The Inside-Out Woman
CHAPTER 10 THE OFFERING
Intoxicated with the word of God and contrite over the human manner in which he’d accepted it, Father Chapas knelt, scoured the site of the abomination with holy water and recited the rosary over the stain, purifying and sanctifying this patch of carpet that represented sin, praying for redemption from wayward ways, freedom from evil control, and the enigmatic call of God to His work, no less worthy, in the priest’s fevered mind, of a scribe’s chronicling than the burning bush or the Damascus road or any other manifestation of God to sinful man.
Thus, cleansed, renewed, and invigorated with God’s absolution and with His mission in his heart, Father Chapas grabbed a pen and the tormenting paper from his desk and departed his rectory, praying that the Father, during the course of fulfilling his duty, would work a mundane miracle, granting him the golden words that would empower him to leap the barrier of “Knox County.”
In his car, he dropped the paper on the passenger’s seat and reached to turn the ignition, when it struck him that he did not know what sort of offering would be appropriate. Flowers, while beautiful, seemed too … He couldn’t bring himself to form the thought of the temporal suggestion contained in “flowers,” so repugnant to him was it now; so directly opposite of God’s wish for him and Maryam was it.
What best would signal renewal of the spirit? What best announced the end of spiritual starvation in favor of the nurturing of life? He contemplated the Bible, always an infallible wellspring of divine guidance. Bring forth food from the earth; and wine that makes glad the heart of man; and bread which strengthens man’s heart. And woman’s, too, he amended.
He started the car and drove a short distance to the nearby liquor store. There he puzzled over several gift baskets. Too large would seem ostentatious and inappropriate. Too small might appear niggling and cheapen the purpose. Dios no quiere que sea un tacaño. He purchased a basket containing two bottles of wine, a red and a white, a dozen varieties of crackers packaged in sleek boxes that attested to their superior quality, two cheese rolls and one of salami. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. ¿Qué falta Chapas? he reproved, leaving the store totting his gift basket; siempre sobresaliste en los versículos de la Biblia. Ah! “When they drink, they will forget their misery, and think no more of their burdens. Si, Señor,” he said
At the wheel, he sat with the gift basket in the passenger’s seat. It occupied the entire seat. Bright yellow cellophane encased the delicacies, cheery yellow like the season, like the maize that underpinned the Sullivan County economy, like the maize he remembered growing behind the Brick house the several times he’d driven past it.
In his hand, he held a gift card. At this, he stared. ¿Qué digo? More words that did not come to him. “Dear Maryam.” No, no for obvious reasons. “Dear Mrs. Brick.” Wrong yet again. “Knox” peeked at him from under the basket. “Por favor, Señor,” he whispered and elongated like an elaborate devotional. On the card, he wrote in his best orphanage hand, “Dear Brick Family.” He paused. No. “Dear Familia Brick.” Yes, an homage to her, just to her in honor of her kindness to a lost priest. “For your good work, your participation in God’s work, and your help to me. God sees the good in your heart and soul.” It seemed to strike the right tone, fit the situation, and was sufficiently oblique that only Maryam, inspired like him, would fully apprehend God had a plan for them. He signed off, “With my gratitude, Father Mario.”
He enclosed the note in the yellow envelope that came with it. He attached it with the pin also thoughtfully provided by the fabricator of the basket. Then he tugged at the sheet that held the two words of his homily. ¿Por qué no vienes a mí tan fácilmente, demonio?
He drove off and blankly watched flat fields of corn, which rose against a pure blue sky marred only by clouds billowing in the northwest, replace the town. His mind was clear and receptive; it anticipated the right words dropping into it. But he arrived at the Brick house without a single word to add to “Knox County.”
He pulled into the Brick’s driveway and parked behind Maryam’s van, gladdened to see Billy had not returned early and that only she and the children were at home. God had not yet revealed the particulars of his mission, but Father Chapas had no doubts He would, perhaps on the steps of the Brick house.
