Writing poems is easy because they don't have to make sense.
Tito and Tesla
Two peas in pod
Drank wine on a death ray
And talked about God
They watched as the world
Flowed into the shitter
With Mussolini and Mao
Joining Stalin and Hitler
And across the Pacific
All the way in Japan
Prime Minster Tojo
Drew up some war plans
Tesla loved knowledge
Tito loved power
Hitler loved hatred
Mao golden showers
Mussolini loved women
Tojo loved peace
But no one understood him
Because he spoke Japanese
Stalin loved death camps
Mao and Hitler did too
God loved all men
Except during World War Two
Mussolini and Hitler
Bad apples indeed
Could not talk to Tojo
Because he spoke Japanese
The Axis attacked
But the Allies responded
And knew how to do math
Churchill and Stalin
Helped stir up the pot
Of European war stew
And over in France
Charles de Gaulle
Fought like a Frenchman
And soon France did fall
Japan occupied China
And no translation was needed
For all men speak war
The universal language
When the Japanese left
Mao rose to power
And with gun barrels he took
Golden baths not just showers
Tesla and Tito
Shared a bottle of brandy
And on the death ray they danced
The Yugoslav Dandy
They watched the Axis and Allies
Fight the bloodiest war
It made them sick to their stomachs
They could watch it no more
So Tito took aim
Tesla fired away
And as world was burning
They danced in the flames
Europe After the Rain, Max Ernst
There was a man with Google Glass
Who forgot what he did one day…
So stared at the screen in his eyes
Til’ he found what he wanted to find
And yet he continued to stare
Until he stood there
Watching him watch himself
And on the day that he died
He seemed not to mind
For never saw it coming
My name is John Jerry
I was born in Bel Air
And I blew off my head
In a parking lot there.
Flanked by corrections officers, the prisoners gazed at the outside world as they stepped up the walkway of the hospital in the countryside. They had come from San Quentin Prison (inmate population 5,256), sixty miles to the south. The name and location of the hospital was not previously disclosed to them, and the remote town of Sebastopol was unknown to them. There were a dozen prisoners – donning orange jumpsuits, shackles around their wrists and ankles, chained together like dogs. They had arrived to receive medical treatment for varying problems. Most were there for minor procedures, namely colonoscopies, but a few were to receive more serious operations such as having their gallbladders removed or their kidney stones broken apart into small pieces. Just as the prisoners are not informed beforehand of where they would be sent for their operations and who the doctors that will be operating on them are, the hospital staff is not informed of the names of the prisoners, but instead reference them by their inmate identification numbers.
The prisoners walking into the hospital are criminals convicted of murder, rape, or involuntary manslaughter, and are serving sentences ranging from twenty years to life. For all of them, the day trip to the hospital is the first time in years that they have seen the world outside the confines of the San Quentin. Among the shackled prisoners stepping up the walkway was James Young, a sixty-five year-old inmate. He had blue eyes and looked to the bright sky and the tantalizing mountains in awe. He marveled at the vibrant colors of the fertile landscape with its green pastures and rolling hills, the perfect clouds and little birds. He yearned to be part of the natural world again, to be free and experience the beauty of the outdoors and to do things right – if only for a day, for an hour – but this he knew this would never be.
James was serving a sentence for a crime he had committed in 1983, when he had murdered an innocent man in a car heist. He was apprehended, charged, convicted, and sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After the trial his pregnant wife of seven years had filed the divorce papers and made a sole visit to James to tell him what he already knew. Their final exchange is seared in his mind as a heartbreaking and painful memory. James and Pauline were separated by a pane of glass. Tears were streaming down her face as she cradled the bulge of her stomach and wept. “James, I can’t go on like this. I have to do what is best for me and my baby. I’m sorry, James, I’m so sorry. I love you.” And with that she stepped away forever. Only through letters written by old friends was James informed that she had given birth to their daughter, and several years thereafter she remarried. Pauline now had a stable life, a good family, and a well-paying job that she enjoyed. She had become a surgical nurse and was working in the post-anesthesia care unit of the operating room at the hospital that day.
The prisoners were led into the outpatient room and they shuffled into chairs or gurneys depending on the type of operation or procedure they were to receive and the order in which it was to be performed. James was told to lie in a gurney and once he did a guard came over and handcuffed his ankle shackles to the railing. He was visibly nervous about the operation. His gallstones were to be removed and he did not like the idea of being gassed into unconsciousness, having his belly slit open, and tools inserted into his body to remove something that he knew had to go. A nurse came over and had him sign several documents related to the operation.
“Don’t worry,” she said as she prepped his IV, “It’s a very common operation.”
“Will there be a lot of pain afterwards?”
“Some, but they’ll do what they can in recovery to alleviate any pain by giving you pain killers.”
James was not registering all of what she was saying as he nodded in contest for her to insert the IV needle into a vein in his hand. As she taped down the needle he contemplated his position amongst these people in this new surrounding. He thought: “Who is this nurse and what is her life like? What must she think of me? I will never be free like these people, like these nurses and guards, like the people I left behind. I will never get to go out there and grasp that land and breathe that air. No more freedom, no more love, no more life. I will never be a part of this world again.”
He was the first of the prisoners to go. An operating room nurse and assistant came to retrieve him. They were all smiles as they wheeled him down the hall, a corrections officer following close behind. They passed a courtyard and James saw the lush plants and colorful flowers growing outside. There were two people sitting in the courtyard holding each other in sadness and James thought that they must have lost a loved one, and he too grew sad for he knew that no such grieving by others will ever occur over his death because there would be no one who cared.
The double doors to the operating room were pulled open and the air was cold inside. James peered from side to side at the incomprehensible activity of the busy workers – people who knew freedom and were disciplined enough hold jobs and were dutifully filling their roles in a society where he had but one role to play which was the very lowest – that of the prisoner. His station in life was lower than that of a slave, for even a slave makes some contribution to society, whereas James made none and would die in prison.
He was wheeled under the fluorescent lights and into the operating room and tried to understand all the foreign machines in the room as nurses wearing latex gloves and face masks helped transfer him from the gurney to the table and then strapped him down. He could see in there eyes that they were kind and he could tell they were smiling and he smiled back. The anesthesiologist placed a breathing mask over James’ face and administered and injection of a milky white anesthetic. “Alright, buddy, you’re gonna go to sleep now,” said the man. The surgeon stepped into the operating room as James slipped into unconsciousness.
James woke up to the loud voice of the anesthesiologist saying, “Wake up, buddy, we’re all done now.” He had already been transferred back to the gurney and the guard was placing the shackles on his ankles and handcuffing them to the rails at his feet. James was nauseous and tossed his head as he was taken out of the out of the operating room the recovery unit. There, a corrections officer stood by and the anesthesiologist stayed with James for a minute while the recovery nurse confirmed that his vitals were stable.
“It think we’re fine, doctor.”
James saw her and whispered her name. Pauline had not looked into his face but her line of sight ran up this man’s arms and her heart sank upon recognizing the tattoo of a panther on his outer bicep.
She looked to his face and cupped her hands over her mouth and gasped. She looked into his face, and the memories and broken promises and heartbreak came rushing back.
“Hi baby,” said James, wiggling his fingers.
“Oh my God, oh my God...”
“You look like an angel.”
She clasped his hands and burst into tears, leaning her head toward his chest.
“It’s okay,” whispered James.
The guard stepped in and said, “Mamn, is everything okay?”
“Yes…yes. I know this man. Everything is okay.” She turned to James and asked, “Are you in pain?”
Pauline held her head on his chest and wept. On a desk in the recovery room was a picture of a young woman holding her infant son and they were the living flesh of James himself. James held the head of his former lover and wife for the last time in his life. He thought about how it’s a curious thing that peoples lives cross and weave together like thread and then so often glide away thereafter. Everyone moves off in their own direction, having friends and families, dreams and struggles, experiencing profound and beautiful and melancholy things which are unique to their own lives and independent of those whom they had loved in their past. And ultimately these men and women will pass away, and so too shall everyone else that we have ever crossed paths with or not. James thought about this as he closed his eyes and embraced the only woman he has ever loved, and tears streamed down his face.
