Louis Girard hated Father Babineaux. His high lisp as he intoned the sermons, his sunken cheeks and the way his fingers moved like spider legs as he touched his rosary. Yet, far more disturbing were his pink lips—full and sensuous, suggesting desires far from God’s grace. Louis prayed to his favourite saint, Theonius, for intervention. A fall from his horse, a disfiguring illness, or passionate love for a woman. Nothing changed.
Sunday mornings were a stain on his week. He would spend too long in the bathroom sweeping blobs of Brylcreem through his hair and brushing his teeth. At the door his sisters hammered and roared.
His father revered Father Babineaux. He insisted Louis stay one day after church to help him clean up. The priest had reached the crescendo of his sermon—words like ‘redemption’ and ‘blazing fires’ echoed to the vaulted ceiling.
Louis bristled at the end of the pew as his father whispered the request.
‘But..doesn’t he have others who help him?’
‘Yes son, the Milaut twins, but they have chicken pox. I promised Father Babineaux you would help. Don’t embarrass me, Louis.’
Louis was mute as the priest handed him the gilt vases, cups and ritual cloths. He kept his gaze lowered and followed him to the vestry. The room was larger than he expected with a musty smell. It was lit by a single globe. Floor-to-ceiling shelves lined one wall, hooks for vestments the other.
‘I expect you’ve stared at this door for a while, wondering what’s inside?’ asked Father Babineaux, raising an oversized eyebrow. He moistened his lips and Louis did not know where to look—the hairy eyebrow looked as untamed as a forest animal.
‘Not really,’ he said. His gaze skittered around the room, searching for somewhere else to land. Beneath the scent of old books and dust was the sour odour of the priest’s sweat.
‘Fetch me my crucifix would you?’ said Father Babineux, his hands hidden in his robes. Louis nodded and went out. He scoured the altar and other tables, but the crucifix was not there. Not wanting to seem incompetent he kept looking. The eyes of the saints bore down on him from the stained glass windows. Then a glint of gold at the lectern caught his eye. He rushed over and seized it, weighing its heft in his palms. The lone ruby in the middle winked like a drop of blood.
He ambled back to the vestry and opened the door. Father Babineaux’ robes were open and he fondled himself with a purple satin cloth.
With great care, Louis placed the crucifix on the floor and tiptoed to the arched wooden doors at the entrance. He held a gasp in his throat. Only when he glimpsed the sun’s rays did he dare to run. He did not stop until he reached home.
His father sat in his armchair at the fireplace, his pipe clamped between his lips. The smoke curled like a transparent snake. He turned to his son and his eyes crinkled with pleasure.
‘Well then, Lou? How did it go? Does Father Babineaux think you’re a pious young man?’
Louis was breathless, his chest rose and fell. ‘I’m not sure, Papa. But he’s a dirty old man. I saw him playing with himself in the vestry.’
From that day forward, the Girard family took the horse and cart to the next village on Sunday mornings. Louis’ fervent prayers were answered.