Bernadette had been dead two weeks when her sisters showed up in Doyle's living room asking for the statue back. They had no legal claim to it, of course, she never would have thought of leaving it to them, but the statue had been in their family for four generations, passing down a maternal line from mother to daughter, and it was their intention to hold with tradition. Bernadette had no daughters. In every generation there had been an uncomfortable moment when the mother had to choose between her children as there was only one statue and these Irish Catholic families were large. The rule in the past had always been to give it to the girl who most resembled the statue, and among Bernadette and her siblings, not that the boys ever had a chance, Bernadette was the clear winner: iron rust hair, dark blue eyes, a long, narrow nose. It was frankly unnerving at times how much the carving looked like Bernadette, as if she had at some point modeled in a blue robe with a halo stuck to the back of her head.
"I can't give it to you," Doyle said. "It's in the little boys' room, on the dresser. Tip and Teddy say a prayer to it at night." He kept his eyes on them steadily. He waited for an apology, some indication of backing down, but instead they just kept staring right at him. He tried again. "They believe it's actually a statue of her."
"But since we have daughters," Serena said, she was the older of the two, "and the statue always passes on to a daughter" She didn't finish her thought because she felt the point had been made. She meant to handle things gracefully.
Doyle was tired. His grief was so fresh he hadn't begun to see the worst of it yet. He was still expecting his wife to come down the stairs and ask him if he felt like splitting an orange. "It has in the past but it isn't a law. It can go to a son for one generation and everyone will survive."
They looked at each other. These two women, these aunts, had supported their now dead sister in her limitless quest for children but they knew that Doyle didn't mean for the family's one heirloom to pass to Sullivan, his oldest son. He meant for the statue to go to the other ones, the "little boys" as everyone called them. And why should two adopted sons, two black adopted sons, own the statue that was meant to be passed down from redheaded mother to redheaded daughter?
"Because," Doyle said, "I own it now and so I'm the one who gets to decide. Bernadette's children are as entitled to their family legacy as any other Sullivan cousin." Bernadette had always predicted that without a daughter there was going to be trouble. Two of the boys would have to be hurt someday when it was given to the third. Still, Bernadette had never imagined this.
The aunts did their best to exercise decorum. They loved their sister, they grieved for her, but they weren't about to walk away from that to which they were entitled. Their next stop was to seek the intervention of their uncle. As both a priest and a Sullivan they thought he would see the need to keep the statue in their line, but much to their surprise, Father John Sullivan came down firmly on Doyle's side, chastising his nieces for even suggesting that Teddy and Tip should be forced to give up this likeness of their mother, having just given up Bernadette herself. If he hadn't closed the argument down then, chances are that none of the Sullivans would have ever spoken to any of the Doyles again.
It was a very pretty statue as those things go, maybe a foot and a half high, carved from rosewood and painted with such a delicate hand that many generations later her cheeks still bore the high, translucent flush of a girl startled by a compliment. Likenesses of the Mother of God abounded in the world and in Boston they were doubled, but everyone who saw this statue agreed that it possessed a certain inestimable loveliness that set it far apart. It was more than just the attention to detailthe tiny stars carved around the base that earth sat on, the gentle drape of her sapphire cloakit was Mary's youth, how she hovered on the line between mother and child. It was the fact that this particular Mother of God was herself an Irish girl who wore nothing on her head but a thin wooden disc the size of a silver dollar and leafed in gold.
The foregoing is excerpted from Run by Ann Patchett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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