I had to take a break from a longer short story to write this shorter and more silly one, in part to make sure I still remembered how to finish writing a story. Admittedly, it’s not that good, but sometimes you’ve gotta write shitty stories in order to write the good ones.
Last month, Oxfam reported that the world’s 85 richest people have as much wealth ($110 trillion) as the bottom 3.5 billion people. Interrelatedly, last year’s Wall Street bonuses exceed $91 billion. This comes at a time when hundreds of millions of people across the world are suffering for want of basic goods and services, and many are dying simply because they are deprived of the means of survival which could easily be provided by those who have profited from human and environmental exploitation. As the burgeoning world rolls forward into the 21st century, there’s less and less room for insatiable avarice, there’s less and less time to behave like a greedy piece a shit. Alas, Greed is the game on Wall Street, so fuck those banker swine. This short story is dedicated to them.
Preface to readers: sorry for all the violence, but in the spirit of Capote, “You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”
The Beasts of Genesis
Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Upon which land doth lie the beast? The beast doth lie in thee.
-Walter Lloyd Waterson
Play not lest ye be played.
Harry and Harriet Paulson stepped out from the snow and into the verdant foyer of the Genesis Spa in upstate New York. Soothing ambient music coupled with the audio of tropical insects and amphibians resounded from speakers as the husband and wife, both middle-age big city investments bankers, were greeted by a young woman at a desk.
“Happy New Year, Mr. and Mrs. Paulson. Welcome back.”
“It’s lovely to be back, darling,” said Harriet, “The city can be so unforgiving and savage during the holidays.” She reconsidered, “What am I saying? It’s a jungle year round.”
“That’s why we come here,” said Harry, “There are no barbarians in paradise, no untamed beasts in Eden.”
“Harry,” said his wife, “How poetic.” They smiled and kissed.
The woman at the desk billed their credit card. “You’re all set. Have a relaxing stay.”
The couple walked down the marble hall and stood before the separate doors of the men and women’s locker rooms.
“What a wonderful way to spend our bonuses, Francis.”
“A mere fraction at that. We could buy this entire place if we were to spend a tenth of what we made.”
“What a lovely idea, Harry. We could work here!”
“Work? Ha! I forgot how to do that!”
They both laughed.
“Harry,” said Harriet, “I want to ask you in something in earnest.”
“Do you think we should donate some of our bonuses? You know, in order to help those across the world who are poor and starving?”
Puzzled, Harry stared at his wife, incredulous of her serious demeanor. She couldn’t hold it and cracked a smile and they both burst into laughter.
“Good one,” said Harry, “Good one…”
They passed into their respective locker rooms, removed their clothes, put on fluffy bathrobes, and met in the bathhouse where they were greeted by a flamboyant male masseuse.
“Hello there, Mr. and Mrs. P. Welcome back!”
“Hello Francis, how delightful to see you.”
“We have some very special and innovative treatment regiments to pamper you with today.”
“Well by all means, pamper away, Francis,” said Harry, “I’ve been a very good boy this year.”
“Oh, I bet you have, Mr. P., I bet you have.”
“What do you plan to start us off with today, Francis?” asked Harriet.
“Well, I’m going to first facilitate the loosening of your muscles by having you submerge your bodies in hot mud baths. During the tension alleviation process, you’ll undergo an exotic, facial exfoliating experience.”
“How adventurous!” said Harriet.
“Exotic you say?”
“Yes. It’s an ancient method originating from the land of Africa, the cradle of civilization. I’ll be right back. You two just ease into your tubs and relax.”
“Africa…” Harry said, “sounds dangerous.”
“I’ve heard that it’s an absolutely filthy country overflowing with minorities.”
Harry and Harriet disrobed and slowly entered the hot mud baths.
“Wooo, this is hot, Harry. I can feel my silicone heating up!”
“Wait til’ the guys at the office hear about how daring and free spirited I’m being today.”
“You’re the bravest, boldest banker on Wall Street, Harry, and I love you for that.”
With their bodies submerged, Harry and Harriet were but two heads sprouting from separate mud baths when Francis returned and approached with a box.
“Here they are,” said Francis, “The hottest new facial exfoliates on the market.” He opened the box and pulled out a Giant African land snail.
“Oh heavens!” cried Harriet.
“Holy shit,” said Harry, shifting back in the tub.
“These bad boys will eliminate all the dead skin cells on the surface of your face, and their mucus contains a highly proactive anti-aging agent. Your face will be tauter and look younger after this miraculous treatment.”
“Well,” said Harriet, “that does sound nice…”
“I think I remember reading something about this in How to Spend It.”
“Well then it’s got to be good,” said Harriet.
Harry had in fact read about it, but it was not in the Financial Times magazine. There was a passing blurb in the New York Times about invasive Giant African land snails that would eat the droppings of rats and thereby contract an infectious disease called rat lungworm, which could be transmitted by snails to humans through skin contact and induce meningitis. Harry and Harriet closed their eyes and Francis step forward with the box of snails and placed several on the faces of his clients.
“Hey,” said Harry, “it kind of tickles.”
“I can already feel my face getting tauter.”
“They’ll work wonders,” said Francis. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
The snails explored the exposed surface of their hosts, whose faces were soon sealed in a slimly film of viral mucus. Once accustom to the snails, Harry and Harriet relaxed and slipped away into an ethereal realm of abstractions and fanciful daydreams.
Harry pondered aloud, “Honey, if a house forecloses and the family is put on the streets, does anybody care?”
“That’s a very philosophical question, Harry, very philosophical, indeed… You know, I was wondering if slavery in America will ever make a comeback. Do you think it may?”
“One can only hope.”
Francis returned to attend to the couple, first plucking the snails off their faces and then assisting them out of the tubs.
“Well that was marvelous, Francis. I feel so rejuvenated,” said Harriet, her face covered in slime.
“I feel like a million bucks,” said Harry, “Well, twenty point six million to be exact.”
“Oh Harry,” laughed his wife, “Stop it.”
“I can’t,” he chuckled, “I have an addictive personality, I’m incapable of empathy, and I’m probably insane!”
“That’s terrific, Mr. P. But, oh goodness me, look how fabulously muddy you both are. It’s time for a skinny dip in the tropical pool, where you’ll receive your next exotic treatment.”
Francis led them out of the bathhouse and into a humid courtyard containing an indoor saltwater pool which sparkled in the winter sunlight that flowed in through the windows. The pool was designed to resemble a beach, and was complete with a sandy floor, aquarium boulders, and shoals of small fish jetting through the water.
“The water’s perfect,” said Francis, “Indulge yourselves.”
Harry and Harriet sank into the heated pool and clouds of mud dissipated from off their bodies. They moaned and stretched as they floated in the water. As they relaxed Francis was putting on a wet suit.
“How utterly blissful,” said Harriet.
“Hey, what are all these little fish?” asked Harry, “I think they’re going to bite me.”
“That’s exactly right, Mr. P,” said Francis. “They are going to bite you. They’re nibble fish, and will eat away at all the dead and decomposing bacteria on your epidermis.”
“They’re nibbling at my testicles, is that okay?”
“That’s because that’s where men like you carry the most diseases.”
Floating on her back, Harriet said, “First snails from the land down under, now exotic fish that eat STDs – I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven! I absolutely can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store for us next, Francis.”
Francis mumbled something as he walked along the side of the pool and picked up a metal bucket. “In here,” he said, “is your next full body treatment.”
Harry and Harriet were floating in the center of the pool, the dozens of nibble fish pecking away at their submerged bodies.
“What’s in there?”
