For All Nails #91A: The Reproaches
by M. G. Alderman
- Plorans plovarit in nocte,
- Et lacrimae ejus, in maxillis ejus,
- Non est qui consoletur eam,
- Ex omnibus caris ejus,
- Comnes amici ejus spreverunt eam
- Et facti sunt ei inimici. FN1
- Basilique de la Madeleine, Montreal, Associated Confederation of Quebec
- Good Friday, 12 April 1974 FN2
The purple-cassocked double choir filled the rib-vaulted nave of the church with the reciprocating antiphony of the Improperi, the Reproaches of the Good Friday liturgy. Ghostly Gregorian Latin alternated with the thunderous modern organ-accompanied French responses of Blanchard's liturgical settings FN3.
Lucien Reynard, stuffed uncomfortably into his best blue suit, once again tried to make himself comfortable against the hard wood of the pew, receiving a sharp jab in the side from Marie-Claire, his dark-haired mantilla-draped daughter. Pinned to her sweater was the small silver pin of the Knights of the Immaculata. She was a prominent member of the U.N.O. chapter. In fact she was the branch's new treasurer and had carried the blue and white gonfalon of the organization before the processional statue of the Virgin during May devotions.
Her father had certainly heard enough about her friends in the organization. He was sure they were good people, he just couldn't understand them, maybe. There was some foreign boy she kept calling Ferdie who was the group's organizational genius, even if he didn't go to Rosary that often. Though she never got to know him that well and he had left recently. Father O'Connor, who led them in prayer. Dan from the NC, a curmugeonly classics major piously thumbing his breviary while he talked about German art films. Then there was his genial roommate Andy, from the Indiana Confederation, who was studying towards the peculiar double major of theology and finance and always was the first one to make it on site for the charitable activities in Spanish Town. And then Max, who wanted to be an architect. The three of them -- the so-called "Unholy Trinity" -- were inseparable, and their high-flung intellectual-philosophical conversations, interlarded with obscure jokes, made them incomprehensible as well.
There were others, too, from farther afield. Veronica Denton, her roommate and closest friend, was one of them. She was a sweet Jeffersonian girl, daughter of a Mexico Tribunal justice, who was at once thrilled and bewildered by the mellifluous Latin and swirling incense of High Mass or Benediction. It was a long way from the Mexican, crypto-Charismatic, semi-Protestantized world of her home parish in Arnold. Though perhaps it was not so much of a difference for Vee. While at home she would have never prayed the rosary -- Mexican piety had as much to say about Our Lady of Guadalupe as it did about Jesus. She had thrown herself into the arms of the Virgin of Victory, UNO's patron saint, with trusting love...
Marie-Claire's stories went on and on, complete with the occasional semi-bewildering theological witticism, and sometimes Lucien wished it would stop. It brought back a world he no longer wanted to remember.
He had stopped being interested in church after Père Menaud had tried to draft him into one of the relentless do-gooding projects that no layman seemed to be safe from. A parishioner's time was a greater gift than tithes, he used to say while standing high in the high crows' nest of the ambo. He kept prodding Lucien for assistance, a moment for another charitable project. But Lucien had neither money nor time, hauling himself in night after night after a numb day in the bowels of S.Q. Headquarters in a uniform, that like his suit, bulged in all the wrong places. He was a failure as a policeman, condemned to ending his days slumped over a dactylograph. He couldn't give his strength for someone else's life, climb a ladder, knock a nail in, raise funds for the caisse populaire, because he was slowly finding he no longer had strength to live his own. He felt as bent as the stiff, twisting little man nailed onto the intersection of history that lay within the liturgical readings of that evening.
Startled, he tried to get to his feet to join the line of faithful crowding the central aisle of the basilica to slowly make his way towards the scarlet-chausibled figure of the archbishop standing before the altar, a heavy gothic crucifix in his hands, supported by two surplice-draped acolytes, assisting deacons and priests illuming the sanctuary with a halo of candle fire. The veneration of the Cross.
