“Sensors indicate traces of Human Figalarto on this planet. Some sources are higher than others. Our missing probes must be the genesis of Human Figalarto, confirm.”
“Confirming. Confirming. Confirmation complete. Spectral analysis shows the missing probes are the source of Human Figalarto.”
“Find their origin.”
“Yes their origin.”
“Pinpointing. Pinpointing. North America. Pinpointing. United States. Pinpointing. Pinpointing. Florida. Pinpointing. Naked.”
“We must go to Naked, Florida.”
“Wait! Extra info. Calculating. Calculating. Powerful new source of Human Figalarto located. Pinpointing. North America. Pinpointing. United States. Pinpointing. California. Pinpointing. San Diego.”
“We must go to San Diego.”
“Yes, San Diego, then Naked.”
“Yes, then Naked.”
A jeweled cathedral shimmered in the sun. Its crystal spires twisted up towards the heavens. Stained glass windows lined each side of the church depicting the Stations of the Cross. Ten-foot tall topiaries of the Passion dotted the manicured garden. Colored lights coiled around each one twinkling in a choreographed dance.
Inside, a calliope swelled to a climax as voices sang in harmony and hands clapped in unison, “Give me that old time religion before there was television; give me that old time religion in my soul.”
Reverend Fadious Noot strutted across the floor in a black jacket. It hugged his wiry frame like a snake’s skin. Silver peppered his dark hair. On his back was a bedazzled Jesus nailed to a cross. A glittery black tie snaked down his neck and disappeared behind a gold lame vest.
“Friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters, treacherous and trusting, ask yourself this: who loves ya baby?” Fadious looked up and winked. “Sister Flawless Superior, hit it.”
She nodded, filling the space between them with music.
A choir of nuns dressed in black habits emblazoned with sparkly Pietas began to sing
“Jesus, loves to love you baby. Jesus, loves to love you baby.” They clapped their hands in time to the music. “When you’re thinking so much of he, it’s in his heart you want to be. Jesus, loves to love you baby. Jesus, loves to love you baby.”
Reverend Noot stood at the center of the chanting nuns, opened his arms and smiled wide. “Before I start the sermon, remember this my precious lambs, as you reach deep into your pockets and purses, be generous for Jesus.”
The choir began to sing, “Be generous for Jesus, so Hell doesn’t freeze us. Be generous for Jesus, yes, indeed!” The nuns alit from the front of the cathedral and into aisles passing around collection plates. “Be generous for Jesus, so the Lord can feed us. Be generous for Jesus, yes, indeed!”
Quinn stifled a yawn.
Matthew, his seventeen-year-old adopted son, sat next to him at the back of the church. He looked as bored as Quinn.
The lights narrowed to a spotlight on Fadious’ face. With righteous anger in his voice, he raised his fist. “The dead in Christ will rise, and we shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord.”
Quinn glanced over at Matthew, who passed the time zapping aliens on his smartphone.
Matthew ignored the shouts of elation. His light brown hair swept across his forehead, and his face, which still had a layer of baby fat, looked down at his phone.
“Matthew!” whispered Lucrezia, who sat to his right. She wore a pink linen jacket with matching skirt. The force of her melodic tone gave weight to both syllables of his name. “I know damned well you can hear me. Put the phone away. You’re in church for Christ’s sake.” Lucrezia’s pillbox hat, with its feathers and half veil, cast a shadow over her face. “It’s bad enough you’re dressed in ratty jeans, an old t-shirt, and stinky sneakers, but this is too much.”
Matthew’s blue eyes remained fixed on his phone.
Her voice increased in irritation as she stared, until he responded to her growing ire.
He projected his thoughts and didn’t look up, I only came tonight because you begged me. Why can’t you just leave me alone? I can leave if it will make you feel better, said Matthew with telepathic cheek. Fad won’t care, and if he does, I don’t care. His fingers danced across the surface of his phone as he shot down more flying saucers. I just went up another level. The smile in his eyes and the petulance in his thoughts threw fuel on the fire of Lucrezia’s reprimand.