“These,” said Francis as he dumped the contents of the bucket in the water, “are lionfish.” Three large lionfish plopped and splashed into the pool. They checked and oriented themselves in the water, and with their striped pectoral fins splayed out like fans, they swam toward the nibble fish.
“Oh fuck!” cried Harry, “Those look dangerous!”
“Stay clam, Mr. and Mrs. P, these are the latest form of tension alleviation. They’re about to feed on the nibble fish, and their delicate spines with graze your skin. When this happens, you’ll feel a slight pinprick and a moderate burning sensation and…”
“Oww!” yelled Harry
“Oh my goodness!” Harriet shrieked.
The lionfish devoured the nibble fish in a frenzy, and with their venomous dorsal fin spines erect and protruding, they inadvertently dealt toxic and extremely painful stings to the couple whom were screaming and failing madly in water.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” they cried, “Get us out of here!”
With his wetsuit on, Francis hopped into the water. “Stay calm everyone,” he said, “This is all part of the treatment procedure.”
“It hurts, Francis, it hurts!”
“Of course they do, Mrs. P, they are lionfish.”
“Fuck you!” yelled Harry between his hollering, “I’m going to sue you!”
“Well that’s not very nice. You’re overreacting, Mr. P. Grab my hands.”
Harry and Harriet seized Francis’s hands and clung on as he pulled them to the side of the pool. He pushed them up onto the tile where they rolled around writhing and moaning in severe pain; blood dripping from the scrapes on their legs.
“Why did you do that?!” cried Harriet.
“They did it,” said Francis, pointing to the lionfish.
“You’re a sadist!” yelled Harry.
“I’m a certified health practitioner. Now let me get you to the massage table so we can relieve some of that pressure in your legs.”
“It burns, it burns…” said Harry.
Francis splashed some water on Harry’s legs and said, “Just wait for the neurotoxins to kick in, silly. You’ll soon lose most of the feeling in your lower extremities and should experience mild hallucinations.”
“Hallucinations? Francis, have you lost mind?” said Harriet as she cringed her teeth, her face bright red from the surfeit of blood rushing to her head.
“That’s gonna be my defense, Mrs. P. In a moment you’ll be feeling nice and queasy, and then we’ll roll you onto the massage mats.”
Francis removed his wetsuit and stood aside as Harry and Harriet clutched their legs and squirmed in agony, trying desperately to tolerate the throbbing pain. As the venom worked its way though their bloodstreams and up to their brains, the Paulsons grew nauseous and weak on the poolside tile where they sat, leaning on each other for support. The intense burning sensation in their legs gave way to general bodily numbness and mental delirium in which their minds wandered into a sea of daffy intoxication. Harry’s lips were twitching slightly and his wife was drooling on herself as she mindlessly gazed out the window and saw the snow falling upon the field outside.
“Harry,” his wife said, “it’s getting hard to breath.”
“Just take big breaths, honey… Goddamn, my penis feels numb.”
“Well, it’s not like you use it anyway.”
“Oh, that’s not true. “ His words word heavy and his breathing labored. “I don’t use it on you, but you know, at the office downtown, me and my team, we have sex with a lot of hookers.”
“Oh…I figured you were getting it somewhere once in a while, hunny bunny, I --“
“No, I mean a lot, it’s crazy.”
“It’s okay. I’m only in this relationship for the money and status. When I take business trips, I take off my wedding ring.”
Francis interjected as he unfurled two massage mats beside the pool. “Ready for the massage of your lives?” he asked.
“Oh sure,” said Harry in a daze.
“Let’s move you onto these comfy mats so we can get to work on those legs.”
Francis placed his forearms under Harriet’s armpits and she giggled as he dragged her onto a mat and set her down. He then went back for Harry and rolled him across the tile and positioned him face-down on an adjacent mat. The Paulsons watched Francis leave the room and when he returned they were shocked to see him handling an accipiter goshawk – a large bird of prey – which stirred about blindfolded on the leather falconer’s glove that he wore on his arm.
“What is that?” asked Harriet.
“This here is Ronald, he’s a northern goshawk from Austria, and he’s part of our latest therapeutic massage installment. You see that blood on your legs?”
Harry was on his stomach was not able to get a view of the bird, “What’s happening?” he asked.
Francis united the blindfold from the hawk and said, “Prepare to experience one of the most hardcore massages you’ve ever endured.”
“Wait a second,” said Harry, “Is this going to be dangerous?”
“It probably will be, Mr. P. This is the fist time it’s been done to my knowledge. Let’s find out what happens.” Francis removed the blindfold and revealed the majestic head of giant hawk, which sharpened its fierce gaze on the leg wounds, stretched its wings, and screeched as it flew across the room.
“Oh God,” said Harriet, “It’s coming!”
“What’s coming? The masseuse?”
The bird first went for Harry’s legs. “Hey!” he cried as the hawk landed on his back, sinking its talons into his skin. It goose-stepped across Harry’s rear and tore into the wounds that had been caused by the lionfish. What were but slight scrapes were shredded open by the bird into major gashes and lacerations, yet due to the anesthesia of his legs, the bites went largely unfelt.
“Oh boy,” Francis said, “Look at him devour your flesh, isn’t that crazy?”
Harriet yelled at the hawk, “Stop it, stop it!” She was sitting upright and attempted to swat it off her husband’s legs. The hawk responded by defensively pecking at her hand and then offensively leaping onto her legs and digging it’s beak into her wounds, pulling out meat and skin. She howled in fear and the hawk screeched back at her. It took several more bites out of her leg and then Francis called the hawk back, saying, “Ronald, return! I don’t want them to bleed out.”
The hawk flew back to its master and Francis blindfolded it. The couple was distressed and moaning on the ground. They wanted to go home, they want to go back to Wall Street, back to their steady lives involving computers and televisions and other appliances and amenities, but Francis had other plans for them.
“Okay boys and girls,” said Francis, “it’s time for the finale.”
Francis set the bird on a perch, picked up a tubberware container, and walked over to his clients. He stood above them as they glared back in hapless confusion and scorn. They were exasperated. Their pupils were dilated, their legs were bleeding, and they had lost most of their motor skills. They couldn’t think straight – were things going on here awry, or was this all just part of the usual spa package?
“Look at those boo-boos,” said Francis, exhibiting a pouty face.
“Francis, what’s happening? Why are you doing this?” asked Harriet.
“Because Mrs. P, you need to relax.” Francis held and turned the container before her. “Now, what I have here is a fantastic, never-before-tried massage oil, which is actually just bacon grease.” He put on a pair of gloves. “I’m going to gently lather this elixir into your legs and patch up all those nasty wounds for you.” He applied the grease and said, “I’m gonna get you all ready to go outside...”
“Francis, damn you,” said Harry, “Get us out of here!”
“You betchca, Mr. P. A huge part or your relaxation experience is your comparative temperature. How can you know fuzzy without knowing sharp? So, what I’m proposing next is a highly advanced climate immersion shift. That means I’m gonna take you outside, where there’s snow on the ground and where it’s also falling from out of the sky – isn’t that crazy? That’s fucking crazy right?”
“What?!” said Harry, “No. Francis we’re done. I demand a refund!”
“Okay, we’ll just do this one last thing.”
“Oh God Francis, we can’t go outside, we can’t walk!” said Harriet.
“I’ve got a sled.”
Francis walked over the courtyard doors and opened them. The cold air swept in and the couple began to shiver. They protested and swatted at Francis as he dragged their massage mats across the room and out the door onto the edge of the snow-covered field. The spa was surrounded by pine trees and white hills and the winter sky was grey and cold.
“Francis, you bastard!”
“Let’s go for ride,” he said, rolling them onto a large sled.
Snow flakes fell and upon them as Francis hauled his clients out the middle of field. The snow crunched beneath his feet, and bright drops of blood trickled out from the sled and melted into the pure snow. Once in the middle of the field, Francis stopped and assessed the serenity of their surroundings. “Alrighty,” he said, “You two don’t go anywhere. I’ll get the final part of your treatment program started.”
