Work of Human Hands

The priest had just closed the volume by Thomas à Kempis on the bookmark and put away what was left of the bottle of wine when the telephone rang. He answered it reluctantly and recognized Mrs. Corelli's voice on the line, begging him to hurry and saying that the doctor was already on his way. Rosa Corelli was a widow in her late 80's, who was driven to Mass every Sunday by her grandson, a married man in his 40's who came for her when the service was over; in the past six months she had suffered a series of attacks. The priest glanced at the clock that was beside the phone. It said nearly 11, and he felt sleepy and thickheaded. He promised Mrs. Corelli that he would come as quickly as he could, and hung up the receiver.

In the bedroom he put on his collar and shoes, his fingers working clumsily against the buttons and laces. The snowstorm had caused him to cancel a trip out of town, and for the first time in weeks he had been able to sit alone in the rectory and read, making notes for the book he was writing, without interruption. He was surprised to discover how late it was; also how much of the wine was gone. Wine was Father Hillary's sole luxury, in which he indulged himself regularly except during Lent. He had acquired a palate when he was studying in Paris at the Sorbonne, learning to discriminate among wines at the same time that he was mastering Augustine and Aquinas. His rule was to restrict himself...

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