He had a head like a coffee pot.
Think of one of those thin-glass-walled coffee pots that fit snugly into coffeemakers. The older models look like petticoats, with necks clasped by handles, and bodies fanning out, skirt-like, from the plastic clasp.
Now think of a human head, with the area between the eyes as the neck of the coffee pot, and all the face fanning forward in the same angle as the nose if you view it from the side. You have a coffee pot head, and in one boy’s eyes, this was not attractive at all.
He thought about this, this coffee pot head trait that made him look like an exception to the rule of evolution. Not that he knew what the rule of evolution was, or if there was one. He was not allowed to even think of the concept of evolution, because in the church, before the tabernacle, in the vestibule, there was no such thing as a continuous, historical change.
All there was was faith, something that resided in the air, in the white garments he drew over himself, in the gold plate he held in his hand during communion time. There was faith everywhere, he thought: even in the mirror, where a coffee pot head stared back at him as he examined his coffee pot face.
There was faith, he knew, as he sat in his dormitory room, and as an hour passed, closer and closer to noontime. For some strange reason, Sundays made him think, and ponder; and as today was Sunday, and abnormally rainy for a summer one, he sat on his bed, stared at his reflection, and thought and pondered the morning away.
He had no real past. There were streets, he remembered: asphalt for his mattress, dirt for his sheets, a sack as a blanket. Beyond that, there were things he should have remembered, but now chose to forget. Faith was all that remained.
There were two funny things, he realized, as he looked at his reflection.
The first was that he was tall — taller than most of the priests in the parish. And every time he stood up to serve, and to stand alongside them, the whole congregation could see him. Overly conspicuous coffee pot head, he was, and everyone would probably be thinking about evolution (and sinning, too).
The second was that he felt like he was holding coffee in front of the multitude of churchgoers. This, he found particularly silly. He seemed to be The Great Tantalizer, the Holder of Coffee that Shall Keep the Congregation Awake — something the congregation needed, as it usually fell asleep halfway through the first syllable of the sermon. Everyone would be nodding off, maybe even snoring, while he held up the very elixir that would bring them all to life.
Everyone would be asleep —
He did not know her name of course. He had never spoken to her, exchanged a word with her, or greeted her with a “Good morning! Welcome to this Sunday’s noontime sacrifice!”
Not that he had any wit or courage to do so. He was simple, quiet. He was tall, coffee-pot-headed, but quiet. How could he even say a single word to a girl born above his station? How could he even attempt to joke with a girl who most likely came from a rich family, and could — well — own a hundred thousand coffee pots of her own?
He was tempted, actually, simply because she was the only one who kept awake during the entire Mass.
He could even see her now, in his head, as he thought and pondered away: long dark hair bundled up into a braided knot at the back of her head, head cocked slightly to one side, dark eyes glimmering with dreamy attention. She seemed to be so amazed, so drawn to the ritual, so happy, in fact, to spend an hour in church while the rest of the congregation thought about lunch.
And there she remained, sometimes with her eyes on her fingers, sometimes on the altar, sometimes on the priest, sometimes on him — well, not really. He stood on one side while the mass went on, and moved up to the altar to assist the priest (deliver coffee?) only when he needed to. He stood on the same side as the projection screen, where the responses and song lyrics were. That was where her eyes wandered to most of the time, as soon as the organ master struck up the first few notes of a song.
Ah, yes. She loved to sing. She loved to look at the song — smile if she liked it, crease her nose a little if she didn’t — then look away if she knew the lyrics and needed no guide. He liked to imagine her eyes wandering toward him, then away, as the songs began, and as she sang, as though she needed him for inspiration.
The thought was a little too heavy for him at times. He began to carry a towel, so that he could wipe his face (the side of the coffee pot?) while he sat on the sidelines, waiting to be ordered forward.
He was beginning to think that he needed a bigger towel one day, when he led the procession to the altar.
He saw her, watching him, maybe fascinated with how he rang the bells to herald the start of the Mass. Of course, he was hoping she was thinking of something else — besides coffee — so that he had to shake his hands, and ring the bells even louder. For lack of a proper towel, there were bells; and for that, he was thankful.
