Salvador

This is my first short story. I finished (“gave up on”, better said) the editing July 9, 2018. It’s not going to win any Pulitzer but I don’t think it’s terrible. The dialogue needs more work and the transitions between time periods are a bit abrupt and confusing. I struggled with the pronoun “he” to try to mask the identity of the main character but I know it can get confusing for the reader. And the message was, I admit it, a hard sell and it comes out a little cheesy. Oh well, it is a start.

Mann Salvador. Father Mann Salvador. He stared at the name scribbled on the half folio now worn out and crumpled and under the name was a picture of the priest. It was a cool Saturday evening, the kind that happens only around four times a year, and nonetheless the cool beer he held as he sat beside the counter of the tienda was sweating like some guilty, brown miniature man under interrogation. He took drags from his cigarette and after each drag he looked again at the photo through the smoke and he studied those eyes and scrutinized the face memorizing each feature. The priest’s hair was slicked to the side hairs turning white, that apparent, supposed wisdom that comes with age betrayed by his eyes, young and twinkling with humour, and lack of wrinkles. This was no villain, he thought. This was no villain.

“We’ll let you start with some big fish,” they had told him earlier that week. One of them, the jefe, slid him the photo across the table.

“A priest?” he asked.

“Any problem?”

“Nothing. It’s just that I thought we were going after drug lords is all.”

The jefe smirked. “You’ll learn soon enough that drug lords aren’t the only problem of this society, brother.”

“No sir,” he replied.

“So.”

“Just that I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of dead priests on the news. Only druggies.”

“Let’s just say you’ve come right when we start the ‘second phase’ of the plan.”

“Second phase?”

“Second phase.”

“Killing priests, you mean?”

Neutralizing infected cells, the jefe replied and he took out a cigarette and slipped it into his lips. It’s the job of those who want to cure this country, he said while the cigarette bobbed in his lips like an authoritarian finger wagging in reproach. One of the men brought out a zippo and lit the stick. The jefe took a puff and exhaled the smoke to his face across the table.

He told him to see it this way. That to cure a cancer you have to cut hard and deep and wide. That you can’t stop at the tumor. You have to cut all the cells appearing contaminated and potentially contaminated because the malignancy spreads like a wildfire. That a lot of blood will be spilled in the process, necessarily. That there is no other alternative and no room for half measures. The jefe put the cigarette to his mouth, took another puff, and exhaled without taking his eyes off of him.

He bent forward and studied him. “So. You in?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

One of them slid him a pistol on the table and he kept it in his jacket.

“You have a week,” said the jefe.

Now seated on the bench outside of the tienda he had smoked through his third straight cigarette but it seemed the nicotine couldn’t calm him and his fingers trembled even more. If he were assigned a drug lord or some addict it would he have felt the same way? He thought that no. No qualms about it whatsoever. Druggies aren’t people and those fiends deserved to die and he would shoot all of them and with great pleasure if only he could. Damn animals. Scum of society. Why did they make him start with a priest? Why did he — He cut the thought short. It was not helpful to him now that there was no turning back.

The church stood two kilometers from the tienda. He had spent the afternoon patrolling the area and planning the maneuver. Hundreds, as always, would attend the Sunday service the next day at 4 pm coming in droves. Unawares of another sacrifice of which they were to be witnesses. The church was open to the street so it appeared to him that it would be easy to get a good look. He was to drive by on his motorbike, stop, take aim and then pull the trigger. Pull twice to be sure and maybe even thrice to bring home the message.

There was no room for second guessing. He imagined how the priest would fall and the people would scream and run and he imagined that some pious souls would rush to the priest, by then blotches of pure red spreading out on pure white like some type of live Catholic communion and some brave souls would try to run after him but by then he would have made a run for it with the motorbike. He imagined the congregation kneeling and wailing in outrage and praying to Him why couldn’t He protect His own in the very midst of their adoration. Why He chose to watch and remain silent.

As he finished the beer he heard the sound of an engine approaching the sidewalk and saw the rays of headlights come near him. A car of old make and looked like it could use a good washing pulled up beside the tienda. He watched as the door opened and black shoes and black pants stepped out of the car. He looked up and he saw that the driver had a white rectangle on the center of his collar like some blank target asking, just asking for a bullet. It was the priest. He looked older than on the photo.

The priest climbed up the steps to the tienda and smiled at him as a greeting. He forced a smile back trying to make it as natural as he could, and it was natural enough, or so he felt. His hand caressed the pistol in the pocket of his jacket. It occurred to him that he could shoot him now and finish the deed but he realized the moment was inopportune. He remained seated.

“Two reds, please,” the priest told the old señora behind the counter.

“But father, I thought you told me you were trying to quit,” she said. Both of them laugh.

“The spirit is willing…” The priest looked toward him and winked amicably. “All right, then,” the priest said. “Just one.”

