Friday, 19 July 2013

Our Lady of Guadeloupe by Evan Pheiffer

Read by Warner Sallman

I was never much of a romantic type. Or very good-looking, for that matter. In fact, I suppose I was probably something of bore – too concerned with Ouija boards and plate tectonics to care about girls. Just kidding – I wasn’t that smart. The only reason I made the chess team is because I caught the captain jerking off in the locker room and told him I’d squeal if he didn’t let me come to Springfield for the State Finals.

After high school I enrolled in a community college on the outskirts of town. I was madly in love with Roxanne and, despite my initial timidity, had forsaken a “career” in the army to follow her to school. (The boys in green at the outlet mall had tried to recruit me on several occasions). The important thing is that I was trying. What’s that line about blindly attempting something over and over again? The object of my heart’s desire had to be getting closer, one failure at a time.

As it goes, Roxanne ran off with a campus security guard that spring. Apparently they used to share cigarettes outside the library – not that either of us had ever been inside. Alas, I would never be more than the boy serendipitously sitting across from her in Astronomy or Intro to Life and Family Sciences. Goddammit, I’d borrowed five grand just to get next to her, and she didn’t so much as bat an eyelid when we “happened” to have “chosen” identical schedules that first year out of high school. I would have to get out of this town, adopt a different tactic. Perhaps I could grow sideburns and start jogging? I bought a bus ticket and made for the coast.

I’d lost my virginity in middle school to a whale of a wonderful woman. My uncle Ronnie had taught me from an early age that larger ones need also need affection – but where I came from it didn’t really matter. We all put cornstarch on our corn flakes in morning, so you know where this is going. But why bring up my sex life? Because with Roxanne’s disappearance it all but disappeared. Not that she would have touched me with a ten-foot pole, mind you, but her sudden and absolute absence from the dining hall, the corner store, that dirty, downtrodden family restaurant – the very fabric of my life – had shaken me to the core. I could barely look at another woman – much less ever be with one. So there it began, in the back of a California-bound Greyhound, my celibate journey to the moon.

I got to Los Angeles with 27 dollars and a sleeping bag. It really wasn’t so bad. When I left the station the air was hot and sweet with the smell of carbon and chilies. All the same, the city had an underbelly that made me uneasy: tramps and trannies, hobos and toothless hockey players cavorting under the bridge. Surely it would only be a matter of time before I joined their ranks. I found a soup kitchen and asked if they needed help.

Mind you, I wasn’t much of a ‘good’ person either; I was strictly apathetic when it came to other people’s problems, hunger included. I suppose I was pre-emptively seeking shelter, offering my services at a time when they’d still be accepted, a time when I could pretend the charity was mine, not theirs. Hence began my celibate existence, a soup kitchen on the corner of Mercy Ave and Malcolm X with the pious sisters of Saint Maria-Pia, Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

The next six months passed without ado. I would rise at 5 to chop onions, skin the avocados and pluck the chickens; if ever I’m truly homeless I’ll go straight to the district with a Mexican city councilman. The sisters and I played checkers after breakfast and the European edition of Risk in the afternoons. You’ve no idea how they coveted Turkey. I began to imagine myself growing old, pale and flaccid, lazy enough to forget my discontent. A life neither lived nor squandered, I would finish my days serving the hapless, faithful to the only promise I’d ever kept.

You were wondering, weren’t you? Oh yes, dear audience, true to my oath of celibacy I stayed. I dare say I hadn’t even masturbated – though surrounded by festering Vietnam vets and lacking a sensual imagination, I was never quite in the mood. Desire had abandoned me like a dignity during a famine; lust the relic of a creature I no longer was. Until, of course, the phone rang one sultry Sunday afternoon.

I was to accompany the Padre to a watermelon commune due west of town. It was run by a renegade order of Saint Maria-Pia sisters and headed by a mysterious firebrand who’d come from south of the border several years ago. Their watermelon patch had been growing at extraordinary rates the past three summers and the Padre was there to make an offering: give us the patch and we’ll allow you back into the Order. “Our Lady of Guadeloupe shall welcome as was the Prodigal Son!”

The leader of the renegade nuns was not impressed, but I could scarcely believe my eyes. She lifted her veil in anger, revealing a shock of deep brown curls and the most stunning green eyes that side of the Mississippi. “Back to your snake’s den, good father! The watermelons are mine!” I had no idea what was happening. Suddenly a thick, dark gray enveloped the sky, a burst of dust began to stir on the horizon. The desert was awake. At once the Padre ran for his conversion van – but I remained behind.

That evening the Southwest saw its most violent tornado in seven decades. Mailboxes were sent flying to Mexico, steeples as far as Kandahar. The padre never made it back to the city, though I somehow survived. I peeled open my eyes, rubbing the dust from each socket. I could feel something in my hand. I looked up and could just make out that shock of deep brown curls. I was in bed, covered in rubble but entirely clothed, clutching her hand in mine.

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