Television News Items:
“Disturbing news out of South America. Columbian authorities are investigating reports of multiple public stonings. An unknown amount of ‘seer-children’ have allegedly been stoned to death at outlying villages in the Columbian countryside…These events are similar to those alleged to have occurred throughout the world in this past year–including one such occurrence in the United States…”
“NASA confirms that a six-kilometer wide asteroid named Tourmorlaine B will indeed pass between the Earth and Moon in 2027. However, NASA officials repudiate the findings of a group of independent astronomers who claim that the planetoid has a high probability of striking Earth on its return pass in 2029…”
“A panel of psychiatrists will gather next week at NYU to discuss the phenomena of ‘Animisitic Empathy’ as well as possible telepathy in autistic persons… This is seen as an abrupt about face on a subject which has been steadily gaining traction on social media…”
Behold, I am going to send an angel before you
to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place I have prepared
Father Duffy died in his whiskied sleep last night. He was eighty-four and ready. Not one to go gently into that good night, Duffy passed after telling me a tale he had kept to himself for more than forty years. It was a simple story, which had a beginning, a middle and, soon, I fear, an end.
This afternoon I cast another prayer on Duffy’s behalf while gazing out the rectory window. The courtyard between the rectory and church lay suppressed in uneasy September shadows, yet atop the steeple our Celtic cross shone brightly in the westering sun. And for the first time I had to wonder for whom is its message of hope intended.
I stood at the window for a long time, again and more examining Duffy’s tale, which I now know wasn’t tainted by yellowing time nor retouched by dissembling memory. It was a true story, not a misconception honestly believed, and a truth that is probably known by all in our secret hearts. And It was a truth that spoke of the causeless sadness I experience whenever I gaze into uneasy September shadows; a truth which accompanies the lowing wind whenever Earth mourns the loss of yet another child.
“You bring the tea, Father Hardin?” Duffy asked from his bed. For the nine years I knew him I never once heard Duffy call Maker’s Mark anything except “tea.” His love for liquor had never been a secret; it lay in the open and was as obvious as the tremor in his hand and the broken blood vessels in his potato nose. He was what some call “Old Time Irish”–which can mean many stereotypical things as long as those types are attached to a fondness for drink.
“‘Tea’,” I said with a smile as I pulled the fifth from my frock and set it on the table across from his deathbed.
“Two glasses tonight, Rodney,” he said. “I’d rather not die drinking alone on a Saturday night.”
“All right,” I said. I didn’t bother with the “tut-tut” stuff in regard to his fatalistic statement. But I didn’t forget it, either.
Still, other than a chronic case of being an octogenarian alcoholic, there really wasn’t that much wrong with Duffy. His vitals were strong and he was pain free and alert. Now, maybe you’re wondering why we allowed him his “tea”? We had nothing to do with it. It was all me, well, mostly. But everyone knew about it. And like Duffy himself, we also knew that he was dying no matter what the doctors had to say about it. Besides, in the words of a friend of mine, denying Duffy his last cups would have been “awfully barn door after the cows.”
I poured our drinks and took the chair beside Duffy’s bed. He accepted his with a steady hand. This told me that one of the sisters had probably smuggled in “a drop of the blood” earlier. That didn’t bother me, for it must have come from kindness, and it also spared me the sight of his hand flapping about like a trapped bird.
I studied Duffy as he took a sip. He probably knew that I would because that’s what healthy people do to the dying. Although he did die during the night, Duffy didn’t look like a man much more at Death’s door than he did while presiding over mass on a grey and hungover Sunday morning. He was that odd combination of the thick and thin you sometimes get in people. Only five-four and no more than a hundred-forty, he conveyed a stocky shape which went right with his large head and broad face. There were as many wrinkles in that used face as there are sparrows to be dropped by God. These were highlighted by an unruly toss of seldom combed white hair, which was as wispy and indefinite as a corona of vaporized bone. He also had the prerequisite Irish blue eyes, which remained relatively clear even though they had been smacked around considerably by habit and time.
“Espy the shadow of nigh in me face, boyo?” Duffy asked. Although he had been born in Dublin, Duffy had lived the last sixty-five years of his life in the United States. Only the slightest traces of his original accent remained. You’d usually catch it in his vowels. Sometimes, like this time, he’d deliberately put the “Paddy Ryan” into his accent. I always got the impression that he was imitating his father.
