Another Eve

March 2, 2010

Father Miguel sat quietly, his divine office forgotten on his lap, and gazed sadly around the garden. The Copa del Oro had been stripped again. The thing had gotten at the roses, too. It had taken one perfect bite out of four, no, five, buds on the fragrant red Mr. Lincoln, just one malicious bite each to leave the bud to bloom deformed. And then it had eaten the miniature Fairy almost to the earth. This is why Father Miguel sat so quietly with a sling shot in his hand and a pile of rocks at the ready. He felt a perfect fool.

But what, what else could he try? Father’s latest act of war, an ugly yellow slash of super adhesive designed to catch rats, sat empty and dewy on the stone fence he had identified as the iguana’s favorite entrance. Before that, he had thoroughly humiliated himself by collecting cigarette butts outside the church, while the old men loafing in the plaza quietly teased him and commented on the advisability of buying one’s cigarettes whole from the tienda. He had sprayed the flowers with the noxious potion he’d made, and for a day or so thought it might be working; but then it rained and washed the leaves, and he’d had a wedding, and by the time he could repeat the process, the beautiful Mandevillia had been completely violated.

Yes, it was like a violation of something precious, completely denuded of its pink petals with the texture of skin.

But the idea of protecting the plants by making them taste bad had seemed sound, and when he discovered in the nursery’s dusty shelves a bag of what identified itself as tobacco earth, which, when applied, took itself up into the plant’s system and into the precious flowers and thus rendered them unpalatable to marauders, he’d bought it and applied it at once, skipping siesta. To the surprise of the pastor, he noted, wondering about his image to the old man, if his unusual zeal had inadvertently tainted it. Everything, of course, depended on the reference he received for his first appointment to a parish after his ordination, every future appointment, his whole career path. He had to get his halo going, as they joked in seminary, just so he could take it off, for they were eager for the day when they too could stroll about their parishes in a sports shirt and blue jeans instead of the mandated seminarian skirts. They were eager to be free.

For several days he’d entertained the notion that the ugly smelling stuff had worked. But no. Apparently the iguana, or iguanas (for he was unsure that the creature he had glimpsed was one or legion), had simply been busy in another garden. For, after siesta, Father had found the obiliscos, the salmon and white and pink ice-cream colored blossoms of hibiscus, eaten to the ground, not just the flowers, but the leaves as well. And there they sat, still, like skeletons. It really made him doubt Aquinas and the scholastic arguments for only defensive war. Apparently a nuclear device might be understated, he now saw; perhaps the scholastics had forgotten the best defense might be a good offense.

And then he had the idea of using a pressure washer attached to a hose to knock the thing off the roof, but when he asked Felix from the car wash if he could borrow his for an hour or so, Felix only laughed and mimed how the creature would merely dance around and even wash under his armpits, as if they were obscenely invincible. So Father reluctantly gave up that idea.

But he could not give up the war. Because of the garden. Of all the surprising realities of life since ordination (only last year, how could it be, it seemed a lifetime), the rectory garden was the most surprising.

Well, not the garden itself, exactly. He supposed it was an ordinary enough garden, in a country of gardens. What surprised him was his sudden, unexplainable love for it. What else had he missed all the twenty nine years of his life? Where had he been gazing, all those springs? Now he could not learn enough. He read all about roses, and the tired old antiques against the crumbling ruin of ochre wall sprang into life at his hands as if they were women in love. It was the bone meal, he suspected. He read an article about urine being a perfect source of nitrogen and besides, all those minerals and salts humans took as vitamins, and he began to consider how he might get Father Pastor to piss in a bucket. Could he say it was some kind of penance? No, better to make it a health thing. Or maybe he could say urine was bad for the rectory’s cranky septic system and ought to be properly, safely, disposed of.

He heard a sound and turned his head, slowly, himself a lizard if that’s what it took. His eyes did the strange dance eyes do looking for something, sorting out the greens and browns to find the camouflaged pattern from which would suddenly jump forth living the astonishingly ugly reality of the iguana. It was incredible to him still that they could just appear like that, out of thin air.

It had occurred to him that the same thing happened at the consecration, first only bread and then Christ occupying every cell, every crumb, and it gave him the creeps to see it in iguana terms.

