Selections from The Gospel According to Father Coffee
Father Coffee's sermons began to take on a darker note after the carnival left. "You think," he said in a tenor brogue, "that your life is hard here in this outpost. You think that your husband doesn't pay attention to you. Your wife doesn't give herself enough to you. Your children don't pay attention to your feeble parents. There's never enough money. People get sick and get old and die. Well, let me tell you. We were not born from darkness and silence. When we were born, we were released from a world of suffocation, anguish, fiery pain and gasping for air. And no matter how you lead your life, merit and demerit, you will return to that state of unremitting despair and relentless pain. This life is fine, fine and dandy. No matter how bad things are, you are not where you were. And not where you are going. The worst of times are the best of times."
There was a rise of sin in the village. It was gradual, but Father Coffee noted the increase in the weekly confessions. The ancient ritual that began with Bless me Father, for I have sinned, was now followed by a new, more extreme litany: Father, I beat my wife, and Father, I kicked the dog, and Father, I committed adultery with Mrs. Miller, and Father, I had relations with a goat, and Father, I used the tractor to run over my neighbor's new Pontiac. There were enigmas outside of the confessional also. Vincente, the only teetotaler rancher in the area, smelled of a bad red Portagee wine at the 9: 00 o'clock mass. After the priest carefully placed the host on Mrs. Caldera's tongue, she immediately began chewing on it. In the sacristy, Harold, the intellectually challenged gas station attendant, gargled holy water. Father Coffee walked through the town to find out what the hell was going on. The barber complained that the kids were especially unruly, swatting his clippers away. The pharmacist described a massive increase in requests for bromides and digestive disorder medicinals. The school teacher said the children had forgotten an entire academic year. On the street, dogs purred and cats growled. He saw Mrs. Fitzgerald and the grimiest bum in town, Arnold, taking turns gulping out of a cold bottle of Schlitz. The next day the bull died. He lay dead on the yellow field next to the factory. Billows of blue white smoke poured out from the factory's tall thin chimney stacks. Smoke shadows crossed over the great dead bull. The ranch men stood around the Andalusian lump of power and majesty. "The factory fluoride killed him," Cain, the young ranch hand, said pointing up to the billowing smoke. "Santa Muerte," Manuel, El Bracero, said as he blessed himself. When they opened the bull's dead mouth they saw two rows of perfectly white teeth. "Floride!" Cain cried. People had questioned Cain because he was incredibly close to his bossy mother and had never married. He figured that was none of their business. Besides, the priest had never been upset in the confessional about his sexual behavior, just giving him a few Our Father's and a couple of Hail Mary's, not bothering to tell him to go forth and sin no more. Cain brought Father Coffee out to the field to give Last Rites to the magnificent animal. That night Father Coffee tried something new. Instead of launching from the church peak, he spun in a circle in the garden cemetery. He had seen a picture of the dervishes in the Saturday Evening Post and wanted to try it. He spun upwards, then over the town. From his vantage point, he saw town children vomiting, husbands hitting, wives crying. After seeing the dead bull and the factory smoke, the priest guessed it was some odd evil emitted from the factory. Father Coffee turned east from the town, flew over the factory and plunged into the tallest chimney stack of the Dow Chemical Company. As he nose dived down he prayed, Let me be your breath, Dear Jesus. He inhaled. His lungs nearly burst from the fiery factory made napalm smoke. The next morning, still coughing, Father Coffee calmly walked to the plant holding up an olive wood cross. The workers quickly opened the gates for him. He walked around the great factory until he found the main electrical plug. He quickly leaned over, grabbed the python-like black electrical cord and yanked. He had unplugged the factory. The machinery ground to a halt, there was silence and thereafter significantly less trouble in the town.
* * *
Father Coffee did not question his night flying. He figured if he thought too much about it, self-consciousness would kill it. Besides he had his hands full with his three wards. The church housekeeper, Mrs. O'Hanorahan, had become obsessed with the three boys’ bad behaviors. The epitome of their juvenile delinquency came the morning they tied a rope from the cross at the peak of the church and took turns swinging by their feet around the building like they were performing the Danza de los Voladores in Veracruz. The oldest, Jackie, flew and screamed in delight. The youngest, Timmy, crashed into the stained glass window portraying Christ's agony at Gethsemane. Mrs. O'Hanorahan held her faithful broom ready for the middle boy, Bobby as he swung around the corner of the church. She smacked the flying screaming Bobby which reversed his course and sent him the other way around the church like a boy tether ball. Before the third smack, Father Coffee stopped his housekeeper by standing in front of her holding a cross as if she were to be exorcized. She walked away, broom in tow, muttering, "Ah, bless me St. Patrick, 'tis a fool's parish."
The broken stained glass window and flustered housekeeper did not deter Father Coffee from delivering his weekly sermon the next Sunday morning. "Please note the broken Christ," he said, pointing to the colorful stained glass shards below the cardboard covered window. "He was in agony at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Now he is not. How can anyone be in agony if they are tasting a good green olive? I know, I know. An acquired taste. But, still. A good green olive overrides agony. Any day. Gustat bonum, est etiam in malo olice. Even a bad olive tastes good. What if Christ would have grown tired of sweating blood and eaten a couple good ripe green olives. We wouldn't be worshiping a cross. We'd be worshiping an olive. Veracruz? Nay, Vera Aceituna! The True Olive. Wouldn't history be different if Constantine saw an olive instead a cross? Chew on that one. Go in peace. In the name of the Kalamata, Nicoise and The Holy Martini. Amen."