“I thought substituting me for my is the cockney idiom,” I said. “Or is that another thing that the Brits lifted from your sainted homeland?”
Duffy grinned and tapped his bulbous nose. I tapped mine in return.
“It’s coming, Rodney,” he said, casually, after taking a gentlemanly sip from his drink. “You and Herbert shall administer the Viaticim, tonight. No delusions, no fear. Nor regrets for that matter–save for one.”
“‘Save for one,’” I repeated. “Is this regret something our Father might like to hear you expand on?”
“Aye,” he said quietly. “‘Tis a matter that He has never heard my opinion on. But I’ll speak of it, man to man, only. I’ve nothing to hide from God; but I’m uncertain that that goes both ways.”
I dipped my thumb in my bourbon and leaned forward. I touched his forehead with my thumb and made the sign of the Trinity. Then I relaxed, took up my drink and said: “Tell Him about it through me.”
“Hardly how they teach that at the seminary, now is it, boyo?” He asked with a wry grin.
“We are informal men,” I said.
He sighed. “All right, but I’m letting it be known that it has nothing to do with the old trouble.”
“Of course not, Seamus,” I said. But inside I was relieved to hear it. Duffy had never struck me as the sort who’d have the old trouble standing against him. But neither had another colleague at a different parish, until the police arrived.
“I was a bit of a cliche, wasn’t I Rodney?”
“Drunk Irish Catholic priest–even dying where Saturday night gives over to Sunday morning. I was a book you could tell by it’s cover. It may even be the reason why the Jude trusted me.”
“You shouldn’t speak of yourself in the past tense unless you are speaking of your past self,” I said. “Who was ‘the Jude?”
“He was an adult ‘seer child’–like those stoned in Columbia and other places. He was also an autistic ‘Animistic Empath’–like the shrinks are getting together to discuss in New York,” he said. “There was something about the Jude as hurtful as a dying child. That’s why we hated him; that’s why we killed him. And it’s why I need to tell you the story”
He sat up and leaned toward me. There was that trusting and hopeful gleam in his eyes you so often see in the faces of the dying. “I know you write a bit, Father Hardin, I’ve never the knack. I want you to remember what I tell you and put it into words for all to see after I’m gone. Let them accept it or let it alone…Just no secrets…No more hiding truth behind robes and politics. I know now that this is what the Jude wanted.”
I took the old priest’s hand. “Tell me from the beginning, Seamus.” Even though Duffy’s curious applanation “the Jude,” alone, had put several questions in my mind, I shoved them aside. It’s better to listen than ask; the dying seldom lie.
“In the old days the bishops moved us around even more than they do today. Till coming here for good in ‘85 I had served in twelve different parishes in five different states. I was about your age when I landed at a small parish in North County. I spent five-hundred years there from 1974-76. I hated the damned place. There were some fine people there, but they were heavily outnumbered by walking talking anuses–even more so than we are around here. I led the push to combine the parish with that of the vast metropolis of Gorst, population two-thousand, in ‘76. For reasons I’m about to disclose, Bishop Morton (a repulsive toad of a man he was, Rodney, being that I’m getting last items off my chest) thought that would be a good idea, all things considered.
“Back then there were no real towns in North County. Usually what you got were wide spaces in the road named after whatever yokel had the most money. Farm country. And it would be considered unusual place for our faith to take hold until you saw the slim phone book. Nearly every surname traced back to the blarney or Italy or ended with a ‘guez’–’buncha kneeling micks, wops and spics’ as the Klan liked to put it. In a way it was like an old time New York neighborhood transplanted to the face of another planet.
“The church was only about a third of the size of ours. It leaked in the rain and smelled like mildew come high summer. We didn’t have a priory. The extremely late and equally unlamented Father Eric Wilhelm and I shared a small house which lay on church soil. We had a housekeeper. Her name was Helen Gray; the Jude was her son.
