Home > All the Crooked Saints(9)

All the Crooked Saints(9)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

“No more than any of us are, I suppose.”

This exchange was when Pete and Beatriz first truly noticed each other. They used this moment of observation in two different but related ways.

Beatriz observed Pete with his arm crooked on the edge of the Mercury’s open window and wondered what it would be like to press her thumb gently into the skin at the inside of his elbow. She could see this crook of his arm from where she stood, and it seemed as if it would be a soft and pleasant thing to do. Beatriz had never had this impulse before and was somewhat surprised by it. She was equally surprised by how the feeling, once noticed, did not go away, but instead extended to the other elbow as well. Because she was Beatriz, she made a note to consider this impulse more acutely later, to determine where it might have come from. She did not consider this sensation to be a suggestion for future action, however.

Pete, for his part, observed Beatriz in the half shadow with her still, unblinking, eerie manner, her expression looking no warmer than those of the dark-eyed barn owls sitting on the roof above her. Although they had exchanged only a handful of words, Pete felt the most dangerous jolt to his heart so far, surpassing even what he had felt when he had fallen in love with the desert only hours before. He did not know the reason for this surge of intense curiosity, only that the scale of it felt deadly. It seemed that he should not repeat it if at all possible. He pressed his hand to his chest and vowed to keep his distance from Beatriz while he worked here.

“I’ll wait in the car,” he said hastily, and rolled the window back up.

“In my car?” Tony demanded.

There was no time for further discussion, as the sound of Antonia’s dogs echoed back through Bicho Raro. Eduardo Costa had done a fine job leading them away, but he had run out of breath at a collapsed cattle barn near the highway and had climbed it to preserve his life. The dogs had left him marooned on the ruined spine of the building and were now returning to make a meal of Tony’s other shoe.

“We should go before the dogs get to us,” Judith said. She looked to Beatriz, but Beatriz had already vanished—she could not be persuaded to talk to strangers if there was anyone else who would do it instead, and she most certainly did not like to be volunteered to perform the miracle. (Also, unknown to Judith, she wanted to study the feeling she had had about Pete more closely and worried that another feeling might come along and make it more complicated to analyze.)

“Beatriz,” Judith hissed. Then, to Tony, “Hurry up, follow me.”

The sound of the dogs lent Tony speed. He limped after her on his one shod foot, one sock foot. “Where are we going?”

“Where do you think?” Judith replied angrily. “To get you your miracle!”

 

 

The Saint of Bicho Raro sat in the Shrine and listened to Tony DiRisio approach.

The Shrine was the oldest building in Bicho Raro. It had been designed and built by Felipe Soria, a member of the family now spoken of only in hushed tones. He had arrived in Bicho Raro on a large honey-colored horse and in a large honey-colored hat and promptly began work on a roadside altar after claiming that the Virgin had appeared to him with instructions to do so.

On the first day, he’d completed the stucco walls for a small structure the size of his stallion’s box stall, and the other Sorias had been pleased. On the second day, he’d torn free a section of abandoned railroad and melted it into a beautifully intricate metal gate, and the other Sorias had been pleased. On the third day, he’d fired one thousand ceramic tiles with the heat of his own belief and installed a roof made of them, and the other Sorias had been pleased. On the fourth day, the Virgin had appeared again, this time surrounded by owls; he’d carved a statue of her in this state to place inside the Shrine, and the other Sorias had been pleased. On the fifth day, he’d made a rich pigment from some sky that had gotten too close to him and used it to paint the Shrine’s exterior turquoise, and the other Sorias had been pleased. On the sixth day, he’d held up a passenger train, robbed the passengers, killed the sheriff on board, and used the sheriff’s femurs to fashion a cross for the top of the shrine. The Sorias had not been pleased.

On the seventh day, Felipe Soria had gone missing forever, which was why the Sorias now spoke of him only in whispers.

When he was young, Joaquin had once told his mother, Rosa, that he’d seen Felipe Soria wandering the desert outside Bicho Raro, but Felipe would have been one hundred and thirty years old, so no one believed him. The Sorias were long-lived (except when they suddenly weren’t), but such an age would have been exceptional even for a Soria.

As Judith Soria Costa escorted Tony to the Shrine, the current Saint of Bicho Raro kneeled inside its small interior. He had run all the way from the box truck in order to have time to prepare himself (spiritually) to perform the miracle and prepare himself (physically) to appear as the Saint. He did not have to do this, as even Sorias in poor standing with God remained miraculous, but he believed that the more spiritually prepared he was during the ritual, the more likely the pilgrim was to be completely healed. The miracles, he felt, were just as much about healing his own mortal spirit as theirs.

Daniel Lupe Soria had not always been on the path to holiness.

As a child, he’d been so terrible that Rosa Soria had sent him twice to be exorcised. He’d been so terrible that he’d chased a field of sheds out into the road one week and burned down a herd of cattle the next. He’d been so terrible that the cowboys at the neighboring ranch still used his name as a cuss word. In his teens, he and his school friends had decided to steal a painting of the Santo Niño de Atocha from a church outside Alamosa. As the disguised child Jesus gazed reproachfully from inside the frame, Daniel had carried the icon outside to where his friends waited in their truck. As he descended the few stairs, however, the painting grew heavier and heavier until he was compelled to put it down. His friends jeered, but they could not move it either. As Daniel had tried to decide if they should just leave the painting where it sat on the sidewalk, he’d seen an inscription on the back: Donated by an anonymous benefactor, for all the crooked saints.

Feeling suddenly and surprisingly heavy with the weight of both religious paintings and remorse, Daniel could not bring himself to abandon the painting to the elements his crime had exposed it to. He decided to wait with it until the priest returned in the morning, even if it meant confessing his theft. His friends abandoned him, but still Daniel waited. The wind began to kick up dirt, and still Daniel waited. A storm blew in, and hail began to fall, and he covered the painting with his body to protect it, and still he waited. As the hailstones pounded him, the frivolous and selfish nature of his childhood exploits hit him with equal pain. With each blow of the hail, he repented of another misdeed. Then the sky cleared and Daniel found that he could easily lift the painting: a miracle.

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