The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Stories
In Nomine Patris
Whenever mother told the story of my father’s death, she reached into her bosom and pulled out a diminutive pewter crucifix which she wore hanging from a silver chain around her neck, and rubbed it between her thumb and index finger.
She continued the rubbing, compulsively, and absentmindedly, until she reached the part in the story where my father is crushed by the collapsing wall which became part of St. Mary’s Church when it was finally completed.
When mother reached the end of her story, her eyes glazed over as if she were witnessing the disaster anew in a clear and present place within her mind. She crossed herself several times, and reiterated the doleful admonition: “It is God’s will,” and solemnly placed the crucifix back inside her blouse, as if hiding it would justify the telling of the miserable account. She told the tale to me when she felt the need to teach me another lesson in piety. “It is God’s Will” was my mother’s credo. She believed that our destiny was dictated only by the will of God. “God is all seeing, all knowing, and we sinners should fear and submit to the power of the Almighty,” she said with a certainty that came straight from her heart. It was my mother’s will, and according to her, God’s Will, that I become a priest. She was certain that my father’s death had been a sign, a revelation, God’s way of telling her that she had to give up her only son to the service of the Holy Church. It was my destiny, my mother said.
It was God’s will, according to my pious mother. But it wasn’t God’s will that changed my life forever, but Father Olson.
I was nine years old when I met Father Olson after Sunday mass on a rainy afternoon in May. I had stayed after mass to wait for the rain to subside before heading home. I had then decided to sneak into the sacristy where I could wait without being seen. I hid myself and waited patiently inside a confessional until I sensed that the church was empty. When I heard the sound of the last footsteps fading from the cavernous church, and when the deacon had turned off all the church lights and left only the lights of the candles near the main altar to flicker nervously, I poked my head out of the confessional. I wanted to be sure there was nobody left in the place.
When I felt reassured, I walked towards the main altar, keeping my heels from disturbing the silence. I noticed the scent of incense, and the smell of burnt wax enter my nostrils as I got nearer the altar. I was nervous. I’d never set foot in the altar before, it had been “off limits” to children who were not altar servers. Despite all my efforts, the sound of my heels hitting the hardwood floors echoed within the walls of the cavernous place. I timidly approached the sacred altar. The smell incense got stronger, and the meandering smoke from the the tall candles at either side of the altar formed thin arabesques that vanished into nothingness before it reached the ceiling. I turned my head briefly to check on my progress, and saw the empty pews behind me, at either side of the isle, extending like rows upon rows of freshly plowed fields.
I turned my head and faced the main altar. My eyes were fixed on the large, life-like effigy Christ crucified which dominated the scene. When I reached the altar, I paused to stare at the details of the effigy of Christ. I saw the outline of ribs beneath the wooden skin. His feet, one on top of the other, were kept in place by a large nail thrust into the wooden cross they rested on. The fake blood dripping out of a gash on one side of the abdomen looked very real. I was tempted to climb up onto a chair to feel the wound, and caress the bleeding skin.
I lifted my head and examined the bony face of the figure whose eyes were so real, that I expected them to blink or to start weeping at any moment. I recognized the crown of thorns thrust on the head from paintings and drawings in books we read during Religion class. The crown resembled a dry Christmas wreath, with its prickly thorns digging into the skin of The Christ’s forehead, with painted blood dripping down the sallow face. I was nose-to-foot with the statue, trying to get the courage to touch its life-like flesh with my hand.
My hand trembled when I lifted my arm to touch the wood with one finger, and rub the spot where the nail went through the feet, to see if the life-like blood was real, when the sound of a voice thundered throughout the cavernous church: “Blessed are those who believe without seeing,” the voice said as it bounced off the walls and ceiling of the church. Every cell in my body felt the tremor when the thunderous voice entered my ears. My legs trembled, my heart beat faster, and a trickle of urine flowed down my right leg. I wanted to run, but couldn’t move a muscle.
From amidst the shadows a large figure appeared, it seemed to have materialized from nothingness. It was surely the figure of a man. He seemed larger than any man I had eve known, of course, I was then only small. The figure walked slowly towards me. I stood frozen and embarrassed. I was frozen with fear for having been caught where I wasn’t supposed to be, and embarrassed for having pissed in my pants.
The large man walked towards me until my eyes were able to make out the contour of his face. It was a large, roundish face with a chubby nose, a tall forehead, and a pair of bulging cheeks, like those on a bulldog. The man’s neck was thick. Its flesh spilled over the bright white collar he wore with his robe. As the man got closer to me, I noticed his hair was not quite white, but a shiny silver color, thinning out all about his head. When the light from a bright spotlight, aimed directly at the crucified Christ, reflected on the man’s face, I noticed the pinkish-red color of its complexion was matched by his pale blue eyes that appeared to beam with kindness from under his eye brows. The lack hair on the eyebrows and eyelashes gave his face the look of an infant.
The man looked like a giant baby. There was no other way to describe him. He seemed to gurgle when he spoke. The sound of his voice was different from any of the voices I was used to hearing. He pronounced each word as if he were trying very hard to release each sound from between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. I was perplexed, but curious, because I had a similar problem when speaking. I did not say a word when he stood in front of me. I was afraid he was going to punish me for having clandestinely walked into a place I was not allowed to set foot on. He came closer to me. I closed my eyes briefly. My head was hot. I could feel the perspiration dripping down my back, beading up under my hair, ready to drip down my face. With great effort, I shifted my body to face the crucified Christ, bent my knees, bowed my head, clasped my hands, and straining the muscles of my face, I shut my eyelids and I muttered the words: “God, please protect me.”
