Friday, April 21, 2006


The Havana Caper – part 4 “Saint Swithin's Day”

Cap’n Slappy and Sawbones Burgess made their way through the bustle of activity on the Festering Boil and made their way below to the ship’s sick bay.

“What’s the story on our good friend, Cementhands?” Slappy asked with grave concern.

Cementhands McCormack was, in fact, everyone's good friend - the best-loved man on the ship. For one thing, he was quite large – both in size and spirit. Standing two yards and a half foot tall and weighing over twenty stone – he was nothing short of gigantic. The legends surrounding him were not only epic – they were mostly true. He had, by many accounts, attacked a French fort armed only with a fork and those who had seen him in battle knew the havoc he could wreak with his favorite weapon, an iron bar that weighed over seven stone.

But it was his personal excesses – his love of drink, women, gambling and amateur theatrics that most endeared him to his comrades – that and his unfailing sense of humor. So persuasive could McCormack’s jokes be, he had most of the crew convinced that Doc Burgess was not (as was actually true) a southern gentleman from Tennessee, well-educated in the arts and sciences and morally above reproach; but rather an unapologetic sheep buggerer from the monastic wasteland of a seemingly mythical realm of otherwise celibate “cow-punchers” which McCormack dubbed, “Oklahoma.”

In fact, Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket would indulge McCormack’s fiction, just to hear the tales – much to the good doctor’s apoplectic and seemingly inexhaustible irritation.

Lately, however, the only focus anyone had on McCormack was one of concern. Since their last adventure, during which he’d drunk a large goblet of an hallucinogenic and possibly poisonous native concoction. It helped him save t day, but since then he’d been perpetually asleep.

“Well, the good news is he’s conscious again.” Burgess said just before they arrived in the sick bay. But Cap’n Slappy’s first view of his old friend told him that not everything was quite right.

McCormack was seated sideways in his hammock, legs crossed in front of him and his hands resting gently on his knees – thumbs and middle fingers posed in an upward “pinch” position – like a gargantuan Buddha statue in a swing. He was dressed in blue and orange robs – reminiscent of a toga. Incense sticks burned at the four corners of his hammock shrouding him in a sweet, albeit pungent cloud of smoke and what at first appeared to be three bluebirds (but later turned out to be three badminton shuttlecocks painted blue and tied up to look like bluebirds) perched on his shoulder, his forearm and his impressively large head. There was a look of splendid serenity on his face. His normally bulging eyes were half shut in bliss. If the artist, Michelangelo, had sought a subject to pose as an extremely large and imposing thirteenth apostle in his portrait of The Last Supper, one perhaps named, “Big Louie,” he could not have found a more apt model.

As they pulled up stools and sat at the feet of the enormous, swinging, cloudily ambiguously religious icon, Cap’n Slappy asked, “And the bad news is …?”

“He believes he is St. Swithin.” Sawbones said. Cap’n Slappy’s trance was quickly broken and he shot Burgess a desperate look. The doctor quickly added in his calmest, most reassuring voice, “I really think this is a temporary condition.”

“Let’s hope so,” Slappy said blandly as he returned his focus to the patient.

Cementhands drew in a very deep breath and his guests froze with anticipation – as if they were watching a geyser which showed signs that it might blow at any moment.

“Good afternoon, my children.” McCormack spoke – although it sounded nothing like the “normal” McCormack. This voice was calm and resonant without the slightest hint of malice or impending prank.

“Good afternoon, St. Swithin.” Burgess bowed respectfully as he spoke.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Slappy, who was not accustomed to speaking with the clergy dipped into the only ecclesiastical catch phrase he could remember.

“Well then, you should really knock that shit off because it pisses God off something fierce!” The words were vintage McCormack, but the tone and temper continued to be the blissful St. Swithin. He continued, “And what in the name of Lucifer’s Lopsided Bollocks made you think I was a priest? I’m a freakin’ saint you salacious bowl of rancid man-goo!”

Slappy smiled because he knew his friend was somewhere inside there struggling to communicate. He leaned in urgently and called out, “Cementhands! Can you hear me!”

‘St. Swithin’ took in a deep breath, held it, released it slowly. Then he spoke. “Your friend is resting comfortably in one of the many pleasure rooms the brothel of his mind has made available to him. I would request that in the interim, you address all statements and questions to me by name, ‘St. Swithin’.”

Slappy was momentarily dumbfounded. Then, he found his voice again, “St. Swithin, would you excuse the good doctor and me for a moment?”

“Of course, my children. You need to discuss the situation out of ear shot of St. Swithin, don’t you?”

“Something like that.” Slappy explained as he escorted Sawbones Burgess to the doctor’s quarters. Once they were at a safe distance, with the door closed, Slappy whispered, “Are you sure this is temporary?”

