Brother Yup had tried gardening. He was a Sebastianite monk, and they needed metaphors. The path to the Christ is surely paved with stories, the brothers believed, and so it was necessary to have an analogy at hand. The Christ is like the storehouse, the brother who ran the storehouse taught: there is everything that you need and nothing that you do not. Brother Gwee disagreed: the Christ more closely resembles the library that she was in charge of, full of knowledge and resistant of order. Brother Stiv took care of the chicken coop and preached a Christ gallinaceous and preening, a Christ feathered and warlike and plump, and the other monks usually tried to steer new arrivals away from Brother Stiv. Gardening is rife with symbolism and meaning and all variety of whatnot; squeeze some serious bullshit out of a garden. That was where the bullshit started, at least according to the Bible, so Brother Yup tried gardening.
It hurt his knees.
The workshop was a possibility. Trees turn into beds. That which was broken is repaired; that which could not be repaired was recycled. Can’t make a religious parable out of that, you should get out of the business. Brother Yup sustained multiple splinters his first day, one of them rather nasty, and he decided that he could not hear God in a workshop. The kitchen was never on the table.
The wooden church faced east to west and sat diagonally within the four stone walls of the monastery. The penitents, the supplicants, the applicants: they hiked up Mt. Faith along the barely-beaten goat path that jigged and jagged around rocks and looped under fissures in the rock face where the grass would not take. Some crawled, others were carried, none came with pride (they thought) and all were bloodied and burred along the way. Which was the point, or at least part of it: can’t put a monastery on the Main Drag. Come one, come all, come on come on, come on up; we’re taking all comers. We will accept your wounds, the Sebastianites said to Little Aleppo.
They banged on the door. Southeast wall. Arched and wooden and massive with a human-sized cutout in it. Little window at eye-level that popped open and shut. You know what the door looks like.
The brothers made their own clothes, but Brother Yup couldn’t figure out the sewing machine, and they made their own sandals, but Brother Yup wanted nothing to do with feet. He forgot to carry the one too many times for bookkeeping. After he had failed, quit, or refused every job available, the abbot of the order came to Brother Yup and said,
“Work the door.”
So he did. He liked the work, mostly that there wasn’t any of it, but yet it could still be turned into an elaborate religious metaphor. It was like having his Christ and eating Him, too, Brother Yup thought.
There was a ritual to the door. The penitent, the supplicant, the applicant: they WHAMP WHAMP WHAMP with their palms, and then the peep-window opens up to release insults and refuse entrance, and then the peep-window shuts. Further knocking leads to continued abuse, generally of an over-the-top and comic nature. Waste water or food remnants may or may not be tossed at the pilgrim, but nothing to drink or eat; no shelter is provided at night. If they’re still there after three days, then they can come in.
WHAMP WHAMP WHAMP his first penitent, supplicant, applicant, and he swung the peep-window open. A small man with brown skin and long black hair was standing there; he had only one shoe. Brother Yup said,
The man said,
And then he didn’t say anything.
“You, uh, wanna come in?”
The man looked around, confused.
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, sure, why not?”
“Aren’t you supposed to call me names? And, you know, insult me? Make me sleep on the steps for a while to prove I’m sincere?”
“I guess I could if that’s what you want.”
“It’s just traditional.”
“Sure,” Brother Yup said. “Call you names. Okay. Hey, what a jerk you are, jerk.”
“What was wrong with that?”
“Maybe I just don’t want to insult you. What’s your name?”
“Hello, I’m Brother Yup,” he said, and thrust his whole arm out the peep-window with his hand extended. Prakash just looked at it.
“You’re not supposed to shake my hand, I don’t think.”
“Why? Do you have a cold?”
“Y’know what? Just lemme in. Just open the door.”
Brother Yup smiled.
He slapped the peep-window shut and opened up the human-sized cutout of the massive wooden door. Prakash Farr walked in, and Brother Yup hugged him.
“I was expecting an entirely different experience.”
“Who wasn’t? I think the kitchen’s still open. Go get some grub, slugger.”
And then Brother Yup whapped Prakash Farr on the ass like it had been a good game.
“Is there someone I can complain to?”
“Try by the chicken coops. You’re looking for a guy named Brother Stiv.”
The abbot came by the door not too long after that. Brother Yup was on a bench nearby reading a book. He held the slim volume up carefully in between his eyes and the sun, and his sandals were off and his legs were crossed. The abbot was a large man; you could tell he was the boss monk because his robes were the humblest. The abbot was proud of how humble his robes were.
“You opened the door wrong.”
“How can you open a door wrong?”
“By opening it at all.”
“So, the right way to open the door is to leave it closed?”
“We should brick it up, and never be wrong again.”
The abbot was the only monk with a tonsure, and his pate turned red in the sun. It turned red when he talked to Brother Yup.
“Three days. They stay outside for three days.”
“Very symbolic number of days.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Three days outside.”
“In a row?”
“What if it’s raining? Does that count as two days? I think that should count for two.”
“No. Rainy day is one day.”
“What if it’s real hot?”
“A day is a day.”
“There are pumas out there. Listen.”
