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Scene Title Late
Synopsis In which Teo goes to a church to talk to a coincidental priest, and Wu-Long makes a phone call that is the start of everything. Relevantly, no one dies in this scene.
Date November 25, 2008


Though it's less than two miles square, Chinatown is home to some quarter of a million residents. Cramped, ancient tenements are the norm, though the fourty-four story Confucius Plaza standing at the corner of Bowery and Division does boast luxurious accommodations by comparison. Mulberry Street, Canal Street, and East Broadway are home to streetside green grocers and fishmongers, and Canal Street also boasts an impressive array of Chinese jewelry shops.

The only time Teo ever fell in love, it belonged to his brother. A decade later, he's been taught a little bit about how the tesseract works, and he suspects that had something to do with it. With space folded between two bodies, sensory feedback comes through as well as mass and carried energy, sights, sounds, occasional sensations, if only the intense ones. Love had been.

It had, among other things, recalibrated their heartbeats and accelerated their sinus rhythms, inspired occasional dizziness, projected the illusion of bright light, and cultivated the necessity of learning to block one another out — even if those two crazy kids had abstained entirely from premarital sex. Teodoro fancies himself as one of few who has ever come into contact with something perfect, and he harbors that conviction to this day, aglow with the soft-focus corona of nostalgia and its floral tropes, framed by the poetry of a pitying of turtledoves. Gia and Romero, boyfriend-girlfriend, names-carved-in-tree couple, would-be wed. Something perfect. It had asked of him the only thing it could not command alone: do not fuck this up.

He had been incapable. Failure has been his persistent companion ever since. After Gia got shot, Teo found religion. He suspects he knows why. The concepts of prelapsarian and postlapsarian had not resonated with him before then.

He can take or leave most of the rest. Eve's nudity, the Old Testament's inculcated chauvinism, the confusion rendered by Catherine of Siena's Letter 74, Sodom and Gomorrah, the condemnation of Lot's wife for rebellion or the Jacob's struggle, the perpetual debate between the pessimism of teleology and the physics of coincidence. Those are details. Debatable. Teo knows a few languages and a little bit about books. He knows enough to recognize that any text that is not open to interpretation is not worth its weight in shit. That may sound like a cop-out, and maybe it is, but a man ought to be allowed one or two when he's come to the conclusion that the world's all douched up and none of the battles one chooses will end the war.

He doesn't think of it in those terms, of course. No, what crosses his mind two, maybe three times a year is, I'm late for church.


Two whole days late. He blunders very quickly through Chinatown before he gets to the little church, made clumsy by cold-fattened fingers and further disconcerted by the taxi driver that motions for him to cross first despite the red light. The Christmas decorations are out, between the incongruous plaster dragons and jolly old Buddhas.

Chinatown — A Church

He nods at the woman coming out, walks down past the pews and nearly puts out a row of candles, he blusters along so gracelessly. His prayers are neither inspired nor adequately comprehensive. Teo finds himself sitting blankly in the pews for twenty minutes before he walks into the confessional without tripping on anything. He kneels. Shadowed, the priest asks him how long it's been since his last confession. Teo says, "Man, I'm glad it's you." Or that would have been embarrassing. "What time are you out of here?"

Father Benito frowns. "Teo."

"I'll get out," Teo promises instantly, rocking upright. "I'll wait." He goes outside to do exactly that.

Out back, the churchyard is a hankerchief of concrete with seven trees. The sky is white, in totality, due to cloud-covered rather than clear, the promise of acid rain visibly, vaporously dense on every stratum of atmosphere. A saint was mosaiced into the pavement with tiles that almost all look the same color now, dulled by age, accumulated particle grease of pollution, and the day's weather; it takes a bit of staring at to find the face in the halo and identify the wound on her brow. Teo likes this portrayal: she doesn't look too worried.

Father Benito arrives with a flapping of coat. He's bundled up as thoroughly as the next Sicilian native over. Father Benito and Teodoro Laudani used to be friends. Their arriving in the same city was no accident. Though he had quit the football clubs and acquired his Master of Theology. Benito decided to get out of the country several years after Teo, and the United States had always had a certain morbid appeal. Benito went where the Church required personnel that he additionally had contacts. Manhattan had been in dire shortage of holy men for some time.

