Inspired Love by Keith Rawson
What I find most disturbing is seeing a priest cry.
“The boy . . . just give me the boy . . .”
It’s not the fact that I’m standing in a convenience store at three o’clock in the morning - Hell, after twenty years on the job, I’ve been in so many places like this, taking reports on robberies, muggings, rapes, murders, they've all blended into one grey flickering neon and florescent blur — or that the priest is hiding behind one of the tallest transvestites I’ve ever seen; his black sack cloth arm wrapped around his/her neck, an enormous automatic pressed against his/her temple. She’s so tall, the priest has to stand on his tip-toes just to see over her shoulder.
“I can help you. . .” I say, my voice seems distant, like it’s bubbling up from underwater.
“No one can help me.”
It’s not the nine year old boy pressed against my legs, trembling, my left hand resting on his shoulder, gently squeezing, trying to let him know that everything will be all right.
“I can . . . But you have to put the gun down.”
It’s not even that I just watched my brother-in-law — a man I’ve known and loved for nearly twenty years — take a bullet to the chest from the same gun the priest is holding on the tranny.
All of these things for me don’t even remotely compare to seeing this man of God weep like a grieving widow.
I’m a life long Catholic.
For me, a priest is a symbol of strength.
What a priest is not is a weak, quivering creature.
A priest is not a thing of vice and degradation.
They are the sword and the shield, the defenders of the one true Faith.
I try to keep him talking and hope that he doesn’t notice my right hand slowly creeping into my pants pocket where I keep up my back up piece.
* * *
They met nearly twenty years ago, two young men fresh from their educations, ready to go into the world and make a difference.
Optimism, the happy curse of youth.
They’d met on a joint project between their faiths; a combination food bank and substance-abuse treatment center. They barely acknowledged each other; they were friendly, nodding or mumbling hello as they passed each other in the halls as they rushed in opposite directions, attempting to avert one crisis or another. They didn’t become friendly until after two young junkies stormed the center with rusted- out .38 revolvers, thinking the center was a methadone clinic. He tried talking to the two desperate boys; using his words as his shield.
Cullen used another tactic entirely: He took a steel folding chair to both of their heads.
Cullen said he’d seen it done countless times on the pro wrestling shows he watched and didn’t think the two boys would be hurt so badly. Both of them ended up in the hospital with severe concussions, one of them nearly dying due to swelling of the brain.
They decided to go out for a drink after three hours of the police asking the same series of questions over and over. The bar they walked into was at the tail end of happy hour, packed; and when they walked into together, nearly every head in the bar turned to stare at them. . .and chuckle. They were a living, breathing punch line:
A priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar. . .
And just not any priest and rabbi; the priest was distinctly Irish Catholic, red hair, fresh faced, freckled with a powerful fireplug build; the Rabbi wore a thick beard and ringlets dangling from his yarmulke, tall, stoop shouldered, scholarly. Even their choice of drinks fit their stereotypes: Cullen ordered Guinness, Isaac Chivas Regal. They couldn’t even help themselves and laughed into their drinks until they were in tears.
Ever since that night, they made it their ritual to go out for drinks once a week, preferably at happy hour and every week they would choose a new bar so they could experience the same reaction again and again.
It surprised Isaac when Cullen called him on a Wednesday. Isaac had just laid down for his afternoon nap, his head buzzing, achy from a long morning of writing and translation. The ringing telephone startled him; everyone at the temple knew not to interrupt his afternoon nap unless it was an absolute emergency. He answered in Hebrew, thinking it could only be a member of the temple calling to tell him an older member was gravely ill or had died and were in need of his services. But it was Cullen, his voice slurred, his lateral lisp — a verbal trait he practically eradicated after years of tedious speech therapy and only resurfaced when he drank too much — making him sound like a cartoon duck.
“What are you up to, Izzy?” Cullen asked. “D’ya have time to come and meet me for a drink? I need to talk. . . I need to talk you. . .” His voice was edged with tears and gritted teeth. Isaac agreed to meet him immediately, dry swallowing a couple of aspirin as he grabbed his keys.
The bar they chose was one they’d come to many times. It was a dank hole, a hovel meant only for the most dedicated of drinkers; a place populated with the type of men and women who at one time in Isaac’s life he would have felt compelled to try and convince them that their life of vice was a waste, but he simply didn’t have the energy. Then again, most days he didn’t have the energy for members of his own temple, so the drunks would have to save their own souls.
But it was the type of bar where two men could speak in hushed tones and not draw any notice, even if those men were a priest and a rabbi. And they needed the privacy, because what Cullen was telling him caused Isaac to not want to meet his friend’s blood shot eyes. Instead, to stare down at the soiled tiles and listened to the venom spilling from his friend’s lips and try to figure out what to do?
* * *
The suburbs were a waste.
White unblemished faces; smiling, darling; smooth hands shake his at the end of each Sunday service:
“It was a lovely service, father.”
“So inspiring, father.”
“So lovely. . . .”
“So inspired. . . .”
“. . . .inspired. . . .”
“Love. . .”
Their hands so soft, just like their faces, their eyes; like they’d never known a single day of hardship, or poverty or loneliness.
He should have been happy for them, for their children.
Children who would never know a single day of strife.
And he shook hands with each of them, the same smile as their’s; maybe a little less white and evenly constructed, but the same.
The definition of tranquility.
Each handshake, each warm wish and compliment made him boil, his ears turning bright red. His parishioners thought it was modesty; their shy old priest still humbled by their adoration.
His bright red ears were rage.
Anger brought on by his lack of worth.
He was God’s servant; he lived and breathed to not only serve Him, but his children.
His congregation was not the children of God.
They were pretenders.
Worse than pretenders; they were ants; a bothersome hoard, each one just like the next; their voices a mechanical buzzing.
