“Hello?” called Lilly. “Anybody here?”
She creaked open the old, heavy front doors to Holy Cross.
“Hello? Father McBriar? Hello?”
The supposedly dangerous walk to New London was uneventful. Lilly had a
prayer she planned to say when she got to the church, and the long walk
gave her the chance to think of exactly how she wanted to say it. She
was glad to be alone for a moment.
She walked past the doors, past the small poor box on the wall, and
across the creaky wooden floor. She waved and said hello to a wooden
painting of Jesus, then sat down.
“God?” she exhaled. “Please reveal to me one thing about my mother
that no one else knows. Please show me one secret about her that no one
can turn into… into, some ridiculous story about—”
Sensing she was getting angry, Lilly stopped to control her emotions.
All right, as we rehearsed, she thought.
“Dear Lord, please reveal to me a secret about my mother that is
neither false nor exaggerated and known by none other. Be it of her joy
or her suffering, please reveal it only to me, as I wish to know my true
mother as a daughter should.”
Okay, that came from a can, but that’ll do, thought Lilly.
Still, her eyes began tearing as she strolled through the church alone.
I was christened here. I think. She held me in her arms, wrapped in a
little white gown. Probably.
When she saw a painting of Mary weeping for her son as he was taken down
from the Cross, the tears broke free. After sobbing for a moment, she
collected herself and laughed, That’s the kind of relationship I want
with my mother. Is that too much to ask?
And then there’s this, thought Lilly, rolling her eyes at the next
wooden painting. It depicted St. George in shining armor riding a
stunning white horse while driving a lance into a dragon’s heart.
Dragon slayer, huh? He must have been an ace. Nabbed every last one on
Still waiting for someone to give the king’s note to, Lilly found the
music and choir platform near the altar.
What is this? she wondered, approaching something that looked like a
giant oven mitt. Taller than I am. She unbuttoned a cloth cover and set
it aside. A harp? Beautiful. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one up
The harp was a rich brown color. It was made of wood, but the base was
shaped like the bottom of a marble Greek column. And the harp did have a
column, about as thick as an arm. It was grooved and decorated, designed
to be as beautiful to look at as it was to listen to. All harps are
fashioned this way. After years of play, many slip into disuse and
become furniture. The column rose to just over six feet tall, where it
met the curved upper portion called the neck. The neck sloped down then
up, meeting the broad part called the body and the soundboard, which
tilted to rest on a harpist’s shoulder when he or she played. The base
had seven black pedals. The soundboard held forty-seven strings, which
also attached to the neck in a series of intricate bridge pins and
Lilly looked around to see if the old church was still empty. She smiled
and plucked a string.
She smiled a little more and reached her hand all the way to the longest
strings, the low notes. She ran a finger across the entire assembly,
making a glissando.
She looked for a chair or a bench to sit on to see if she could play any
simple songs she knew. It took her less time to find a bench than it did
to think of a song.
She remembered a tune she heard coming from JoAnna’s room, something
playing off Jo’s record player.
She played it flawlessly. She didn’t know how or why, but was too
excited to stop. It was easier than whistling. As simple as it was to
think of the melody in her mind, it was just as effortless for the
melody to come through her fingers onto the harp strings.
“Well that was lovely,” said an old man’s voice, standing just a
few feet behind her.
“What?” Lilly jumped, turning around. “Oh, Father McBriar. I’m
sorry, I just… I thought I was alone.”
“I thought I heard Carmen,” smiled the old priest, looking at the
“Father, no, I’m Lilly. Lillian Paisley, remember?”
“I know! How have you been, my dear?” Father McBriar approached to
hug her. Nervous, Lilly hugged back.
Father Joseph McBriar was the lone steward of the Holy Cross Church in
New London. His skin was usually rose-colored, and his hair had gone
white a long time ago. He was a short man who always had a soft, gentle
“Father, are you all right? You called me Carmen. It’s me, Lilly.”
“I know. I’m not senile yet, dear. The song you were playing. It was
Habanera, from the opera, Carmen. You played it beautifully. Since when
do you play the harp?”
“I… I don’t. I mean, since now. Tonight was the first time I ever
have… played anything. What was the name of the song?”
McBriar paused, confused. “Habanera, from Carmen, an opera by Bizet.
Lilly, are you sure you’re all right?”
“Dear, there isn’t a chance on Earth you could have played the harp
so well if that were your first time.”
The two looked at each other. “Would you mind playing again, dear?”
Lilly sat down and leaned the harp on her right shoulder, tilting it as
it was designed to do. She pulled her arms out wide and settled her
hands on the strings. She looked down at the pedals, which change notes
from flat to natural to sharp, getting her feet in position. She looked
nervously at Father McBriar, who waited with kind patience.
She played the same song again, as perfectly and effortlessly as before.
McBriar’s eyes were wide after just a few notes. After watching
Lilly’s hands and feet all move with such precision and fluidity, his
jaw was completely open by the end of the song.
“Well it’s settled, then. The harp’s yours.”
“What? No, Father… I can’t… I can’t just take this, not from
you, not from a church.”
“Sure you can! I’ve never even seen the thing before. Didn’t even
know we had a harp, and I wouldn’t have missed a big concert grand
like this. I hardly consider it mine.”
“Wait, this harp just appeared?”
He held a hand up, “Before we get carried away, I have people
anonymously drop discarded donations here at the church all the time.
Loose change, old furniture, babies…”
“Yes, but never a harp I bet. Did you say babies?”
“Yes. This has been going on my whole career. After only a few short
decades, I finally learned there was a lesson in it for me: give your
treasure back to God before the devil takes it away.”
“Yes, but they gave their treasure to God, here. I can’t walk off
“Lilly, I just heard you play for the… second time in your life? You
played like an angel. God wants you to have this harp. Just take it.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“You know, I’m really not too surprised.”
“What, that I can play? I am.”
“You shouldn’t be! You’re the daughter of Lucy Paisley.”
“Did I ever tell you the story about you and your mother at the
Here we go.
“Your mother, God rest her soul, took you to the zoo when you were
barely dry from one of my baptisms. A lion had gotten out of his cage
and was chasing the carousel’s wooden horses.”
“The lion was chasing those horses round and round, round and round…
there were people on that carousel! They were terrified!”
“And dizzy, I’m sure.”
“Yes! The ride operator had to turn it up to full speed so the lion
couldn’t catch any of the horses.”
Great. We just added that to the story permanently.
“So, your mum went to the hot dog stand and bought five hot dogs. She
tossed the buns aside… actually, no… first, she fed the buns to some
pigeons. Then! Then, taking the hot dogs, she spoke to the lion. She
told him, ‘Lion, leave these people alone, go back in your cage, and I
will give you these hot dogs.’ The lion listened, went back into his
cage, got his hot dogs, and your mother locked the door.”
“I have an envelope for you.”
“All while breastfeeding you the entire time. Huh? An envelope? From
the king? Oh, dear, I think I know what it is.”
Lilly noted the king’s wax seal. “I didn’t open it, of course.”
Father McBriar’s head sank as he read. “As I thought. Behind in my
“The king handles that?”
“Defender of the Faith is one of his many titles. Believe me, better
him than some others.”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Father, if you need the harp back to sell it—”
“No! Listen to me, Lilly. What belongs to the king belongs to the
king. But what belongs to God, belongs to God.”
“Then at least let me play here sometime, if I don’t forget how.”
“Why, that would be lovely,” said McBriar, as his gentle smile
Excerpted from "The Enchanted Harp [Kindle Edition]" by Clinton Festa. Copyright © 2014 by Clinton Festa. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.