“I don’t understand, Francis, how is this supposed to be healing us?”
“Well, Mrs. P,” he said, dumping them off the sled, “This next exercise will be more psychologically consoling than physically enjoyable. Have you ever heard of primal scream therapy?”
“It’s not important. I’ll go unleash the beasts.”
“What?!” yelled Harry. “Francis, if you don’t take us back right now, you’re a dead man!”
“That’s nice, Mr. P. I’ll see you two in Hell.”
Francis turned and walked away with the sled. The Paulsons sat back-to-back in the middle of the field, they yelled toward Francis but he continued to walk away and eventually disappeared into the snowy ether in the direction of the spa.
“Well, I suppose this is almost over,” said Harriet, “thank goodness.”
Harry said, “When I get back home, I’m gonna put a price on his head, I’m going to send a hitman out here to kill him.”
“That’s nice, Harry. That’s nice.”
Sleepy-eyed, the couple sat in the snow. They stared at their greasy and blood-smeared legs and gazed into the white oblivion, thinking of their home and their money.
Back at the spa, Francis emerged outside holding dual leashes attached to two muzzled and snarling hyenas. They were incredible beasts whose formidable muscles were visible through their spotted fur. The hyenas were yelping wildly and sniffing the drops blood in the snow, the smell of bacon in the air. The thick fur on their ridged backs stood up and they growled in thirst for flesh and blood. Francis could contain them no longer so he removed their muzzles and the hyenas ran off into to the field, crazed and laughing manically, loping through the snow in great and drunken strides – hairy beasts salivating wildly like demonic minotaurs. From the courtyard the screams of their victims could be heard as the hyenas feasted upon them, and Francis shut the door.
Thank God this is over. (Lesson learned: If you start a story without having a solid conceptualization of the beginning, middle, and end, it'll take you forever to write.)
The fools of the world have been those who have established religions, ceremonies, laws, faith, rule of life.
-From The Cabal of the Cheval Pegasus, by Roman Catholic scholar Giordano Bruno, whom speculated that there are myriad worlds inhabited by intelligent lifeforms, and for this and other crimes, was burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church in 1600.
The Good Priest
On his fiftieth birthday the priest sat at his office desk in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He was flipping through a bible, taking notes for tomorrow’s Easter Mass, and eating the unleavened bread which he had slipped into his shirt pocket while pilfering foodstuff from the church pantry. He washed the bread down with wine left over from communions past and corked the bottle. When he thought of something potentially applicable to his sermon, he would look up from his ledger and stare out of his window toward the city buildings and Central Park. It was a sunny and marvelous day, and the priest attributed this wonderful weather to the power and will of God. He looked down to his ledger and deliberated, “Easter, Easter, Easter. What to say about Easter?” He looked outside and said, “Easter bunny?”
As the priest ate bread and contemplated the resurrection of Christ, a fly was buzzing around the room and it buzzed up against the window and landed there. Gripping the bible in his hands, the priest stood up and walked over to the window. He used the bible to strike the fly which splattered against the glass. “Beelzebub,” said the priest, his mouth full of bread.
As he walked back to his desk the priest started choking. He tried coughing but was unable to clear his throat of the dry bread chunks that were obstructing his airway. He began heaving over the mahogany desk and his face turned red. He dropped the bible and stumbled around the room. He then turned and picked up the bottle of wine on his desk and struggled desperately to pull the cork but his atrophied muscles lacked the strength required to do so adroitly. He managed to uncork the bottle and take a sip of wine, yet then he fell to his knees, dropped the bottle, and planted his hands on the ground. His face turned purple and he made strange guttural noises as he crawled toward the bottle of wine that was rolling away from him. His eyes were bulging and his burgeoning blood vessels pulsated bright red. The priest lost consciousness and collapsed to the floor, his twitching body splayed out beside the fallen bible.
In the darkness of his suffocating mind the priest saw his body lying prone on the floor. His spirit floated away and he was afraid as he rose toward an orb of blinding light. He entered the light and sailed through a wormhole. Unfolding on the walls therein were haunting images of religious persecutions perpetrated by murderous Christian fanatics throughout history. There were brutal scenes of New World conquistadors, armor-laden infantry and horsemen donning steel breastplates, armed with lances and swords, slaughtering indigenous natives whose bodies lay strewn in pools of blood in the zocalos and temples of ancient citadels in tropical forests. There were relentless images of religiously-fueled madmen ravaging townships and slaying the occupants in a deranged and barbarous lust for flesh and plunder. He bore witness to foul and possessed mercenary hordes massacring Jews and Muslims in desecrated holy lands. He saw visions of Iberian villages alight, innocent women and children murdered in the name of God by bloodthirsty Crusaders bearing crosses and flags, their sieges ordained by insidious papal edicts.
The priest could feel the pain of those who suffered and was unable to close his eyes. He screamed in terror as he traversed through the phantasmagoric horrorshow of vicious crimes committed by the sinister leaders of the Church. He could see them: demonic bishops and ruthless cardinals, convening esoterically in depraved worship of fiendish underworld beings, wearing wild animal masks, dark cloaks, and beastly costumes, engaged in perverse and twisted rituals where children were of the fare, corrupt and conspiring with incestuous monarchial families and the nefarious political elite of fallen empires. The spirit of the priest sobbed lamentation as his journey through the hellish wormhole continued. He endured scenes in which devious ecclesiastical tribunals tried righteous men of science as heretics and watched them burn at the stake in agony. He saw a vile and drunken priest stumble down a dark corridor and push open the door to a boy’s dormitory where he proceeded to molest and abuse the children. He could take no more and he cried out denunciation and regret.
He shot out the wormhole and was suddenly in the garden of a serene courtyard. A little boy was exploring the garden, examining the leaves of plants and studying the insects upon them. The boy was the priest as a child who had wandered away from Sunday school. The spirit of the priest stood in the garden as an invisible entity observing this experience of his past. A man’s voice was calling out for the boy who became scared upon hearing the man. The man was his father, who was a priest as well, ordained after the birth of his only son. His father stormed into the garden and spotted his son.
“There you are!” his father yelled, “What the devil are you doing?”
He marched over to the child and scooped him up.
“No!” protested the child.
“How dare you leave the church? How dare you defy your father and betray the Lord?”
“I don’t want to go to church, I want to be outside!”
His father gripped the boy by the arms, “You have no choice, you insolent apostate, you naughty little bastard! You will do as I say!”
The boy wept as he was carried out of the garden and off to church.
The spirit of the priest was then transported to another point in time where he saw a manifestation of himself as a teenager engaged in a romantic tryst with a young girl in his bedroom. Once again his father intervened, startling the couple.
“You despicable monkeys! Thou shall not! Thou shall not!”
Frightened, the girl screamed and the young priest said, “No, father!”
His father forcibly separated the couple and said, “What in the name of God possessed you to sin in my house?” He turned to the girl, “How dare you violate my son, you sinful wench? Out, out, out! Be gone you treacherous witch!”
The girl was chased out the door and the young priest was left pleading with his insane father whom proceeded to scold him for succumbing to lustful indecencies and for deviating from his seminary practices and clerical path.
Throughout the bulk of his adolescence, the priest was coerced into following in the footsteps of his father whom persistently emphasized that their respective existences would be devoted solely to God and the Church. Any inclinations that the young priest exhibited toward secular activities or atheistic knowledge were perceived by his father to be blasphemous and were instantly crushed. Thus, his father seized his son’s science books, denied him access to natural history films, and when he discovered a telescope that his son attempted to keep secret he slammed it against a wall and smashed it to pieces. For over a decade the young priest was beaten into complacency as he tepidly pursued his course toward priesthood. His father’s final command was that the fledgling priest continue to carry out God’s work on Earth and remain committed to the Church – an institution that his son tested the waters of with initial reluctance and despair, yet grew to accept as his calling and destiny as he went forth in life obeying his father’s will, which he came to believe was also the will of God.
