this doesn't really change anything….not yet anyway."
She looked unbelieving. "Still sitting on the fence," she muttered, turning
"No, I've kind of gotten off the fence," he said, "but I do have a lot of
thinking to do, to decide what I'm going to do. I've spent a lot of years
preparing for and working in the priesthood. If I leave, I have to think
about what else I can do, for a living."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Details. You'll hide in them forever."
He laughed. "Assumpta, give me a break! I didn't stop here today prepared
to change me whole life." He raised an eyebrow. "Did you?"
She glared at him for a moment, and then she laughed too. "Guess not," she
"So…" he said, "will you give me a little more time?"
"To decide, one way or the other?"
"And if you decide to stay a priest?"
He looked sober. "Then I promise, I'll leave Ballyk, let you get on with
"Very generous," she said bitterly and turned away.
"Assumpta, please. Don't think that's the side of the fence I'll come down
on. There are very powerful forces pulling me in the other direction. I may
"Do you know how much I hate this?" she demanded angrily. "Not being in charge
of my own life? I have given you way too much control….."
She looked at him. "Remember," she said, "that if you decide on life with
me, I will probably wreak vengeance on you for years for this."
He laughed again. "Pretty persuasive argument," he said, seeming quite light-hearted.
"So what are they, anyway, these "feelings" you have for me?" she asked.
"Well, it's not just sex," he said. "I want to be with you all the time,
I want to go places with you, see things with you, talk everything over with
you. Laugh, cry. Have kids. You know, Assumpta, all of it. Life. Together."
She looked stricken for a moment. "That's lovely," she said, wiping away
a tear. "Okay, go on, start thinking. Just keep me posted, will you?"
"I will," he said, turning away and walking towards the Javelin. "And soon."
He got into the car.
"Peter," she called.
"There is a little bit of sex, isn't there?"
He shook his head, grinning. "Oh, quite a lot," he said, and drove off, leaving
her with a broad smile on her face.
Five Weeks Later
She always appreciated the extra hour of sleep that Sunday mornings gave
her – if she had cleaned up the night before. Lately, Saturday nights made
her so sad and anxious that the only way she could get some sleep was to
spend the time getting the bar ready for morning. Peter came to the pub less
frequently, and when he did, aside from the tender looks he gave her, he
had said nothing. She was sure he had decided to stay in the priesthood,
and was steeling herself for heartbreak. She tried not to give in to it,
but remembering the words he had spoken about them having a life together,
she felt the ache beginning.
This morning, the extra sleep had been especially welcome because she hadn't
been able to fall asleep, coming to bed late and tossing and turning. He
was turning her into a wreck, she thought angrily, and she was allowing it
Looking at the clock, she realized now that she'd have to rush, so a quick
shower, a comb pulled through her hair, her red jumper pulled on over a white
shirt, and she was ready to open. The usual Sunday morning after- church
crowd began coming in soon after, and she was busy with coffee and late-breakfast
sandwiches. More people than usual, she thought, have they no homes to go
to? As she started buttering more bread, Niamh burst into the kitchen.
"Sorry, sorry," she said, getting plates out, "I just got caught up in the
excitement at church and couldn't get away."
"What excitement?" Assumpta asked, not really interested.
"You haven't heard?" Niamh asked, "Father Clifford announced that he's leaving…."
Ambrose came in carrying Kieran.
"Sorry, love, but he wants his elevenses," he said, handing her the baby.
"I'm sorry, Assumpta, " Niamh said, "I'll be back soon."
"Sure," she said, glad to have a few minutes alone to collect herself.
"Leaving," she thought, and remembered what he'd said - that if he decided
to remain a priest, he'd leave Ballyk and let her get on with her life. What
life, she thought morosely, what kind of life will I have without him here,
even if it's only as a friend? I never thought of what it would be like.
Somehow she got through the next hour, and as the crowd thinned out, she
finally had a chance to fix herself some toast and a cup of tea in the kitchen.
Brendan came in, carrying a tray of dirty plates, to which she nodded her
thanks. "So Assumpta," he asked, "what do you think about Peter's news?"
"Why should I care?" she said, guarding her feelings. He looked at her, frowning.
"Here I was thinking that you would care."
"Since when have I cared about priests, whoever they are? So we'll have to
break in a new one. As I said, why should I care?"
"Because this isn't any priest, it's Peter Clifford. And his leaving the
priesthood is really big news. And somehow I thought you would care."
"Leaving the priesthood?" she whispered, unable to get her voice out of her
"Yes, what did you think his news was?"
"Niamh just said he was leaving, I thought he was leaving Ballyk," she said.
She put her hand to her throat, feeling the pulse beating there.