Teo waves at the other man and beams in a way that does, as ever, warrant a scowl in return. Actually, Benito always seems to be characterized as a study in confusing real life with pornographic material. Better than six feet tall, twenty eight years old, trim and classically-featured, he is a good deal too good-looking to do his job properly. It's good that he tries, though. To inspire feelings of wholesome comfort. He has charisma: it might actually work on someone who doesn't know what the lazer scar on his shoulder used to hold or that he favors Gardon Valtrompia's shotguns. A priest with a shotgun. Some terrible caricature.

"You're late," Benito says. He doesn't glare for long.

Teo inclines his head. For whatever reason, they tend to go on in English for a long time whenever they talk. Not often. "I'm sorry. I got caught up."

"I read. It's why I think you should have come. I'm sorry for the children." Benito exhales, and the condensation of his breath blows gauzy and transparent like spidersilk. "What's up?"

Teo sits his chin on his collar. "Are you allowed to keep pets?"

Benito's eyes open and shut with confusion. "Yes…"

"I have a bird. Would you like to have her? She's blue, small, well-behaved, easy to take care of," Teodoro continues. "I don't really have the time anymore. The vet said she even got depressed because I didn't have the time. No dietary problems, no disease, she was shedding and moping from being alone too much. I was told to put a mirror in her cage for company. She's gotten better, talking to it all the time, but that's depressing me. I think it's irresponsible of me to keep her if I don't spend enough time with her. She'll sit on your finger or your shoulder, sing pretty, and she never bites."

Benito flattens his mouth. "I know you have a bird. Pila, right? You told me before."

"Yes. Pila."

"You love that bird."

Teo raises one shoulder and drops it. He's pretty bad at pulling off the Gallic shrug, the Mediterranean gesture that notoriously says nothing. This shrug probably says something.

"I would like a bird," Benito muses, glancing away through the thinness of trees. It would brighten up his day. Chinatown has more color than much of Manhattan these days, but birdsong is hard to come by. "But I'm pretty busy as well. You should keep her."

Teo shakes his head. "It's not good for her, and I'm going to have to leave the heat on during the day, which gets expensive. It's irresponsible and uneconomic."

Benito shakes his head too. "Get another one."

Teo shutters his eyes into a squint.

Benito returns the expression in full.

"What makes you think I could take care of two birds if I can't take care of one?"

"You're smarter than that, Teo."

"Say what you fucking mean?"

"You're not that stupid, Teo." Teo squashes his face into a childish scowl, and Benito's lines with laughter that never reaches any audible guffaw. Gentler, then, Benito points out, "They'll take care of each other." By then, Teo knows he's right and Benito knows he knows so the subject spins in the silence for a few seconds before dropping away and out of sight. After a moment, Teo hands him a nice box of cigars, interrupting the inevitable bribery joke with an elbow in Benito's ribs. It isn't exactly the same as hitting a priest. The two Sicilians are comfortable around each other the way that comes of having partaken enough vices worth telling each other about in the past, and though they never exhausted the available material, that was enough of that.

Benito holds the box in one hand. Left of him, the emaciated maple tree to their left shivers before the rest begin to, straining stale wind through knotted gaps. The branches are empty of leaves. He watches Teo watch him and is reminded of himself, from some time nebulously categorized as before. He suspects that means he's getting older, or maybe Teo's just always that way. After a moment, he says, "There's not a scratch on you."

Without missing a beat, Teo claps himself gently on the sternum, through his coat. "Under here." Then, "How is your flock?"

Father Benito — temporarily no longer 'Benito' — tells him because the interest is sincere. Lusia's tumors, the ones begotten of radiation poisoning, have finally been cleared away and her prognosis is good. She is, however, missing a breast. Barry's marriage is getting annulled. Mei-Ling is pregnant with twins, third trimester, it gives him a stomach ache watching her bell-shaped corpulence wallow the aisles but she insists on coming. There's a teenager who comes every Sunday, too, undergoing treatment at the acute psychiatric ward; something about pure hands and sevens. Four kids from the community college got together and started making a roof garden. You'll be able to see it from here, come spring.