No, it was only the neighbor’s cat that he had once encouraged to visit by leaving little bits of cheese, hoping it would deter or even attack an iguana. But no. For apparently they stalked different prey and so were oblivious to each other, the cat leering obscenely at the chakalaka birds and the parrots chattering in the trees in their kind caricatures of human beings. The iguana was left alone with the most sinless of all creation, the flowers. They were so innocent that even their sexual organs looked like jewels. This time it was only the cat. But be ready.

His hands tightened on the sling shot and unconsciously he began a Hail Mary.

No, it was not just the garden thing, though. So much had changed, and it had happened since his ordination. Just as they had said it would. They said that ordination was a special and magical thing and that it changed you forever, and that even if you sinned and did not repent, and died, and went to hell, your hands would glow even in that dark of deepest, darkest fire without light. For they were the hands of an ordained priest of God of the order of Melchisadech, forever. It was since his ordination that everything had changed, really amazingly just as they said it would.

Well, not exactly, for they said two contradictory things. So far he only was experiencing one of them. They said that God would reward young priests for their sacrifice, the great, enormous gift of their voluntary celibacy, that was the first thing they said. And then they said that they would suffer great temptations. They said just after ordination, in the first two years, that was the time for a man to lose his vocation. For him, he, himself, he was certain that God was blessing him in some special way. For he was enjoying being alive. Eating and waking and breathing and sleeping and walking, just walking was wonderful. Everything was like the first time. He hadn’t seen any temptations yet that couldn’t be handled by turning on the television or the cold shower. Which was the only kind they actually had in the rectory, although they got satellite tv.

For one thing, all of his senses were working incredibly well. For another, he had developed real talents for some things in surprising areas. He was, evidently, good at pastoral work, he (shy and clumsy and stammering!), especially good with the most forgotten and loneliest of all Christ’s sheep: women. Overburdened women, with all their family problems, their money problems, their broken hearts.

And the other surprising thing was (something they had never mentioned in seminary, never practiced like the other liturgical skills), he was good with a microphone. It was like he was born to it.

Suddenly there was a movement; he caught it in the corner of his eye. Just the tip of the snout, yes, it was the medium sized, mud-colored one and it had come over the roof top this time, and was waiting and watching at the roof’s corner, just a yard from the new Mandevillia blossoms he had literally counted like puppies when they first emerged. Then he had drenched his babies with pepper soap as recommended by Señora Garza, who had personally hand delivered some from her own kitchen.

It hadn’t worked. The rain washed it off, and it rained every day. And he had other duties, his pastoral duties, his homilies. He squinted a little to diffuse the glare of the afternoon sun. Oh, it was ugly! To see the thing with its permanent predatory smile, and the worst, the eyes that seemed like camera shutters recording the acts of a serial killer, cold as judgment, solitary as an executioner. To see it inches from the Mandevillia, it made him weak and his hands trembled. He had frozen, waiting, too. Who would make the first move?

This indecision made him feel sick. He was watching the thing, and the thing was watching him. They were both using only the corners of their eyes so that the powerful eye ray, which he now from his iguana war knew was as strong as odor, was shielded. The question was, who would move first? Who was hungriest? He could leap up now and let fly with the sling shot, but he knew, with just the tip of it showing, the creature would be quicker, the shot would go wild, and then that would start the waiting all over again, maybe an hour, maybe more, and he had an appointment with Señora Marquez just before comida and siesta. It was now or never. He had to wait for the creature to come into full view. In order to do that he had to convince it that he had not seen it and that he wasn’t even there.

Not here, not here, he breathed. I’m not here, it was like a prayer. Reptilian prayer.

Honestly, he wasn’t very good at prayer–at Catholic prayer, not iguana prayer– he had discovered that early on. He was not one of the consoled. The consolatos. The blessed. There had been one moment before the monstrance, a day of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and he was taking his turn before the altar. It was raining; the sound of it was restful on the rooftop and patio, and beyond the patio he could catch a potent glimpse of the mountains wreathed in clouds. The air smelled of the wild chamomile blooming everywhere along the roadsides. It made everyone sneeze, but it was delicious. They had modernized a few things about the altar, replaced the towering candlesticks whose candles always languidly drooped with the heat of summer and whose flames sooted the frescoed angels, with electric candlesticks. But the voltage varied so much they flickered anyway. It was a peaceful moment; he was alone, apart from the overheated seminary atmosphere, alone with the Blessed Sacrament.

