Brother Mathias

Twilight filtered through the olive trees in the courtyard and washed the air with an ancient, burnished luster. Birds in the cloister at days end flitted from shrub to shrub piping songs of enticement and warning. The fountain in the center of the enclosure freed its pooled treasure and flowed over the lip of the granite bowl, the water murmuring as it splashed on the rocks below. Fish circled lazily in the dappled pond.

Brother Mathias raised his eyes from the psalms. The scuffing of his confrere’s sandals in the stone quadrangle anointed the evening with continuity and serenity. The day had been warm, the sun’s departure cloaked the statue of St. Joseph with a golden hue above the archway that lead to the chapel. The air cooled in the shadow of the mountains. He savored this time of day.

There—Brother Jerome. The squabble over the bowl of apples earlier in the refectory was not forgiven or forgotten. Jerome was always first, even if it was counter to God’s law and the rules of the order. He burned. When would the first be last?

He had tried with Jerome—God knows he’d tried. Jerome was forever barging past others on the way to the refectory. Beyond counting his abuses. The bowl of apples was the most recent insult. What should have been his prerogative was second to the novice’s reward for fawning in front of Brother Superior. Mathias had endured the most disgusting jobs in the monastery, while Jerome got to tend the courtyard or assist Brother Superior as a scribe.

He continued his circuit, turning his attention to the psalms. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil,” the passage read. Mathias took another deep breath, continued reading and concentrated on the measured rhythms of the verse.

Jerome came toward him in line in the opposite direction, reading his breviary. As he neared Mathais, he reared his head back and sneezed, the dust from the scuffing of the sandals on the ground providing impetus. A wad of snot landed in the crease of Mathias’ book.

Dismayed, Mathias reached into his robe and extracted a piece of cloth from its folds that he used to wipe away the offending goo. It only served to smear it more on the page. He seethed. He shook as he leaned against the wall of the ambulatory. This, on top of the humiliation suffered in the morning pushed him beyond rational endurance.

He continued his circuit of the courtyard, contemplation of Holy Scripture shattered.

Passing Jerome again, he raised his eyes from the office and swore he could see a smirk.

Mathias picked up his pace, almost stepping on the heels of Brother Raphael. He made a quick turn into the chapel brushing past the holy water font, neglecting to take the cleansing water on his fingertips. He proceeded to the altar where he knelt at the communion rail.

He crossed himself and began to pray silently, trembling, pressing his hands together as if he could exert enough force between them to crush his murderous thoughts. “Heavenly father, please forgive my hateful thoughts.You above all else know the burdens I face everyday. Is this my cross to bear? Is this my way to salvation? Is this your way of testing me? How long will I have to suffer?” He began to shake. Gradually the tremors subsided and peace came to his soul. He continued to kneel in silence. Then he stood, calm and composed. He had an answer.

With a purposeful step he walked toward the back of the chapel and ascended the winding staircase to the bell tower. The sky was giving up its gilded caste and sliding into purpled night. The brothers continued to circle in the quadrangle.

Mathias looked at the courtyard below, barely able to make out the figures going round and round. He hitched up his robe and climbed up next to the statue of St. Joseph.

With no hesitation, he stepped around the figure of St. Joseph ready to launch his body into the air. As he brushed the statue, crumbling mortar at its base gave way and it tipped forward. He caught himself on a nearby ledge as the icon dropped like a bomb from the parapet, crushing the skull of Brother Jerome and shattering on the stones below.

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