A few women came through asking for sanctuary. No names or identification, a lot of designer bruises. It was granted.

"You can grow squash in the winter," Teo says. "I have a friend who's going to do it. She said squash will grow." Then, "Your English is better." Then, "Priesthood suits you." He isn't lying: it does. Benito comes to life when he talks about them. Picks faces out of this labyrinthine termite hill of a city, individual storylines out of the Gordian Knot without having to cut. It clearly makes Benito happier than alcohol and syphillis ever had. Not the kind of happiness that causes laughter, but there's this quality to Benito's voice, tight and low, which either man would once have registered as embarrassing or unseemly, the ridiculous protocols of masculinity.

Father Benito smiles. "Thank you."

Exhale. "I should go away. I have somewhere to be." Teo grins back.

Benito volunteers a skeptical look — heh — and his most disbelieving voice: "Nothing to confess?"

"I wouldn't want to bore you." Teo's eyes go crescent-shaped, amused. He teeters on his feet, experimentally, seeing if he can still feel his toes.

Benito waves the box by way of salutation. "Get laid, okay?"

Unable to hold a glare, Teo settles for staring, incredulity as obvious on his face as the next expression. "What kind of priest are you?"

"One who knows Heaven forgives, death does no take-backs, and trouble will find you." Benito tucks the box of cigars under his arm and returns his hands in his pockets, shifting forward.

Teo falls into step. "Romero might come through here."

Father Benito's smile doesn't fade, not quite. Their footsteps don't syncopate, tumbling blocky against the stone. "I did not know he was in town." Then, "I didn't think he still attended."

Teo nods downward at the mosaic. "He might for her," he says. They proceed together, then apart. Addio. Addio.

Saint Rita watches them leave without comment.

Lower East Side

The Lower East side is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City. Starting south of East Hudson Street and west of the East River, it is also bordered by Chinatown and the East Village. Tenemant housing is very prominent here, as well as many religious structures and more than a few excellent kosher delis and bakeries. For those in search of entertainment, the Lower East is home to many bars and live music venues.

Eight minutes later, a man walks into Teo. Despite that he's shorter and that Teo isn't small, it feels like sharing a hug with a falling tree, and Teo almost falls on his ass. Manages to catch his balance, last instant, one arm up instinctive to reciprocate the favor and an equally automatic apology on his lips. He never touches the stranger because the stranger never stops. No, he's moved on by the time Teo's seen him here, discarding the threat of retaliation as militarily briskly as he does the proceeding stretch if sidewalk, taking away with him a fleeting impression of black leather, curling black hair, black eyes, black mood, black, black, stepping into a phonebooth. The door retorts a clack shut behind.

Wu-Long is in a rush. He doesn't know why. It's not like coma patients have anywhere to be.

He is making a phone call, thumb-presses rapid-fire and deft over the configured number-pad, memorized in his mind as well as muscle. The number is a long, long, long one: an international number off a calling card, no doubt. Through the fogged glass, Teo sees him bow his head, nursing the handset in the dip of his neck despite the inevitable sourness of other people's saliva aggregated rancid on the mouthpiece, and go very still. Frowning at himself, Teo goes to his bus stop.

Nurse Telis answers his call. Wu-Long listens to the O2 stats and usual progress report — or report on the lack thereof — with the same stagnant serenity with which he absorbs the bustle of traffic in the street in front of him. He can tell: she is lying about something. Her voice is too nasal, abrasive against the upper-limit of his hearing with a squeaky-pitched note that saws in and out like a bee against a pane. He doesn't like this. He doesn't like this at all.

Saint Rita of Casca is a patron saint of travelers errant, infertility, beaten wives, baseball and other lost causes.

November 25th: Every Confidence

Previously in this storyline…

Next in this storyline…

November 25th: When You're Gone
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