What will Moses do if his brother looses his demons in this place? You suffer your loyalties as you suffer any burden.
So Moses watches his brother, a searing ember growing in the pit of his stomach. After the meal is over and the gentlefolk once again scatter to their routine business, he sees Abraham, his eyes still on the little blonde girl, rise from the table and go to his satchel. Moses rises as well and feels the action warming in his hands. Something is happening.
But when Abraham moves towards the girl, it is because he has a gift in his hands – the set of watercolour paints he salvaged from the broken fuselage at the airport. Abraham kneels down in front of the girl, puts the plastic palette in her hands and uses the brush that comes with it to show her what to do.
Look, he says to her. They’re paints.
He takes the brush, draws it across his tongue to moisten it, dips it into the red oval of dried colour and then paints a red streak across the back of his hand.
But you don’t gotta use spit, he says to the girl. They’ll refresh with a little water.
The girl clutches the paint to her and smiles up at him.
I know you ain’t supposed to talk, Abraham says. So don’t worry about thankin me or anything.
But the girl leans over and whispers in Abraham’s ear. Moses has crept close enough that he can hear the words himself.
The girl says, I don’t always hush like I’m supposed to.
Abraham laughs out loud, pats the girl on the head and stands up again.
Atta girl, he says. Obeying too much’ll make you soft-headed.
The girl scurries away, and Abraham turns to find his brother just behind him. He must notice something untrusting in Moses’ expression, because his own grows dark and spiteful.
It ain’t blood in everything you see, Abraham says. How about trying to wipe your eyes clean?
Moses says nothing, and he watches his brother walk off around to the front of the church.
And so, long after the sun sets and the residents of the Mission San Xavier del Bac have gone to sleep and the snakes have emerged from their nests to warm themselves on the stones that still hold the heat of the day, then does Moses, who has trouble sleeping, wander the compound and find the monk Ignatius kneeling in prayer at the altar of the church. He tries to retreat quietly, but his unwieldy body crashes into a wooden pew and sends screeching disharmony to all corners of the cruciform structure.
Sorry, friar, Moses says and continues to back away.
Don’t apologize, says Ignatius, rising from his knees and standing with his hands folded. At this hour it’s only you and me and God. Please don’t look so stricken. Stay if you like. Sinner though I am, I look forward to the times when I can exchange words.
The harlequin Albert Wilson Jacks – he too was a man of observance and faith. And so Moses finds himself again, for the second night in a row, engaged in late and lonely palaver with a man of holy demeanour. He sits down gently on the wooden pew, and Ignatius sits near him, the two men facing forwards, gazing at the ornate golden interior of the apse.
When you pray, Moses asks, you pray without words?
I do. In prayer, speech is simply a byproduct.
What were you praying? I mean when I came in.
I was reciting a passage from Daniel. Would you like to hear it?
I reckon I could listen to it.
And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron. For as much as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things, and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
Break in pieces and bruise, Moses repeats barely audible.
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided. But there shall be in it the strength of iron, for as much as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken.
It’s a good prayer, Moses says, nodding his head and stroking his black beard. A fine prayer.
It’s apt, Ignatius agrees.
We’re all of us partly strong, partly broken, ain’t we?
I would say so. But Ignatius must see something in Moses’ flinching expression, because he goes on to ask: What happened to your brother?
For a moment, Moses is confused. What is it that the monk is asking? But Ignatius clarifies with a hand gesture circling his face. What he’s asking is how Abraham came to be so damaged of physique.
Oh, Moses says, that. He got into a tussle a few days back. The other man got him pretty good. It was out in the desert. He walked away – the other guy, I mean. I didn’t kill him or nothin.
Ignatius nods but says nothing. Moses supposes he’s waiting because he hasn’t heard the real answer to what he was asking.
The big man shifts in the pew, and the wood creaks uncomfortably beneath his weight.
There was a town, Moses goes on. Abraham, he got – he got too close to one of the girls. I mean, it was agreed upon. Consensual, I mean. But still and all – there was something about him she didn’t cotton to. He must of done something – I don’t know what—
I think I understand, Ignatius says.
Moses looks at him, wondering if the man truly does understand. A man of God after all – but also one of pretty phrases and toy silences.
He was born wrong, Moses says.
But you watch out for him.
Watch out for him, Moses repeats as though the phrase has two meanings, which it does, and he is juggling between them in his mind. I got a brother’s duty, he says at last.
And what does that duty tell you?
It tells me I’m his blooden kin and that even the worst of us has got at least one person in the world to honour them.
Ignatius says nothing.
I try to keep him from doing things, Moses says miserably.
Ignatius again says nothing – just continues to stare piously at all that baroque gold artistry above the altar. Maybe God speaks directly to him through statues.
What I would know is this, Moses says, raising his voice suddenly so that it echoes through the empty hall. If I’m the one man whose duty it is to honour my brother, how many others are out there – not blood to him, mind you – whose duty it is to hold him true accountable for the things he does? How many? What would your reckon on that number be?
Moses points angrily, first at the statue of the Virgin Mary in the alcove on the right and then to the entombed statue of Saint Xavier in the alcove on the left.
A man ain’t built like a church to hold divided loyalties. How can a man do honour to both a man and the man’s victims? You tell me that. Where is the order that would punish this man? What about all this?