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Returning the Heart

from The Reeducation of a Turd Peddler
by John Henry Peabody

HOLDING THE WHITE Jamba juice bag, Ksen walked back into her house to find Ward and Gerry sitting in the kitchen. Ward was scrimshawing a piece of soap with Gerry’s likeness on it.
  “Ah,” Ward got up, dropping the soap. “The elixir!”
  “Allow me,” Ksen said, looking into the bag and pulling out Gerry’s cup. “Gerry . . .”
  “Thank you, Ksen. So kind of you to go out and get something so healthy.”
  “And Ward, for you,” she handed her husband his malted, picking up the piece of carved soap and setting it on the counter. There she saw the black bag on the counter. “I see you’re all set to visit Father Sandoval.”
  “We’re ready,” Gerry fingered the bag with the malt in his other hand.
  “What do you think?” Ward asked him. “The greatest green tea malt in the state of California,” eyeing his Ksen.
  Gerry sipped, leaving a light mint mustache on his upper lip. “Splendid,” he said. “A nice balance of sweetness and wood.”
  “I find it so much better than a heavy meal,” Ward told him. “I sleep much better. And dream. Lovely dreams. I once saw a walrus on a rock who talked to me all night long.”
  Above the kitchen sink the wind chime tangled as a draft passed through the house. Gerry looked at the swinging chime as Ward and Ksen glanced at one another.
  “Where’s that draft coming from?” Gerry asked.

Forty minutes later, Ward knocked on the back door of the mission chapel.
  “Are you ready to rumble?”
  Gerry looked at him. “How’s that?”
  The door opened. Father Sandoval, in black slacks and sweater, white shirt and collar, stood in the yellow light to let them in.
  “Gentlemen!”
  Ward and Gerry came in and found themselves in the gift shop area of the interior. Shouldering the bag, Gerry knocked over a rotating stand of postcards. It hit the tile with a crash, postcards fluttering up and onto the floor. He grimaced.
  “Don’t worry,” Father said to him, herding the cards and stand into the corner. “No one’s here. You could knock over a case of brandy and no one would react.” He looked at Gerry holding the bag. “Follow me.”
  The three of them passed through the gift shop, past the side room displays and into the sanctuary.
  “My God, we’re here,” Gerry whispered, eyes wandering about the ceiling and walls.
  ‘Oh, you can speak if you like,” Father Sandoval said. “Like I said, we’re alone. Cry out if you need,” he and Ward laughed.
  Gerry took the bag off of his shoulder slowly.
  “Go ahead, Gerry,” Ward said. “Don’t be shy. It’s right here.” He pointed to the floor of the sanctuary. Gerry could see the imprints of the padres’ names on the tile. “This one here is Father Serra’s tomb. Put the heart on it.”
  Gerry placed the bag on the floor of the sanctuary and lifted the jar out. Father Sandoval and Ward softly exhaled at the sight of it. Gerry floated the jar in the air and laid it on the tile. Then he pulled the bag to the side and kicked it into the corner.
  “Perfect,” Father Sandoval said. “A perfect spot to place it.”
  Gerry looked at the both of them. “How will we . . .” he paused. “Merge the heart with the body, Father?”
  “We will,” he placed his hands on each of Gerry’s shoulders. “But first, Gerry, I want to say that because of your efforts we know that you have given your heart to us as well, whether you know it or not . . .” Father looked at Ward, who nodded with approval. “Before we leave this sanctuary tonight—before you leave this sanctuary tonight, I want you to sit with the heart.”
  “Me?”
  “I want you to sit with the heart and pray. I want you to meditate on what you have done.”
  “But, Father,” Gerry reached. “It is you that has kept the legacy alive. You should be the one to stay and pray with the heart.”
  “I will, Gerry. I will pray with this heart after you have left. But now . . .” Father Sandoval turned away.
  “Father Sandoval, you represent the long, unbroken line of holy men, the Spanish padres that built this church, that built these walls,” Gerry began to sweat and readjust himself. He thought he detected sparks coming from the side rooms, flairs of pictographs inching their way in.
  “I did build this church, Gerry. But not as a padre. Not as a Spanish padre.”
  “How do you mean?” Gerry cleared his eyes which were beginning to water.
  “I built this mission as an Indian, Gerry. My grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather made tile to fix the roof of the first chapel. My great, great uncle helped disinter Father Serra in 1882—you can see him in the photo—his legs dangling in the tomb. Have you seen the photo, Gerry? You must know the photo.” Father Sandoval looked at Ward who stepped forward.


The opening of Serra's grave in 1882. Father Sandoval's great, great uncle
is seen sitting, legs dangling, in Serra's grave.