He had intended to meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries. He had started in the Garden of Gethsemane, with Christ on his knees begging God to take away the chalice of suffering that was coming. It was coming, and Christ was frightened. He would tell God that he was frightened, but he would tell God if he couldn’t take it away, to bring it on. (As they said on the satellite TV.)

That is what had begun all the rest. Miguel suddenly saw that it was so very, very hard to say, over the roar of fear in the blood: I accept.

Then Miguel had been almost inside Christ’s mind, it was pretty amazing, and suddenly he had an insight and almost prayed a real prayer. He thought to pray, thank you for the things I’ve dreaded. Thank you, because I understand what You suffered, because of the things I suffered. Except You were innocent. I never was. Like fire, some things that he had dreaded flashed across his mind: the time he had ridden his father’s favorite yegua too hard, showing off at the town feast day, and she was in foal. And then he was waiting in the ice cream parlor (some Gethsemane!) for his father and knowing what his father would say, and so much worse, would say in front of his friends, and he had dreaded it with his whole body as if every nerve were on fire. And now he was grateful for it! He remembered the day before the spelling bee, and he wished he’d never been born, and he had suffered a vile, a shameful diarrhea. And the worst dread, visiting his mother in the hospital before she died, when she looked so awful. And none of these things were as bad as Christ’s dread. Quite suddenly and purely, he had meant to say thank you for those things, instead of resenting them, as he had done at the time, as he had always done. He was completely aware that it would be the most liberating and wonderful prayer, that he would feel the effect of it down to the tips of his toes, and tears sprang to his eyes, pure tears, tears of genuine gratitude, not for his blessings for once, and they were many, but for his sufferings.

 Then suddenly he had the idea, the certainty, that his prayer was pleasing to God. And to other people. He saw himself as anyone else might see him at that moment. He saw how handsome, how sincere, how boyish and good he was at that moment. And he could not recapture the prayer. He was unable to tear his eyes away from himself and return to Christ in Gethsemane. He tried, but it was lost.

It was not so bad. His intentions were good. How could a man be responsible for simply being human and unable to occupy any space but his own? He had served, without any pure prayer like that lost one, and he would continue the same. If he could not connect with Christ, he would have to give it over for Christ to connect with him. Probably he was not meant for prayer, but for action.

The creature’s snout moved just a quarter of an inch toward him and its powerful shoulder came into view. It was checking him out. This was the moment for steel. He suppressed an urge to swallow. Come on, come on, he chanted. I’m not here, I’m not here at all.

Without moving he checked his hands, their position on the sling shot, the placement of the rock in the leather sling, His back hurt a little, but he did not move. Come on, you ugly devil. He concentrated on his peripheral vision and saw the creature turn its implacable gaze back to the Mandevillia and begin to move over the tip of the roof and down the column, and he knew he had him. If he could make the shot. Any moment now the iguana would descend the column and move into full view on the patio and he would have a chance.

He was aiming for the head. It would not kill the creature, or at least he did not think so. He did not want to kill it, for he was not sure of the legalities, weren’t they protected? Weren’t they a big tourist photo op?

Of course if he killed it, he killed it. Intentions counted, the Scholastics said. Don’t move, don’t move.

He hadn’t actually practiced with the sling shot. But how hard could it be for a country boy like himself? He was so busy; he had been writing his homily. He took extra care with his homilies and was proud of how clear, how clean, was his retelling of the gospel story so that the simplest child could understand exactly what happened. And he actually wrote in mic cues, in the margins, like a script. He had researched microphone tips thoroughly on-line at the computers in the public library, and they said to speak in normal conversation tone and don’t worry, the mic will elevate it for you. But by himself he had learned that he could lower his voice to a whisper and the mic would send it to each person as if he were actually whispering to them. It was not like speaking without a mic, when you simply had to shout a little all the time. And he had found he could combine whispering with a certain hesitant, shy eye contact, one that removed the confrontation of eye contact, distasteful to this people from the mountains of Mexico, yet retained the incredible power. And then he had them in the palm of his hand. It was absolutely amazing!