He climbed from his car and walked around to the passenger door. He opened it for the basket as he would for a companion, for Maryam Brick. Qué mala idea es esto. “No te metas conmigo, demonio, o te enfrentarás a la ira de Dios,” he intoned softly, lifting and cradling the basket.
He strolled to the house struggling to focus his thoughts on how he would greet her, on how he would explain God’s mission for them, but muttering, “Ah, Chapas, qué hombre hubieras sido. Qué buen tipo. Detente. Está mal. Sirves a Dios. Séle fiel,” struggling to purge his mind as he climbed the steps to the porch door.
He tapped lightly. When no one responded, he turned the knob. After all, it was the entry to the porch, not to the house. And, how could anyone be expected to hear his knocking over such a vast expanse, through a closed door no less. Besides, he had to move quickly to avoid additional miscreant intrusions, to preserve the cleanliness of his mind. At the door, a thump startled him. Another louder thump followed and he pedaled back. Next poured forth shouts, loud and harsh. He heard Dominic called. He heard Dominic warned. Not warned. Not warned at all, but threatened … threatened with a sword. ¿Puede ser esto? ¿Esto? ¿Una espada? And the voice, surely it could not belong to Maryam. Perhaps someone is in the house, someone who should not be there. But, no, the voice was Maryam’s. Yet, it didn’t resemble her soft and sweet and kind voice in the least. It vibrated with loosened phlegm; rattled harshly; burst with frenetic, unbridled vehemence; frightened with malevolence. And the sword? Surely Maryam did not possess such a medieval weapon. But she used the word with such conviction that he, for an instant, pictured her rampaging about the house, slashing madly, armored and ferocious like a demented, corrupted St. Joan.
“Chapas,” he chided himself, “¡Qué día para visiones! Te estás acercando al límite. Seamos sensatos.”
The sensibility was that children can sometimes be difficult, and even a person as good and holy as Maryam Brick might be tempted to raise her voice and issue extravagant, ridiculous threats. Why, on occasion, he did it himself. And at Santa María, did not the loving brothers sometimes allow themselves to scream and shout at disobedient children? “Por supuesto,” he said in the direction of the door, “es natural.”
Still, he should check. He had his offering to present. He was a man of God, of peace and tranquility. He could help Maryam regain her composure and see that Dominic was just acting as boys act, and that however he offended could not be very bad. Boys can never be truly bad, not evilly bad to their cores like men, like men who stared, like those in the pews, like those quivering on prie …
He set the basket in front of the door and leaned close into it. He placed his ear against it and heard nothing but the pounding of his heart. Bueno, una buena señal.
He knocked timidly, and when there was no reply, he knocked as he would if announcing himself as a friend, which he was. When still there was no reply, he applied himself to the task with greater force until he discovered himself in a frenzy, slamming the door with an open hand five times, each time with greater ferocity.
“¿Qué estoy haciendo? ¿Por qué estoy actuando como un loco?” were his remonstrations as he massaged his red and aching hand, alert all the while.
No response issued from inside. Not a “Who are you?” “Go away.” “Stop it, or I’ll call the police.” Nothing came from behind the door, except vexing silence.
He waited a moment more. Then he heard a rustling, but saw it was from outside, where a breeze had kicked up. The sky was thickening with clouds, and the beautiful Saturday was fading away. He moved the basket tight against the door, thankful for the protection afforded it by the porch. He returned to his car.
In the car, he waited another moment, staring at the house, tormented by the thought he might be like Peter, in his case, denying God’s mission when it seemed at hand.
He prayed to God, asking if he should go back, if he should beat insistently on the door until Maryam opened it. God, he believed, responded by reminding him of the promise in Isaiah: They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings.
With the promise of God ringing in his head that this was not the moment, that the moment would present itself in wondrous clarity, he drove to his rectory.
COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, April 27, 2015: CHAPTER 11: DOUBTS