|Our Lady of Velankanni|
We walked through the dark living room with its de rigueur shrine on a crocheted tablecloth: a pious assemblage of souvenirs from other people’s trips to Rome, Lourdes, Fatima or our native Velankanni—cloudy bottles of holy water, silver cameo triptychs of the Holy Family, mortuary cards, “holy pictures.”
The “Sacred Heart” smiled, revealing his thorn-pierced heart. Rainbow lights twinkled around a blue-sashed haloed Virgin who, when cupped in one’s hands, glowed, eerie luminous phosphorous in the conjured-up darkness. The red glow of a Martian flame-shaped bulb bathed rosaries with gold and silver beads, and the recumbent Infant Jesus of Prague who kicked his silver legs in baby glee.
The most frequent spiritual experience of my Catholic childhood was not the numinous–when the veil parts, and you glimpse the elegance of the Grandmaster, and time stands still while you are wracked by joy. That came later. My most common emotion was boredom—continuous mental calculations: the ratio of Hail Marys said to Hail Marys left. Of the Mass said to the Mass unsaid. In fractions, in decimals.
As I walked through Palm Grove, Norman growled from rooms away. “Anita, don’t drag your feet.” “What a disgrace, him having to scold you so often,” my mother said later. “Why do you drag your feet?”
I dragged them to evening prayers at “the family altar”, squirmy phrase. Each evening, as darkness fell, Norman knelt on the cold stone floor to lead us in the rosary, his head tilted backwards to gaze at the Virgin, his arms outstretched like the crucified Christ (a quite unnecessary, unprescribed piety; wherever did he get the idea from?) outstretched rigidly, as sixty-six slow rosary beads dripped through his fingers, Credo, Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Gloria.
“Hail Mary, full of grace,” he proclaimed with brisk gusto and hints of admonishment: “See me, so old; see my reverence. And yours?” Or so I read the language of his body, as he trawled us through the rosary, present purgatory to abbreviate a future one.
My father knelt, which he never did at home, unwilling to be shamed by his uncle’s piety, or perhaps because he expected it was expected. A frown and a frequent downward jerk of his head suggested that I do likewise, which I did not, the embarrassment of conforming to this atypical sanctimoniousness being roughly equal to the embarrassment of refusing to.
“Holy Mary,” my father muttered, frowning grimly as he did under scrutinizing eyes, as he did whenever I was in the vicinity of a nun, or a smiling gossip. And so it went on, sempiternal, Chinese water torture. Mosquitoes buzzed in the darkness; I wanted to itch. I wanted to bay in exasperation.
Though my grandmother, Josephine, sat primly in her rocking chair, studying her rosary beads, serious and contemplative as a Van Gogh woman, I wondered if she was enduring it as much as my father was, as much as I was, this flamboyant fervency imposed on us by Norman.
After prayers, I inched towards the dog on the verandah who strained towards me, snarling, steel chain taut, teeth bared. I boasted that I could gentle even savage Cave Canem watch dogs, talking to them at a distance, going ever closer, my outstretched hand just out of biting range, talking, talking, until their eyes hinted I could stroke them. But—can any crime be uglier than mutating the natural sweetness of an animal or a child?–Tibby had deliberately been brutalized.
And now memory cowers, as at the knowledge of a impending burn,. In the lazy afternoons, Norman, siesta-rested, took his walking stick to methodically, savagely, beat the cowering dog who, with high broken-hearted yelps of desperation, helplessly bent his head, screwing his eyes shut in terror, as if blindness might shield him from pain. At any moment, the dog could have swerved and bitten the man, but did not. Humane, brutish, what ironic adjectives! I rushed out, near hysteria; my father held me back, muttering, “It is his dog.”
“Why?” I asked the terrifying old man. Norman stalked off, glaring, mumbling. To render the dog furious, ferocious, so that, when unchained at night to prowl the grounds, he would instantly bite a burglar—following his new-grafted instincts.
Start Date—August 27th, 2012
Completion Date—August 31st, 2013
Word Count Goal-120,000
Words per day Goal—470
Progress (Aiming to write 6 days a week, excluding Sundays)
Sept 19th Day 21—9922 words written (52 extra)