From his hospital deathbed, his ailing father said, “Come closer, my son.”
The priest leaned in and his father clutched the gold cross that hung from his son’s neck.
“No longer can I guide you in life. You must stay true to the doctrines of the Church. You must never stray from God.”
“We shall be together again in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Now read me my last rites.”
The priest began, “I believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…”
His father suddenly cringed and groaned. “Ack!” he said, “I can see the light. Hurry, give me the body of Christ, boy.”
The priest reached into his pocket, but the morsel of bread was not there. Frantically, he checked his other pockets. “I think I forgot the bread, father.”
“You son of a bitch!” exclaimed his father.
“Forgive me,” said the priest, still searching his pockets. “Hold on, I’ll go check the car.”
The priest leapt to his feet, but his father was already dead.
The spirit of the priest was sucked back into the wormhole. He lamented as he reflected on his past – at all the years in which he had betrayed his passions and desires, at all the missed opportunities to experience something new. He had slaved in life for a purpose that only in death did he realize was fictitious and delusive. The vacuum through which he traveled was reaching a point of blackness that resembled a black hole. The priest’s spirit passed over the event horizon and was ejected out the other side. In the darkness of space he saw countless stars and galaxies littering the vast cosmos. He sensed that his lone spirit would float aimlessly through the universe for eternity in a dark and melancholy peace tempered by a profound understanding of that what he had espoused on Earth about heaven and hell was wholly unfounded and utterly irrational.
A buzzing sound emanated from a corner of space and from out the void a little fly buzzed up beside the spirit of the priest. Floating there, the fly said, “Don’t you see?”
“See what?’ said the priest.
“It was all horseshit.”
The priest gazed at the glittering stars and distant galaxies. He looked into the compound eyes of the fly --- its ommatidia bonded together like clusters of atoms. The priest said, “Yes…yes, I see. So now what?”
“Cough,” said the little fly.
“Excuse me?” asked the priest.
The fly flew straight into the priest’s mouth and down his throat. He began to cough and was plunged into a vortex swirling backward through space. At tremendous speed he reversed through a ball of light and fell through the church roof back into his office. His spirit slammed into his corporal body and they were once again unified in life.
The priest lay on the ground and began coughing up chunks of bread which went flying into the air. His airway began to clear, and clanging church bells struck three in the steeple above. He gasped and turned over to his side, wrenching his torso and vomiting up a purple mélange of bread and wine. He caught his breath, rolled onto his stomach, and rose to he knees. The priest wiped tears from his eyes and inspected his surroundings: the wine-soaked floor strewn with chunks of sodden bread, the fallen bible, the disheveled desk, the window and the sunlit world beyond. He gazed outside and saw the bright blue sky, the sunlight casting down upon the buildings and trees. It was springtime and the air was clear. In the park the pure wind and rustling leaves whispered, and on the street the flowing traffic of the bustling city beckoned.
He stood up and wiped off what mess he could from his shirt. His head was throbbing and his throat was parched and sore. On his way back to the desk he scooped up the bottle of wine which was still one-quarter full. He sat at the desk and closed his ledger then swiveled his chair toward the window, opened it, and poked his head out to look toward the park and at the people walking on the sidewalk two stories below him. He drank the rest of the wine and watched the activity and life flowing outside his office window. The women were wearing bright dresses or short skirts, and from above the priest attained an ample view their cleavage. Upon scrutinizing every pair of passing tits, the priest grew increasingly aroused as he fed his starved romantic inclinations which he had previously suppressed or disregarded entirely. Mesmerized by the tantalizing female bosoms bouncing by below, sex loomed at the forefront of his mind.
For the first time in decades, he addressed his erection with his hand. He unzipped his pants, produced his neglected member, and began fondling his penis. He was breathing heavily as a woman in a black blouse passed by on the sidewalk below. “Have mercy,” he said to himself. He fantasized pressing his body against hers and smothering his face in her voluptuous breasts. He stroked his erection ferociously and closed his eyes as he erupted in orgasmic rapture – hooting and howling in ecstasy as he ejaculated and set free his sperm which shot up like a geyser and gushed across his pants and the floor. From the sidewalk, the woman in black looked up and made eye contact with the priest as he was pulling his head back in from the window. Drained, the priest sank back in his chair and reveled in bliss as he savored the unprecedented state of absolute relaxation he had achieved.
“Holy Virgin Mary,” he said with his eyes closed and his hand across his forehead. After a minute of rest and contemplation, the priest zipped up his pants, got up, and walked out of his office.
He walked across the hall and stepped down a staircase which led to the cool and dim nave of the church. His footsteps echoed as he made his way along the row of pews. Dispersed amongst the benches were several worshipers murmuring and praying toward a giant crucifix that hung at the altar. Tipsy, the priest accidentally bumped his thigh into the edge of a pew. This disturbance alerted a supplicant who stopped praying, stood up, and approached the priest from behind.
“Excuse me, father?”
The priest kept walking, for he recognized the man’s voice and knew him to be an obnoxious zealot whom often pestered the priest with paranoid confessions of regularly committed trivial sins for which he consistently sought absolution.
“Father, I was hoping to see you,” the man said. “I would like to make a confession today.”
The priest increased the pace of his walk toward the narthex and the doors that lead outside.
The man tugged at the priest’s sleeve. “Wait, we just passed the confessional.”
The priest turned around and said, “Listen, it doesn’t matter.”
“Your confessions are pointless. No one’s listening, no one cares. You’re not going to Hell, because it doesn’t exist.
The priest started toward the door the man tugged at his sleeve again and said, “I don’t understand, aren’t you going to listen to my confession today?”
The priest stopped again and said, “No. Be a man. And keep your hands to yourself.”
The man looked at the residual vomit on the priest’s black shirt, at the cum stains on his pants. “Are you feeling alright, father?”
“I’m not your father.”
The man leaned in close and sniffed the priest’s shirt. “Have you been drinking?”
“Yes, and I’m going to do it again.”
“But…but, you’re a priest. You’re prohibited from doing such things.”
“Oh, go to hell.”
“This is blasphemy,” cried the man, “I’m going to report this to the archdiocese!”
By now the people dispersed amongst the pews had stopped praying and were watching the dispute.
“Go ahead,” yelled the priest as he walked away, tossing up his arms. “It’s all a bunch of horseshit anyway!”
He kept going until he reached the end of the nave, at which point he turned around and looked back to the church interior and saw the enormous crucifix, the stained glass windows, the pulpit upon which he had given so many liturgies. He gazed upon the worshipers staring back at him from the pews. The priest threw an arm up to the sky and loudly proclaimed, “Ad astra!” He then marched through the lobby and out the door.
Standing in the sunlight beneath the portal of the church, the priest closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and listened to the passing cars. He walked down the steps to the sidewalk, and instead of turning left as always to the 72nd Street Metro station in Verdi Square, he turned right to go to Central Park. The blocks leading to the park were lined with blossoming magnolia trees, tall brownstone rowhouses, and ostentatious boutique shops.
He cheerfully greeted each person he passed, and when he crossed paths with an attractive woman he would smile and step to the side to let them pass. He walked to the end of the block and found himself standing beside a woman in her mid-thirties who was waiting at the crosswalk. The priest smiled stupidly as he stared at her from the corner of his eye. He then turned to her and said, “Hello, fancy lady. I’m going to the park.”
“That’s good,” she replied without looking at him.
“Would you care to join me?”
“Umm, no thank you.”
The streetlight changed and they began to cross.
The priest said, “Look as us, we’re just two human beings, a man and a woman, walking across the street together toward our respective and uncertain destinies.”
The woman sighed.
“You know,” said the priest, “If people didn’t know any better, they’d presumed we were a couple.”
“I don’t think they would actually.”
“Well, that’s because we’re not holding hands. May I?” The priest reached for the woman’s hand before she could answer. She pulled away and stepped back.
