Essentials of Living: Arthur Broomfield (Fiction)

Arthur Broomfield
Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet, short story writer, lessayist and Beckett scholar from County Laois, Ireland.

IS THE POPE A PROTESTANT?

Lucky pulled the burka awkwardly over his Manchester United shirt and Levi jeans. Even with a coarse slit cut up the back it was uncomfortable. He was a good stone overweight and even if it was the largest size he could get from those Pakistani women in Mary Street, who looked at him curiously, it was still designed for a woman’s body. It pinched him in some places and hung too loosely in others. To make things worse it was a sweaty, clammy August day. Even the leaves on the overhanging sycamore tree seemed to droop, motionless. Lucky floundered around the cramped tent as he continued to negotiate with the burka. Dying it hadn’t been such a good idea. I should have left it black, he thought. Litres of bleach had failed to transform it to the stunning white he’d imagined, leaving it, instead, a morass of undefined shades of grey. “It’s necessary,” he’d explained to his friend Timmy, “it gives me presence. All mystics wear Eastern garb.” Nearly ready now, he consoled himself, as he pulled the hood of the burka over his face, the top also slit to allow the visor to coincide with his eyes. He zipped the holdall carefully. No nosey victim could be let spot the litre bottle of Paddy whiskey and few plastic cups that remained there.
“Spiritual offering to the celestial spirits, Timmy, for their blessed intercession, once the virtuous deeds of the day have been sanctified”.   
Nothing to do now but light the incense.
********************************
 “I never heard of anything so corny,” Timmy remonstrated, when Lucky put the plan to him, after cricket training. “What if someone recognises me?”
“They won’t, they’re all farmers … move in different circles. I’ll collect you in the van that morning. You just play your part – okay,” said Lucky.
“You must think the people are pure eejits.”
***********************
 
“Father Looney is coming down on you today.” Billy O’Dunn rushed from mass with the news. 
“You’ve disturbed me, I was meditating. Can’t you respect the ambiance of the state of Nirvana.” 
Lucky was squatted in the lotus position on the floor of the small room that normally served as a kitchen-cum-living room. A statue of a plastic, overweight Buddha rested on a cardboard box that corresponded with his eye-line. The smell of burning incense and the melodious sound of pan pipes caught Billy by surprise.
“What’s all this jiggery pokery about?
“As you do ask, I’m invoking the Masters of the Divine spirits of the universe. I believe they will guide me in today’s sacred work.”
“Oh yeah? It’ll be sacred countin’ the cash – if you get any. Anyway, you’d better wake up from your trance, this boyo could put a stop to your gallop today.”
Billy flung an opened copy of the ‘Ballylanders Observer’ on a wicker table close to Lucky. It landed on a copy of   Spirituality for Beginners: The Akashic and me in a rural setting by Dr Paddy Moloney.
“That’s him, the Munster prop in the choker.” Billy gestured towards a photo on page three of the newspaper.
“Oh! Well now I’ll know him from my other priestly victims, should he decide to pay a courtesy call,” Lucky said.
“That he’ll do an’ all. He warned us all at mass,’ ‘don’t go near him.  How can a man who never darkened the door of a church be a faith healer,’ he said”?
“Well, they were quick enough to take my money for the ad in the parish notes,” Lucky said. 
***********

Lucky’s temple was a leftover from a previous life, burger vendor at the Dylan concert at Slane It was big enough to hold a small table and two chairs and high enough for a man of average height to stand. Visitors were trickling into the Ballylanders and District Annual Agricultural Show and Field Day. A few curious farmers, on their way in, studied a stencilled poster in bold red and black paint pinned to Maharaj Mustafa’s Healing Temple. It boasted of an impressive list of cures performed by the Maharaj, that ranged from St Vitus Dance to Alice in Wonderland Syndrome and bowel disorders of many descriptions. 
Parked close to the entrance and first in the queue, Timmy was beginning to sweat up in the wheelchair. Next to him lay a weak-voiced little lady in her late forties, also in a wheelchair. She was being cared for by a youth of about eighteen. A son thought Timmy.
*******************************************

