Father Nick McGill hurried along the snow-covered sidewalk. Rounding the corner, he broke into a trot. The voice on the phone had been urgent, begging for his presence. He lengthened his stride. The words had been horrifying.
If any person on earth could make a miracle happen, Father McGill could. Everyone said so. Anyway, that’s what he was counting on, so was the caller.
“Please, St. Nicholas, make this not be true,” he said, tapping his heart. (1) Father McGill had known Timmy since he’d been born. He’d been at the hospital for his birth, performed his christening rites, and attended all his birthday parties. His divorced mother, Claudette Harvey, was one of his most active parishioners.
He turned another corner, stopping at the end of the sidewalk leading to the front door flanked by two carved pumpkins. Running his fingers through his thinning hair, he took a deep breath of the crisp air, and shortened his steps.
The boy sat on the leather sofa in the living room. Timmy did not look up as Father McGill entered the room. Claudette was at his side, her arm around his shoulders. Tears streamed down her face.
“Oh, Father, he’s only four,” she said. Her body heaved.
The boy shrunk further into the cushions.
Father McGill’s face paled. He reached for the cross around his neck.
The tick of the clock sounded like a train veering off a dislocated track.
“Perhaps you should let me talk to him alone,” he said to Claudette. “He might be more comfortable talking man-to-man.”
Claudette sniffed, pulled Timmy close, kissed his forehead, and then stood. “I’ll get us some hot chocolate.” She headed for the door, but hesitated at the doorway.
The priest smiled and gave her a reassuring nod. She dropped her gaze and went toward the kitchen.
Father McGill stood over Timmy with his hands folded in front of him. “Well, my son.”
Father McGill settled beside Timmy and lowered his voice to a harsh whisper. “Now, son, you’re going to tell your mother you were lying. No one hurt you. You don’t want God to punish you, do you? That’s what God does, you know. Punish little boys who don’t do what their priest tells them to do.”
(1) St. Nicholas is the patron saint for children. In his role as patron saint, St. Nicholas not only seeks to protect, but also to guide and instruct children, by means of rewards and punishment, in how to grow into kind and loving adults.