A Time of Sudden Death - Novel Submission
There is a light on in the basement and I must get up to turn it off. I don’t know how I know this at three a.m., but I do. It is like the light is a person or entity, calling me. I cannot let this deed go undone, and I get out of my comfy bed in the October morn and creep downstairs in my underwear, past the large dining room and two of my three kid sisters slumbering on the huge roll-out bed, creeping into the small kitchen, dark, but I feel the light now and open the door to the basement , four small steps, and a landing, and the basement door is closed but the light seeps through the space between floor and door, and all I have to do is open the door and flip the switch on the wall to the left.
My basement, though, scares me, always has at night, and even at times in daylight when I am alone in it. It is the room of isolation in our small stucco house. I have thought that something could come alive in this cold, cement grotto of a room and snatch me, carry me away, sequester me from my loud, loving family. Or, I have thought something could materialize out of the walls and kill me outright. I hold my breath – for I know there is something in there, maybe a river rat, they are all over our block along Wolf River -- and pull open the door quickly to see the Honorable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on the basement floor. His head only. He stares at me with those judgmental eyes that scared me so when I was little and we would have to watch him each night he came on TV, his face filling the grainy screen. My skin is all gooseflesh.
“Come on down, Daniel Patrick James Morrison, ” Bishop Sheen says, in that odd brogue-like voice, full of harrowing holiness. “I’d bless you if I could, but don’t seem to have the wherewithal.”
“Where’s your body?”
Though he is all head he wears his collar and a cross where you’d expect a neck.
“My body,” he says, glaring at me with those damning eyes, “is the body of Christ. Someday we will all leave our bodies and join our Creator. Or, Lucifer!” He shouts this last proper noun, and I’m hopeful that his voice has stirred my father, who, it occurs to me, would have no fear, for he loves Bishop Sheen, the only other person he makes us watch on TV besides Lawrence Welk, who is to blaring boredom what Bishop Sheen is to dark devotion.
“You’re a talking head.”
“I need nothing else to make my point, now, do I?” He cocks his head, for that is all he can do, unless, God forbid, he can make it rotate.
“Where have you gone, Bishop Sheen? I haven’t seen your show in years. Just you and the chalk board. Dad made, er, would never miss a show, and neither would the rest of us.”
“I left TV five years ago in 1957. It got to be a drag, though I had the highest ratings on TV, higher even than Milton Berle’s, who said I had better writers.”
“Dad never really liked Milton Berle. He said there’s something wrong with a guy who dresses like a woman.”
“Such a showman, Uncle Miltie,” Bishop Sheen says. “Nothing more, not an aberration of character, just a ploy to get people to watch. I had my own, the teachings of Christ.”
“Can you wait a minute, your Excellency? I want to get my father, he’s a big fan of yours, knows all about you. He says you’re from El Paso, like the Marty Robbins song.”
“No, Danny. I came for you.”
My goose pimples are renewed.
“What is it you want?”
“Just the great relief of talking with you. I have something to reveal to you.”
“What’s it like growing up in the Wild West and then becoming the most famous priest in the world?”
“I’m not from that El Paso. I’m from El Paso, Illinois. A small town that reeks of pig shit.”
“You’ve sinned, Your Excellency.”
“No sin, just a vulgarity. Even a priest of the Lord is allowed the odd vulgarity or two now and then. I am, after all, only human.”
He cocks his head again and smiles the wry smile I’ve seen so often, a smile that thinly hides the message that I always took from Bishop Sheen, that I am damned to go to Hell.
I am on the very top step of the staircase, afraid to go further. I can’t believe that our conversation hasn’t roused at least one of my four sisters or my mother; Dad sleeps through anything, which is why I figure that I’d have to wake him.
“Come closer, Danny.”
D.F. A Time of Sudden Death- Tuscany Prize 2015 Novel Submission
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