Father Eduardo Arroyo rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet. The short half hour of kneeling in prayerful adoration before his God severely stiffened the joints of the fifty-seven-year-old cleric. The priest winced at the pains which lanced through his thin legs. Father Arroyo resisted the temptation to lament over how much soft tissue, ligaments and tendons, he had lost to the plague eating away at him from the inside. Instead, the priest recalled Saint Paul’s words to the Colossians and made them his own as he took three faltering steps on numbed feet towards the Eucharist centered in the golden, sunburst-shaped monstrance. “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I fill up what is lacking in your afflictions, O Christ.”
With his hands placed on the chapel altar, Father Arroyo genuflected carefully. A fiery stab of pain shot through the bending knee.
“For you, my Lord,” the priest prayed, silently offering up his pains, joining them to the tortures suffered by his loving God.
A minute later, when the pangs subsided, Arroyo pulled the lunette out of the back of the monstrance. The small, silver, crescent held the Blessed Host firmly in a groove carved into its concave edge. The priest transferred it to the tabernacle and closed its’ doors. Arroyo then bowed, pushed the horn-rimmed glasses back up the aquiline nose which dominated his broad face and finally limped of the chapel.
The smell of roasting garlic greeted Arroyo in the hall. A heavier scent, oily and meaty, wafted through the air beneath it. His taste buds stirred to life as he made his way slowly down the long hall. With every step down the long corridor the sharp pains receded to a dull throbbing.
All three members of the parish staff were gathered in the kitchen. Johnny Chang, the priest’s deacon was sitting straight and upright at a round table centered in the room. The tall and lean-limbed young man was slicing up a small loaf of bread. Chang was the native New Yorker of the staff, baptized in the very Chinatown church where they all now served. Behind him were two nuns. Sister Josephina was a middle-aged Haitian, her dark and plump features were wrapped in the white habit of the Dominican Order. She was bent over the stove, fluffing up a pot of rice. To her left, Sister Angelica, a milk-pale and freckled young Iowan, habited in Benedictine black, was cutting up a head of lettuce on a counter beneath a bank of cupboards.
“Smells great in here,” Father Arroyo announced as he entered the kitchen.
“That would be the garlic-roasted pigeons, father,” Sister Josephina said as she slipped oven mitts over her hands. “They should be ready.”
“Good, because I’m famished enough to eat a whole flock of pigeons, sister.”
“That would be a kit of pigeons, father, not a flock of pigeons,” Sister Angelica corrected him.
“Are you certain, sister?”
“Fairly so, father.”
The priest shot his deacon a questioning look.
Johnny Chang shook his close-cropped head. “I wouldn’t challenge Our Lady of Trivial Pursuit if I were you, father. That’s never ended well for any of us.”
“No, it hasn’t,” Father Arroyo said, turning back to Sister Angelica. The Benedictine nun was grinning impishly as she divided the shredded romaine into four glass bowls. “Fine, I’m hungry enough to eat a whole kit of pigeons.”
“And I could eat the whole caboodle,” Sister Josephina added as she pulled the sizzling iron pan out of the oven. “But there were only four birds in this squadron. We’ll have to settle for one a piece, I’m afraid.”
“Bless you Sister Josephina,” Arroyo said. “You have saved me yet again from falling into the sin of gluttony.”
“Remember that next time you’re prescribing penance, father,” Sister Josephina said, placing the pan across two of the oven’s burners.
“It’s a deal, sister. Henceforth I shall insist self-flagellation be administered by nothing harsher than a wet noodle.”
“You’re too kind father.”
“Vocational hazard, my child,” Father Arroyo said taking a seat at the table. “So Johnny, how did your shift go?”
“It was quiet, father,” Johnny said, cutting the last slice. “Mr. Simmons and Mr. Highet have started coughing up blood, however. You might want to pay them a visit later tonight.”
Arroyo nodded somberly. “I’ll see them after dinner.”
The plague that was killing them and everyone on Manhattan was popularly referred to as the Mold because of the fibrous lesions it left in the wake of its passage through the body. The Mold spores initially nested themselves in the lungs before spreading throughout its host. While the steady erosion of tendons and ligaments was a constant and painful drain on the quality of life for the infected, it was the loss of the lungs that usually killed them off.
“And Mrs. Greeley, father,” Sister Angelica said while quartering a pair of tomatoes. “You should add her to tomorrow’s morning visits. That poor woman is suffering terribly. But oh my, she is so brave about it. I don’t think she has but a few days left in her.”