You’re not going anywhere. It’s Easter, Goddamn it! What the hell is wrong with you? She elbowed him in the ribs. Your mother wanted you to be a priest for Christ’s sake. Show some respect while you’re in church. She turned back towards Fadious and fingered her Rosary.
Quinn did not want to be in church any more than Matthew did. He glanced at his son. At least I had the good sense not to show it. It took all his concentration to keep from laughing at Matthew’s rebuke. He knew he had to, it was too soon for that kind of casual interaction between them. Matthew continued to blame him for his difficulties. Quinn had to force himself to play it cool. He was glad Lucrezia gave up trying to get him to attend church every Sunday. Be thankful for small victories. He tried to ignore the drama by looking up at the glass ceiling. The planet Mars peeked through the clouds. I’d have to go to Mars to get out of attending church on holidays. Quinn sighed as the stars shone and the clouds rolled by.
“Quinn!” Lucrezia glared at him. “Stop daydreaming!”
He shook his head and blinked several times.
“Matthew, knock it off! If I have to endure this spectacle so should you. Besides,” he added, smiling, “misery loves company.”
He knew well enough not to look at Lucrezia. After so many years together, he needed no visual confirmation to verify the direction of her trenchant glare. As his words dissipated into the past, Matthew powered down the phone.
Quinn glanced at Matthew; I’ve had to put up with Fad’s nonsense for a hell of a lot longer than you have. Buck up. The laugh he tried to suppress bubbled to the surface.
The woman in front of them turned around and put her finger to her lips, “Shush.”
It called Lucrezia’s attention from Matthew. “Are you laughing?” Her eyes narrowed and focused on Quinn like a camera lens.
“No,” he said in a quiet voice, trying to deflect her umbrage. Quinn avoided her gaze and looked straight ahead.
Matthew leaned forward. “It sounded like laughing to me.” He had a smirk on his dimpled face and a twinkle in his eyes.
“There’s no laughing in church,” she whispered. “So both of you shut the hell up!” Lucrezia rolled a bead from her rosary between her thumb and forefinger.
Fadious paused for a moment to look in Quinn’s direction then slammed his fist on the podium. “The times of the Gentiles will continue to the end of the age.” Heads nodded in agreement and shouts of amen punctuated his words.
“The world’s governments will organize without a fight, through satanic deception.” He slammed his fist again. “Before Christ returns, Earth’s major armies will launch a desperate attack. They will do this for control, for power, and for the land God has given to His people.” The words rang out through the crowded church, filling the air with a white cloud of fervor.
Matthew exhaled, puffing out his cheeks, and turned toward Lucrezia, I’ve heard this a million times before. We both know what’s next.
I don’t give a flying f…
Matthew cut her off mid word. He whispered with an I-got-you smile and a taunting, singsong tone. “You’re in church.”
Lucrezia removed her hatpin and adjusted her hat. “I don’t care if you know it by heart, it’s not the point.” She fixed her eyes on his. You are here to give thanks for your blessings and to ask forgiveness for your sins. So get over it! Because next year you’re going to hear it a million and ....
I get the picture. Matthew fidgeted in the pew and continued to look at Lucrezia. I don’t know why you even care. This isn’t a real church. Fadious isn’t a real preacher. None of the nuns are real nuns, and you’re not a real Christian any more than that father of yours was a real Pope.
Bite your tongue before I take that pointy little head of yours and shove it up your ass. You know damn well that my father was a real Pope. The College of Cardinals elected him.
Only because he threatened to have their families killed if they didn’t.
Lucrezia gasped and her eyes opened wide. That is a big lie. Nobody ever proved a thing!
That’s because they didn’t have CSI back then.
She turned her head with a scowl and lined her lips with lavender lip-gloss.
