A light mist drifted down Avenue Victoria, Jacques sat quietly on the park bench near Hôpitaux de Paris. The sound of channel boats working their way down the river Seine could be heard in the distance.
Monique rises from his side, without looking back, she walks away into the fog. “Monique, pourquoi dois vous quitter? Je suis désolé de vous décevoir”! (Monique, why must you leave? I’m sorry I let you down!)
Paying no mind to his sorry attempt to make amends, Monique walks away in silence. Watching her depart, he can’t help but notice what a fine figure of a woman she is. Tall, with slim shapely legs and a trim waistline, she is dressed in skin tight black jeans. Her black belted leather jacket, accenting every curve. 3″ stiletto heeled boots making a sharp report against the cobblestone sidewalk, as she marches away.
Monique exhales a deep sigh, her breath shielding her tearing eyes. The crimson beret she wears, fashionably tilted to one side, can’t mask her disappointment. With a sudden turn of her head, causing long jet black locks to flow from her shoulders, she looks back at Jacques sitting rejected where she left him. Her perfectly shaped lips, coated with a bright red gloss, lightly press against matching black gloves. “Tu es fou Jacques, cela aurait pu être le vôtre … pour toujours”! (You fool Jacques, this could have been yours… Forever!) she blows a parting kiss his way.
On she marches, knowing full well her day will come. She will show him how much this last in a long line of mistakes has cost him.
Monique arrived in Europe as an 18 year old foreign exchange student from New Glasgow, a small community about 20 miles north of Montreal. Being a predominantly French speaking area of Quebec Canada, there was no language barrier when she first arrived in France.
She won the trip of her young life in a Pulitzer sponsored essay contest. By simply answering the question, “Where would you like to live, and why?”, her life was transformed. No longer would she only be the child of simple country folks, people who struggled to provide for their family through impossibly long and cold winters.
Her college education was provided and paid for, courtesy of the writing contest. She graduated from Collège de France with honors. In time she became the sophisticated and worldly woman that has the sense to leave Jacques staring at his feet, wondering if he should have handled things differently.
Reaching the corner, Monique hails the next Taxis Bleus. Opening the door to the rear seat, she glances back one last time. Jacques is already gone, a clear indication of just how unimportant she really was in his life. ” C’est la vie, (That’s life) Maintenant, je peux passer à la mienne. (Now I can get on with mine).
“To the airport please.”, Most Paris cabbies speak fluent English. Giving up on Europe for the present, Monique takes the opportunity to brush up. Her flight to New York leaves in exactly 2 hours.
Terrorist attacks back in 1986 resulted in the forming of the Vigipirate, France’s national security alert system. Getting in line for the electronic strip search, Monique sets her bags on the x-ray conveyor. She steps into the scanner with no indication of embarrassment, spreading her arms and legs wide apart as instructed by the operator. “I bet those gun toting bastards are getting an eye full”, holding her head high, she looks the guard square in the eyes as she steps out.
It’s a quiet flight, a time to reflect on her years in Europe. Monique realizes she can no longer adjust to life in New Glasgow, it’s time for a fresh start. Following the likes of Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller, she booked a room at the Hotel Chelsea. Until her savings indicate she must give up her dream, Monique intends to pursue her literary options to the fullest extent possible.
After clearing customs, the Skycap deposits her bags at the taxi stand and whistles for the next in a long line of yellow cabs waiting at the curb. Bending over, being careful not to trip with her spike heeled boots, Monique settles into the back seat, cringing her nose at the stale smoky odor “222 West 23rd Street please”.
With not much more than a grunt of acknowledgment, the cabbie drops the flag, and pulls away.
Right in the midst of the theater district, the Hotel Chelsea was built in 1883. Imagine, Bob Dylan composing “Lay Lady Lay” while stretched out on a big brass bed, right here. Arthur C. Clark wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey in one of these rooms, how could Monique fail in her pursuit of literary acceptance in this, the perfect location for inspiration.
Its been six months since Monique arrived in the U.S., life hasn’t gone the way she had hoped. Though her closet contained all the latest in European fashions, stateside a more conservative presentation is expected. On every call to publishing houses throughout the northeast, her manuscripts and detailed papers are causing her to be shown the door. Often before she even starts the presentation.
“With your charming French accent, and striking beauty, we assumed your work would be in the line of romance novels. Feel free to submit material when you come up with something we can publish.” Nobody was taking her research and documentation seriously. Especially her last project, a collection of evidence supporting the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
Monique was raised a staunch Roman Catholic, religion being a guiding force in her life since childhood. When she married Jacque, she took the vows seriously. This was to be for life, sadly Jacque just didn’t get it.
Jacque could never understand the deep driven nature of her desire to go beyond what is found in prayer books or the Bible. What she got out of Sunday Mass or Bible study just wasn’t enough. Monique had a need to dig deeper, well beyond the surface. She needed to know why?
She had spent years researching the Roman Catholic religion, accumulating evidence and data both supportive and contradictory to what is generally accepted by the Vatican. Sadly it seemed nobody cared, it was deemed irrelevant and unwanted.
Attending Saturday afternoon’s ½ hour mass, every now and then, was enough for Jacque to clear his conscious. The rest of his weekend would be consumed with drinking and partying, beginning minutes after clearing the massive oak doors of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of Saint Volodymyr the Great in Paris.