- Popule meus, quid feci tibi?
- Aut in quo contristavi te?
- Responde mihi!
- O my people, what have I done to you?
- How have I hurt you? Answer me!
- Quia eduxi de terra Ægypti:
- Parasti Crucem Salvatori tuo.
- I led you out of Egypt,
- From slavery I set you free.
- I brought you into a land of promise:
- You have prepared a cross for me.
Reynard moved forward, bewildered, hoping to please Louise and his daughter, and bent to kiss the nailed foot of the crucified Lord. But, as choir answered choir in the gilded darkness with bilingual reproaches, he was astonished to discover he was crying.
- Theodore Army Air Station, California FN4
- 1 July 1974
"G-dd-mned Mexicans!" Ev thought, not out loud, of course, as she stepped off the airwaggon's landing stair into the stifling heat of the remote desert. They had to set up their research field here, instead of a relatively pleasant place like Pax River. Worse than Manitoba, somewhere due east of the middle of nowhere, and substantially much hotter, she added, feeling her pinstriped suit-coat stick sweatily to her back through the primly-starched shirt. She was an officer and a lady, of course, and had to keep up appearances, but just for once she could understand how the decadent Mexicans let their daughters go barelegged without batting an over-made-up eyelash.
This whole trip was a mistake, she thought--what precisely was Dr. Abramowitz after? Even if she learned anything important about Gringo spacemobiles, it would pale behind what the Mexican spy at Fort David Barry would learn about her side's rockets. She imagined with scorn the friendly, helpful Tory civilian scientists spilling their guts, while her Yankee hosts gave her the run around. And what if somehow the trade in secrets were an even one? While, she would admit, landing a winged vehicle from space would be a nice stunt at some point, what they would learn would help them lob atomic bombs onto the CNA's cities. But Abramowitz was at the top of the tree, and he made the orders. D-mned civilians.
It was also a great deal uglier here, too. The Academy may have been in equally distant Manitoba, but it still had the elegant sensibilities of neo-Gothic academia to soften the flat-as-a-pancake prairie. This dusty MacAdamized airfield was ringed with ugly tin-and-wood white-plastered structures, the control tower emblazoned with a hideous blue-and-gold representation of the snake and sun. The main buildings, which so far she had only seen in photographs, were worse, alternating between the industrial egalitarianism of decades past and the egomaniacal garishness of pseudo-Aztec styling that was now the last word in intimidating bureaucratic architecture.
"Evangeline Gilmore?" Ev jerked her head up, stiffening slightly as she found herself face-to-face with a clean-shaven, broad-shouldered young man wearing a short-jacketed mud-colored uniform--so much for the famed "grey cordon"--with the single blackened bronze sun-disk pip of a Lieutenant's simple shoulder-boards. What must have passed for full dress in these parts. He saluted, rather casually. He had apparently lost the plain peaked ski-style cap that went with his uniform, so he was bareheaded. Rather a poor show, Ev thought. Not proper at all.
Ev's chin raked the air as her pure cold eyes narrowed, scrutinizing him, wondering to herself if Teniente Ramirez or Jefferson or Jackson or whatever his d-mned Gringo name was knew what to make of the well-bred young lady before him. She smoothed her bobbed red hair discretely. "Captain Gilmore," she corrected, looking past him, squinting behind her dark-glassed gold-bound aviator spectacles. It was going to be a long two weeks.
"D-nm it, Serjeant, I don't care how many bloody years you've had in the R-bleeding-C-A-A-F, you will follow that order and you will follow it now," shouted Lieutenant Alexandra Stapleton into her headset, her voice going hoarse. She heard her breathing magnified in the crackle of the static and suddenly was afraid of herself. She knew what Serjeant Blaylock, way back in the belly of the airmobile, was thinking. Just give the old girl half-an-hour and she'll be back to her usual self, and they were usually right, or at least they looked like they were right, but they weren't. She was never back to her usual self, unless her usual self was depressed, spit-out, hollow, sometimes drunk, bored to distraction, simply lost.
