Eye of the Wolf: Excerpt
The call had come at precisely two minutes after nine this morning, everything about it marked with urgency, even the way the black plastic phone seemed to shudder with each ring. Father John Aloysius O'Malley, the Jesuit pastor of St. Francis Mission on the Wind River Reservation, could still feel the knot of dread that had tightened in his chest as his hand shot across the desk for the receiver. There were so many emergency calls--Father, there's been an accident. Father, could you get over to the hospital? Father, we need helpthat he'd developed a sixth sense, like an invisible antenna capable of detecting the type of call even before he'd picked up the phone.
"Father John," he d said, the usual greeting, but he'd hurried it, he remembered, anxious to hear what had happened.
And on the other end, the calm, deliberate voice of Nathan Owens, the Episcopal priest at St. Aiden's Mission in Ethete. "I think I've got something for you, John," he'd said. "Could you come over soon as possible?"
Now Father John squinted into the sun exploding off the snow and aimed the front wheels of the ancient Toyota pickup into the tracks that marked Ethete Road. It had snowed during the night, a late gasp of winter after a week of clear skies and sunshine and wild grasses sprouting green in the fields. Now the gray sagebrush poked out of the snow that blanketed the ground as far as he could see. The feeling of snow still hung in the air. Intermittent bursts of warmth from the vents punctuated the music of Il Trovotore blasting from the tape player on the seat beside him and barely cut through the cold that crept past the windows and into the cab. It was the second Monday in April, the Moon of Ice Breaking in the River, in the way that the Arapahos marked the passing time.
Small houses began flashing past--gray one-story here, yellow bi-level over there. He was on the outskirts of Ethete, the humped foothills of the Wind River Mountains, traced with snow, straight ahead. He knew the roads that crisscrossed the reservation by heart. He'd spent the last nine years at St Francis Mission, almost the entire decade of his forties and three years longer than the Jesuits usually left a man on assignment. Not a day went by that he didn't listen for the phone call that would send him on to some other place. The call would have its own peculiar sound, he thought. He would sense it.
He didn't want the call to come. He was at home here, a fact that still took him by surprise when he thought about it. He, the tall, red-headed priest from Boston, descended from a long line of red-headed Irishmen, at home in the vast openness of the Wyoming plains with brown-skinned Arapahos, the blood of warriors coursing through their veins. He'd never imagined himself a mission priest. He'd been on an academic track, teaching American history at a Jesuit prep school with a doctorate and a university position ahead. Instead there had been the year spent at Grace House becoming a recovering alcoholic, followed by the search for a job with a Jesuit superior willing to take a gamble, or maybe just desperate for help. Finally, the call had come: a position available on an Indian reservation. Did he want the job? He'd flown into the Riverton airport, still wobbly on his feet with his newfound sobriety.
The center of Ethete was aheada stoplight swinging over the junction of two roads with a gas station and convenience store on the southwest corner. Father John began easing on the brake, then took a left into the grounds of St. Aiden's, and wound around the narrow, circular road past a series of small buildings, past the hundred-year-old log cabin church rooted in the earth and the snow. He parked in front of the cream-colored residence and turned off the tape player, the melody still running through his head as he hurried up the sidewalk.
© Margaret Coel