Most of her days were spent leafing through her beloved photo albums. Page after page, picture after picture, memory after memory. This was exactly the way she wanted to finish out her life, by reliving it through her memories.
She didn't have a lot of time left, she knew. Weeks, they told her. Bobby used to come to see her once a week; now he came every two or three days. But she just couldn't understand why he never brought Frank. He knew she wanted to see her Frank. Ungrateful boy, denying her the one thing she wanted most. She told him what she wanted. She wanted to see Frank, and she wanted to meet that little blonde girlfriend of his that Frank told her about. But did he ever bring them by? Of course not. He never thought about her, never did what she wanted. He'd always been that way...defiant, disobedient, ungrateful.
She slept often. Who would have thought that turning the pages of a book could be so exhausting? Why wasn't Bobby here to turn the pages for her? He always left just when she wanted him to stay. She had never mattered to him. Why did she bother?
A knock at her door roused her from her nap. She looked up as the door opened and she smiled at the man who entered. Dressed in black, except for the white square at his throat, he was about the same age as her boys. But this man cared. Bobby never kept him away the way he kept Frank away. She smiled. "Hello, Father Patrick."
Patrick smiled as he approached her bed and held out his hand. "How are you feeling today, Frances?"
"Not so bad. Just tired. My sons, both of them, were here to see me the other day," she said brightly. "My Frank...he came to see me.."
Patrick nodded. "I'm happy to hear that," he said, but he felt a pang of sympathy for her younger son. As devoted and patient as Bobby was, Frances still openly favored his older brother. In the ten years he had been visiting Frances, he'd often seen Bobby, but he had never once met Frank. Bobby never had much to say about his brother, other than to explain that the circumstances of Frank's life prevented him from visiting more often.
Most people, hearing Frances boast of Frank's intelligence and his career as a scientist, would believe that it was Frank's work that kept him away, but Patrick was an intuitive man. He sensed a hidden meaning in Bobby's explanation, something the big, quiet man did not want to explain further. The only thing Patrick knew for certain, though, was that Frances desperately missed her favorite son, and Frank's absence both angered and saddened his brother.
The purpose of his visit this time, however, did not involve family. Today, he came to save her soul. He sat on the edge of the bed and gently took her hand. "Frances, you know what the doctors have told you. You know that you are dying."
"Oh, pish. I feel fine."
The priest cocked his head and gave her a sympathetic smile. "All right, but why don't you let me hear your confession today."
Always the suspicious one... "Because you feel good. I do want you to do me a favor, though."
"I have been your priest for ten years. You trust me by now, don't you?"
She nodded. "Yes, Father. I trust you."
"Then I want you to look back over your life and think hard about anything you may have done wrong that you have never confessed before. I want to hear everything today, just in case."
Frances frowned. "Just in case of what?"
Patrick sighed. "Humor an old friend, will you, please?"
He did not flinch under her scrutiny. He never did. Once, a couple of years ago, after a particularly bad episode, Bobby had come out, even though it was the middle of the night. The man looked worn, defeated. Patrick offered a few kind words of encouragement and Bobby had thanked him for being good to his mother. He explained that she had, over time, driven away all her old friends, but Patrick always came to see her, always knew the right things to say and the right things to do. His gratitude was genuine and it had reinforced Patrick's affection for Frances' son. He never understood her harsh attitude toward him, never understood why she blamed Bobby for his brother's absence.
Frances scratched her forehead and motioned toward the coffee table, where several photo albums were stacked. "Bring me the green album, please."
Patrick retrieved the photo album and placed it in her hands. With a trembling touch, she opened it and pointed to the first picture, turning it so Patrick could see it. He smiled warmly. "Your wedding picture?"
"I was a beautiful bride, wasn't I?"
"Yes, you were."
"William was a charmer. My favorite gentleman friend went into the army, and Bill swept me off my feet. Frank was born the next year. Then, Mark came home." She ran her hand over the picture, then turned a few pages. "This was Frank as a baby. After he was born, Bill began taking trips away from home, for business, he said. He was away, alot. And Mark...he would come over and do all the things I'd wanted Bill to do. He fixed things and did all the handiwork around the apartment." She closed the album. "Then Bobby was born. He was four the last time I saw Mark."
"Something happened between you and Mark, didn't it?"
Staring at the cover of the album, she nodded, but she remained silent. Patrick eased himself back onto the edge of the bed and again, took her hand. "Frances," he said gently. "Don't make this harder than it has to be. Just talk to me. Tell me what troubles you."
She continued to caress the album. "Mark was there, and I...I was lonely. Bill was gone so much. And Bobby...Bill raised him, but...I never knew for sure...who his father really was." She wiped away a tear from her cheek. "That's my big sin, Father Patrick. I don't know who my son's father really is."
"Does Bobby know?"
"Oh, dear, no. I don't know if he even remembers Mark."
Patrick knew his next question would be a difficult one for her, and his advice would be hard to hear. "Are you going to tell him?"
"Why? Does it really matter? It won't change who he is. He's a good man, Patrick. He has a caring heart. Does it really matter who fathered him?"
"It might to Bobby. You should consider telling him."
She shook her head adamantly. "I won't change the way my son remembers me. He doesn't have to know."
Patrick squeezed her hand. "That's your call. Is there anything else you want to tell me?"
She gave him a smile as she wiped away her tears. "You know all my sins now."
"Are you sorry for them, Frances?"
"More than you can imagine, Father."
With a gentle smile, he placed a hand on her head. "And, in the Name of Christ, I absolve you from those sins..."