When he got to his corner, he wiped his head and vowed to buy a terry cloth carpet the first chance he got.
It was like this all the time. Ring bells, get stared at, remember coffee, wipe face. Stay in corner, think a little, wait a little, serve. Wipe face. Sing, maybe. Wipe face.
And then there was communion. It was his job to hold the paten under the chins of the faithful, to make sure that the Host did not drop to the floor. Like the songs where he could watch her sing, or the homily where he could watch her listen, communion was the time he could be closest to her, as she opened her mouth and received the Host, as she said the soft, “Amen,” and walked away.
He thought he had the right to breathe the sigh of relief when all was said and done. But he had to walk down the middle aisle after the blessing, and he would catch her then. He would see her as she walked out of the church while he returned to the parish office. He would catch one last glimpse of her as he visited the Adoration Chapel, where he would find her praying, head bowed, owner unknowing of the coffee pot that had just entered to pay its respects to the Holy Cross.
She was probably his age, with a look of oldness in her eyes, but with childlike brightness all about her. She seemed to love the Mass more than him, the faith more than him — or should it have been “the Mass more than he, the faith more than he…?”
One thing he could not stand was confusion. Confusion is the root of all evil, one priest once said. That was true: the thicker the fog got, the more careless humans became.
But just how careless could anyone possibly be, if he was standing in a church, in front of hundreds of people, and looking at a beautiful girl?
Maybe people would think about coffee if they saw him. Then they’d be confused between lunch and coffee. And that would be it. That was the farthest confusion could ever get.
He laughed at the irony. It was getting late, and the thinking and pondering had to come to an end.
He laughed at his face, for good measure. It was a coffee pot face, yes; but there was so much more to be thankful for, so much more to wish and want, so much more to look forward to. Coffee pots and faces were just part of a larger equation.
He laughed again — how could he have gone from simply looking at his face, to waxing abstract and ambiguous on life? Life was too simple, too delicate to be pondered upon. He had to live it.
He wiped his face one last time, then walked out of his room. He glimpsed the church, met the gray sunshine, and saw the parish office. He had to fetch the bells. 12:30 would strike soon, and it was time for an hour of prayer — and quiet observation — once again.
He passed by the confessionals on his way out, past the father-confessor who was her obvious favorite. He had seen her once, during the Anticipated Mass, running off to be the first in line for confession. The same father-confessor was stern and old, but as full of sunshine as she, and very observant.
“You are very distracted,” the old man remarked sharply, during that Sunday, after the 12:30 Mass was done.
He simply shrugged and smiled. It was not like him to make witty remarks. It was like him, however, to pay respects to everyone: he quietly touched the old priest’s hand to his forehead and walked away.
On that Sunday, after the pondering, the same last sentence he had uttered played back in his head.
Life has to be lived.
It was so easy to talk about life like that, if you had at least a foot between you and a girl — a girl who was usually with her family, a girl who was maybe years wiser and smarter, a girl who had so much fascination for the Mass.
For some strange reason, he knew he was contradicting himself. Life had to be lived — but how? By hiding?
The gray sunshine was gone, and the rainclouds came again. He ran, from the church to the Adoration Chapel, along with the thinning crowd of the faithful. He couldn’t make his way inside, however; the chapel was full, and everyone was taking refuge in it — not so much praying, which made him shake his head — leaving a good deal of real prayers left out in the rain. He, Coffee Pot, had to wait his turn.
There were very few people waiting outside the chapel. Soon, they left, as though the rain had given them the sign that they could not pay the Blessed Sacrament their respects. They left — they all left —
He fought not to gape, fought not to gasp as she bounced from one foot to the next, looking at the doors, through the glass, to see if the crowd inside had eased. She seemed eager, so eager to run inside, to act on will, to forget the weather and make a way.
For months, he had watched her, observed her awe, seen her amazement, known her strength. For months, he had thought of her, seen her sometimes in his dreams, sometimes in his sleep. How could he not have followed her example?
The rain began to ease. The clouds began to part. The sun began to shine.
He smiled quietly to himself, and cleared his throat: first softly, then audibly enough for her to look at him immediately.
The sun began to shine.
It shone as though it would shine forever.