“Wilhelm was older than I, but not by nearly as many years I have on you. He didn’t enjoy the tea, either. A tight fellow, nonetheless. I could never understand why he stayed with the church. I guess he didn’t know how to do anything else. Although he tended to his duties with admirable precision, and never failed to speak the expected words of consolation, I always got the impression that he didn’t really believe in any of it. He had been a chaplain in the war and I guess that sometime down the line he’d seen one big thing too many or enough little ones stacked too high–whatever it was had turned him from God. It seemed he wanted to believe, but there had lain a cynicism in his manner that spoke otherwise. The Jude restored Wilhelm’s faith, in a manner. But by then the old man had turned sour. Instead of reclaiming and spreading joy he turned mean. In the end he became dangerous.
“I met the Jude on my first Sunday at the church. Wilhelm wasn’t much on mingling, but I, as you well know, like to mix. As I had done for a superior number here, I greeted all thirty-five or forty of the faithful at the door no matter the weather. Until then I didn’t know that our widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Gray–um, Helen–still had a child at home. She wasn’t much younger than Wilhelm, and I had assumed that the nest had been empty for years.
“I understood why she had a child at home when I saw the boy. Maybe thirty, Jude was one of those whom God had determined to go from cradle to grave as defenseless as an infant. As you well know there are little tells when it comes to autism, the lack of eye contact, the asymmetrical face, and that air of absolute detachment. I also detected a machinelike, savant intelligence in his odd silver eyes; but mostly, a great distance had lain between us.
“‘’Morning, Helen,” I said, and I smiled and nodded my head at Jude, making certain not to make unwanted eye-contact or offer my hand unless asked for.
“‘Good morning, Father Duffy,’ Helen said. ‘This is my youngest, Jude.’ She didn’t push him to say hello, as so many parents awkwardly attempt in similar situations. It was clear in her actions that she knew that I already understood what was up with the boy.
“The meeting would be long forgotten if God hadn’t reached out to me through the Jude. For one endless moment the distance between us vanished. His queer eyes met mine and wouldn’t let go. And I beheld a being so much finer than myself that any comparison between us would be an insult to God. Within the Jude shone alive stars of love, hope, compassion, humor, kindness, charity and great unnamed blessings which lay beyond my poor ability to comprehend, much less describe. And yet this perception of beauty roused an animalistic hatred for him in me; it was as though the civilizing centuries had passed to no effect. I was a tribal brute, and he was an outsider. And there was a great sense of shame and despair caused by the knowledge that if I lived and strived for a million years that there would still be no chance of me, or any human being, approaching his grace. For godliness came natural to the Jude; it wasn’t something he had to have endlessly pounded into his head.
“‘Friend,’ the Jude said as he offered his hand (which visibly shocked the hell out of his mother, I don’t mind telling you, Rodney). A moment earlier touching Jude in friendship was the last thing I would have wanted. But the fear and anger he inspired vanished when he spoke that one word. I took his hand and shook it warmly. ‘Yes, Jude, I am your friend.’
“Something passed between us when he said ‘Friend.’ He’d made it a statement a question and an affirmation of loyalty all at once. As Jude Gray, he was hardly there at all, but as the Jude he was impossible to look at without feeling so bad about yourself that you had to hate him. Yet from then on only his mother and I could behold the Jude in all his glory without harm.
“After we shook, he returned to being distant Jude Gray, but not quite all the way. And I was left with the knowledge that God had placed the Jude in my care–of this I am certain.
“It wasn’t until just before the end, about a year after our first meeting, that he became the Jude for all to see. I had only a glimpse that day, which had been allowed to somehow remove from my mind the typical reaction to the Jude he would become. I have never decided whether this had happened because God found me worthy or merely handy. All I can say is that an immunity to that knee-jerk negative reaction to his greatness was laid into me by God. It had to be the case, considering that I’m only a man, seldom more, often less, thus unable to strive toward the higher end on my own.”
Duffy paused and gazed thoughtfully into his glass. For a moment I thought he wanted me to top it off, but he waved that away. “I’m just trying to order the events in my head,” he said.