She had hated the Vandalias from the start, non-coms under her command virtually ordering her around in the signals station. The only solace came from the magnificent knife-blades of mountains beneath her feet, and even now she didn't look at them anymore. D-mn it, she was supposed to know what went where, not get everything explained to her like a schoolgirl in the Burgoyne Museum of Natural History.
She was a Lieutenant, wasn't she? She had gone through hell to get the gilt insignia she wore on her shoulders. And sometimes they felt like they were heavier than the weight of the universe.
From Trent's Airmobile Guide, 1974 ed. FN5
The X-12 set another record last year when Lt. Riggs Menchu took it pass five times the speed of sound. Active since 1972, the X-12 is the latest in a series of rocket-propelled airmobiles produced by Malverde's Space Exploration division. The highly classified rocket motors (produced in-house) are rumored to be one of the final candidates for a platform that can reach orbital heights and speeds.
Type: High-altitude and high-speed testbed Dimensions: Wing span: 40 ft. Length: 140 ft. Tail height: 40 ft. Engines: Two Malverde liquified gas rockets Maximum speed: 5.4 pings (estimate - 5.1 pings reported) Cruising speed: 5.4 pings (estimate - 5.1 pings reported) Maximum altitude: 150000 ft.
- Theodore Army Air Station, California
- 4 July 1974
Teniente Ramirez or Jefferson or Jackson, despite the Honorable Evangeline Gilmore's stereotyped snap judgment, had actually been baptized Emilio Lacroix. It was a name which would not have struck Tory ears as being particularly Mexican, mostly because it was not a name one would have encountered on the rosters of the Wilderness Walk or among the high-class denizens of Mexico City who surrendered to Andrew Jackson and later found their way into the conqueror's cabinet.
But there was more to the Mexican psyche than the thoughts of Hispanos and Anglos. Indeed, the way he pronounced it, Mexico was the only place his name really belonged when all was said and done. It wouldn't have sounded French, since it came out of Emilio's mouth as "Lacroy," but his long-ago ancestors had lived under the white flag of the Bourbons. They had come over in an effort to escape the Francophone end of the Bloody Eighties and, in a great irony of history, immediately fallen under the Francophobic rule of el Jefe de Estado, Benito Hermión. However, Lt. Emilio "Vaquero" Lacroix y Costilla was thoroughly Mexican, and had the snake-and-stars tattoo to prove it.
"You going to show the Tory Princess esto, Vaquero?" asked Sergeant Chavez of the tattoo in question as he knocked back a bottle of foamy gold-brown Liberty Cap cerveza. They sat in a grimy off-base dive filled with neon-refracting cigarillo smoke, the thick air shrieking with the clack of flipperball machines FN6 and the frenetic whine of Juan Bailleres on the wireless. Sergeant Fernandez, who had two empty bottles of Liberty Cap in front of him, laughed loudly until he slowly folded over onto the bar with a soused mutter.
"Ay Pancho, maybe Fernandez could use a little coffee over here!"
Pancho Barnes, the owner of the eponymous bar, Pancho's Fly-In, mumbled something in a sotto-voce growl. He slid a mug of black unsugared next to the comatose Sergeant, who didn't seem to take much of an interest. Barnes threw his hands into the air, mumbling in profane Espangles. "You should complain, Pancho. You ought to put his picture on the wall, he's your best customer."
"It'd clash with the...décor."
"He's already part of the landscape--y m--da, this place no tiene décor." He paused. "Now, what do I have to do to get my picture up on the wall, anyway?" The setup was inevitable; Pancho would rise to the bait. Usually it was a rookie that asked that sort of question, and Emilio got a kick out of seeing the expression on the poor kid's face when he heard the answer. Now, he just wanted to bug Pancho.
"You gotta die."