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“Of course not. The puma hunts by stealth. That’s how you know they’re there, when you can’t hear them.”
“The aspirants wait outside for three days. That’s how it’s done.”
The abbot strode off, and Brother Yup returned to his book. It had just over a hundred pages, and there was not much text on each of those pages. A line, a stanza, an epigram here and there. These were the Teachings of Brother Fin, who had founded the Order of St. Sebastian and established the monastery and built the walls, the church, the kitchen.
The important thing to remember is that
You’re going to die.
Equally important is to forget this fact.
The warrior monks were at it again. Everyone sort of hated the warrior monks, but even the blind one could kick your head off its perch–the blind one was actually the best fighter, somehow–so everyone just put up with their antics. Scuttlebutt around the refectory said that they had acquired some sort of magickal amulet this time. The warrior monks were always being entrusted with cursed swords or crowns that bestowed immense, but vague, powers upon the wearer. This would, of course, draw ninjas trying to steal the mystical doohickeys; Brother Yup idly watched a mess of them punch each other in the face from across the cloisters.
It was late in the afternoon, and bugs were screaming.
When you have no regrets,
When you have no fears,
When you are without guile,
When your mind is clear,
Then you are dead.
Until then, do the best you can.
The courtyard was empty, except in the places where it was full. Brother Mab walked with Brother Tiant; they were fucking. Brothers Howard and Dunn were in the garden; they were fucking, too. The same amount of fucking goes on in monasteries as goes on anywhere else, even though it is forbidden. Possibly, more fucking goes on because it is forbidden, and therefore so much hotter. There was coitus in the chapels, and uncountable furtive handjobs in the bathrooms. Group stuff in the storehouse.
She was Karen Blitzstein when she lived on Crater Road with her husband and daughter, but her daughter was in Foole’s Yard and she did not know where her husband was, and she had taken the name Lopsang even though she shouldn’t have. She wore the robes. A white cord belted it together. The sandals that were made in the workhouse. Same as everyone else.
Except the warrior monks. Most were shirtless with loose pants and insubstantial shoes made out of canvas, and several were on the roof of the library whacking at assorted ninjas with various weaponry of an improvisatory nature. One was taking on three opponents at once with a ladder employed in imaginative ways.
“Amulet this time, right?”
“Not an amulet. A broach,” Brother Lopsang said.
“What’s the difference?”
“Amulet is a necklace, broach is a pin.”
“What’s the substantive difference?”
The robes have pockets big enough to fit two oranges. Brother Lopsang handed one to Brother Yup, and he sat up on the bench and shimmied over to make room for her. She sat down, and they peeled their oranges and watched the quick-moving brawl, which was now moving in and out of the kitchen. A ninja WHONGED a monk on the head with a frying pan; carving knives squared off with cleavers; boiling water was weaponized.
“The Broach of Balthus.”
“There’s your problem,” Brother Yup said.
“Never name jewelry.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s very powerful.”
The fight had progressed to swords.
“But what does it do?”
“Glows,” Brother Lopsang said.
“When it’s being used, it glows.”
“But what does it do?”
“It’s very powerful.”
They had finished peeling their oranges and bit into them. The flesh of the fruit gave way; this is the way of all flesh, but tasty and full of vitamins. Lopsang remembered her mother at the funeral. It wasn’t fair, she said over and over. It wasn’t fair. Her father was dead, and her mother had a granddaughter, but now she was dead and it wasn’t fair. She repeated it during the service, the eulogy, the burial, they had to sedate her. Lopsang did not know that was really a thing, sedating someone, she thought it was something that only happened in movies about rich people, but her mother had to be sedated, and she was, because she was right that it wasn’t fair. Brother Yup thought about his orange.
Christ is surely the river,
The dull man says.
Christ is certainly the riverbed,
The learned man says.
Is there anything to eat?
The wise man asks.
“They’re headed for the brewery.”
“Mm-hmm,” Brother Yup said.
Brother Lopsang finished her orange. When she was Karen, her daughter was named Perdita, but those names were gone and so was her orange. The sun was still blasting onto the bench by the door, and she squinted her eyes against it.
The warrior monks threw shadows like titans, and the ninjas kicked them.
In the old days,
People worked, got sick, married, wandered, wrote poetry, feared.
They do that now, too,
But think they deserve an explanation.
It was getting too dark in the library to read, so Brother Gwee closed up and walked into the chapel with a book under her arm. She paid no mind to the shuriken swishing by her head, and disappeared into the fire-lit church. The Sebastianites did not eschew electricity–they were neither anchorite not ascetic–but they were the only people who lived on Mt. Faith, and the power company refused to string up a line for only one customer.
“Have I ever told you that the Christ is like a doorway?”
“Many, many times.”
The sun was scampering west the same it did the day before, and the bell atop the church that sat diagonally inside the square of walls that protected the monastery bangled to life and BONG just once, the brothers only needed it to ring the once, and the men in their robes and the women in their sandals walked to the chapel to pray the same prayers they had prayed the day before, and back to their cells surrounding the courtyard with its cloisters that were the same as the day before around halfway up a mountain named Mt. Faith, the third of the Segovian Hills surrounding Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.