Copyright © 2011 by m. benedict. All rights reserved.
On the day that baby Amerigo was to be baptized, all of the water in the baptismal font evaporated. The collection of aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends gathered around the pedestal and, as they pitied the sickly child and listened while the priest coughed himself into the beginning of the ceremony, not one of them noticed the absence of water.
The priest’s coughs were dry and unproductive. They gave way to an equally raspy voice that struggled to initiate the prayers. Amerigo’s parents were the only present not looking at their baby as he complained in a knot of wiggles in his godmother’s arms. Their eyes sought the solace of the church floor.
When it came time for the renunciation of Satan, the priest was incapable of speaking. His coughs doubled him over and Amerigo’s father was at his side to assist him, make sure he was okay. The others watched and listened. Some of them felt a dryness in their throats. Whether this was out of sympathy for the priest or from a lack of moisture in the air, it would be hard to say. Amerigo’s godfather struggled with a dry spot in his throat so intense that he had to remove his hand from the baby’s shoulder to cover his mouth. As the priest recovered, so did the godfather who replaced his hand on Amerigo. The ceremony continued:
Do you renounce Satan?
I do renounce him.
And all of his works?
All of his works.
And, at this point, the priest opened and closed his mouth without producing any sound. His tongue searched for the necessary moisture to continue along his gums and the insides of his cheeks.
Amerigo’s parents did not remove their eyes from the tiled church floor.
And [more coughs] … and all of his pomps?
I do renounce him.
The relief in the congregation, like the moisture of a patch of fog, was palpable.
And, as the priest removed his stole and redressed with a white one, baby Amerigo began to cough with a vigor unknown to his parents. He began to cry between coughs, and his godmother rocked him and bounced him in her arms. All others remained still. Amerigo was all but inconsolable until he released a verbose hack and a modest amount of blood from his mouth. The godfather struggled to produce his handkerchief but did not do so in time.
The blood ran and reached Amerigo’s christening dress, the one worn by many others of his family.
The priest rushed through the profession of faith. Whether this was for his own or Amerigo’s benefit would be hard to guess at.
Will you be baptized?
[the godparents] He will
And, while he scooped his hands in the font:
Then I will baptize you in
Everyone looked from Amerigo to the Priest’s hands.
They were empty.
When it was mutually decided that someone had neglected to fill the font, a couple of Amerigo’s uncles were sent for water from the church offices. As these men were absent for some time, those that remained enjoyed ample time to develop their own coughs. Not a word was heard between the dry heaves of chests.
The men returned empty handed. None of the sinks in the whole building relinquished a drop. As a general practice, the ceremony would then have been postponed. Amerigo’s condition, as the godparents reminded the priest, would not allow for such a postponement. Amerigo was not expected to survive the week.
An aunt familiar with the church, she was a regular volunteer, announced she would be right back with an armful of water bottles from the soup kitchen. She did not return for some time. The coughs, however, subsided. The aunt brought back a single water bottle.
It was empty.
As it was passed around the uncles for inspection, she explained that all of the bottles were in a similar state. They remained completely sealed but empty.
At this point, Amerigo’s mother began to sob and a crow flew in and hopped up to the font. It jumped and perched. The mother’s sobs progressed into considerable cries. And, when Amerigo’s godfather once again offered his handkerchief for the benefit of the ceremony, it was turned down. The mother’s cries were without tears. The crow dipped his beak twice into the font, swooped down, and then hobbled out the door.
The baptism party was now a frenzy of coughs and questions. The priest resumed his uncontrollable wheezings. Amerigo kicked in his godmother’s arms. His mother’s cries were now supplemented by exclamations of God’s desire to punish her for her sins. Amerigo’s father, after some effort, was able to quiet and convince the party into processing to a nearby pond.
They all left the church in a mob of people and prayers.
God, please cleanse baby Amerigo.
Allow his mother the peace and satisfaction of knowing her dying son
will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.
The procession continued as they wound the suburban streets to the nearby park blessed with the man-made water feature. The sun embraced each and every one of them in an unbearable heat. Their skin, it should be noted but without surprise, did not produce or collect any sweat. They panted and heaved like dogs through the park. The dried grass crunched and snapped underneath their feet.
Amerigo’s father arrived at the pond first. Instead of relief, excitement, celebration, grateful prayer, renewed anticipation of the removal of his dying son’s original sin, the father’s arrival produced only disappointment and then more panic. The pond was a small crater filled only with mud. The suggestion that the mud be blessed and used for the sacrament was quickly dismissed. It was not, however, without support.
Much of the party was exhausted and dehydrated. While some continued in their attempts to solve the crisis at hand, others found and raced each other to a drinking fountain. The first cousin to reach it was blessed with not water, but a brown, burning liquid. He greedily gulped it and guarded it from his uncles and aunts until a brawl broke out.
Soon everyone was at the fountain of gasoline.
They struggled with one another as they fought their way to it. An aunt would reach the promise of moisture, licking at the stream as she was pulled from the fountain. The priest was trampled in his attempts and unconscious on the dead grass. The godmother, who had resisted temptation to this point, abandoned Amerigo on the ground and joined the struggle. The baptism party remained in conflict until too weak to push and pull and shove.
They coughed and writhed on the ground at the foot of the drinking fountain that bubbled gasoline, unable to hear the last cries of the unbaptized baby Amerigo.