The people of the city, they were the true children of God. Every day after the scarcely-attended morning communion, he would lock the doors of his church and drive into the city. He would drive to the black neighborhoods; the Mexican neighborhoods; blocks and blocks of ramshackle row houses; towering project apartment blocks; rutted dirt track trailer parks. All of them so alive; a living, breathing thing; this is where he belonged, among the meek.
He would drive, searching each face walking the street, the children riding their bikes, playing soccer in the street, no fear in their eyes. He searched, there had to be at least one; just one soul among these forgotten people who were meant to walk hand and hand with God; one disciple he could take under his wing and teach the true gospel of the Lord.
His search went on for months.
Slow months where he was physically threatened; his automobile pelted with rocks, sticks; one desperate woman even robbed him at knife point; the dull point of her knife jabbing into his Adams apple; the sour stink of rotten teeth filling his nostrils as the ruined woman rifled through his pockets, repeatedly telling him not to move.
Don’t move or I’ll cut you.
His search was a test of his faith.
But finally he saw him.
The boy walking tall and golden; the purist light emanating from him, and when he smiled, he was practically blinded; it caused him to slam on the breaks of his battered Toyota, he barely noticed the screeching breaks, the honking horns, the curses. He didn’t notice himself turning off the engine or opening the car door and stepping out. His eyes never left the boy.
The boy. . . .and the thing with its arm draped around his shoulders.
The thing looked like a woman; its hair flowing and braided, walking tall and proud in fire-engine red high heels that he most commonly associated with prostitutes.
But this thing. . . . it clearly held sway over the boy. It toyed and twisted its enormous red-tipped fingernails through his hair; its lips whispering into the boy’s ear, making the boy laugh, his eyes briefly filling with corruption. His blood ran cold and dead as the thing kissed the boy on the cheek and they parted company.
He needed to save the boy.
* * *
“You don’t. . . .you don’t deserve him. . .Him.”
The tranny’s whispering, keeping the priest occupied. Or maybe he’s not, I don’t know? Blood’s pounding in my ears and my hand keeps edging to my spare piece and I try to get a look at Izzy out of the corner of my eye. I keep thinking I see him moving, at the very least twitching. Maybe it’s involuntary movement, his rapidly cooling blood and bodily fluids coming to rest in the dead muscles of his back and legs. . . .
Christ, what am I going to tell Marion?
I try not to think about it and make one big, final [grab] just as the priest is going belligerent and red faced, practically strangling the tranny with the crook of his arm.
I’m not even close to fast enough.
I catch the priest’s eye and suddenly I’m staring down the barrel of his hand cannon; fat droplets of sweat pop on my forehead.
I’ve only had a gun turned on me once in my entire career and it was another cop who I arrested when I was a rookie for beating his wife half to death, and all he did was wave it around at me, not really aiming.
This is different.
I pull my hand from my pocket, I’m yelling something, holding my hand in front my face, using it as a shield.
Like the palm of my hand will stop a bullet?
My left hand grips the boy’s shoulder.
I don’t know if I’m hurting him or not?
. . . but I feel him squirm out from under my hand and watch as he moves towards the priest.
* * *
Izzy drove home that night slightly drunk; his head a jumble of static from what Cullen had told him about the boy. About how he lured the young man into his car and was now keeping him safe from the ‘demon’ who was apparently the boy’s father. The boy, Cullen explained, was a pure manifestation of God who was being tempted into evil by the mere presence of the ‘demon’. Izzy asked him why he kept calling the boy’s father a demon.
“He’s fucking faggot!” Cullen’s voice splits the gloomy calm, the drinker’s heads briefly before turning away from their near empty glasses and mugs. “And he dresses like a woman!”
Izzy didn’t agree with homosexuality, but he didn’t care how people lived, he knew God would judge appropriately.
What Cullen had done though?
What he was planning on doing to the ‘demon’; God would never forgive such a thing.
He tried to sleep.
The beer sloshed in his stomach as he tossed under his blanket, a migraine forming at the center of his forehead. At three am, he gave up the ghost and sat at the edge of his tiny bed smoking. He’d made the decision to talk with his brother-in-law, Wesley.
Wes the gentile.
He’d been so angry with his sister when she’d married him, even going so far as refusing to attend their wedding. But like everything else, he grew to simply not care. Wes was a good husband, father, and policeman.
Wes would know what to do.
* * *
“Son, do you need a ride somewhere?”
So many young people were cautious of the clergy these days, poisoned by the bitter actions of a scant few...
Not the boy though.
He approached the open passenger door without the slightest bit of apprehension; his face open, smiling, and he was practically blinded by the boy’s...
* * *
The boy has zero fear.
Even when we found him in the basement of the old rehab center the priest and Izzy used to run together, bound and gagged, he seemed so calm; so untroubled by the fact that he’d been kidnapped and locked away in the dark. He hugged me hard around the neck, never saying a word. Izzy gently pried the boy’s arms from around me.
“We have to go,” he said, his whisper echoing through out the dusty room. “We don’t have much time.”
I shouldn’t have let Izzy go into the convenience store first.
I shouldn’t have brought the boy in with us.
But then again, I’d probably already be dead if we hadn’t.
So would the boy’s father/mother.
The priest’s entire body seems to go limp as the boy approaches him. The father/mother slips out of his arms and the priest drops to one knee, spreading his arms. The priest is slack jawed, glazed over. . .his eyes filled with the strangest light.
The boy walks right into arms and plucks the dangling automatic from priest’s hand; it looks enormous is tiny hands. He stares into the priest’s filmy eyes.
“That’s my daddy.”
He tucks the barrel under the priest’s chin and cocks the hammer.
I don’t try to stop him as he pulls the trigger.