I opened my right eyelid, slowly, and strained to move my eyeball to the corner of my eye to see if the specter had gone from the place. I was hoping for a miracle. My eyes started to hurt from the strain. I took a deep breath, opened both eyes wide, and turned my head slowly over my right shoulder. When my head had turned as far as my neck muscles would allow, I felt the touch of large hand tapping on my left shoulder. I was so startled that I let out a shout. I heard my scream echoing on the walls of the empty church, and bounce back down to my ears from the high ceilings to the altar. I could feel the soft skin of the hand gently patting my face. Then I heard the gurgling sounds of the man’s voice again, telling me to hush, that I had nothing to fear.
I was still kneeling under the crucified Christ when I heard his voice again: “I’m Father Olson” he said with his gurgling accent. “I’m very sorry if I frightened you, son; that was not intention.” He said this as he straightened my shirt collar and helped me get back to my feet. I couldn’t say a word. I was trembling. “Come, come, son,” he said as we walked towards the sacristy. He was hunched over me, holding me by the shoulders, talking to me, assuring me there was nothing to be afraid of. The voice that had seemed so foreign when I first heard it, became familiar and comforting. The sacristy looked and felt like a sanctuary. Stained glass windows filtered multicolored shafts of light that cut through the semi darkness of the room and painted Father Olson’s robe with patches of red, blue, green and yellow. The colors seemed to move slowly, shifting on the surface of his white garments, as the sun moved slowly in the sky outside.
The air in the room was heavy with the scent of burning incense and paraffin. It came from the blood-red carpet and the heavy velvet curtains which divided the sacristy into two chambers; one chamber, I later learned, was used by the altar servers to prepare for the Eucharist, and the other was used by Father Olson as a study. Father Olson’s study was lined with bookshelves, crammed with tomes bound in leather of varying colors. The books were stamped in gold and adorned with elaborate tooling. The more handsome books were locked behind glass in a cabinet, sharing room with a crystal bottle that contained the Sacramental wine. Later I learned that Father Olson kept a small skeleton key in his pocket that he used to access the books, and the wine.
The walls of his study were covered with allegorical, paintings, religious in tone and matter. Their subjects included scenes of martyrs being pierced by arrows. Men and women glancing up to the sky with pious looks of repentance as red-orange flames engulfed their bodies. The scariest painting sat next to Father Olson’s writing desk; a medium sized canvas in a gilded frame, perched on an easel. It was a scene that Father Olson later described to me a being called the Garden of Earthly Delights. He said its intended message was to warn of the perils of life’s temptations.
The apocalyptic scene showed hundreds of tiny figures, naked men and women suffering from bodily tortures being perpetrated upon them by demons wielding swords and lances; wearing spiked helmets, beating on drums, and blowing on trumpets; wearing garments that oddly resembled the vestments Father Olson wore during the celebration of the Mass. The scene was dominated by a giant head with its gaping mouth swallowing arms, legs, and severed heads, heaped in wheelbarrows and baskets. A creature, half-man-half-shark sat in a cave feeding a bonfire with human bodies, while imps hands danced around it in a circle. The painting gave me nightmares. After our first meeting, Father Olson and I became good friends. He was assigned to teach Religion during my fifth period class.
One Sunday in May, when the constant rains had nearly flooded the school, father Olson asked me to become his altar server. I pointed out to him during that conversation, that I was not the type of kid who would be chosen for such a coveted position. I told him that I knew of at least three other boys in my class that wanted the to be altar servers more than anything.
I told Father Olson that these kids had been doing everything required to become altar severs for many months; including keeping excellent grades, being on time, doing their homework, and never, ever, missing Sunday mass. Father Olson was adamant. He promised me he would talk to my mother to clear the way for me to become his altar server. He said that I if I did my best, I might be chosen to serve at the altar during the ordination of new priests. I answered him by saying that I would do whatever my mother decided.
Father Olson learned of my not-so-secret burden during my initiation as an altar server. It happened as I walked behind him to the altar, secretly asking God to give me the strength and fortitude to not let it happen during the Mass. Father Olson had said to me that it was okay to make mistakes; to learn from them and move on, because God is a loving and forgiving God. I must have been speaking louder than the rustling of his starched vestments when we walked onto the Altar and I began to pray:
“Tha-tha-thank-nk-you, Lo-lo-rd Jes-jes-us, for ca-ca-lling me ttt-to se-se-rve at yo-yo-your alt-alt-tar.
I gi-gi-gi-ve you p-p-praise and g-g-glory in everyth-tht-th-thing I do no-no-now and
© Oswaldo Jiminez July 2013
“Let me tell you about my lucky chair,” said the man wearing the ill-fitting tuxedo jacket, while nursing a cocktail in his hands.
Imagine this: freshly sliced limes, salt, smoke from cigarettes, perfume. Now, imagine this: bottles, glasses, mirrors, stools, tables.
I don’t know the reason I went up the staircase. I don’t know why I counted each step as I went up; then again, is there a reason for anything in a dream?