“Don’t touch me, you pervert!” she yelled, slapping the priest in the eye.
“Ow!” he cried. The woman marched off and the priest stood in the crosswalk holding his eye. The streetlights changed and people began honking their horns at him. He hurried onto the sidewalk and held his face.
“What the hell was that?” he asked himself, watching out for the woman.
The priest kept walking toward the park, touching his eye and checking his hand for blood. A young lady was walking opposite him down the sidewalk and the priest said, “Excuse me, mamn?”
“Can you tell me if my eye is bleeding?” He pointed to his hurt eye.
“Sure, let me see.”
His vision came back into focus and he priest saw that the young lady was beautiful, and his heart melted as she inspected his eye.
“I don’t think you’re bleeding, but it does look little red…” she said.
The priest wasn’t listening to her because his mind had drifted off into a daydream in which he was pressing his lips against hers. He deduced that a profound and intimate connection had instantly been established between them, and his soul was enveloped by a fierce and passionate desire to love her.
“So this is how the immaculate conception happened,” said the priest.
“I’m joking.” The priest smiled then closed his eyes, pursed his lips, and leaned forward to kiss her, but she quickly backed away.
“Whoa!” she yelled.
The priest’s eyes were still closed when the searing impact of her open palm sent a flash of light though his head.
“Yow!” he hollered.
“You’re disgusting! That’s totally inappropriate!”
“Why did you do that?” asked the priest, protecting his face.
“You’re a sick man!”
“Really?” He was worried. “Should I go to the doctor?”
“Fuck off, asshole.”
The young lady strode away leaving the priest flabbergasted.
“What in God’s name is wrong with women?” he said.
Discouraged, the priest resolved to go to the park alone. On his way there he passed a man walking a puppy. The priest turned around and witnessed multiple women expressing the utmost affection for the puppy – dropping to their knees in order to pet and coddle it, and talking to the man as well.
“That’s what I need,” said the priest. He walked up to the man with the puppy and said, “Excuse me.”
“If I wanted to get a hold of one of these little bitches, where would I go?”
“Well, I bought her from a breeder, but I suppose you can try the pet store.”
“The pet store?” asked the priest, bending down to pet the puppy.
“There’s a Petland on Columbus. It’s up a few blocks on the left.”
“This is the ticket.”
“They’re man’s best friend.”
“I’ll bet if I have one of these I can get all the girls I want.”
The priest strolled off toward the pet store.
Several people were crowded outside of the pet store window admiring the numerous puppies rolling around a playpen inside. The priest walked into the store and went directly to the display case. He reached down and picked up the closest puppy. It was a little Shar Pei and its head slipped into a bundle of wrinkles as the priest held him up to his cheek. The Shar Pei began licking the priest’s mouth and a female store clerk rushed over to him.
“Excuse me,” said the clerk.
“I’d like to purchase this canine,” said the priest.
“You need to sanitize your hands and get permission before you handle the puppies.” She took the Shar Pei away from the priest.
“Wait a second, I want to buy him.”
“He’s a very expensive dog, sir.”
“How much is he?”
“Five thousand dollars.”
“It’s a rare breed.”
“Don’t you have any cheaper puppies?”
“Well, the Labrador costs just seven hundred fifty dollars.”
“I don’t need a puppy for very long. I just want to borrow one for the day. Don’t you do puppy lending?”
“We don’t do that here. And even if you did purchase a dog now you wouldn’t be able to leave with it today.”
“Damn you. Haven’t you anything that I can leave with today? Something affordable?”
Five minutes and fifty dollars later the priest left the pet store grinning and carrying a cardboard box. He stopped at the corner and put down the box, lifted the lid, peeked inside, and smiled. A woman was coming down the street and as she approached the priest he reached into the box and pulled out a big, furry lionhead rabbit. He aimed the rabbit at the woman and said, “Hello, fancy lady!”
The woman melted and said, “Oh my goodness!”
“Say hello to the Easter Bunny.”
“He’s so cute! May I pet him?”
“Please do, he loves to be pet.”
The woman squealed in elation as she pet the furry mane of the rabbit who did not like being pet.
They’re man’s best friend,” said the priest.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
The question caught the priest off guard. “Umm, well…his name is Judas.”
“Awww, that’s such a cute name.”
“What’s your name?” asked the priest.
“Hi Jolie. I’m…I’m…” the priest had forgotten his own name. “I’m glad to make your acquaintance,” he said.
“You have nice breasts.”
Jolie stepped back and shouted, “What did you just say!?”
Nervously, the priest repeated, “You have nice breasts?”
“You fucking asshole!” yelled Jolie as she slapped the priest in the face and then stormed off down the sidewalk.
“Jesus Christ,” said the priest, “That was a compliment.”
He rubbed Judas against his cheek and looked at himself in the window of a corner store. Seeing that he still had is collar on he said, “Goddamnit,” ripping it off and shoving it in his pocket. He bent down to set Judas back in the box which was lined with loose newspaper pages. A newspaper advertisement caught his attention. He ripped out a portion of an old classifieds section which read:
Heavenly full body massages by Angels
Super Magic Fingers
152B W 146th St.
“Angels?” The priest was intrigued. He picked up the box with Judas in it and walked to the street to hail a cab. As he waved his free arm toward the traffic he heard a man calling out toward him.
“Hello! Good afternoon, father!”
The priest looked around. On the opposite sidewalk was another priest – this one from Holy Trinity Church on the Upper East Side – who was waving at him.
“Oh shit,” said the priest, walking away from his colleague and waving his arm for a cab.
With a bible in one hand, the other priest jaywalked across the street and intercepted him.
“My God, what happened to your face?”
The priest tired to sidestep the man and said, “Sorry, I can’t talk right now, John.”
“Come now. What’s in box?”
John lifted the lid and peeked inside. “Goodness gracious! What a marvelous prop for Easter mass.”
As John reached in for the bunny the priest pulled the box away and exclaimed, “Leave Judas alone!”
Glaring at the priest, John said, “’Judas?’”
A taxi pulled up beside the priest. He tired to walk around John but John stepped between him and the taxi door.
“Why aren’t you wearing your collar?” asked John.
“Because, I’m not a priest anymore, so get out of my way, you centurion!”
“Not a priest? Since when? I haven’t heard of you submitting a leave of absence.”
“Since today. Now move it! I’m warning you…”
The cab driver beeped his horn and said, “Come on, buddy!”
“I’m trying!” said the priest.
He tried to force his way past John but John refused to let him pass.
“Just a moment now,” said John, grabbing the priest’s arm, “Why are you behaving so queer?”
“You’re the one touching me, you disgusting pervert!” exclaimed the priest as he pulled his arm free and snatched the bible from John’s hand. He lifted the bible and slammed it into the priest’s forehead, dropping him to the sidewalk. Several bystanders were watching in shock.
“How dare you?” John cried, “What the devil has gotten into you?” He had hand on his forehead and the other holding out the cross on his necklace to ward off the priest.
The priest looked up at the crowd of people. His adrenaline was surging and turned back to John. “Leave me alone you fucking asshole!” he yelled, “I’m not a priest anymore. I want to live my life! I want to get a heavenly full body massage by Asian angels!”
A person in the crowd said, “Right on, man.”
From ground, John said, “You’ll pay for this!”
“Oh, shut up,” said the priest. He hurled John’s bible into the street and then got in the cab. “Drive!”
As the cab drove off, police sirens and lights resonated through the streets, and police cars arrived on the scene in response to calls alleging sexual assault and lewd acts committed by a priest.
The priest caught his breath and peered out of the back windshield from the backseat of the cab.
“Where to, pops?” asked the driver.
“Take me here,” said the priest, handing the driver the ad for the massage parlor.
The cab driver looked at the address and said, “You sure you wanna go up there?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“Well, it’s just Harlem, that’s all.”
“What’s wrong with Harlem?”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with it. You may just be a little out of place is all.”