She rolled her eyes in disapproval but handed him the cigarette.

“For the record, though, this is my first cigarette in a month, eh,” the priest said.

“Father Mann, this is for you”. She handed him a small bag of chips. “It’s on me. Don’t worry about it.”

The priest took it with a meek gesture. “Well, it is a Saturday night. The busiest night next to Sundays. How are the grandkids doing?”

“Well,” she said, “to be honest, been having problems with the grandson Alf. His mother has been telling me that she suspects he’s into drugs.”

“Oh.” The priest’s aspect became grave, his smile fading.

“Yes,” she said. “Please include him in your prayers, father. You’ve seen what’s been happening in the news. All the killings and all.”

“Anyone talked to him?”

“Yeah. It’s just. It’s just he’s become so stubborn and sometimes it’s like he’s not Alf anymore. You remember how he was as a little boy, father. Always so sweet and playful. So happy. But now, I don’t know, father, sometimes it appears like he’s not human anymore.”

“Señora. That’s what addiction does to us but that doesn’t mean he stops being human. A thousand pesos fallen in the mud is still worth a thousand.”

“True.”

“Any of us could have been the one to have fallen in the mud. What is important is the rest of us recognize his value and then pull him out and clean him up.”

“What do we do, father?”

“I can go and talk to him first. If you want. Then we can enroll him in a drug therapy program. I’m sure I can look for some donations from other parishioners to help finance it.”

Mist formed on the señora’s eyes and she took the priest’s hand. “God bless you, po.”

“Don’t mention it. I’ll keep him in my prayers.” Seated on the side he struggled not to look at neThe priest paid for his cigarette and drew away from the counter.

“Hey, sorry.” The priest approached him. “Got a light?”

“Yeah.” He lit the priest’s cigarette and then another of his own. His hands were shaking and he hoped the priest didn’t notice.

“Thanks,” the priest said.

“No problem, father.”

The two stood smoking silent. He observed how the priest enjoyed each draw and held it in the lungs a couple of seconds before exhaling. The priest opened his bag of chips.

“Can I offer you some?”

“Thanks.” He took one to be polite.

“I hope you’re not shocked to see a priest smoke, eh.”

“Nah. There are worse sins than smoking.”

The priest gave a deep laugh and it was not at all unpleasant. A loud, hearty haha. “Smoking ain’t no sin.”

“I should call myself an angel then.”

The priest cackled more. “You should consider being a priest yourself. Huh.”

He noticed that the priest wanted to take it back as his face became serious.

“I’m kidding of course. We priests aren’t saints nor angels, eh.”

“I understand.”

“Far from it, eh. Though we should try to be. In principle.”

“Yes father.”

“But that don’t make us be better than anyone else.”

“No it don’t.”

The priest took a long drag from the cigarette. As if that fiery orange circle moving through the stick towards his lips possessed some divine wisdom from which he tried to draw to inspire him to choose the words to speak. The priest exhaled then said that it is impossible to ever make a judgement if a person be good or damned to hell based solely on what is seen by the eye. That to judge is never up to us, but rather the only true Judge. And every affront to us can never be worse than what we have done to the god made man whom we humiliated and nailed and spat on even though he came to save us from our wretchedness and still he pardoned us and desired our salvation and said Forgive them for they do not know what they do.

The priest took another drag then exhaled. The priest said to him that what is in a man’s heart is only between him and God and there is no one else who can say for sure or make judgement. That he as a priest can only give advice and remind of the commandments and hear the confessing but it is He who does the pardoning and the judging and the understanding and seeing into the heart and that each man can only answer for himself before Him.

It appeared that the priest wasn’t talking to him but rather thinking out loud like an idea considered to staleness and which needed some aeration. As if now were the opportunity come at last for him to hear how it sounded out loud.

The priest finished the cigarette and, turning his leg up to the side, killed the flame on the heel of his shoe. He tossed the butt and the chip package into a bin.

“Well,” the priest said, “It is getting late. Best get going.”

“I will see you soon, father.”

“I hope so.” The priest walked away, stopped, and then turned back.

“By the way,” the priest said. “I want to give you this. It helps me a lot when I need a small favor.”

He waited for the car to pull away before he looked at what he was given. From the dim light of the tienda he could make out that it was a small stampita, on it a prayer to the Virgin and on the other side her image. She wore a huge mantle which she spread out with her arms and under her were a number of people, depicted by their clothes and countenance to be poor and wretched, taking shelter under that mantle. Looking at it made him uncomfortable and he stuffed it in his pocket. He felt the cold metal of the pistol there and he caressed the handle and trigger and lock for a moment before bringing his hand out. He lit another cigarette and looked up at the night sky as the smoke lifted up like a ghost exiting its earthly sphere long eager to do so. The moon shined like an eye all white that watched over him and every person without prejudice and with equal vigilance.

Aspiring novelist. Frustrated theologian.