He knew his reputation was growing. He could not deny that it had crossed his mind that the skills he was tending would well adorn the bishop’s garden. He could work a microphone. He could croon. He chose the traditional songs and the new church music with an ear to their likelihood to showcase his sweet tenor voice, and he was happily aware how he sounded almost like a video star over the newly installed sound system. He’d had no trouble convincing Father Pastor the expense was more than justified when viewed from a cost-per-soul perspective. He even took the portable mic system with him on the peregrinations now, and sang the sweet old cumbia melodies on the bus, and once imitated a popular soft drink commercial that sent the women on the bus into spasms of admiring laughter, so then he imitated a car salesman, and then an actor whose latest work was playing in the town centro. He had a gift. Others wanted the microphone, too, and he let them play around with it, but everyone knew for everything major, he would be working the mic. Even the bishop, on his feastday visits, deferred to him at least for the préces prayers, but then the bishop liked to take the mic himself, and walk energetically up and down the sanctuary and even out into the congregation, happily explaining all that he knew. It’s good to be bishop. Ah, well. Perhaps his turn would come.

There it was. He almost felt the creature moving slowly onto the patio. Don’t look. You can hear it when it moves, it was that heavy. There it is.

Slowly he tightened muscle by muscle his shooting arm and was reminded of the miracle of himself, so beautiful a machine. It was really amazing what ordination had done for him. He was good at his work. There were lines of people waiting to talk to him, every day. Mostly women. He thought it might have to do with his homilies, for he had taken to talking about women.

Why had he not realized before how oppressed women were? Or how good they smelled.

He had to smile and almost loosened his grip on the slingshot, thinking of Señora Marquez. She was such a handsome woman, how could her husband ignore her so, how could he do the numerous cruel things he did, that Señora Marquez recounted to him, in her soft slow voice, her lovely brown tear-smudged eyes lifted trustingly to his, her sisterly kisses when she left, the pastries she sent for their solitary priestly suppers? It was wonderful that the Church had eliminated the paranoia of those older generations and encouraged such pastoral work. Father Pastor seemed impressed with Miguel’s success with the womenfolk of the parish, for they did almost everything now, the mass, the music, the cleaning, the visitation of the sick. Everything but the consecration and perhaps that was coming. They were important, all right.

Father Miguel slowly adjusted the angle of his wrist so he could check his watch; oh, almost time. Señora Marquez would not like to be kept waiting. A useless garden could not take precedence over his pastoral work. He could delay no longer. Now or never. Slowly he shifted his gaze and saw the creature lifting its ugly front paws onto the Mandevillia. Now or never. Quickly he raised the sling shot, fully loaded, took aim, and fired.

But the trajectory was completely off. The rock had a mind of its own and ricocheted off a heavy pot to the right, struck the patio table, took off again and knocked St. Francis right off his perch. The iguana fled before the first pot was struck.

 Well, slingshots were quirky! Slingshots were not straight shooters, and he regretted buying the cheap one and not the sleek aluminum one at three times the price. He regretted not practicing. Father Miguel sat down heavily in his patio chair and looked despairingly around the garden. The creature would not return now for quite a while, that was the pattern. And he could wait no more, duty called.

He looked at the roses, many just coming again into bloom. He looked at the Mandevillia, and it gave him a sudden headache. He looked at the pink confection he called the Duke, so heavy and rich and manly were its cascading blooms. He said goodbye to each one, for unless there were a furious storm and the iguanas in for the rest of the day, the Duke and the Mandevillia would certainly be gone when he returned. To leave them was almost more than he could bear. But he must. And, with a feeling something important had happened (but what? It was only a garden!), he did.

The iguana waited for almost half an hour. He had seen Father Miguel leave from his hiding place behind a half-rotted rafter. He knew Father very well. He knew Father would sometimes return, and that his limit was half an hour. The iguana told time by his stomach. He knew he had the garden to himself now, and slowly and majestically he descended the porch and stopped for an appetizer in the impatiens, and what he didn’t eat he crushed with his heavy taloned feet. His face was a face from the past, from the first times, full of cruelty, hunger, and pride. Then he turned to the Mandevillia, which was climbing up the garden wall but which would not thereby escape. The iguana half closed his eyes in anticipation, and he used the fallen St. Francis to ascend.

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One Response to “Another Eve”

  1. Good one, Jan, thank you!

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