“Just take me there.”
“You got it.”
The priest leaned back in the cab and looked at his reflection in the rear view mirror. His face was red and puffy. He sighed and said, “Goddamnit.”
“Whoa,” said the driver, “Saying the Lord’s name in vain. You should know better, being a preacher and all.”
“I’m not a preacher.”
“Well then what are you? A priest?”
“No, I’m not. I’m a…” The priest drew a blank. “Well, I’ll be damned. I’m not sure what I am. I guess I’m not anything anymore.”
“You look like a priest.”
“I’m not a priest.”
“You sure look like a priest.”
“I said I’m not a priest. Would a priest be riding in a cab to go get a super magic fingers massage?”
“Well, I just used a bible to strike down a man. Would a priest do that?”
“No, no, I guess not,” said the driver.
They drove north on Central Park West. The priest leaned on the box with Judas inside and marveled at the wondrous tress encompassing the eastern edge of the immense park. He gazed above the tree canopies and saw the estranged and lifeless moon floating beyond the world in the daylight sky. He sighed and instinctively reached for the gold cross that he wore around his neck. Upon the cross Christ was crucified. He took it off, and as the cab entered Harlem there was a homeless man holding a cardboard sign and begging for food and money at an intersection. The priest rolled down the window and gave him the necklace.
“God bless you,” said the man.
“Not anymore,” said the priest.
The cab moved on. Cluttered bodegas and dilapidated apartment buildings lined the rundown streets. The priest gazed in fascination at the prosperous black market flourishing on the sidewalks – an underground economy comprised of shell games and drug dealers, tortured addicts and insatiable consumers, peddlers of cheap plastic products and scoured electronics that lay like twisted altars in snarled heaps of ruination. Businessmen glided past loitering throngs of impetuous delinquents and wayward urchins, salivating imbeciles languished in intoxicated stupors, and the forlorn multitudes wandered forth in a dreadful daze as though deeply troubled and perpetually lost.
“I’ve never been to this part of the city,” said the priest.
The cab made a turn and they rode down half a block and stopped in front of a squalid grey building.
“Here you are, Jack,” said the driver.
The priest watched the people maneuvering around on the sidewalk. Some were posturing and shouting over the discord of rap music blasting out of competing stereos, others were laughing manically and speaking gibberish, toothless rag-and-bone men rummaged through piles of trash, delirious lunatics and half-clad hookers stumbled erratically through the noxious miasma of methamphetamine fumes and fetid human shit and piss that flowed and settled in the concrete crevasses.
“They’re all negroes,” said the priest, “What is this place?”
“This is where you wanted to go,” said the driver, “The spot should be right through that door with the metal gate.”
“Right…” said the priest. He paid the driver, picked up the box containing Judas, clutched it tightly, and reluctantly stepped out of the cab.
His nervous smile met the confounded and amused faces of those dark and leering indigents upon whose territory he encroached. He stepped across the sidewalk toward the massage parlor gate and looked back as the cab took off. A half-dozen black men lounged on the steps of a condemned building and began sneering and casting aspersions at the priest.
“You lost, baby?” said one.
“Who dat, who dat?” said another.
“Look at yo white ass up in Sugar Hill, nigga” said another.
“Box-carrying cracker,” said yet another.
The priest pretended he didn’t hear them, and continued to smile as he walked toward the metal gate. Two of the men got up from the steps and approached him. The priest saw them coming and quickly turned to the left so as to walk away. His heart rate was skyrocketing as he sped up his walk on the sidewalk, disconcertingly aware of the formidable presence of the two men following close behind him. He spotted a subway station signpost one block ahead and had resolved to go there.
“Where you going, grandpa?” said one of the men who then grabbed the priest’s arm.
The priest froze in his tracks.
“What you doin’ up the in hood, old man?”
“Oh, hello there,” said the priest, “I’m just visiting.”
“Visiting my ass. Where you coming from, nigga?”
“Oh, well I came from the pet store, but before that I was at church. Where are you gentlemen coming from?”
“Oh wonderful,” said the priest. “Well, it’s been a pleasure making your acquaintance, but I must be on my way. Have a wonderful day, young man.”
The priest turned and started off but was grabbed again.
“Stay cool, bitch” said the one holding him.
“What you got, man, what you got?” said the other, looking at the box.
“I’ve got a bunny rabbit. What have you got?”
“I got a fuckin’ blade, mother fucker.”
The man produced a knife while the other slammed his hand against the top of the box which fell to the sidewalk. The lid toppled off and Judas was exposed.
“Judas!” cried the priest, reaching down.
“Don’t move, cracker,” said the man with the knife.
The priest stood still as the other man checked his pockets, finding a wallet which contained two dollars and a credit card.
“Where’s the bread at, bitch?”
“Bread? Oh, I believe that there should be some in my coat pocket.”
The man reached into the priest’s coat pocket and pulled out some leftover chunks of unleavened bread.
“We got a fucking comedian here.”
“Where?” asked the priest.
“I’ma ax you one mo’ time, fool. Where’s the dough at?”
“I don’t know,” pleaded the priest, “I didn’t bring any with me, but there should be plenty back in the church kitchen.”
The man checking the priest’s pockets pulled out the white collar.
“Yo, Tyrone. This fool’s a preacher.”
“No, I’m actually not ---”
“Shut yo fuckin’ mouth.”
“We be robbing a preacher, nigga – I don’t know man, that shit ain’t right.”
The men looked at the priest, at the collar, at the rabbit in the box.
“Well then, I guess I’ll just be on my way,” said the priest, reaching down to get Judas.
He was pulled up straight by the man with the knife. “Yo, who the fuck you think you are?!”
The priest was trembling. “I don’t know,” he said.
The man pressed the knife blade against the priest’s neck. “I don’t give a fuck who you think you are, but if I ever, ever, see yo cracker ass up in Sugar Hill again, I’ma cut yo goddamn head off. You got me?”
“I don’t understand…” pleaded the priest.
“I said…I will kill yo white ass if I ever seen you up here again. You got that?”
The man with the knife then stepped back, lifted his leg in a vertical motion, and then brought it down hard on Judas, stoving in the rabbit’s skull with one swift stomp. The men turned and walked away from the priest who stood in utter horror and disbelief. He knelt down at looked at the disfigured corpse of Judas, his furry mane mangled in the blood and bones and brains. “Oh no, Judas…oh please God no, Judas,” said the priest. He hung his head as tears gathered in his eyes. The priest put the lid back on the box and looked up for the men but they were gone. He wiped away his tears and stood up carrying the box containing the corpse of Judas. He walked toward the Metro station, and his steps were sullen and monotonous, as though he was taking part in a funeral procession.
In a melancholy daze, the priest walked down the stairs to the subway station. The frenzy of trains rushing rapidly underground sent a strong current of air up the stairwell and the lid of the box almost blew off. As he arrived at the turnstiles, the priest realized that the mugging incident had left him penniless. He casually walked over to the handicap gate and pulled it open – thereby setting off the alarm – and he then entered the station without paying. A female station agent ran out of the booth and chased after the priest.
“Hello? Sir!” yelled the agent, confronting the priest on the subway platform as an arriving southbound C train came screeching to a halt. “Sir, I saw you go through that gate, you have to pay the fare.”
“But I can’t,” said the priest, “All my money was stolen.”
“You’re going to have to come with me.”
“But this is my train,” said the priest.
“Well you’re going to miss your train, come on, let’s go.”
The priest looked to the open train doors that would be closing any second now. He wanted to be on the train.
“I’m sorry,” said the priest, “but I’m going to go now.”
The priest stepped toward the train and the woman followed.
“Sir, you have to pay the fare, this isn’t a game!
As the priest stepped into the train car the agent reached out and grabbed the back of his coat, pulling him toward the subway platform.
“Hey!” said the priest.
“I said you gotta come with me!”
