By John Thomas Tuft
Padre Pedro was standing in the kitchen of the seaside cottage when he first heard the strange noise. He came to the small homey abode every year, enjoying the view from the cliffside perch, thirty feet or so above the restless waters. He’d take his cup of tea out onto the front deck, relax into the old wicker rocker and just soak in the sea air. Which is where he headed now, wandering slowly through the pungent cloud of garlic and chiles, red of course, used in his homemade Mexican carne con chile rojo or the ones for his guajillo chile sauce that he loved with his scrambled eggs in the morning, Before he stepped out the front door he looked at the wooden plank nailed over the door with the words burned into it: La ola se rompe a mi alrededor, pero la ola no me entierra.
As he eased into the rocker, lost in the sound of the pounding surf below, he heard it again. A weak but urgent mewing carried on the wind. He sipped at the tea as he watched the gulls wheeling and dealing above the waves. There it was again. His knees complained as the old priest hauled himself to his feet and went to the edge, leaned on the railing. The lines on his face deepened as he tried to listen hard. Lines of weariness, lines of fading hope, lines of too hard memories. Forty years of parish work can do that to you. People need so much. People want so much. People are never satisfied. And God, what about God? God needs so much. God wants so much. God is never satisfied. Padre Pedro never could figure what was the end game. Drop over while elevating the host some day during Mass? Maybe the waves could tell him. So, every year he made his way back to this refuge. To listen.
His fingers slipped into his pocket like they had a mind of their own, it was so much a part of his being. They closed around the pearls of pleading, worn to perfection by his fingers over the years. It was a gift from his mother upon his ordination, her own rosary beads. They’d been with him through thick and thin. At his dear mother’s funeral, when he stood there feeling so lost and alone. Years later when his closest friend told him he was leaving the priesthood. The Holy Rosary was his guide, his companion for his shuffle o’er this mortal coil. The sound came again, jolting him from his reverie. He eased his way off the deck to make his way over to the top of the stairs, leading down to the beach. The crying sounded desperate.
Padre Pedro put on his glasses and peered down. There, in the tide pool. Among the rocks. A kitten, trapped as the waves lapped closer and closer, higher and higher. He grunted. His knees would not be happy about making the climb down, let alone the climb back up. But a creature was in need. He set the mug of tea on the stoop and made his way down. As he approached, the kitten’s cries grew louder as water splashed over the top of the rocks. The kitten was pure white, except for a patch of black fur around one eye. “Ah,” said Padre Pedro, “mi pequeño pirata!” He reached down to rescue the poor creature, but its leg was stuck fast in the rocks.
Padre Pedro wiped at the spray that coated his glasses as he tried to free the kitten. “Lo siento, no soy que querias, mi pequeño pirata!” But Padre Pedro was exactly what the little pirate kitten wanted. And needed. It looked up with such trust in its eyes as the waves grew higher and higher, that the old priest was deeply moved. He painfully sank to his knees, then onto his back and reached his hand as far between the rocks as he could. Finally he felt the soft fur of the kitten and supported it underneath with his palm. “Estoy aqui, mi pequeño pirata. Estoy aqui.”
A young couple strolling on the beach found them the next morning. Padre Pedro looked very much at peace, a beatific appearance to his now smooth face. And a kitten that looked like a pirate sitting on top of the highest rock. They were somewhat curious about the rosary beads around the little one’s neck. The police determined that the old priest with the painful knees had been trapped by the incoming tide. They couldn’t have known, however, that as the water lifted Padre Pedro’s hand, it lifted the pirate kitten free. And to this day, no one has ever been able to explain the wooden plank resting in the old priest’s other hand. Or how it had freed itself from the nails. Or who had burned the words into it: La ola se rompe a mi alrededor, pero la ola no me entierra.
The wave breaks around me, but the wave does not bury me.
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.