“You’re not much like your picture,” Lucky said.
“You’re a picture yourself. Your poor mother must be revolving in her grave,” Father Looney said. “Take off that scarecrow’s suit and let the people see who you are.”
“I will when you do likewise with that Roman collar,” Lucky said. 
Father Looney, all six foot and sixteen stone of him, lips pursed, eyes fired like an Exorcist on a mission that would end in ridding the community of a demon of indescribable horror, had stormed into Lucky’s makeshift temple, testing the fabric of the entrance flap in a charge that got its inspiration from a Young Munster prop barging into a ruck.
 “Fifty years ago, we’d have had you burnt at the stake. Faith healer my incense.”
“Sit down and cool off,” Lucky said, as he hurriedly closed the entrance.





Billy O’Dunn could sense trouble. The din continued from inside the temple. If it didn’t stop Lucky would lose his clients.

“There’s only one thing for it Billy, wheel me in there now,” Timmy said.


Billy opened the entrance flap of the temple and secured it back to make room for the wheelchair. Timmy had a direct view of the inside. Now sitting down, the black backed priest, white collar clearly visible, was leaning forward. His elbows rested on the table; hands clasped in front of his face. Across the table stood the burka clad Lucky, his bleached hair sticking out in all directions from the slit in the crown of the garment. Tall anyway, now he struck a rigidly erect pose that levelled out the humps and hollows of the burka.
“My God, he’s healing a priest,” whispered the little lady in the wheelchair.
Lucky beckoned to Billy to push in Timmy through the open entrance. “now You may leave carer” he said, “and close the temple entrance please.”
“This I insist on witnessing,” said Father Looney.
“Indeed, you are most welcome Father,” said Lucky, “it’s inspiring to have a man of God witness the work of the Gods. We are united in faith.”

Lucky adjusted the wheelchair so that Timmy had his back to Fr. Looney. He stood about a yard back, his arms stretched towards both men, eyes closed tight behind the visor of his burka.
“I will now summon the energies of the universe. My body will act as a medium. You must stay perfectly still.”
The summoning consisted of an amalgam of a synopsis of the Hari Krishna chant
Hara Krishna
Hara Krishna
Krishna Krishna
Hara Hara
that he’d picked up on a research visit to the Hara Krishna temple on St Stephen’s Green,
a woo hu hu, 
woo hu hu
woo hu hu 
interpretation of the Clare shout and a couple of blasts of the Ullaloo, an eighteenth-century Irish funeral song. The rendition was followed by a minute of calm during which Lucky stood motionless, arms still outstretched, head now thrown back, apparently in deep communication with the energies of the universe.
“My child … my child … arise …. Arise …. ARISE.”
The whole rehearsed ceremony was worked through till Billy was called in. After a donation of fifty euros was handed over – acknowledged by Father Looney’s head nodding in unison with the slow upward turn of his pursed lips – a shaky Timmy nervously pushed his wheelchair ahead of him out through the entrance, on to the show and beyond. Billy walked in close attendance gently asking people to “stand aside, please.”
“I don’t know who that fella is, but I know there’s nothing O’Dunn wouldn’t do for a tenner,” said Fr. Looney. “We’ll see how well you’ll work with Madge Brennan.”

Everyone in the parish felt for Madge – struck down by a mysterious virus shortly after her Paddy got himself wrapped around the power-take-off of his tractor. Her suffering did indeed seem a blessing to her. She had seen her two eldest children, Anne Marie and Paul, graduate in medicine and physiotherapy from University College Dublin. The four younger boys were noted for being “a credit to her” and were expected to do equally well when their time came.
“God bless you father, I didn’t expect to see you here,” Madge said.
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” Lucky sang out rather hurriedly, hoping to forestall any intervention from the priest that might hinder the healing process. Instead, Father Looney pulled his chair to the side of the temple – to make space for the widow – where his big frame crouched, to accommodate his back to the slope of the canvas. His eyes sparkled. His face shone with the glow of a man watching his first pint of Guinness filling on a thirsty July day. 