 “Father Sandoval,” Ward spoke quietly.
  Gerry began the sweats, Father Sandoval doubling in front of him, Ward and his white beard becoming fiery at the edges. Gerry’s rods and cones began tuning in and out. “Sandoval?” Gerry reckoned. “Sandoval—you’re not Spanish?”
  “Gerry, I’m an Indian,” the Father said. “Sure, I’m a U.S. citizen, but I’m an Indian. My father and mother are Fornay Indians. . . Spanish? Of course,” he looked at Ward. “In name.”
  Gerry came to his knees, feeling his kneecaps on the tiles. He took a deep breath.   “Maybe you’re Mexican then?”
  “Many Mexicans are Indians, Gerry. That’s the whole idea—somos Indios.”
Ward looked at Gerry as he lay flatter on the tile floor. “Are you alright Gerry? Are you going to knock over the jar?”
  “No,” Gerry said. “I’m just tired . . . A little confused.”
  “Relax then. Sit with the jar. You deserve it,” Ward said, putting a hand on Father Sandoval’s shoulder. “We’ll be back in a little while, after you pray.”
  Gerry went to speak and only air came from his mouth. Taking a deep breath, he began to pull at his collar. “Hail, Mary, full of grace . . .”
  Father Sandoval and Ward listened to him as they exited through the gift shop, past the spilt postcard stand, across the tile, out the back of the building.


In the basement at the house on Lasuen, we watched Sean, in full regalia, finish his second Heineken, then step into the tunnel.
  “Wish me luck, compadres.”
  “I’ve run this drill many times,” Peter said. “You’ll do just fine, Sean.” handing him a flashlight.
“I know that part,” he said. “I mean wish me luck I don’t have to take leak after the two Heinekens.”
  There were a dozen or so tunnels that led to the mission from each of the properties. The breezy draft had a tendency to build the longer the doors were open, pulling dust, bugs, pebbles and hair towards the openings. By the time the wind reached Serra’s tomb, the bones and calcium powder of the man from Mallorca would rise up in the small space it was contained in, banging off the edges and chatter about. Tonight all the doors to all the tunnels in all the basements of all the houses owned by the Fornay were wide open, in cahoots, for the long awaited moment.
  “Pete,” Sean asked, hip deep in the dark. “What’s that Indian name that I am? Sexy Puss Man?”
  “Hew Saxlapush Yan,” Peter corrected him. “Hew Saxlapush Yan.” The Pelican Diviner.”
  Sean tried it again, “You Sassafrash Man. You Sexy Fringed Fan. You Fan of Cineplex Man . . . You Sasquatch Dan.”
  Peter shook his head with a half smile. “Don’t sweat it, Pelican Man. Do the job.”
  At that, Sean disappeared into the dark of the tunnel headed towards the mission, the yellow light in his hands casting small feather shadows backwards.

In the sanctuary, Gerry continued to pray over the heart. He couldn’t believe how much the moment had taken him over. He was being filled with the spirit, he realized. He could feel it on his shoulders, up from his legs and filling his heart. Sometimes the light would go completely out of the room—even the moonlight would shut out—then it would return in finer color than before, odd insects and frog patterns splaying from the edges of his eyes upon the walls.
  Soon he heard voices. Spirits? he wondered. The Holy Spirit?
  Gerry looked at the heart. It quivered lightly in the solution. Beneath the engraved names of Lasuen, Serra and Crespi the voices rose. He stopped praying for a moment to listen. There was tension beneath the stones. In the moonlight he could see the movement of thumping beneath the tile work covering Father Serra’s tomb. The jar shook, the formaldehyde moving again in the glass.
  “He is here!” Gerry held his arms up. Then, feeling that he had lost his modesty in a moment of exaltation, he knelt again, feeling the movement on the tiled floor.
Harder and harder the motion came from underneath him. Contact had been made. With a giant motion upwards, the tile cracked loose. It hit again and came up, broken and to the side. Finally, the tile flipped forward, knocking the jar over, breaking the glass. Gerry exclaimed. “Blessed Father! You are here! You have come to reclaim your heart.”
  Gerry pushed his hands through the formaldehyde and glass, touching the flesh of the organ. He cried out, pulling back. The stone was knocked up again, dust and broken tile mixed with the fluid. The smell of the preservative was overwhelming. Gerry laid sideways, seeing the light rise up out of the tomb as a feathered creature with a beak thrust up, its legs straddling the grave. Gerry cried. The creature danced in the formaldehyde and broken glass. Light flashed around the tomb, backlighting the display of feathers swinging to and fro. It spoke.
  “Glass, dammit, all over the floor.”
  Gerry slid back, away from the opening to see the figure, with lighted hands, push its wings into the shards and solution, gathering the heart into its chest.
  At that moment, Gerry realized how disturbed Father Serra’s existence had been. The noise and fear and diabolical figure that accompanied him seemed necessary proof of the two-century old condition he had endured.
  “You must take it!” Gerry called out, pushing farther back from the tomb. “Take it, Father!” The creature came back to hiss at Gerry and spun around. It held tightly to the heart, with the sound of glass wet in the solution falling from its chest, until it disappeared finally into the tomb. The head and feet lasted for a moment, outlined by light, then shot into the darkening hole.
  Gerry sat up, breathing heavily. He looked around. It was gone. Only flashes of silhouettes remained. For a moment he calmed himself to wonder about the images. His left foot dragged through the glass and formaldehyde. There were long wet feathers on the floor and the smell of fish. He closed his eyes and found comfort not seeing. He laid back on the tiles. His mind’s eye filled with a sunset, at the edge of a field where he had grown up. From the scrub, a black animal, just larger than a cat, came to him. It had a tall tail and a large white line running the length of its body. It showed its teeth and raised its stalk as it began to speak.
  Gerry Danskin had found his dreamhelper, which then sprayed him with its stinking heap.
  Holy Mephistis mephistis. Gerry was blinded then passed out

The Turd Peddler's Epilogue

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