Friday, January 9, 2015

All Saints

All Saints
Bobby Derie

Young Miguel crossed himself as he stepped into All Saints; out of old habit. Father Guittiez, behind the bar, gave him a measured stare, but said nothing as the boy pushed the handcart stacked with cases down what used to be the center aisle, the eyes of all the saints upon him.

Once All Saints had been a church, an old Anglican affair with a steep sloping roof and great wooden rafters like an ancient ship turned upside down, the ribs extending to the floor, stained glass windows of the lives of the saints on either wall. The city had closed in on either side of the old church, so that the small gardens became trash-choked alleys where whores plied their trade and drunks marked their territory on the rain-eaten stonework, and the congregation dwindled and dwindled until the diocese had repurposed the building.

Guittiez had placed the bar along the altar rail, and kept the cross; the pews had been cut and made seats at tables. Miguel rolled the booze past hard men in dark suits under the hanging lamps. The oldest ones were all scarred, mentally or physically - the crippled and maimed and crazy, who fingered their rosaries and topped the sacramental wine off with vodka. A pair of them liked to talk, in Latin, and ruled a corner table near the eaves. The younger, more able men clustered near the bar, some silent and withdrawn, others telling stories in voices that tended to carry across the room. Miguel liked to listen to their stories, when he was fetching glasses from the tables, but Father Guittiez didn't like him to linger too long.

The altar and the hanging cross they had also kept, though no masses were ever said on it any more, and Father Guittiez used it to hold the glassware.

There were three phones behind the bar, Miguel knew. The black one was for everyday use, and no one cared when it's bell sang. The red one was the bishop's office, and when it's titter carried over the bar Guittiez would lay down whatever he was doing and limp over to answer the phone; after a moment the Father would call out one of the drinkers by name. Miguel had seen it many times, as a man in his dark suit would finish his drink, then stand, and walk almost without urgency to the bar. They would listen for a minute, perhaps two, and then hand the phone back to Guittiez. Then they would pop their collar back on and leave, every man watching him go, knowing they might not see him return.

The ivory phone, an old-fashioned L-shaped receiver in a dusty gold cradle, had never rung since Miguel had been there.

Miguel left the boxes and handcart in the storage room behind the altar, then hurried back again to collect empties, before Guittiez cuffed him on the ear for shirking his work. He took his tray from table to table, dirty glass clinking against dirty glass, not looking anyone in the eye, when he felt something warm and rough grab his crotch. With a surprised squawk, the tray rattled and slipped, glasses crashing into the floor, and Miguel crashing down shortly after them. The series of crashes was quickly followed by the sudden rise of dark jacketed men from pews.

When Miguel looked up again, he saw old Father O'Doyle, lean and sweating, a crucifix tattooed across his face, his teeth gritted in pain. His right wrist was held in one meaty fist of Father Gustavsson, a hulk of a man of god with the broad shoulders of a linebacker, and all around them the other men stared daggers as the massive Swede tightened his grip on the thin Irishman.

"Stephen," Father Gustavsson said. "No more altar boys."

"Gus..." the Irish man squeaked out. "...I'll repent!"

"No more, Stephen. We warned you. I warned you." The giant rumbled, tightening his grip still further. From the floor, Miguel saw tears come down from Father O'Doyle's cheeks.

None of the men of the cloth moved to stop him. The whole room seemed to hold its breath, and Miguel did not need to see all their eyes to feel the waves of disgust and anticipation as the room waited for blood to be spilled, with all the casual hunger of a pack of lions.

A clear scream like a siren shattered the mood. All the men turned as one as Guittiez raced stiff-legged to lift the receiver from its cradle, and crossed himself as he held it up to his ear. After half a minute he laid the phone back in its rest, and the atmosphere had changed to a very different kind of expectation.

"The Vatican has called All Saints," the old priest sang out, so no one in the bar could miss it. "There is a nest at 5th and Woodrow."

As a body, the clergy stood and drained their glasses, all in a single motion. Even Gustavssen released O'Doyle as they fixed their collars. Rosaries rattled and silver knives were loosened in their sheathes as the exorcists, all those who could walk at least, headed toward the door en masse. Those few too crippled to leave muttered their blessings in Latin and Greek and Aramaic over each man as they passed.

Miguel at least had the presence of mind to begin picking up the fallen and broken glasses and putting them on the tray. As the last of the men were headed toward the door, Miguel felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at Father Guittiez, a sawn-off shotgun resting on his shoulder, a dozen silver medallions hanging on his chest like medals from some old war.

"My son," he said, "watch the bar."

Then he limped to join the line of exorcists. Miguel added his own prayers to those already heaped upon them, and wondered how many would return.


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