Stretched over like the ribs of a beached whale were the slightly Baroque internal supports that curved and slithered around the arched stone walls, and at this time no light pierced through the stained glass fixtures of gruesome martyrial fascinations like they so often did when the Spanish sun brought down its melting wrath upon the residents of Madrid every single day.
Glimmers of candlelight instead illuminated the cold, stony visages of the surrounding enormous marble statuary, whose unchanging gaze was almost as freezing as this Walpurgis night that would drive any sober man straight to the bottom of a bottle and any married man begging on the doorstep of the nearest whore, and it was with this Inquisitional sort of tenebrous glow that tempted all manners of thieves and criminals to falsely prostrate themselves upon the sacred floors of the house of God as a last-ditch effort to evade the tendrils of the law.
Greeted firstly by the hegemonic structure of the divine of heaven, purgatory, and hell as a gate within the entrance of the cathedral the murderer known only as El Brazo, on account of his right hand being mashed and limp from a run-in with the law, cautiously into the tomblike atmosphere as blood gushed from his abdomen like uncorked wine. Desperately, he tried to hide the fatal wound as he seated himself at a pew and made himself look like he were praying.
His fame accumulated more from his good looks and charismatic behavior than the barbaric acts of violence that subsequently warranted his search and arrest, and his immaculately tan face shone almost gloriously in the bask of the candlelight surrounded by an encroaching emptiness within the massive church; it was a face that would drive any sane man to forgive him, and already he had charmed his way out of so many troubles.
Near unconscious from the amount of blood loss, the murderer was nearly jolted out of his sleep as the organist laid bony fingers deep into the keys of the organ and produced hollow, brass phantom notes, as what was left of the congregation stood up and began to sing the opening hymn for the 12 P.M. Saturday vigil. Not wanting to appear suspicious he stood up just as well and followed the cues as best he could from the rest of the church as the priest began to officiate the mass.
Father Enteró stood in his particular manner at the pulpit when it came to deliver the homily: he was a stout bullet of a man, 5 foot and with a face shriveled and shrunken like the heads of the enemies of witch-doctors, hair the color of tar-pitch and slicked like amniotic fluid over a fresh-born. He often waddled as opposed to walked, and from some old condition or accident, no one was really sure which, he no longer had capability of sight.
Nevertheless the priest deftly navigated the constraints of the church, and most parishioners said that he had a near-supernatural knowledge of direction. Very rarely did he use a cane. El Brazo found it hard to commit his attention through the mass, but something that went beyond the rough-handed carvings of the priest made him focus like a man whose eyelids were screwed open as he cleared his throat and began his homily. Translating from his Spanish, what he said was something akin to this:
“My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, I would like to talk to you about something rather controversial in the teachings of the church: The Psalms of the great King David are often used for the Responsorial, yet so many parishes of our tradition tend to shy away from using those which focus on the death and destruction of the enemy, the ones which speak of bloodshed and divine revenge.” His face shifted to an emotion that was hard to read.
“Still, we must not forget that it is precisely these kinds of passages which deserve our focus. For it is not purely for the execution of our enemies that David wrote these passages, but more as a warning that all who oppose God will be made nothing in His sight; it is paramount that we see that when we sin, especially mortally, it is just as well we who are the enemy. Forget not these words I say to you, that whomever strikes down the righteous and lays traps in their path, shall be ensnared in the same thorns planted in the path of those who fear God.” The priest bowed his head over the pulpit as if in sudden meditation, and ended his homily as thus and continued on to preparation for communion.
The mass ended soon enough, and El Brazo used the pew as a shield to cover himself from any passer-by who might recognize him from the papers. Strangely, all the faithful walked past him and didn’t even bother to greet him, as if he was invisible. But there was one who could see him perfectly fine, and Father Enteró swiftly went up to the man as he laid cowering half-underneath the wooden fixtures, laying a soft hand on his shoulder.
