Thursday, April 27, 2006


Part 6 – Mission Improbable

“That’s it! Just send the Negro!”

Wellington Peddicord’s tone was playfully sarcastic – as it was on most occasions. The fact was, he did not mind Cap’n Slappy’s request that he stop untangling the Medusa’s Head of rat line clusters to escort the erstwhile Cementhands McCormack, currently the physical incarnation of St. Swithin, to the mission at the top of the hill and “look after him,” while they settled in for the evening. But it wasn’t the color of Peddicord’s skin that determined this particular assignment – it was his size. At nearly six and a half feet tall, he was the same height as the big man and thus the logical choice to assist him, should some sort of physical assistance be necessary. However, he was less than half the volume of the beatified behemoth, so, if passing out was on McCormack’s agenda, he would be hitting the ground unaided.

Like any ritualized catch phrase, “That’s it! Just send the negro!” required a countersign and Cap’n Slappy was more than delighted to oblige.

“I had to send the Negro – the Swede was unavailable! Silly Negro!” Cap’n Slappy laughed and waved them away as he turned to go back to the important work of making sure that everyone else was doing their work. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him and he called after St. Swithin.

“St. Swithin! Do you have any idea when I’ll be getting my pirate back?”

The saint turned and held up his hand in what may have been a posture of blessing – or perhaps he was just keeping the sun out of his eyes … “These things usually take a couple of days – two weeks tops! We’ll know when we know. Be careful in the rain today!”

Slappy looked at the clear blue sky – no cloud in sight – he smiled and waved thinking to himself, “That’s it, he’s nuts.” As he said so, he was splashed by several rain drops. “Oh, that’s just not right.” He muttered to himself as he continued to smile and wave.

“Your father is an impatient man, Ethelwulf; we must find lessons to teach you to be patient.” St. Swithin was clearly under the impression that Cap’n Slappy was somehow Wellington Peddicord’s father.

Peddicord tried to set the record straight – he held his bare arm out straight with his palm down to illustrate the difference in skin pigment between himself and the captain.

“He can’t be my father – he’s …”

“Short. I know.” St. Swithin cut him off mid-sentence mistaking Wellington’s gesture to be a show of height difference rather than skin color. “But thus it is written; ‘It will come to pass that the towering hemlock shall outgrow the shadow of the stocky oak!’” But when the saint used the word, “oak” in reference to the captain, it sounded suspiciously like, “oaf.”

Wellington Peddicord was temporarily baffled but decided that when one speaks with a saint it’s always good policy to tell the truth.

“I’m not this … Ethelwulf … person, St. Swithin.”

St. Swithin stopped him in the path and looked him up and down carefully. “Are you not Prince Ethelwulf, son of King Egbert of the West Saxons?”

Peddicord thought for a moment. There was such hope in the saint’s eyes, but he had started on the path of truth-telling and decided to stay the course.

“No. Sorry St. Swithin. I’m not – and neither is Cap’n Slappy.” He could see that the saint was troubled, so he added quickly. “But you should feel free to call me … Ethelwulf if you like – hell, feel free to call me Princess Betty if it suits you.” He immediately winced when he realized he said, “hell” in front of a saint, “I mean, heck. Heck!”

St. Swithin smiled wryly. “You said, ‘hell’ in front of a saint.”

If Wellington Peddicord had ever blushed in his life, this was the moment. “Yes, your holy saintiness, I did do that. Sorry.”

With a growing smile, St. Swithin replied, “You’ve got chutzpah, I like that. What’s your real name?”

“Wellington Peddicord.”

“Then I shall call you, ‘Wellington Peddicord.’” St. Swithin thought for a moment and added, “I’m an ancient saint in the body of a huge pirate – I get confused from time to time, can I count on you to keep the record straight for me?”

“Aye-aye, St. Swithin! I’m your man!” Peddicord liked this saint fellow every bit as much as he liked Cementhands McCormack – and that was saying something.

“Thank you, my child. Do you have any request of St. Swithin?”

Wellington Peddicord gave it some thought and finally asked, “If they offer us bunk beds at the mission, can I have the top bunk?”

“Just this once.” St. Swithin said with a smile as they approached the opening gates of the mission, Nuestra Señora de la Sangría Eterna de la Nariz.

“That’s a long name for a mission,” Peddicord observed, “what does it mean?”

“Our Lady of Eternal Nose Drainage.” St. Swithin replied without comment.

“That’s right my friends! Welcome!” a young, energetic monk greeted them as they entered the mission walls. He shook hands with his guests and seemed much relieved by their presence. “The mission, she is named after Santa Elaina of the Meadows, she came here not only to bring the Word of God to the natives, but also to put a distance between herself and her allergies.”

“How did that work out?” Peddicord asked.

“Terrible.” The young monk replied, “She died in a fit of sneezing.”

St. Swithin was chuckling. The young priest gave him a puzzled look.