The walls were plastered with a weird mélange of souvenirs the proprietor had assembled over the years, faded photos of smiling jump-suited aviators, patriotic prints of a pale-skinned Lady Mexico draped in blue and gold next to the brown-faced Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. In some parts of the USM, the two figures tended to blur together, considering no other woman in the world’s most egalitarian nation FN7 would have been accorded such a high-sounding title.
Two more things, that didn't quite go together, thumbtacked up on the wall. A holy-card picture of the late Padre Cuátemoc Smith, the Charismatic Arizona stigmatist who was popular among the Catholic laity but not among the hierarchy. Then a big glossy poster of Tania Monroy, who was wearing a great deal less than Padre Cuátemoc Smith would have approved. Come to think of it, Lady Mexico, who had been wearing the scarlet cap of liberty a long time before those crazy Carribbean "Jeffersonistas" had, looked suspiciously like Tania Monroy. She was also wearing about the same square footage of clothes, or lack thereof.
Lacroix broke into a broad, white-toothed smile. "Hey, she's not so bad y just entre you, me y el borracho aquí, I think she's a bit hot for the old Vaquero. Of course, you know those North American girls, they just tend to flirt around rather than come to the point. Kinda cute, actually. Give her a few days and she'll crack," he said, grinning, not sure if he believed it, but more interested in having a bit of fun at her expense. And who knew, it might work?
"She's got quite a skin on her, oh, she's got one, all right, Emilio, if you're into super-pale pelirrojas FN8, but if she wants you, I don't think she'd cover it all up like that. I've never seen more clothes on a woman. Cloth stock up to her neck, skirt to her calves and on a day you could fry tortillas on the runway; no sense at all. I pity the men up there." She had thought he was a nobody, but he would show her, and have a bit of fun in the bargain!
The Tories had sent a pretty girl instead of un tipo calvo in a lab coat and thick glasses, or a bureaucrat in a ridiculous three-piece suit, or some techno spy, and he intended to enjoy himself. All was not lost: even though she wore knee-length skirts, they fitted kinda close and you could tell she did have a very good body on her.
And deep down, he was starting to respect the Honorable Captain Evangeline--or Captain the Honorable--cualquier cosa, m--rda. He didn't know how North Americans kept track of it.
Well, he did know, actually. They had cards--actual calling cards, she'd tried to give him one with a shield or crest or something on it. He had a good laugh over that, and privately wondered if there had been a calling card on the sovereign soil of Mexico since the last hidalgo left in 1805. Or at least the second Hermión era. He'd also had a laugh at her reaction to his uniform. It actually wasn't his dress uniform, which was grey, but why would he wear it to greet her? He didn't even own one, for that matter; he'd rented one out that time they pinned the Golden Sun on his chest FN9. Not like he was going to be meeting the President or Señor Mercator.
Tories must think that every Mexican soldier either dresses up like the Continental Army or General Santa Anna. Nonetheless, he was starting to respect her; she knew her stuff. And he was sure he was making an impact on her. He was probably one of only three men who had ever flown Sonic-5 in an airmobile. Ol' Riggs Menchu had been the first one to pass the sound barrier, but, well, he wasn't a jerk country boy like Riggs was. Yessiree, he had flown Sonic-5.
And she had been one of only six women on the planet to see the Earth from Outer Space.
"Don't torture her too much."
"She's an aristocrat, she might benefit from a little liberty -- or like they say up there, 'freedom,'" he added, with an exaggerated North American accent that sounded more English than C.N.A., something undoubtedly straight from a Sabado Gigante en Vivo "Los Conjeads" sketch FN10. "Anyway, you're chock full of m-rda, Sarge...while she has those those fine female curves of hers, she's got brains and guts equal to any one of us."
But he didn't say anything else beyond that. He may have begun to respect her, but that was something he intended to keep wholly between his ears.
(Proceed to #91B (Ev and Alex): Refreshed With the Blood of Patriots.)
(Proceed to 4 July 1974: A Little Less Conversation.)
(Return to For All Nails.)