“Animistic Empath,’” I said, as I refreshed both of our glasses anyway. “I know that there has been a shift in the definition of animisticism. I recall that it was the human endowment of animals and inanimate natural things with a soul, and that, save for the animal part, it wasn’t liked all that much by the Vatican since it opened the door for all kinds of sun and volcano gods to pass through. Nowadays I sense that animisticism now includes the belief that stuff, oh, like an infant’s teddy bear, has feelings. The ‘shrinks’ have always dismissed that as emotional transference or as the belief that something that had once been so loved must be able to love in return. Much along the same way a childhood pet reciprocated affection. And yet with all that said, I think that you are going to tell me something new.”
“Yes, I’ve got something to tell,” Duffy said softly. “But it is no newer than the stars and sky.”
Suddenly a small worry bloomed in my head. For the first time since he took abed, Duffy actually seemed to be fading. He must have read that in my face. “Relax, boyo,” he said once again putting the Paddy Ryan in his voice. “Curfew shan’t ring till me tale’s been told.”
“All right, Seamus.”
Duffy took a sip of whisky and scanned about the room that had been his for more than thirty years. “See that Bible atop the bureau, Rodney?”
“I do.” The Bible in question was nothing special as a physical object; just an ordinary soft bound KJV, whose faded cover and swell of dog-eared pages spoke of age and use.
“Years ago I knew a Spanish classical guitar player named Valenzuela,” Duffy said. “He crossed over from Europe after the War a few years before me and used to attend mass at a parish I served at outside Philadelphia. I got to know him and he would sometimes come by the rectory and play his wonderful music on a guitar that was heavily ornamented with mother-of-pearl and semi-precious stones.
“When I expressed admiration for his guitar he thanked me then said that it really wasn’t his guitar but was the audience’s guitar because he never touched it unless he was performing. I asked him how so? He told me that a true guitarist has only one guitar he can call his own, and that all others are supernumerary. Valenzuela’s real guitar was a busted cast off that he had found behind a Barcelona cantina when he was a boy.
“It’s the same for me and that old Bible; I’ve had it since my days in the seminary and have had to replace the cover countless times. Yet at no time have I considered it to be a thinking and feeling object. For my sentimental attachment to it was caused by the passage of time and the memories of the events and faces which have come and gone while I have owned it.
“The Jude told me that only special objects– like Valenzuela’s guitar or my Bible– have souls, but these are not souls of their own. They are extensions of the human soul who had loved them, and that they tell a story, if you can read their language. The Jude knew that the eternal human soul is much more advanced and far reaching than we have it. The Jude actually possessed the ‘gift’ of reading inanimate objects that has been a staple of the phony psychic trade for centuries.
“Now, everyone can get mystical and theoretical about the unknown. This, however, wasn’t the case with the Jude. He neither lied nor put faith in fancies. In fact he had no imagination as we know it because he didn’t need one. You see, Rodney, he saw everything, all the possibilities…he had no need to make things up.
“After we had met it seemed that Jude liked me. I discussed his situation at length with his mother the next day. Despite his so called handicap, the fellow was a genius. He had a grasp of mathematics and patterns which cannot be approached by those with superior intelligence, let alone the average person. His IQ was beyond measure. Yet he either refused to or could not interact with other persons; thus his gift was locked away, seemingly an unapproachable curiosity.
“We decided that the best thing to do was give Jude a job in the church. Nothing much, mind you, just sweeping and such, which he did for several months. Wilhelm didn’t care one way or the other. But that changed when the Jude came forward.
“The end began when our parish was selected to host the annual rummage and bake sale. We combined our resources with three nearby country parishes and a parochial school; the town gave us free use of the high school gymnasium–which, of course, was the reason why we played host to the event. Two days before the sale I had Jude divvy up some of the donated items for the sale into piles of textiles, housewares, toys and whatnot. When I checked in on his progress, I saw that he’d done it ablely, even brilliantly, if such a task can be done brilliantly.
“The Jude, however, had set aside a few special items from the bric-a-brac. He was seated quietly at a little card table set up in the basement when I came round, just looking at the stuff, and waiting. Amongst it all were a Raggedy Ann doll a broken mantle clock–like those you used to see all the time above hearths. He glanced up at me and smiled; from then until we killed him ten days later he was the Jude.
“‘Hello, friend,’” the Jude said with an even, quiet voice. “‘The doll belongs to Matilda, the clock to her father.”
