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The Rockport Miracles - Part 3: Episode 3 “On A Clear Day You Can Punch A Cleric”
The bells of St. Swithun Church were ringing like mad as Father Marlowe left for his fateful meeting with the Bishop. I was jogging the 200 feet between the priest’s residence and the church when a sight coming towards me sent chills up my spine. It was old Sister Mary Leviticus! Four feet and ten inches of sheer terror, she was the meanest, toughest nun to ever don the black muslin. The disturbing rumors I’d heard on the streets of Rockport were true. Sister Mary Leviticus still walked the earth.
She was the fightiest of the Fighting Nuns and the last of her breed at St. Swithun. In her glory days she’d commanded an eager A-Team of black habited swatters, slappers, and face pullers. By 1970, however, her platoon of nun lieutenants had long since hopped on their brooms and flown off to that final wherever it is they went. She'd outlived them all like most horrible people do.
We kids had made up all kinds of nicknames for Sister Mary Leviticus. “Sister Very LeViciousness,” “Sister Stay Away From Us” and “Sister I Am Spartacus”. She wielded her legendary breadboard paddle (with the holes drilled in it) like a sword of Damocles. Capital punishment was typically administered in the echoe y hallways of the school so that everyone could hear some poor innocent slob getting his. When she really hated you, she would broadcast your death over the school PA system, usually during the nauseous interval between Math and Catechism classes. Now, in her sunset years, she looked like a hunched over and shriveled version of Godzilla. I knew all of her tricks so I gave her a wide berth as I ran by her. Sure enough, just as I was coming astride she took a swing at me with her cane and bleated, “NO RUNNING IN THE SCHOOLYARD!”
I made it safely to the church vestibule and easily found the staircase that led to the bell tower. The bells were ringing like crazy as I ascended the stairs. My heart was beating fast in anticipation of seeing Wren. I was anxious to swap stories with her about all that had happened to us in the previous 24 hours. After I’d reached the top of the stairs and entered the cold drafty tower, the bells were finally slowing down. I didn’t see Wren right away but as I worked my way around the bells I saw her standing and looking out north through a windowless opening in the tower. She didn’t see me and I didn’t want to startle her.
“WREN!!” I screamed over the din of the bells, but she didn’t hear me. "WREN!” I screamed again. She still couldn’t hear me. Finally, the bells settled down into a reverberating silence. In a lesser voice I yelled, “Wren--It’s me!” but she still couldn’t hear me! I worried that she’d gone deaf like some kind of drop-dead gorgeous version of Quasimodo. I pulled out my trusty ACE pocket comb and threw it at her. It bounced off the top of her head and flew out of the bell tower. Startled, she spun around with an angry face that immediately changed to a smile when she saw me. She ripped off her earmuffs and pulled wads of cotton out of her ears. Then she ran across the bell tower, threw her arms around me, and hugged me like I’d never been hugged before. Then she took my hand and said, “QUICK-COME LOOK!! YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!!”
Meanwhile, 10 miles away in downtown Cleveland, Father Marlowe paced inpatiently outside the Bishop’s office. “How much longer is he going to keep me waiting?” he barked at the Bishop’s secretary. “I told you,” she replied between puffs on her cigarette, “his Most Reverend Excellency will see you as soon as he finishes his phone call.”
“Hmmph!” erped Father Marlowe. He began mimicking the secretary’s previous words. “’His Most Reverend Excellency’?-- HA! MY ASS!” Indignant, the startled secretary sharply replied, “FATHER MARLOWE-YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED!” The old pastor shot back, “Awwww shaddup! That fatuous dickhead is making me wait on purpose and you know it!" The secretary dropped her cigarette into the ashtray and dialed directly into the Bishop’s office. After a few seconds of whispered pleading through cupped hands she hung up the phone and said, “The Bishop will see you now.”
The old pastor walked into the elegant, mahogany paneled office. The Bishop was seated on a gold-leaf throne chair in the corner by his desk. He was wearing casual Bishop garb consisting of a white cassock with a fuchsia mini cape and matching zucchetta (a red beanie cap). In his hands was an opened book with its scarlet bookmark ribbon hanging off to the side.