But the priest resisted and stepped into the train again. From the platform, the station agent again grabbed the priest’s coat and tried to yank him back. People on board watched the priest thrust and stride into the train car, and as the doors closed the agent let him go. He went stumbling forward and accidentally dropped the box. The lid popped opened and the corpse of Judas tumbled out and rolled across the train floor like a butchered sock puppet. Commuters screamed and leapt away from the mangled body of the rabbit, stuck to which were bloody pieces of newspaper. The train began to move and the priest got down on his hands and knees and was crawling to fetch the carcass, following the trail of smeared blood.
“Pardon me, sorry,” said the priest.
“That’s disgusting!” cried a woman.
The priest got hold of the dead rabbit and swept into the box. He then took a seat and looked around at all the people who were staring at him. “Sorry everyone,” he said.
As the train made its designated stops, passengers shuffled on and off. A mother and her child boarded the train and they sat beside the priest. The boy looked at the box and was curious as to what it may contain.
“Hey mister,” said the boy, “what’s in the box, mister?”
The priest looked over to the boy and his mom, who was smiling at the priest. His stop was coming up next and the train was slowing down.
“Well,” said the priest, “Would you like to see a magic trick?”
“Yeah!” said the boy.
As the train stopped at 72nd St. the priest reached into the box and grabbed a tuff of Judas’s broken body. He lifted up the rabbit for the boy to see and boy broke out in a loud cry.
Shocked, the mother said, “How dare you! Who do you think you are?!”
The priest stood up and left the train.
The priest carried the box containing the dead body of Judas into Central Park. He hung his head and as he passed the flowers and shrubs of Strawberry Fields. The late afternoon sunlight fell through the elm trees and the shadows of the leaves flickered upon the earth at the base of the grove where he stood. Before him lay a grassy slope that unfurled into a sprawling lawn where groups of people lounged near the edge of a lake. The priest stood solitaire on the mound of earth beneath the trees. He put the box down and knelt to the ground and began to dig with his bare hands. It took him ten minutes to dig a hole that was large enough to accommodate Judas. He opened the lid of the box, reached in, and pulled out the limp body of the rabbit. He placed it in the excavation, turning his head so as to avoid looking directly at the unsightly and contorted corpse. “Poor guy,” said the priest, “You never did anything to deserve this. You never hurt anyone. You never…you never even got to see Easter. I’m sorry, little guy. It’s my fault. I should have stopped them. And I’m sorry I didn’t, I am so sorry.” The priest filled the pit with dirt and stood up. He turned and walked away from Central Park and the tears were streaming down his face.
The priest had resolved to finish the job he had started that day. He walked back to the church and stepped through the doors. Inside, the immense nave seemed tranquil and void of life, save for the ghostly presence emitted by the inanimate wooden effigy of Christ hanging above the altar. The priest leaned over the basin of holy water and applied a few splashes to his face so as to wake up. He went upstairs to his office where warm air had settled and he took off his coat. It seemed that the housekeepers had arrived because the vomit had been cleaned off the floor. He went over to the window and opened it, noting that the squished fly had also been cleaned off.
The sun was setting and the sky was churning orange and red. The priest went over to his closet, pulled out a new bottle of wine, and uncorked it at his desk. He opened his ledger and wrote something down and then turned to the window. Leg by leg, he shuffled his body outside to the ledge and sat two floors above the concrete sidewalk. He held onto the bottle of wine with one hand, and with his other he clutched the window frame. He watched the people walking by on the sidewalk below and no one looked up and noticed him. He leaned forward and practiced launching himself forward. His eyes were closed and he was swaying his body back and forth on the ledge when a woman saw him from the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
The priest opened his eyes and looked down to the woman the black blouse.
“Uh oh,” said the priest.
“What are you doing up there? Praying?”
“I see. Am I in your way?”
“Yes, a little. Would you mind moving over that way?”
The woman moved to the right. “Is this okay?”
“Yes. That’s perfect.”
“You’re planning to jump from there?” the woman asked.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“You won’t die. It’s not high enough. You’ll just end up hurting yourself, maybe breaking a leg or two.”
“That’s why I’m practicing pushing off like this,” the priest showed her how he would lean forward. “Because I’m thinking that I’ll sort of roll over and land on my head, like Judas.”
“Oh, I see. You may be onto something. When are you going to do it?”
“After I finish his bottle of wine.”
“That’s sensible. Do you mind if I join you?”
“Join me for what?”
“For some wine.”
“Are you making fun of me?” asked the priest.
The priest could think of no reason to decline her, and said, “Sure, if you want. Just hang to the right past the confession booth, then take the stairs up and you’ll see my office. The door’s open.”
The woman walked into the church. The priest waited at the window, listening to her walk up the stairs. He was curious if she recognized him from the moment they made eye contact during his ejaculatory rupture earlier that day, but was not prepared to inquire.
“Hello,” she said from the door.
“Hi,” said the priest.
“Good to meet you. Have a seat”
She sat down in the chair beside the desk, upon which stood the empty glass from before. She picked it up and held it out to the priest whom poured her a glass.
“Did you have a nice day?” asked Jessica.
“No,” said the priest.
“I almost died.”
“I thought you wanted to die.”
“I didn’t want to then, but I should have. Now I want to, so I will.”
“Aren’t you going to miss the world? The people you care about?”
“I’ve been missing the world for a long time now. I don’t have a family. I was supposed to be married to God, but we got a divorce. So I’m leaving the kids to and the house to him.”
Jessica smiled and sipped her wine. She looked outside the window and the priest saw the absolute perfection contained in her green eyes and jet black hair. She was beautiful, but he didn’t care anymore. He looked outside as well and watched the people walking by in the final light of dusk.
“They look so lonely from up here,” said Jessica.
“They look lonely from down there, too,” said the priest.
“But they’re not.”
“Are you?” asked the priest.
“Yes,” she said, “but that’s alright.”
“That’s true. Physical pain, having a broken heart, those are facts of human life. And this can be a mean city.”
“But that’s how it is. It’s like the seasons which come and go. And it’s spring time now, for us at least. Things will get better, and then maybe they’ll get worse, and then better again.”
“I know. I’m just done participating is all.”
They sat there in silence for a minute. Jessica finished her glass of wine, whereas priest had gone through half the bottle. The first stars were appearing in the deep blue sky. The priest thought about his life, about all the suffering he had put himself through, and he used these thoughts to gather courage in preparation for his fall. Jessica placed her glass on the table.
“I’m so tired of it all,” said the priest.
“Then rest,” said Jessica, “but don’t die just yet.”
Tears filled the priest’s eyes and he was ashamed so he looked down to the sidewalk and could see his teardrops fall through the air.
He turned to Jessica and through his tears he saw a face of an angel.
“I want to live,” said the priest, “But I don’t know why.”
“Come this way,” she said, “Rest.”
“Come down from there. Come down from there, babe.”
She offered him her hand. He did not take it. She stood up and stepped toward the priest and wiped the tears from his face. She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. She took the bottle of wine away from the priest and set it on the floor. She took his hand and led his body back inside the room. He fell to knees on the floor and wept in her arms.
On Easter Sunday the curate arrived at the church as planned to assist the priest with preparations for Mass. He walked up the steps to the second floor and knocked on the priest’s door.
“Father?” said the curate.
After knocking loudly and calling out several times without receiving a response, the curate turned the door knob and slowly opened the door. “Oh my God,” he said, rushing over to the body of the priest. The priest was splayed out supine on the floor, his face cold and blue, and he was dead. Beside him lay a fallen bottle of wine.
Bewildered and scared, the curate stood up and wandered over to the desk and collapsed in the chair. He opened the window to let in the fresh air and there was a dead fly splattered upon the glass. He then leaned forward and read the notes in the open ledger that was on the desk. He was confused about the final note that the priest had written down. He read the sentence to himself over and over again, giving it much thought, but alas remained confused. He looked up and repeated the words aloud, saying, “God bless Judas.”