“‘Yes,’ I said. And although God had arranged it that I may behold the Jude without feeling threatened by him or in hate with what I was in comparison, a musical note of fear rose in my mind, regardless. And there was always something post-revealing in the things the Jude showed and told me. It was as though everything new had already happened, yet it was a sense unlike deja Vu.
“‘Matilda was like me, but even more shut off,’ The Jude went on as he had never done so before. ‘She spoke to this doll with her mind. Matilda knew much; she knew that her father hated her and that it hurt him to hate her.’ Then he smiled; it was a smile that encompassed all sin and hope, and it shone such compassion and pity that I could feel my own subdued resentment and jealousy for this superior being wail away in the deepest recesses of my mind.
“‘Matilda died from a bronchial infection in 1949, she was twelve. This is where the history recorded by the doll ends but that of the clock begins. Her father, whom you knew, was Peter Dysart.’
“‘Yes, I knew him’ I replied. ‘He passed from cancer over the winter; I didn’t know that the Dysarts had children.’
“‘Peter would stand at the hearth and fill this clock with his guilt for more than twenty years,’ the Jude continued, as though I hadn’t spoken at all. ‘He told it of times gone by like those told by the doll. ‘Tis strange how the same events shared by two different persons are perceived, but that is of no matter. Mainly, the clock speaks of the guilt that Peter felt for hating his mentally crippled child, and his self loathing for the relief he experienced upon her death.’
“Then his ineffable silver gaze fell off me and turned to the stairway which communicated with the ground floor. I looked in that direction and saw Father Wilhelm standing on the bottom stair carrying a wooden crate full of thises and thats for the sale. When the Jude’s eyes met his I watched in horror as slight confusion rapidly transformed into anger and contempt in Wilhelm’s face.
“‘Hello Father Wilhelm,’ the Jude said. ‘You’re right now as you were on Utah beach–” People are broken inside.” But it’s not because people are evil; no, it’s because people have never been able to be what they are, a dog is a dog but a man would be something special because he believes he is not good enough. The boys whom you attended–like Percy–especially your dear Percy– and the men who made that attention necessary, were broken inside, but not by choice. The war broke you inside, also not by choice. Still, be happy, Father Wilhelm. Paradise has been forgiven; discharged like a bankruptcy. No one shall be deemed lacking. And no recompense shall be pursued.’
“What a strange sight it was to watch the color drain from Wilhelm’s face that day. You hear and read that expression all your life yet never see it happen. Even after forty years of private conjecture, which I seldom undertook without the aid of my tea, I do not have any better idea of what or why the Jude had singled out Wilhelm for such a seemingly left-handed blessing, unless it was by the Will of God. Yet there hadn’t been cruelty in it; and although I never learned who ‘Percy’ was, I knew that Wilhelm had served as an infantry Chaplain in World War II, which made deduction a fairly simple matter.
“The Jude resumed his task as though nothing at all had happened. Wilhelm glared at the boy and set the crate on the floor. He motioned me to follow him upstairs, which I did after bidding Jude goodbye.
“What Wilhelm said up there remains as horribly clear in my head as though it had happened five minutes ago: ‘Why is that retard always ‘round?’
“Under normal circumstances I would have been taken aback by such a ghastly statement. But something inside me knew better. And for once the statement ‘It’s God’s will,’ perfectly summed up the situation without prompting further questions–at least it did for me. Wilhelm needed more than that, but that was all I offered him.”
Duffy stopped speaking, downed the remainder of his “tea” in one swallow, pressed his thumb as hard as he could on the empty glass. and handed it to me. “No more for me boyo,” he said with that wry grin of his, “I’ve just made my final ‘maker’s mark’ on the vessel.”
I held the glass up to the light and saw Duffy’s thumb print on it. “I’m certain that this will be enough to get you into Heaven,” I said,” since you seem so determined to go there tonight.”
“All mongrels get to Heaven, Rodney,” Duffy said. Yet there was no humor in his voice when he said it. “Those who serve God’s will get there, even if they are unaware that they have done so. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist…everybody, without exception; cos this world was never meant for us, but our duties remain holy. One of the last things Jude said to me involved the blooming of flowers. He said that ‘Petals believe that the sun’s grace shines only for them because they are innocently unaware that they perform only a function that serves the whole of the flower, and that there is more to follow.’ Humankind is like that, Rodney. Our arrogance and selfishness were necessary to our survival and growth, yet all along we have been little more than tools in the hand of God… pioneers who blazed a trail to be followed by our successors. People got it backwards, boyo: it’s not about the second coming of the Lord, Heaven awaits the second rise of humankind…A similar yet different creature, as above us as we are the Rhesus monkey.”