Whatever! Matthew scratched his head and whispered to Quinn. “Is it my imagination, or is Fad getting more long-winded every year? I think he enjoys making us miserable.”
Lucrezia pursed her lips, “Stop whining! She nudged Quinn, “You’re no better than Matthew.”
“Me? What did I do? Why are you dragging me into this? What more do you want?”
“How about an open mind? I can see you sitting there and counting down the seconds until this is over.” She held her rosary in her manicured hands. The pink of her nail polish matched the pink crystals of her rosary beads. “Now both of you shut the fuck up and pay attention. He’s getting to my favorite part.”
Building to a climax, Fadious continued, “When judgement arrives, the Lord will come to the anointed place in the same manner he ascended into heaven.”
His arms thrust upward as he accentuated each word and his face took on a look of ecstasy. “This was the place of His agony, and it will be the place of His glory. The Lord will come with His holy ones to fulfill every word He has spoken.”
Quinn jumped up. His dark navy suit hugged his muscular physique as he stomped his feet and clapped his hands. “Amen, brother, Amen.” He waited with enthusiasm for what he knew would follow.
Lucrezia clenched her jaw. “Now you’re just being a jerk!”
Quinn enjoyed seeing her struggle to maintain an unperturbed look. It was his modest little payback for having to sit through this torture yet again. “Yes dear,” he said while failing to stifle a self-satisfied grin.
“I wish you could feel pain, because I’d like nothing more right now than to stick you with my hatpin.”
“Yes dear.” He and Matthew burst out laughing. The irritation in her voice was music to his ears until he looked up and wondered what the strange metallic thing was that just vanished behind a cloud.
The congregation filed out of their pews.
Lucrezia nudged Quinn. Her voice was sharp with irritation. “Come on.”
Reverend Noot waved his arms and whistled to get everyone’s attention. “Don’t forget, the Easter egg hunt for the children begins in ten minutes. In honor of Jesus, we have fourteen Faberge Eggs and a slew of smaller ones filled with all sorts of goodies for the kids.”
“Sister Mary Confectionary baked Jesus, Joseph, and Mary cookies with an organic, orange and pineapple glaze. They’re gluten free. Yum!” He extended his arm in a grand fashion towards her. “Take a bow.”
Sister Confectionary curtsied to enthusiastic shouts.
Reverend Noot extended his other hand in the opposite direction. “Sister Almond Joy made chocolate, coconut crunch cookies with pan roasted pecans. Come on Sister, don’t be shy.”
She took five steps forward and twirled in place. Sister Almond Joy clasped her hands together and bowed to cheers and whistles as the congregation once again started to disperse.
“Parents, listen up! I almost forgot. Those of you with nut allergies be careful, there are lots of nuts out there.”
Matthew turned to Quinn, “I hope he includes himself.”
They both started laughing. Quinn put his hand on Matthew’s shoulder.
Matthew stopped laughing and pulled away, turning toward Lucrezia. “I said I’d come. I came. I’m leaving now.” He took several steps and pushed open the double doors.
Quinn started to go after him.
Lucrezia reached over and took his hand, causing him to look over at her smiling face. The momentary sting of rejection cooled in her warm affection.
“He came, that’s a start. Don’t hover or smother him. You’re just going to push Matthew away. You made progress tonight. You got him to smile and laugh a couple of times. Although I don’t approve of where. He’s starting to come around. Now, let him do it at his pace.”
She gave Quinn a quick hug. “Let’s go outside and watch the Easter egg hunt.” She paused and a wistful smile crept across her face. “I remember my own children; they were so cute at this age. Come on.” She led him through a side door out into the garden.
Children, dressed in their Easter outfits, ran from topiary to topiary looking for the elusive Easter eggs. Their laughter and squeals filled the air, as Butter, the Reverend’s fluffy yellow cat, jumped down from his snoozing spot on Jesus’ lap. He ran, purring, into a crowd of children.
