VELVETILLUSION LITERARY MAGAZINE
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THE PICNIC

by Joseph Foti, Esq.

           


     The chimes crooned ominously, heralding the arrival of the second hour. As the last worshipers scurried out into the frozen tundra, a tired grandmother sat wearily on the moldy pew; the incessant whining of her three grandchildren painfully echoing in her ears. From his pulpit, a decaying Monsignor leered contemptuously at the pathetic foursome, thinking only of the hot Christmas rum that awaited him in the sacristy.
     "Grandma, where's mommy?" three year old Carol moaned, her feathery body pounding like a chisel through the old woman's arthritic knee.
   "Your parent's will be here any minute," Rose replied morosely, by now suspecting that something was amiss.
   "Stop being a baby," thirteen year old Dashiell barked precipitately at his little sister. "Dad said he would pick us up right after midnight mass and to wait for him here, so hush before I give you something to really cry about."
   "Dashiell, don't talk to your little sister like that," Rose whispered sharply.
   "Yeah, shut up Dash," eleven year old Kaprice prattled childishly.
   "Children, behave," the old woman hollered quite miffed.        "Shame on you, behaving like a litter of rabid kittens, and in God's house, of all places," she snickered scathingly.
Her shame quickly swelled tenfold as the Monsignor callously flicked the lights.
    "Is something wrong, Monsignor?" Rose replied sheepishly.
   "No, nothings wrong," he countered coyly. "It's just that we are a small parish and the lighting is very expensive, thus unless you are willing to bestow a small part of your purse to God, I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."
   "I'm sorry Monsignor, I would love to help, unfortunately we are in a bit of a bind. For you see, we were supposed to be in Jamaica by tomorrow morning for a family reunion. My daughter and son-in-law arranged the entire trip. They dropped us off here and went to pick up the plane tickets. I'm sure they will be back any minute now," Rose replied biting off the tip of her tongue.
   "I understand your predicament, however I cannot let my house become a bus depot," the Monsignor countered coarsely.
   "Hey Monsignor, hold your horses. She said my dad will be here any minute!" Dashiell yelled out, brazenly spitting in the holy water.
   "Dashiell, show some respect. This is a man of God," Rose yelled waving her cane at the arrogant boy.
   "That's it, I want all of you out of my church this instant," the Monsignor squawked self-righteously.
   "But Monsignor, you can't just throw us out into the night. We're a good ten miles from town, we'd freeze to death. Can't we just stay here till the morning? I promise the children will behave. After all isn't God's house supposed to be a sanctuary for the needy," Rose countered nervously.
   "I would love to help, really I would," the Monsignor lied.        "However I cannot let my church become a homeless shelter. If I made an exception for you, soon every deadbeat and druggie would come knocking at my door. Now, unless you have something of value to offer, you must leave."
   "But, I already told you, I have no money. I gave it all to my daughter to pay for our plane tickets."
   "Never let it be said that I am wholly without feeling," the Monsignor replied staring devilishly at Kaprice. "I understand how terrifying the thought of having no one to turn to can be. After all, night after night of retiring to a cold hard bed without someone soft to share it with, can be very lonely," he replied with a grin, softly stroking the young girl's hair with his decrepitly moist hand.
   "Monsignor!" Rose shouted in disgust, pulling Kaprice from his reach. "What exactly are you implying?"
   "Please don't misunderstand me. I am merely suggesting that there may be a reason for your little quandary. As you know the lord works in mysterious ways. Perhaps God sent little Kaprice here, to alleviate my loneliness. After all, who are we to deny God's will," he replied with a cryptic smile.
   "Monsignor! I don't know what's come over you. You should be ashamed of yourself. I will not sacrifice my granddaughter's virtue, merely for my own warmth."
   "Then you shall all freeze to death," he hollered hatefully.
   "Get out of my sight," he barked, brandishing a golden crucifix and chasing them out into the snow.
   "Just wait till my father hears about this," Dashiell shot back obstinately, as Rose limping heavily nudged them down the icy steps to the safety of the frozen dirt.
   "Foolish boy, when are you going to wake up?" the Monsignor bellowed from the top step, menacingly wielding the crucifix like an ax. "Your father abandoned you. He's not coming back. He doesn't love you!" he shouted, turning his back to them and reentering the church, treacherously bolting the door behind him.
   "Liar," Dashiell screamed, running up the steps and pounding fruitlessly on the thick cast-iron door.
With that, little Carol began crying hysterically, clinging on to Rose like a boa constrictor.
   "Dashiell, get down here this instant, you're scaring your sister" Rose hollered, painstakingly prying the frightened child from her aching ribs.
   "Yeah, stop it, Dash," Kaprice tweeted impishly.
   "You shut-up. It's your fault they left. You're a jinx. You ruin everything. You couldn't take seeing me happy. It wasn't enough knowing that your real parents hated you so much that they dumped you in a garbage can. You had to go and chase away mine, you bastard," Dashiell howled viscerally, charging wildly at his adopted sister.
   "Dashiell!" Rose yelled, her voice now hoarse as she hobbled between them.