"Well, that too," Brendan said, "but not too far. He's got a job in Wicklow.
The bishop, of all people, helped him get a job in Social Services."
"Yes, Wicklow, practically around the corner. Hmm," he smiled, "I think you
"Oh, shut up, Brendan," she said. Then, more softly, she added, "If you collect
another load of glasses, you can have a pint on the house."
"T'anks," he said with a grin. "Maybe later."
The pub had quieted down, most folks having gone home for Sunday dinner.
There'll be a crowd again tonight, she thought, as she tried her best to
keep busy. She was polishing the bar for the second time when the door opened.
She held her breath, exhaling sharply when she saw that it was Brendan.
"Well?" she demanded, rubbing even harder at a non-existent stain. "What
brings you back so early?"
"Father Mac kept him longer than he'd anticipated," Brendan said, answering
the unasked question. "And then told him to leave the house…today. So he
had to get all his stuff together, and he's just gotten to my house with
most of his worldly possessions. He's going to stay with me for a while,
till he finds a place in Wicklow."
"He could stay here, sure," she said, a trifle less hostile.
"He wants to protect your reputation," the schoolmaster said softly. "There's
enough gossip already."
"Unexpected surprise," she said bitterly. "Will I still have any business?"
"It's getting close to winter," Brendan said with a smile. "They won't want
to drag themselves all the way to Cildargan to drink."
"Let's hope," she said.
"Well, I thought I'd give him some privacy to unpack. I'll sit here with
my newspaper, and a cup of coffee if you could manage that."
"Okay," she said, getting the coffee machine ready. "As long as you sit here
quietly and let me get some work done in there," she gestured towards the
kitchen. "And call me if there's ever another customer."
Alone in the kitchen, she tried to catch herself up. She remembered something
she had said to Peter that memorable morning, about how much she resented
the control he had over her life. Look at me today, she thought, totally
at the mercy of what HE is going to do. I called him a wuss, but I'm even
more of one. She rested her head in her hands.
Suddenly she heard the front door open and Brendan's frantic whisper. "Will
you get in there and put that girl out of her misery? I've never seen her
like this!" And the kitchen door swung wide.
"You've taken your time," she said angrily. He crossed over to where she
sat and pulled out a chair.
"Assumpta," he began, reaching for her hand. She pulled away. "I'm sorry
you had to hear my news from other people, but I thought you'd be happy."
"Happy?" She exaggerated her reaction. "Why should I be happy? What's it
to do with me?"
"Everything!" he said, then smiling, added. "Well, certainly 75%." She glared
at him stonily. "Assumpta?" He reached out again for her hand, and this time
she let him touch her. "This isn't happening the way I wanted it to," he
said softly. "Can we start it over?" When she did didn't answer, he pushed
his chair away and knelt at her side. "Assumpta," he said, "I have thought
long and hard and I've made the decision. I'm leaving the priesthood; I've
asked for dispensation from my vows, I have a job. The most important thing
in all this is you. I love you. I want to marry you, once I've been released.
In the meantime, I want us to get to know one another, not as priest and
parishioner… well…." He hesitated.
"How about `publican'?" she asked, trying to hide the smile that played around
her mouth. "Okay, priest and publican," he agreed. "What I mean is… as a
man… and a woman. How does that sound to you?"
"Pretty good," she acknowledged. He pulled her to her feet and put his arms
around her, holding her closely. After a moment, she looked up at him. "How
are we going to accomplish that around here, with everyone in town watching
"Well, I'm going to be working in Wicklow, you can come up there. Out of
season, you can take a day off now and then, can't you?"
"Guess so," she acknowledged. "What have you got in mind?" A sly little smile.
"A movie, dinner, you know…dating." He shook his head. "And weekends, I'll
come to Ballyk, stay with Brendan, help out at the pub. Go for walks. Talk."
She touched his face.
"That sounds good, Peter." He wasn't sure she wasn't teasing.
"Really," she nodded. He sighed, relieved.
"I hoped you would understand. We need to be like a normal couple, getting
comfortable with one another. We've had kind of a strange relationship, haven't
"We have at that," she agreed. "So, okay, we get to know one another. Chastely,
I guess, right?"
He nodded. "For now."
She looked at him for a long moment, while he fidgeted. "Okay," she said.
"But would you …I mean, we've never….Peter, will you kiss me please?" He
touched her mouth with his, very gently, but when he started to pull away,
she put her hands on his shoulders and held the kiss, and in a moment, they
were clinging to one another, and the kiss went on and on. Finally, they
pulled apart. They looked at one another, somewhat taken aback.
"Well," she said. "Yes, you are a man!"