From the other room, St. Swithin shouted out, “I assure you, Cap’n Slappy, my stay in Mr. McCormack is only temporary!”

Once again, Slappy was dumbstruck. He stepped out of the cabin and toward the Swinging Saint. “You couldn’t possibly have heard me!” he declared.

“Not with my ears,” the saint agreed.

“If not with your ears, how could you hear me?” Slappy asked.

“I listen with my heart.” the saint said as if illustrating an important Life Lesson.

Slappy seemed annoyed. “Well stop that!”

“Who among you, by wishing, can stop the mighty waterfall in its course or change the migratory patterns of the green-headed mallard? And what wish can keep the stars from falling when it is their time to fall?” Saint Swithin gently descended from his perch in the swinging hammock of smoky incense and moved to a board covered in flannel upon which some cut-out characters stood ready to illustrate his lesson.

Slappy put his hands up in a defensive expression of “stop!” “Hold that thought, your Holy … Sainty-ness.” He quickly retreated into the doctor’s cabin where he took out pen and ink and began writing messages to the doctor.

“McCormack is posessed.” he scribbled.

Saint Swithin in the other room called out, “There are four ‘S’s’ in ‘possessed,’ my child!”

Absent-mindedly, Slappy called back, “Thank you!” Then, he caught himself and shuddered.

“You can’t be possessed by a saint!” Burgess argued.

“Well, what would you call it?” Slappy snapped back.

The good doctor thought for a moment. “Being saintient.”

“I know that SOUNDS like a word, Doctor, but it isn’t!” Saint Swithin called from the other room.

“Perhaps we can splash holy water on him and chant, ‘The power of Christ compels thee!’ until he leaves McCormack’s body!” Burgess suggested.

“No, dammit! They play for the same team!” Slappy argued. “We’ll need to use grog and say, ‘The power of pirate compels you!’ in order to exorcise this saint!”

“You can’t exorcise a saint, my children!” St. Swithin called patiently from the other room as he rearranged the cut out characters on the flannel board to make it looked as if they were going on a picnic but needed Jesus to make them some extra sandwiches with piles of loaves and fishes. “I will only be in your friend a short time, you really should just enjoy me while I’m here!”

Cap’n Slappy sighed. “C’mon. Let’s go talk to him.” They came back into the sick bay and were greeted by St. Swithin who seemed to be finishing up his flannel-board story.

“… and thus Jesus spake unto the multitude. ‘Verily, I say, these loaves and fishes are lower in cholesterol, but have plenty of the good kind of cholesterol and don’t worry about the carbs – take up thy crosses and follow me.’ And the people did, but they took a wrong turn in southwest Jerusalem which is full of these cul-de-sacs which are very confusing – so eventually everyone just went home. Amen.”

“Amen.” Slappy and Burgess echoed.

“And now, my children, I will unveil a mystery for you.” St. Swithin said as he lifted his right hand and seemed to pull the mystery down from either heaven or the beam above his head. “Today it shall begin to rain – and rain it shall for forty days. And it won’t be a light drizzle in the morning, followed by afternoon clearing and sun patches during the summer evening – but serious, ‘Save us from this deluge, St. Swithin – for the love of all things holy! Save us!’ kinds of rain – at least for the most part. But the good news is you will miss the hurricane that will create tremendous opportunities for you.”

“We love opportunities! Hell, you might call us Devout Opportunists!” Slappy said as he and Burgess applauded this happy news – although Burgess was concerned that all that rain might trigger an outbreak of Seasonal Affective Disorder among the crew.

“But!” St. Swithin’s tone was now very dark and ominous. “The storm will also place great peril in your path.”

“So you’re saying it’s a ‘mixed bag,’ right?” Slappy asked.

“You could call it that.” Saint Swithin replied.

Slappy stood, his heart brimming with confidence and his head clanging like an industrial boiler that’s only just been turned on.

“St. Swithin! Mixed bags are my bag! Come Doctor, we must prepare the crew for the work at hand – and explain the presence of our … guest.” With that, he and Doc Burgess headed back up to the main deck leaving McCormack alone.

“Thank you, St. Swithin!” the saint called sarcastically after they left. Then, he muttered to himself, “It’s always, ‘Pray for me, Saint Swithin! … Help me Saint Swithin! … Saint Swithin! What am I going to do about my crab infestation?’ But does anybody ever say, ‘Damn! Saint Swithin! You da saint! You totally rock my freakin’ world, Saint Swithin! Thank you so goddam much, Saint Swithin! You’re the best?’ No.”

The big man crawled back into the hammock and stretched out and sighed. “I know. I’m not in this for the ‘thanks,’ … but just once, it would be nice.”

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?