“Whatcha reading there your excellency?” said Father Marlowe in his snarkiest voice, “Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang?” The Bishop remained unfazed by the insult and replied, “If you must know, I’m reading St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Please sit down, Jim. We have to talk.” The old pastor pulled over an adjacent chair and sat down. “I hope you don’t expect me to kiss your ring,” said Father Marlowe, “Not when I sense a screw job coming down the pike.” Unfazed, the Bishop asked, “Did the recent storms do any damage to the school or church?” Father Marlowe shook his head and said, “No, but the town itself has been severely wounded. I’m sure you heard about the deaths that occurred last night and perhaps there’ll be more to report from this morning’s storm.” The Bishop picked up a glass of bourbon from the table next to him and took a sip. He closed his book and asked, “Will St. Swithun pick up any of that upcoming funeral business, you think? Your Parish could use the money.” Father Marlowe shook his head in disgust, took a long breath and said, “You really are an asshole.”
“Hmmmph!” said the Bishop, pretending to be unruffled. “Jim,” he said, “I’ll get right to the point. The time has come for you to turn the reigns over to a younger generation. If St. Swithun is to have any chance of survival, we’ll need some fresh blood in there with new ideas. It can only come from someone more youthful and better educated than yourself.” Marlowe leaned forward in his chair and said, “You can’t take me out now. I can still do this job!” The Bishop shook his head and replied, “It’s over, Jim. You’re done. Father St. Charles will be taking over immediately.”
As Father Marlowe and the Bishop mucked through their contentious meeting, Wren and I were staring out the north window of the St. Swithun belltower. “Look,” said Wren, “Look at the lake!” ”What lake?” I replied, “I can’t see anything.” Wren nudged me with her elbow and said, “That’s the point, silly.” Just then, the droning noise that we woke up to that day began sounding: “Bweeeeeee-Bomp…Bweeeeeeee-Bomp.” It was the coastal foghorn singing its melancholy song again.
Then I understood what was happening. An enormous fog bank was charging in over the north coast of the town. “Wren, look at all that fog--look how fast it’s moving!” Within minutes, the entire town of Rockport had been swallowed up by a giant white void. The belltower being windowless offered no protection against the fine mist that was tickling our faces. We dropped to the floor with our backs to the wall, just as we had the night before at Lakefront Park. The fog enshrouded the inside of the belltower so completely that we could barely see each other. “Well,” said Wren cheerfully, “here we are again!”
Meanwhile, the eventful meeting going on at the Bishop’s office had turned violent. Father Marlowe had grabbed the Bishop by his fuchsia mini-cape with one hand and was punching him in the face with the other. As the Bishop tried to defend himself, Marlowe slapped the zuchetta beanie cap off his head and it sailed across the room like a Frisbee. When the secretary heard the Bishop’s anguished cries for help, every able bodied person she could find was summoned to break up the fight. It took three young seminarians to restrain and drag away old Father Marlowe.
The Bishop was bleeding from his mouth and nose and yelling, “I told Mom & Dad to commit you to the insane asylum years ago!!! They wouldn’t do it BUT I WILL!!!” As the seminarians escorted Father Marlowe out the door, he turned to the Bishop and screamed, “OUR PARENTS SPOILED YOU ROTTEN--YOU LITTLE PUNK!" The Bishop screamed back, “YOU'RE DONE! YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE DONE!!” Father Marlowe’s last words to the Bishop were, “If you put THAT CREATURE anywhere near St. Swithun, I WILL PERSONALLY SEND HIM TO HELL…WHERE HE BELONGS!!”
“WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU TELL HIM?“ asked the secretary as she held pressure on the Bishop’s bloody nose. “I told him he was losing his parish,” said the Bishop. “But…,” he continued, “I also told him that Father Fry was going to live at St. Swithun for awhile. ” The secretary shook her head, “That was stupid. No wonder he broke your nose. You should have saved the Father Fry announcement for later.” The Bishop stared straight ahead while the secretary held pressure on his nostrils. “Do you really think our parents spoiled me rotten?” he asked in a faux Porky Pig voice.
“Our parents spoiled all three of us rotten,” said the secretary.
Next: Part 3: Episode 4: “Strangers In The Night”
© 2018 Scott MacGregor-EOI Media Press Inc.
©2018 Illustration by Rob Masek
©2018 Illustration by Greg Budgett
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