Unexpected visitors

Brother Jerry came by yesterday evening to check on me after I missed the morning service. I told him I hadn’t been feeling well and left it at that.

He assured me that all would be well, and that any problems I might be facing would sort themselves out in due time, and in a way that blessed everyone concerned. Then he took a little card out of his pocket, and in a graceful script, wrote:

Jn. 8:32

When he left, I looked up the verse:

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

What is the truth? And from what am I being freed? Fear? A relationship? Something else that I haven’t thought of yet? The verse should have made me feel better, but it just led me further into the bowels of a labyrinthine confusion whose passages seemed to be closing behind me.

Clutching the card, I sank into my bubble chair and closed my eyes. I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the bell announcing the arrival of a visitor. I opened my eyes to find Abuelito standing in my lobby, mumbling to himself as he arranged three jar candles on my mantlepiece.

He carried a small leather satchel, from which he removed a matchbox; a sage smudge; and an assortment of tiny objects. I opened my mouth to ask what he was doing, but all that came out was a hoarse squeak, which he ignored as he bustled purposefully about the room.

He walked over to the desk and picked up a small, framed picture of my father, which he set in front of the middle candle. Then he lit the sage and walked around the room, waving the pungent smoke into the corners and swirling it around the front of my chair until it made me cough.

When he’d finished smudging the lobby, he laid an ashtray on the mantle in front of Dad’s picture, set a cigarette in front of it, and lit it. Then he took another object out of his bag and held it in the match’s flame until it began to melt.

Bacon and cigarette smoke. Grandma’s house.

Abuelito reached over to the radio behind the desk and turned it on. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when my father’s voice floated out, just as it had on that awful afternoon in the waiting room when I was 15.

I’m dreaming, I thought. This cannot be happening.

As quickly and quietly as he had arrived, Abuelito disappeared. I’d met him only once in my life — and yet, somehow, he had reached into my past and left an assortment of symbols obviously meant to comfort me in my present. I examined the items on the mantle. There were milagros: a heart, a pair of eyes, a kneeling woman. A Zuni fetish bear for strength. The ashtray. Dad’s picture. An atomizer bottle containing a few drops of my mother’s perfume. A small, spindly tumbleweed. And in between, popping and flickering and casting strange shadows on the walls, the three jar candles: St. Julian the Hospitaller, St. Joseph, and St. Vincent Ferrer. I had to Google them later to figure out that they were the patron of innkeepers, the patron of doubt and of fathers, and the patron of reconciliation.

In their uncertain light, I looked at the cigarette. It was my grandmother’s brand. I suddenly remembered a painting Grandma kept on her living-room wall. It was one of those paint-by-numbers pictures kids used to make, and it showed the angel Gabriel addressing the Virgin Mary, with the words “FEAR NOT” written below the picture in elaborate calligraphy.

I propped Brother Jerry’s Bible verse against the St. Joseph candle and walked out into the clear night air to finish Grandma’s cigarette and listen to the coyotes. I’m still not sure what it all means, but between Brother Jerry and Abuelito, I’m a little more willing to believe it will turn out OK in the end.

— Sierra


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