**********

“It’s time we talked,” said Father Looney.
Billy O’Dunn stuck his head into the temple.
“There’s a queue a mile long here to see you,” he said. “What'll I tell them? “
“Tell them the healing is over for today. Tell them …. tell them my energies have dissipated,” 
“Well at least the shoutin’ has eased off,” said Billy. Now the two men were sitting on either side of the table, facing each other, the bottle of Paddy and two plastic cups between them. Lucky had taken off the burka; his pale face was in contrast with the red of the Man. U. jersey. Father Looney’s black jacket hung from his chair; his collar opened at the back; its mark still imprinted on his neck.
“And fasten the entrance on your way out – here’s something for you,” Lucky said.


The two men sat in silence, gazing into their whiskey.
 Lucky broke the hush,
 “It’s not what I did to her, it’s what she did to me,” said Lucky.
“Timmy didn’t fool you. Yeah, he was just a ready-up to lure the punters. But Christ, when she dragged herself up out of the wheelchair and tottered towards me, I could see the Resurrection in her eyes.”
Lucky swilled the whiskey round his plastic cup and looked Father Looney straight in the eyes.
“This wasn’t meant to happen   I never had a victim in a wheelchair, just gout and piles … that sort of stuff.
“What’s going on Father, you’re the real man of God,”
 Father Looney raised his plastic cup to his lips, paused as if he was going to say something, checked himself, left it down, stared into it. After another pause he raised his head and looked straight back into Lucky’s eyes. 
“I’m no more a man of God than you are Lucky. I gave it up years ago. But I can’t say it. If I’m like that – a country priest – then…then is the Pope a Protestant?
  Father Looney paused again, took a sip of whiskey.
“You tell me,” said Lucky.
  “We give them what they want because … because … that’s how we are. Repentance … forgiveness … the body and blood … the afterlife, nothing that can be proved, don’t you see? Then you come along and put it all to the test. You put it up to belief itself. That’s why the Church doesn’t want your sort around the place. But look what happens!
“You and your damn wallalooing …  skip to the loo. My ...my. …   Madge Brennan’s gone home, thanking God and …. and the universe. Where do we go now?”

Lucky had sat with his head buried in his hands through the priest’s agonising. Occasionally he’d pull his hair, or tear his scalp, or raise his head to gaze into some vague space.  He reached for his whiskey.
“An hour ago, I believed in nothing only money. I couldn’t take her money… I couldn’t take it.”
Lucky took another sip.
“Can’t you see it now!” Father Looney’s big fist came down hard on the table.
“It’s us that’s lost our beliefs. She’s walked out of this … this … temple… no different than when she was pushed in. We’re the ones who’ve changed … it’s changed us … she’s changed us.”
“Yea” said Lucky. “It’s … it’s like …. like we told her a corny story and she believed it…only the story has come true...! It worked for her not because it’s true but because she believed.”
Lucky ran his hands through his peroxide locks. 
The priest took another sip, straightened himself and gazed somewhere into the distance.
“I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to say,” he said. “She’s cured, that we can see – if seeing is believing.” “All I can say is,” he said “that I don’t now believe that I don’t now believe”.
Lucky looked at the nearly full whiskey bottle and the two cups.
“I think it’s time to finish the whiskey,” he said.

Outside the temple a pleasant breeze had cleared the muggy conditions. The leaves on the sycamore tree were lively now, rustling in the breeze. Bees hummed, adding to the music. Bees and leaves in harmony. And, for those who looked through the green leaves, the sky beyond was blue and deep.

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