The woman arrived at the priest’s office on a Saturday early, soon after the priest normally started his day. She stepped inside his office and stood her ground. “I’ve found a virgin.” The package she carried in her withered arms was enormous, though she didn’t seem to struggle with its weight.
The priest looked at her over his wire glasses. “Pardon me?”
“A virgin, Father. By the creek just a mile or so from the church. Surely you know…”
“I’m aware, Mrs. Abernathy of the creek.” And what a virgin is, he opted not to add.
Just then, the woman set the bundle on his fine mahogany desk and slipped off the burlap cover.
The priest studied the poorly made replica of the Holy Virgin constructed from a mottled and discolored material resembling Plaster of Paris. Most off-putting of all was her face, nothing like the beautiful countenance of most renderings. “And what would you wish for me to do with this, Mrs. Abernathy?”
'What priests normally do, I suppose. Build a shrine to it on the creek with a small garden to be enjoyed by all who pass by her.” She raised then lowered her silver brows. “That is what I would do.”
All the joggers and bicyclists and their dogs would destroy it, if it were even possible to raise the money to build the structure. “That is public land. It’s not likely…”
“Suit yourself.” Mrs. Abernathy dropped the burlap back over the object, then left without removing it from his desk.
After the door shut, the priest lifted the burlap once again to study the face just below the head covering that cast a shadow down to the stern eyes. The joggers, bicyclists, and animals might destroy it, but that would be less an affront to the Holy Mother than whoever cast her with this expression. He replaced the cover and lifted the heavier-than-anticipated object, took it to his car and slipped it into the trunk. Slapping his palms together, the priest quickly forgot his isolated passenger and took off to finish the day’s chores followed by an afternoon of golf.
On Sunday morning, on the way to church, he noticed that the object no longer made noises as it rolled around. After he arrived, he opened the trunk and found it empty of all but the spare tire and his golf clubs. He checked every nook and space, but still no Virgin. He’d left it at the greens. Or possibly Mrs. Abernathy’s anarchist grandson must have taken it. He pondered other logical explanations, then went on about his day.
Monday morning was particularly satisfying. This regular homily, “A Woman’s Place,” was well delivered and received. A parishioner served him a lovely lunch and sent him home with a dozen chocolate-chip-walnut cookies. He headed home to spend the day tending to his garden, with a break at midday for a well-deserved nap.
The priest gave the Virgin no further thought, until he stepped out into the garden and felt eyes upon him. That’s when he turned and saw her there on top of the air conditioning unit staring through the trailing roses. Her expression mirrored a disapproval more stern than his sternest teacher in school.
The priest startled, then relaxed when he realized that it must be a prank. Anyone could access the rectory courtyard with little trouble. His relief lasted less than a day when the Virgin turned up three times more in the same place, finding its way from the garden of the nearby convent, the hallway outside one of the classrooms at the parish school, and, finally, the dumpster at the golf course.
In two weeks’ time, the priest raised the money to build a shelter appropriate for a Virgin with a small garden along the creek bed where it stood. On the day he placed the statue in its shelter, after the small ceremony planned for it, he stepped out and looked down at the neighborhood of simple frame houses at the foot of the hill. At that moment, his eyes met those of a woman mowing her lawn. She shielded her face from the sun with one hand as she stared at him, then hesitated briefly before returning to her task.
It took the priest more than a month to recover from the whole effort and the unsettling appearance of the Virgin in his yard. Once the building to house her was constructed he never went back to see her there, though he did receive reports that her expression had changed to peaceful satisfaction.
To the priest's surprise, all summer a surprising number of women and men came to the parish to volunteer to serve the areas of most need in the community. Almost all were joggers and bicyclists, and a fair number of dogs accompanied their masters.
One day in early fall, the priest prepared for a game of golf in that late afternoon of cool fall crispness. Someone knocked on his door.
“Mrs. Ogilvy.” He could say no more once his eyes fixed on the bundle in her pillowy arms. Her sweater was tied round her waist, and her face glistened.
“Oh, Father.” She placed the burlap covered object on a stack of papers on his desk. “I’ve found a Virgin.”
A pain stabbed through the center of his skull and the priest reached up to rub it away. “And where did you find this, my child?”
The woman grinned broadly. “In a taxi cab, Father. I found it in a taxi cab.”