“It gets worse.” St. Swithin explained, “When she got to heaven, she found out she was allergic to angel feathers!”

Wellington Peddicord and the priest stared open-mouthed at the saint.

“C’mon! That’s funny! But don’t worry. God gave her some pills and it cleared up.” St. Swithin kept expecting them to laugh, but they were simply dumbfounded. Finally he confessed, “St. Timothy tried to tell me that ‘Heaven humor doesn’t translate well.’ But did I listen? No.”

“You must be St. Swithin.” The priest said cautiously.

”Yes. I am. And this is my friend and comrade, Wellington Peddicord.” St. Swithin gave the two men a chance to shake hands. “And you must be Father Giuseppe Bracca, the friar of this small mission devoted to serving the tribes that reside in the jungles on this portion of the island. You name betrays your Italian and Spanish heritage, but ethnicity aside, you are one hundred percent Catholic.”

Once again, his companions starred blankly at the saint.

“Second sight. Goes with the whole ‘saint’ thing.” St. Swithin smiled, “But please, feel free to invite us inside your study for refreshments and the many, many questions you wish to ask me.”

The priest stammered for a moment, then, did just as the saint said he would. In a few moments, they were out of the sun and sitting comfortably in the padre’s study drinking lemonade made by the mission’s native housekeeper and cook who had been given the decidedly European name, Maria De La Croix.

St. Swithin complimented her for her lemonade making skills and thanked her for her trouble in her native tongue. Father Bracca was stunned. He was one of the few Europeans who knew the specific dialects found in this region of Cuba – and he couldn’t even speak it, as St. Swithin did, without even a trace of accent.

“People pray to us in their language – so knowing them all is also part of the ‘saint’ thing. In fact, when St. Peter goes on vacation, I cover his prayers and they come from freakin’ everywhere!” St. Swithin realized he uttered an unfamiliar oath. “Sorry about the ‘freakin’ – it’s going to be one of my favorite curse words – eventually. Now, how about your questions?”

Father Bracca now smiled. “Well, if you know my questions …”

“… Why don’t I just answer them in order? Come now, Padre. That’s not fair to Mr. Peddicord, here – and besides, I really enjoy the parts where you try to confuse me by reading them out of order.”

Father Bracca took the note cards on which he had written the questions and shuffled them like a deck of cards. All three men laughed. He then pulled the first one out and asked.

Q: “What is God like?”
A: “He’s like a really funny uncle who cheats at cards because he has a great sense of humor and he hates to lose at cards.

Q: “What is His Son, Jesus like?”
A: “Really nice. Not stuck up at all! Shorter than you would think – but a really good dancer. Not Mohammed good, but really, quite good!”

Father Bracca left his cards for a follow-up question:

Q: “The Prophet, Mohammed, is in heaven?”
A: “Yes. When he’s not at his vacation home in Denmark.”

St. Swithin added a “Shhhh” after that comment – as if it were to be kept a secret.

Q: “When will the world come to an end?”
A: “Do you read all of your books from the last page backward?”

Father Bracca looked up.

Q: “Can you answer that question?”
A: “Every day, the world comes to an end for thousands and millions of living things – and yet, the world goes on. And every day, around the universe, thousands of millions of worlds cease to exist – and yet, Life goes on. Here’s the deal. It’s a nice planet you’ve got here, try not to – excuse my French – ‘Fuck it up.’ Enjoy mountains, manatees and monkeys and live each day as if it’s your next – not your last.”

Father Bracca and Wellington Peddicord sat in stunned silence. After a few moments, the sounds of children laughing penetrated the window that faced the courtyard. The priest rose to his feet and looked out the window to see Ol’ Chumbucket performing his patented “pull the coin out of the child’s ear” trick as the contingent of pirates from The Festering Boil watched his magic show. Dozens of children squealed with delight as he repeated the same trick over and over – pretending to pocket each coin as it was deposited from their ears into his nimble hands. Peddicord and St. Swithin joined him at the window.

“They’re orphans.” St. Swithin observed.

“What happened to their parents?” Peddicord asked.

Father Bracca hesitated.

“It appears the Church sold its parish to Spanish investors because Her parishioners were unfortunately living on a literal gold mine.”

Father Bracca remained silent. Tears started to roll down his cheeks.

“But what happened to their parents.” Peddicord pressed.

“They were not inclined to leave their home.” St. Swithin replied as he placed his hand on the young priest’s shoulder. “There was nothing you could have done, my son.”

The pirates in the courtyard were giving beads and trinkets to the children.

“St. Swithin,” the priest pleaded, “the Spaniards destroyed a village of three thousand people – these children were the only survivors. And they are set to move on another village. I’ve asked the Bishop for his help, but he’s turned a deaf ear – Rome receives a share of the gold. Can you help me?”

St. Swithin looked out the window and smiled as the children laughed.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

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