For him, a quick trip through the confessional to be absolved of his misdeeds was good enough. Then it was right back at it, to repeat the offenses that same evening.
After 10 years, Monique could no longer accept his lack of conviction. Though it would mean remaining celibate for the rest of her life, divorce was the only choice. For her, an annulment somehow just seemed wrong.
Monique found herself walking the east side of Fifth Avenue. About to pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral, she enters. After briefly dipping one knee in genuflection she sat down, alone near the back of the church.
Softly she whimpers, lonely tears of rejection and self doubt allow streaks of mascara to spoil her otherwise perfectly applied makeup. “What should I do, my money is almost gone, soon I’ll be out on the street”. Was she foolish to take such a strong stand with Jacque?
She doesn’t notice a middle aged man pushing a 3′ wide dust mop, similar to those used to clean hallways in schools. Lawrence Pennyworth hesitates to interfere, but he can see the lady in the pew is clearly distraught.
Gently he touches her shoulder, “Ma’am, are you going to be all right? Is there anything I can do for you”? These few kind words, from what might be the only person in the world who has any concern for her, are enough to open the flood gates. She rises to her feet, throwing her arms around poor Larry. Immediately she dissolves into his arms, crying her heart out for more than a few minutes.
Taking a clean handkerchief from his hip pocket, Larry offers it to her. “Here, its clean, please dry your tears, maybe I can help”?
Une foi renouvelée
Larry eased Monique back into the pew, sitting down beside her. Holding her hand in his, to help prevent a reoccurrence of water works. A sincere look of concern comes over his face, “I don’t mean to pry my dear lady, but your predicament can’t possibly be one that can’t somehow be resolved. My name is Lawrence Pennyworth, I’m the evening caretaker for the Cathedral. Take a moment and tell me what has you so distressed”.
Trying desperately to sound somewhat coherent, after introducing herself, Monique explains her distressing position. “I’m so sorry to dump all this on you, a total stranger, but just talking about it does seem to help a little. Thank you for listening”.
Larry rises, and clutching the mop handle in both hands, ponders the situation. “You know Monique I may be of some assistance after all. The Convent of the Sacred Heart is an “all girls” school, right here in Manhattan. Father O’Malley was telling me just last week they are in need of a French Teacher”. The Convent originated in France in 1881, and to this day instructing the young ladies in the French language has been a very important part of their scholastic program.
“I’m sure the position includes room and board as well. Come with me and I’ll make a few phone calls.
Together Larry and Monique stand, and quietly head toward the cathedral’s office to arrange a talk with Father O’Malley. “Don’t forget your leather document bag, I’m sure Father will be interested in your work as well”.
With an appointment confirmed, Larry and Monique summon a cab to take them to the rectory. “460 Madison Ave. Please” and once again the flag is dropped. Father O’Malley greets them at his door, and shows them into his private study. “Welcome my dear, our caretaker and my good friend Lawrence tells me you are the answer to our prayers. The convent has been without a good language instructor ever since Sister Mary-Kathryn was transferred to Zimbabwe.” In short order the basics of the position are relayed to Monique and a smile of relief starts to brighten her face.
Father O’Malley reaches for the phone to contact Mother Superior Francine. A secondary interview is arranged and the conversation turns to more informal and pleasant matters.
“Did you know the National Museum of Catholic Art and History is right here in Manhattan? It would be quite easy for you to expand your studies and research. You might find their latest project of interest to you”.
Father O’Malley summons his own personal car, and the group is shuttled off to meet with Mother Superior Francine. “Come in, come in, welcome Father, is this the wonderful lady of whom you spoke”?
Father O’Malley, being a rather portly old fellow, zero’s in on the large leather overstuffed chair in the receiving room. “Yes, Yes, Mother Superior, I’d like you to meet Monique Lafontaine. She arrived directly from France just six months ago”.
With questions asked and answered on both sides of Mother Superior’s desk, followed by a detailed tour of the complex, it’s quickly decided that this would be the best possible solution to problems possessed by both Monique and the Convent.
The issue of becoming a Nun is quickly dispelled. Monique would be under no pressure to initiate the process until which time she considers herself wanting to accept the calling. Something she had already considered many times on her own throughout her life.
Toward the end of the interview, when conversation drifted away from the requirements of Monique’s new position as lead instructor of the French language, and French history as a secondary subject, Mother Superior brings up the National Museum of Catholic History. “Monique, I understand you’ve done extensive research on various points of Catholic History. We have a very close relationship with the museum. Sister’s Marybeth, and Margaret are involved with a research project that has had them digging through dusty storage compartments at the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral”.
Monique straightens her posture and reaches for her brown leather document bag. She’s excited about the future that seems to have dropped from the heavens above.
Her faith has been renewed. This day that started in utter despair, leaving her on the brink of homelessness and destitution, is wrapping up as a high point in her life.
Hoping for the chance to show some of her documentation supporting the Shroud of Turin, Monique opens the clasp to her bag. “Mother Superior, what is the subject of this latest research project at the museum”?
Mother Superior reaches into the drawer of her desk and pulls out the document she received as a progress report from the two Sisters. “Here it is my dear”, as she opens the cover revealing the title. The Shroud of Turin, Is It Really The Burial Cloth Of Jesus Christ? “I understand there is rumor of new revealing evidence supporting the question”.