   "I told you to stop this nonsense. First of all, no-one chased anyone away. Your parents are just running a little late. I'm sure they will be here any minute. Secondly, adopted or not Kaprice is still your sister and you will treat her as such. Do you understand me?" Rose barked angrily, knocking him to the ground with a single blunt whack to the knees from her cane.
   "Yeah, I got it," Dashiell wailed, writhing in pain as he slowly rose to his feet.
   "Good" Rose trumpeted smugly. "Now let's go visit your grandfather. We'll have a picnic," she stated cheerfully. "I'm sure your parents will know to look for us there."
   Slowly, they walked across the road; the freezing snow blistering their red faces, their hands tucked deeply inside their pockets as they made their way to the cemetery. Although still the wee hours of the morning, a luminescent moon and sparkling stars filled sky, lit the way. There were no fences or walls, just acres and acres of final obituaries. Up the hill and over the stones they marched, searching for grandpa.
   "It's at the top of the hill and to the right, thirteen stones from the statue of Mary, section 7F plot 670," Rose megaphoned sharply, gently squeezing Carol's hand as Dashiell and Kaprice roamed the stones.
   "Look for the grave with the palm cross and ruby red votive candle in front of it," Rose commanded.
   Wearily they wandered on, stopping only to admire the most elaborate of graves. Even in death the rich and poor were reminded of their worth. While some were ornamented with celestial stone seraphs towering towards the heavens and jeweled headstones swaddled with roses, others had just a lone marker and barren plot.
   "I found it, grandma," Kaprice hollered proudly, her partially frozen face beaming brightly, as she came upon the small gray stone. Lying sloppily on the ground covered in snow was the votive candle, its flame long since extinguished. Next to it was the crinkled brown remnants of a Palm Sunday cross. Kaprice placed them both upright at the foot of the grave and began lovingly brushing the snow from the stone with her beet red hands.
   "I'm coming, I'm coming," Rose replied exhaustedly, as she and Carol waded through nearly a foot of rock hard snow.
"Don't touch that," Dashiell barked, pushing Kaprice face first into the snow. "He's my grandfather, I'll take care of him," Dashiell shouted angrily.
   "He's my grandfather, too," Kaprice shot back defensively, getting up and shoving Dashiell."
   "Stop it, the both of you. Is this the way you act in front of your grandfather?" Rose barked scornfully. "Now Kaprice, you wipe the snow off the face of the stone, and Dashiell clean out the snow and leaves from the candle case and put this new one in its place," she replied flashing a new candle from her purse and handing it to the boy. "After you're done, firmly plant both it and the cross into the ground, and make sure that they stand up straight."
   Having completed their tasks, Dashiell and Kaprice stood back to admire their handiwork.
   "But grandma," Kaprice cried disappointedly, "it's too dark to see grandpa's name."
   "Don't worry, I'll fix that," she replied, snapping a silver cigarette lighter from her purse, bending over and lighting the wick.
   The small flame shimmered in its glass case, bathing the stone with an eerie crimson glow. There were two names inscribed on it. The first was Edgar Allen Brownshoe 1909-1976. Below it was Rose Daisy White Brownshoe 1912-.
   "Grandma, why is your name on the stone?" Kaprice wondered aloud.
   "It's waiting for me," Rose replied matter-of-factly. "This way when I go, all they have to do is cover me up and chisel in the year."
   "But, I don't want you to go," Carol whimpered sadly. "I'm sorry sweetie, I can't help it. We all have to go sometime," Rose stated bluntly.
   "Even me?" Carol replied apprehensively.  
   "Yes, even you dumpling," Rose chirped lovingly. "But, lets not waste time worrying about something we cannot control," she  replied cheerfully puffing away at her cigarette. "Instead let's have a picnic in the snow," Rose retorted, beaming brightly as she laid her ratty old coat atop the frozen snow covered ground.
   "We can't have a picnic without any food" Dashiell stated disdainfully.
   "Ah, but we do have food; my dear doubting Thomas," she replied with a snicker, unveiling three partially frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from her purse. "I made them for the plane trip, but we might as well feast now," she said with a chuckle, handing them to her famished grandchildren, who tore into them like sharks into a big juicy walrus.
   As the minutes turned to hours, the bright moonlight was replaced by a dark snowy fog. Biting down on her lip attempting to fight off the searing sensation in her arms and legs, Rose lifted the coat off the snow and wiped it clean. No longer able to feel her fingers she clasped her hands around the votive candle and sat down in the snow pressing her back against the tombstone.
   "Come here Carol," she said firmly, trying to keep up a brave front. "Hold this against your chest," she stated handing the flickering votive candle to the little girl and cradling her tightly against her bosom.
   "Kaprice, Dashiell, Come here" Rose shouted, clasping the coat with her arm and draping it down over the gravestone like a tent, completely covering her and Carol. "Come here," she repeated holding the makeshift tent open with her frozen arm.
A blank look covering their faces, Kaprice and Dashiell just stood there no longer able to bicker as the realization that their parents had left them to freeze to death, pierced their souls.