“‘Behold, I am going to send an angel before you, to guard you to the place I have prepared.’” I said.
Duffy touched his huge nose, sadly, I tapped mine in return. He looked around the room like a man about to embark on a long journey might, checking to see if he had everything, then remembering that he needed only himself. His eyes met my own and he began to speak for the final time in his life.
“If self preservation had been the Jude’s goal then he had to be the most incompetent being ever to walk the earth. During the sale he went from sinner to sinner and told detailed stories about the items on sale that he could not have possibly known. How he horrified the people, how they were repulsed by the sight of him, yet not a single soul bade him to go away nor lash out at him, nor did his mother nor I stop him. You see, we had our roles to play, God’s will, don’t you know? Without that the scene would make no sense in retrospect.
“Not so strangely, however, all things considered, not everyone was put off by the Jude. The very old, very young, and the always innocent of all ages (“the retards” according to Wilhelm) listened to him with amazed eyes.
“It went on like that for the last three days of the Jude’s life. When I was alone, I thought that it might be an idea to take him to the city and have him examined by physicians who did not double as veterinarians, as had been the case out in the North County. Yet when I was in the Jude’s presence the grace of God shone so strongly through him that the mere idea of having someone take a peek into his head seemed foolish and highly unnecessary. In the end it really didn’t matter for holiness is the only thing ever left after the end has come.
“I had thought little about Wilhelm until that final Sunday mass. Instead of conducting a proper mass he assaulted the congregation like one of those damned people hating Bible-thumpers who enforce obedience with threats of fire and brimstone.
“And Wilhelm went after the Jude without art on that shameful morning. He didn’t quote scripture, he didn’t offer a parable, he didn’t even as much once mention the Christ or Heaven–and the words of the god he spoke for were vitriolic and poisoned; for something inside him must have known that what he had to say was divorced from light.
“His gaze never strayed from the Jude, who just sat there quietly in a state of unreachable bliss. Wilhelm went on about the ‘usurper’ and the ‘magical stranger who’d lead you to hell.’ Hell remained, of course, as always, as it always is so much more easily imagined than heaven in a mind that has turned from God.
“What I disliked more was the way most of the audience (for they were just that, play goers, not the faithful, that day) caught on to the gist of Wilhelm’s diatribe and also glared ruthlessly at the Jude. Although I had never seen such a thing, vigilantism popped into my thoughts. And in a very real way Wilhelm performed like a Nazi; he gave aid and comfort by commiserating with smallness and hate.
“After the debacle I informed Father Wilhelm that I’d be speaking to the bishop. I was beyond angry with him, yet he didn’t seem to care. I also apologized to the Jude and his mother for the performance, because no matter what we may be to Heaven, God and Christ are light and love and have no truck with evil. For it turned out that what Wilhelm did inspired evil.
“The Jude said that he’d forgive Wilhelm if Wilhelm had done something to offend. His mother, Helen, concurred, but I got the impression that she had to forgive the man before she arrived at generosity of spirit.
“That was the last time I saw Helen alive, and the second to last time I saw the Jude.”
Duffy relaxed in his bed. He lay without tension, and his eyes, though open, no longer looked out nor in, they were preparing to behold a site incomprehensible to everything that they had seen in eighty-four years. As if on cue, Father Recknagle (Herbert) tapped on the door and looked in. I nodded, but I also motioned that he give us a few more moments alone. The old man was about to become a being of infinite mind; yet I knew that he had more to say.
“Still with me, boyo?” Duffy whispered.