“¿Mi hijo, por qué te escondes ti mismo antes del Señor? Come child, there is nothing to fear in this house of God,” and so the priest offered the murderer a small smile as the murderer thought of ways to get rid of him so that he could shelter in the church unbothered for the night. Father Enteró offered to walk him along the Church in discussion, and once again having no other choice without seeming suspicious, El Brazo dutifully agreed.
“Tengo que decir, tu sermón estaba muy interesante. I’m quite interested to hear you speak more on this subject, this subject of the wicked,” his wolf’s teeth gleamed in front of the blind man as his plan to kill was slowly birthed in his mind. With his good hand he quietly fished for the barber’s razor he stored in his right pocket and kept an attentive ear, for indeed he was truly interested. The priest smiled.
They walked through the aisles and around them, pausing at some points from theological discussion to admire and to discuss the Goyas, the El Grecos, the Velázquezes that were scattered throughout as fragments of murals and portraits and ceiling paintings in the humble chapels that stood as weary bastions of an old faith that existed no longer, the mummifications of a slow-beating heart.
The two walked slowly, leisurely, as the night darkened still yet on the outside the neon lights were still burning, the bars buzzing excitedly, lost souls trying to make the streets their own just for this night. So the church-as-structure was a microcosm, a shield, a museum, a place of worship, a shelter or a stigma, depending on who you were and how you felt, but the deep stirrings of a different man dictated that this church would be a gravestone and so prepared the metal instrument as if tuning for a diabolical orchestra, grasping and groping it in his left hand, polishing the sides with his thumb and feeling it over like an artist with his brush before the first stroke stains the canvas or the premier line of graphite slices the paper.
El Brazo amiably hung his arm over the priest, dangling the razor just under a rubbery throat, making smaller and smaller conversation until the last word uttered would give him enough conviction to release the tether on which the soul of a priest floated. Phrases and sentences hung like the air of the gallows, a premonition. Each piece of dialogue was like the particulars of a crime scene. And ever so slightly the razor twitched just under Father Enteró’s chin.
“Estás familiar con el muerto de Judías?” the priest asked almost casually, and certainly out of the blue. The murderer cocked his eyebrow and replied no, just as the last word he had uttered lashed the rope of the guillotine and he was about to sever the earthly ties of this man. He paused to hear what he would say, not out of any particular kind of mercy but out of a blank curiosity.
That particular look upon the priest’s face that was hard to read once again washed over him. “There are two traditional theories that explain the death of the traitor. The first one, which I’m quite sure you are familiar with, is that of his hanging.”
El Brazo nodded, then remembered that this visual gesture was of little use to the priest. “Well,” he cleared his throat, “the more esoteric theory comes to us from a passage in Acts.” And he gave a small, strange sort of smile that made the murderer uneasy.
“Lo siento padre, pero tengo que ir,” the murderer hastily replied, tripping over himself, and turned and started to walk faster and faster. He was running now, running in this long corridor of a church that seemed to stretch on infinitely like the library of Borges. His feet hurt. His ankles ached. The blind man stared deftly at him, unsmiling, and El Brazo felt his gaze bearing down upon him as if he knew something he did not.
“Allow me to refresh your memory,” Father Enteró’s voice echoed throughout the chambers as the murderer kept on running, running almost to the door, to the entrance gate of heaven and hell and purgatory. He produced a small, black bible, and laying his fingers on the passages he read slowly, with dedication:
“Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.” At this El Brazo stopped suddenly. It was as if all of his weight had suddenly disappeared, and looking down he saw that what the priest had read was not merely history, but now a prophecy, and as his body torn asunder collapsed weightlessly before the gate his gaze fell upon a white grinning demon of the inferno reified in marble.
— Noah Rymer is a Virginian poet/writer trying to be a conduit for the high strangeness that surrounds us. In a regrettable turn of events he has become the Editor-In-Chief of Pere Ube, and runs the online magazine with an iron toilet brush.