   "Keep moving, Kaprice! Dashiell! I told you not to stand still," the old woman murmured sickly. "Your parents will be here any second now. In the meantime, I have a job for you two. I want you to go to the road and flag down the first car you see," she ordered, trying to sound upbeat.
   "OK, grandma," they droned sadly, knowing full well that no one was coming. Slowly they inched their way down the hill only to find that the road was no more. Buried under five feet of snow by an unsympathetic blizzard. Totally exhausted and depressed, they collapsed into the snow and just laid there, acceptably indifferent towards their fate. It was five a.m. Christmas morning. The dark haze was soon replaced by an ivory mist, as looming brightly in the blizzards shadow, the sun began to rise. 
   "I'm sorry Dash," Kaprice cried sadly. "I'm sorry for all of this."
   "Sorry for what?" he replied groggily, his arms and legs feeling as if they had turned into sandbags.
   "For chasing your parents away. You're right, I am a jinx. I can't believe how stupid I was to think that anyone could ever love me," Kaprice whimpered heartbroken.
   "No sis, don't say that. You're a wonderful person and I'm proud to call you my sister. It's not your fault, it's mine. I only blamed you because I didn't want to deal with the reality that I was a failure as a son."
   "What are you talking about?" Kaprice shot back, her nose beginning to blacken. "You were the perfect son. Captain of the football team, captain of the baseball team, highest marks in your class."
   "Yeah, but I was never as strong as he was and he knew it. I saw it when he came to watch me play. Even when he cheered, there was always this nauseating look of disappointment in his eyes. I just could never be the man that he was."
   "Yeah, but at least your mom loved you; no one has ever loved me," Kaprice retorted bitterly.
   "Yeah, then where is she?" Dashiell shot back.
   "You know she can't say no to your dad. He's too strong for her. But, you're her son, she loves you. I'm just some raggedy puppy they found licking the pet store window and felt sorry for. I can't even remember what my mom looked like," she stated despondently, rising to her feet and walking off into the white Christmas.
   "Where are you going?" Dashiell yelled, raising his head as the snow continued to pound his frozen tears.
   "To check on Grandma," she lied. "You stay here and wait for help. Don't fall asleep. Rose and Carol are counting on you," she shouted, resigned to her own fate but truly hoping that the others would be rescued.
   As she made her way up the hill, Kaprice could no longer feel the flakes smacking against her eyes. She became lost in a warm numbness. Reaching the top, she found all the stones buried under a mountain of frozen snow. Totally sunken, she fell to her knees and prepared to join them. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the most beautiful angel, hovering in the distance. Rising up she began running as fast as she could; her frozen limbs refusing to die, the hard snow acting like a stepladder, propelling her five feet above the ground.
   "I'm coming, mommy. I'm coming," she screeched. "Wait for me."
   Down the hill she stormed, the passion dancing in her eyes as she raced for the stone angel. Wrapping her arms around the statue, her bloodstained fingers locked together. "Mommy, you came back for me! I knew you loved me! I knew it!" she wept blissfully, as she attempted to climb into its arms.
   A crisp snap shattered the joyful reunion as the statue broke in two, flinging Kaprice in the air as the torso, wings, and head of the statue rocketed down the hill. Smacking hard into the snow, a series of sharp pains rattled Kaprice's body as she rolled down the hill. Closing her eyes a burst of sudden bright flashes shot through her eyelids as her mind filled with the sensation of being thrown into a washing machine. A harsh thud plunged her into darkness as her body came to rest against the frozen trunk of an old oak tree.
   Groggily opening her eyes, Kaprice could make out the bony shadow of a cross flickering on a white stone ceiling. Lifting up her head, her body riddled with aches, pains, and broken ribs, Kaprice wondered if this was some sort of purgatory waiting room.

   "Calm down dear, everything's all right. You've had quite an ordeal," a nun in a habit replied softly, gently wiping Kaprice's forehead with a cool rag.
   "She's up Dash, she's up," Kaprice could make out little Carol's voice spouting happily.
   "You did it sis. You saved us," Dashiell cheered from his bed.
   "Children please be quite. You're sister's just waking up."
   "Grandma, where's my Grandma?" Kaprice shouted sitting straight up, as the spin cycle quickly rushed through her head knocking her back onto a soft pillow.
   "Please child, try to take it easy. The Doctor said that you suffered a severe concussion when you hit your head against that tree. You're grandmother is going to be OK. She recovering from severe frostbite, down the hall. When you're feeling better I'll take you to visit her," the nurse promised.
   "What happened?" Kaprice asked, wondering if this was all a dream.
   "You've been in the hospital a week now. That statue you broke slammed into a small farm house. You're lucky the owner decided to investigate and found you lying against the tree. He called the cops who searched the area and found your brother, sister, and grandmother. You're quite a hero. If you hadn't knocked over that statue chances are they wouldn't have reached you in time."
   "Way to go sis!" Dashiell trumpeted.
   "Yeah way to go," Carol chirped happily.
   "Children, please your sister needs her rest," the nurse scolded. A smile flashed across Kaprice's face as she closed her eyes and fell asleep, safe in the knowledge that she was truly part of the family.