“Someone–more like a bunch of someones– burned the Grays out the next night,” he whispered. “Fucking useless Sherriff–pardon my French–claimed it was faulty wiring…that mice had probably chewed through the wires…Do mice use an accelerant? I smelled the gasoline… I came when I heard the sirens go by…I just knew…
“Helen died in the fire, but the Jude, or what had been left of him, survived for a few hours…He asked to see me and I arrived in time to see a nurse standing at his bed with a pillow in her hands. She heard me coming and when she turned I saw such an expression of hatred in her face that I knew what I had interrupted. Should have seen her face when I hissed ‘Out! Foul cunt!’ at her, boyo. I’d never used that word before nor since, till now, in recollection, but it was the best one to throw at her…
“‘Friend,’” the Jude said. Ah, it was awful, what they had done to him, Rodney. What there had been to burn of him had been accomplished, yet there he lay in the backward North County Hospital, when he should have been lifted to the trauma center at Harborview…I said such, but his silver gaze, all that had really been left in his incinerated face quieted my ire…’You are true,’ the Jude said. ‘But it will still be many years until enough people like me are born to catch on, but we shall…Remember my story and hold it close…Then at the right time a herald shall come and you will share it with someone equally true, someone who can tell it to all. It is only fair that humankind should know that they have served God’s will…’ And, as the Jude died, he said ‘Paradise forgiven.’
He lay silent for a moment, then said, “You’d better fetch Herbert…” and said no more
Herbert and I performed what the layman calls “The Last Rights” for our colleague, friend, and fellow sinner, one Seamus Archibald Duffy, who passed, like a good Irishman, shortly after midnight, where Saturday night gives over to Sunday morning.
Neither Herbert nor I slept much last night. Even now, as I write this, rest seems inconsequential, for there will be plenty to come; as such has been pointed out before by others: a final sleep that comes too soon and lasts too long.
Throughout the long short-night, my mind, while stuck in that transitory place between sleep and wakefulness, ceaselessly turned over Duffy’s story and examined it for artifice and found none. Then I began to make connections. There were the obvious, such as the multiple attacks on “seer-children” and the ongoing study of “Animistic Empathy” and telepathy in the autistic. When the words stopped forming in my suspended mind, a black star-studded sky entered my drowse; one of the stars began to move and its light shone with increased intensity, until it became an immense fireball streaking across the heavens. Just as it detonated, I awakened in a cold sweat, knowing all. And I have been awake with my new knowledge ever since.
I went to the rectory window and looked into the sky. From which direction shall the star come? I wondered, fully knowing that it wouldn’t matter. And as it had come later that day, I heard the lowing wind carry the weeping of the Earth as she mourned the loss of yet another child.
Duffy had been well loved by the faithful. Both Herbert and I shared remembrances of our old friend while administering the duties of our office during the three Sunday masses held today, for Herbert too is an informal man. I used to go along with Duffy’s habit of mingling with “the common-folk” before and after services. The truth be told, toward the end, I usually went with him to hold him up on his shakier mornings.
I went out today, expecting a sign of some sort. I came away heartbroken, but not disappointed.
“Hello, Father Hardin,” a woman whom I had never met before said as she shook my hand. She was alone save for a little girl, who hid behind her. “We’re new to the parish but I want to extend my condolences. We met Father Duffy just last week, before he took ill. He seemed like such a dear man, didn’t he, Tillie?”
The “Tillie” in question came out from behind and presented herself without her mother’s urging her to do so. A stunned expression of happy surprise entered the woman’s face. Yes, Seamus was right, the autistic have their little physical “tells,” –the asymmetrical face and a conveyance of an unimaginable self containment. This Tillie was maybe nine, and offhandedly pretty as was her mother.
Tillie looked up at me and the distance that had lain between us immediately closed. She had green eyes, and when I looked into them a horrible depression flooded my soul like a countryside inundated by a vast tsunami. All my life I had been under the incorrect belief that I was a product of Duffy’s “civilizing centuries”; that I was above the sway of the ignorant mob and capable of accepting everyone on equal terms. Yet there it lay, an incomprehensible jealousy, the defeat of soul and purpose, a creature who would always be closer to God than I can ever hope to be. And I despised her for it.
When she extended her hand (this too amazed her mother) I understood. God had reached into my head and cleared it of all the emotional, primitive garbage that had always been there. “Friend?” She said without using her mouth. It came through loud and clear, as did the knowledge of her real name.
“Yes, Matilda,” I said as I shook her hand. “I am your friend.”