The army of foreign mice that invaded Uñita Bendita didn’t know a thing about fruit trees, the toes of wax virgins or socially expected boundaries. They made nests in kitchen cabinets, in tangled hair, in thick books, and chewed holes in cacao pods before the fruit had time to ripen.
Fayth stopped at the edge of the cacao field, and wondered why the entire village had gathered under the mango grove. Ten minutes earlier, after hearing the ringing of the village’s bell, she had left her cottage to investigate the sound. She had been cleaning mouse droppings when the bell rang through the woods. It wasn’t Sunday, so it couldn’t be Padre Capilla calling church goers.
Whispers, Fayth recognized as The Carpenter’s, flew over everybody’s head and landed in the seventeen-year-old girl’s ears. Two years as a lifeguard for Cabaña Paraiso Escondido had blessed Fayth with the ability to detect distressed in speech, even if muffled by the gurgling of water pushing to swim into the lungs. The Carpenter was telling The Shoemaker something about Padre Capilla using a crab to get rid of the mice.
A crab? Fayth thought, but that’s… She was thinking that the idea of a crab eradicating an army of mice was ridiculous, but she remembered common sense and Padre Capilla didn’t always exist in the same realm. There were too many things about the holy man that didn’t add up. He constantly preached about the goodness of sharing and caring, and then stuffed himself with meat, fish, cake, wine, fruit, and nuts every evening, while his parish sat at home hoping their children’s growling bellies would inspire a sickly chicken to lay an egg.
“The mice ate Padre Capilla’s pantry,” The Carpenter said to The Shoemaker.
The Shoemaker said something back to the other man, but Fayth didn’t hear what; the girl was too deep in thought. Fayth did that a lot… think about things. She continued to wonder why Padre Capilla assumed a crab would kill mice. The priest had tried poison, mutilation warfare, a scientific maze, rotten and fresh cheese, blessings, fire, and exorcism, but the mice wouldn’t stop eating his food or his church.
“Fayth!” The voice of La Loca Minga, the sanest insane person in Uñita Bendita, smacked right into Fayth’s eardrum.
“You nearly stopped my brain, Minga.” Fayth shook her head to clear some of the buzzing. “Now I forgot what I was thinking about.”
“Well, I was talking to you,” said La Loca Minga. “And you just stood there looking all gone.”
“Sorry.” Fayth started walking towards the crow.
“It’s alright,” said La Loca Minga, scratching her shaved head and keeping up with Fayth. “I was just asking if it was true that Padre Capilla went to the other side of the world to get holy water to sprinkle around the cacao fields.” La Loca Minga’s memory wasn’t all there. Fayth had told her the story of the priest’s travels three times in the same number of days.
“Yes.” Fayth sighed, leaned closer to La Loca Minga, and said, “But he wrote to The Candle Maker, saying that environmental laws had closed the Son of God’s baptismal spot due to water pollution.” Padre Capilla’s letter had also explained that The Church was fighting the inconvenience with a decree that made every living organism that crawled out of the Jordan River holy and redemptive, and that he would stay a few days to see if he could catch something.
“Oh mother of us all.” La Loca Minga’s eyes widened as she looked towards the door of the church. “Did he just say the crab was holy?”
“Yes.” Fayth massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers and kept her eyes on Padre Capilla. The entire village sat in a half circle in front of the priest. Padre Capilla stood next to a huge glass bowl that held a hermit crab the size and shape of a small rotting lemon.
This is going too far, Fayth thought. I’m tired of cleaning mouse droppings, and I doubt this crab will change anything. “Excuse me, Padre.” She raised a hand and waved it at the priest. “But are you sure that’s a holy crab?” Fayth remembered that fish, doves, and asses had good reputations in the Bible, but she couldn’t recall anything positive about crustaceans, loose women or snakes.
“Of course it’s a holy crab, child.” Padre Capilla glared at the girl. He had been giving Fayth dirty looks ever since the day he had tried to cleanse Fayth’s sins by dipping her head in a nearby creek, and the girl said to him that she had already discussed her mistakes with her grandmother’s ghost, and the old woman had told her how to correct them. “I caught it myself,” continued the priest. Then he touched the crab, and a steady stream of something thick, sparkly and brown started to ooze out of the tiny animal and trickle out the glass bowl.
“Miracle!” cried The Candle Maker. She pushed The Shoemaker to the side and ran for the gleaming puddle.
But La Loca Minga had always been the luckiest person in Uñita Bendita. She had no family, but never went without food or care. The villagers shaved her head whenever it swarmed with lice, and coated her entire body with petroleum jelly whenever she came back from the woods covered in nothing but ticks. La Loca Minga was fast, too. No one was surprised when she zigzagged through the crowd and got to the crab before The Candle Maker did. With artful agility, the crazy woman stuck a finger in the growing pool. She put the smeared digit to her nose and recoiled. “It stinks like crap,” she said. After wiping the soiled finger on Padre Capilla’s robe, La Loca Minga walked away muttering about injustice, slow whores, misunderstood mice and stinky liars.
“Minga, what’s wrong with you!” The Candle Maker removed her headscarf, got on her knees in front of Padre Capilla, and started to rub the brownish spot La Loca Minga had left on the man’s holy tunic. She looked outraged and perhaps with justification. The people of Uñita Bendita had spent every cent they had to pay for their priest’s travel robes. After all, he had told them that a divine representative couldn’t step on holy ground looking like a mere man. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Minga,” The Candle Maker yelled and rubbed some more.
La Loca Minga turned around to face The Candle Maker. She formed a circle with her left index finger and thumb, drove her right index finger in and out of the makeshift hole, and shouted, “Holy whore!” before running away.
Padre Capilla said something to La Loca Minga, but no one listened to his words. All eyes were glued to the thick, brown, glowing trail that followed The Candle Maker’s steps as the woman rushed away from the crowd in tears.
This is an excerpt from one of my works in progress. I’ve been adding to it—very slowly—for quite some time. I thought it would be a short story, but a few years (and about 61,000 words) have informed me that I might have enough satire in me to fill a novel (or three).
On a different note (setting and genre), have you grabbed your free copy of AlmaMia Cienfuegos and Other Stories yet? If not, fly to Amazon and download the tale of our wild girl. And, of course, always share the goodness with your friends, family and total strangers… for tales that aren’t read, die horrible deaths.