Short Story Part Eight: Mo, the story
It was a clear dark night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The sky was the color that the Scripto Ink Company calls Blue Black, there was a riot of stars in the sky and a 1950 Chevrolet pickup truck, brush-painted silver, with the name ‘Lazarus’ printed on the passenger side door slid to a stop on the gravel driveway outside of the Saint Dymphna Church of the Quiet Mind. Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of nervous breakdowns… but that’s another story for another time.
The Mescalero Apache, a small post middle aged, grizzled man named Luke Crazy-eye, who was the driver of that truck that sounded like honeymoon bedsprings in a cheap motel, opened his complaining driver’s side door, stepped down, crushed his cigarette out in the gravel with a scuffed Tony Lama boot that had seen better days and pulled a bundle from the orange crate that was sitting on the front seat. He carried the bundle to the door of the church and rapped loudly. It was Christmas Eve 1975, there was a definite chill in the air and Luke wasn’t breathing too well; Luke didn’t know that he had lung cancer and would be dead before Easter. But that’s another story.
One of the two women who ran the church, Sister Miriam, answered the door. There was a small fire going in the kiva oven and the thick adobe walls were doing their best to insulate the sparsely furnished room; Luke, as he had planned, said nothing and handed the bundle over to the first person that he came into contact with, which was the woman who opened the door, who was one of the two ministers of the church, the other being Sister Françoise
There was not a big Christmas turnout at the little church that year since the Holy Christian Church of the Bleeding Tortured & Beaten Caucasian Redeemer across town had started spreading rumors that the ministers at St. Dymphna’s were lesbian lovers who sought shelter from society behind the protection of the church.
The hand that reached out for the bundle had a number tattooed to the wrist from an unpleasant stay in Poland a few years previously and she stepped back into the room as Luke turned silently, walked back to ‘Lazarus’ and slowly drove away leaving clouds of smoke from a perpetual oil leak, a faulty carburetor and the steam from the temperature differential.
Sister Miriam brought the bundle to a table where she and Sister Francoise unwrapped it. (And no, they weren’t hiding behind the skirts of St, Dymphna and yes they might be happier in each other’s arms than anywhere else; but that’s none of our business.)
Inside the bundle they found a very newborn baby with a shock of black hair, bathed in a thin coat of mucus and with the umbilical cord still attached. The baby was curled in a fetal position and it would be a few minutes until they could determine that it was a little girl. They were doubtful that the child would live but they did what they could; they milked their nanny goat (a very apropos name) managed to feed the child and, after turning out the lights in the church, brought her to bed to sleep between them. Three virgins. Three naked virgins.
The Sisters talked into the night and decided to name the child, whether she lived or died, in a combination of their favorite writers: Sylvia Plath and Virginia Wollf. They tried many combinations and finally lit on Sylvinia Wolfpath. Sylvinia would later tell people who asked about her parents that her father was a traveler named Lazarus and that she had two mothers. Then she would transfix them with eyes that the Scripto Ink Company would call Blue Black (the same color of the sky on the night that she was born) and say “but that’s a story for another time”, and leave it at that.
Somewhere in the middle of that first night under New Mexican chilled skies, the baby, whether from warmth or pure love, stretched to her full length. Newly born as she was, her head rested between the minister’s breasts and her tiny olive skinned toes touched just above their knees. Sister Francoise awoke briefly and muttered: “Mon Dieu, someone, I think, has given us an anaconda!”
Christmas morning came and the baby still lived.
In fact the baby, partially thanks to the warmth and care of the two Sisters as well as a diet of good goats milk, thrived, grew and gave all indications of being hale, hearty and healthy. At two years of age she had outgrown her foal-like appearance and carried on more like a spider monkey; all arms and legs. She possessed the uncanny ability to scale furniture, climb anything vertical and box with the sister’s Tom kitten without getting a scratch; this she did with no change of expression on her sweet, but somber face. Her hair was long, straight and blacker than night, her skin took on a café au lait/olive hue and her eyes were dark and piercing; her mouth appeared petulant but was actually the only way her mothers had ever seen her look. “It must have been the cold of that first night that froze her expression so” Sister Miriam often remarked. She potty trained early, although she preferred to use Mother Nature as her lavatory and she was late to utter any words with which to communicate her wishes. If little Sylvinia wanted anything she would sit and stare until someone noticed and guessed her needs correctly, more often than not it was Sister Francoise that could tune in most successfully.
By 1979 the small but perfect family had been driven out of the west by the good Christians of Las Cruces and had purchased a Creole Cottage in the Lower Garden district of New Orleans on a street named after the muse Terpsichore, the muse of dance.
Her mothers thought it fitting to enroll her in classes of gymnastics and ballet, which she showed an aptitude for and in fact excelled at. Later she took fencing lessons from the one remaining master in Exchange Alley.
By four years old she was reading, well, as much as her mothers could tell for a child that did not speak. She would carom around the rooms, up bookcases and into crannies to select things to look at, her favorites being Nation Geographic, the Times Picayune Metro Section and cookbooks that offered photographs of different dishes. It was Francoise that first gave her colored pencils and paper and watched her scrawl out words. Albeit primitive, her first written words were: “muthers good”, and drew a picture of their home as it had been in Las Cruces; she Sisters wept in each others arms, hugged the baby and put the masterpiece on the refrigerator with magnets. They, the mothers, worshipped their child and treated her with respect, patience and love. Sylvinia Wolfpath was a perfect child, gifted with natural intelligence and good sense with the self-actualized countenance of a poetess, which, of course she was.
At five years old she uttered her first words. She was perusing the obituaries in the newspaper and looked up to find Sister Miriam studying her.
She put her finger in the middle of the page and said: “These people are dead. Why are they smiling?”