Fadious winked at Butter as he walked over to Quinn and Lucrezia. “Where’s Matthew?” His eyes twinkled with mischief.
Quinn shifted his weight and put a hand in his pocket. “Obviously, he left.” He cast his eyes downward. “Matthew can’t stand to be around me these days. He hates me.”
Fadious threw back his head and belly laughed. “He doesn’t hate you. Matthew knows it’s not entirely your fault he can’t get laid. He wants to get it up; you want to eat. Being fabulous forever has a price.” Fadious continued to laugh and slap his thigh.
Lucrezia glared at him. “You’re not helping.”
“What did I say?” he asked with mock shock. “I just mean Matthew doesn’t hate you. He told me so the other day.”
Lucrezia’s voice filled with encouragement. “See, what did I just tell you? Everything’s going to be fine.”
Quinn’s face brightened until his eyes bulged, his mouth gaped open, and words caught in his throat.
Lucrezia put her hand on his arm. “What is it? You look like a cartoon character that stuck its finger in an electric socket.”
Lucrezia looked, “The children?”
“Yes, I know, darling. The children are adorable. For once Fadious had a good idea.”
“I’m standing right here.”
She turned to Fadious, “From now on, you should have children’s events on all the big holidays. I’m having so much fun.”
Quinn cleared his throat. “My flowers, they’re ruining my flowers.” He pointed to a small group of children playing near a bed of tiger lilies laid out in a geometric, Roman motif.
He clenched his jaw. “Do you have any idea how long it took me to find just the right combination of flowers in the right colors to make this garden work. All the lines are straight. The kids are supposed to stay in the designated area. They’re ruining my design!”
Lucrezia scrunched her nose. “Oh for Christ’s sake. They’re just flowers.” She waved him off. “Loosen up and let them have fun.”
Quinn glared at Lucrezia, “You don’t understand. I didn’t just plant those flowers.” He lowered his voice and looked her square in the eye. “I arranged them. They were perfect, and now they’re not.”
Quinn glanced over at another group children playing precariously close to his irises and narrowed his eyes. “Loosen up! That’s rich. You didn’t lose sleep agonizing over every minute detail.” He leaned forward and pointed his finger in her face. “You didn’t break your back over that garden.”
Lucrezia burst out laughing, “Neither did you! Besides, Mr. Control freak, you know that in your heart of hearts, it was only 99% perfect. Now you have the opportunity to make it 100% perfect. ” She reached up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
Quinn shrugged, running his fingers through his dark hair. His green eyes focused on a flower off in the distance, and his brow knit closer together. “Well, there was this one tulip that was just a tenth of a shade off. I knew it too.”
Quinn nodded his head several times. “I could see it, when the light was just right. It was as plain as day. A tenth of a shade off.” He pinched his thumb and forefinger together, and held them up.
Quinn looked around, “Everyone is probably laughing at me. He can’t get the color of a single tulip right. His sons hate him. He’s a loser who got his ass kicked by a tulip. No wonder he lost twenty thousand men in battle.”
Lucrezia started to open her mouth, but shook her head and said nothing.
Fadious yawned and smiled at Butter who found another group of children to feed his craving for attention. He turned back to Quinn and Lucrezia. “Saturday Night Live had Popes in their pizza pies. I’ve done them one better, I’ve got Easter eggs in my Jesus topiaries.”
Fadious hopped as if he just remembered something, “Oh.” He brought his hand to his mouth to conceal a mischievous grin, “I almost forgot.” Fadious looked up, “Quinn, you’ll appreciate this.”
It took Fadious a moment to stop giggling, “Sister Wendy is coming to San Diego to critique our stained glass windows and our topiaries as part of her new BBC special. I know she’s going to love them.
Quinn glared at Fadious.Fadious avoided looking at Quinn, “You did say one of the things on your bucket list was for Sister Wendy to critique your work. He rubbed his hands together, “Isn’t it exciting? We’re all going to be on television again.”