The Convent Fair and what happened therePosted: June 4, 2011
My dears, this story, being a religious story, is almost certainly not suitable for children – unless, of course, you have the sort of troublesome child who could stand, every now and then, to read a few well placed words about the wrathful vengeance of God (or Gods, depending on your preference).
The other day, I referred to an incident involving Chris Christie and Ann Coulter, but fobbed you all off in favor of cake. However, I am not one to ever renege on my promises, explicit or implied, and so I will sit down to tell you the story. I do warn you – it is a long, dark and convoluted tale which contains scenes of a most distressing nature, and which I suspect will be told with every sign of relish and conspicuous attention to detail. Some of this is very serious, but there may be the occasional bit of whimsy and a little sprinkle of mucus to lighten the mood.
That’s religion for you.
Those of you of a weak or panty-waisted nature and those who complain about any story longer than 140 characters (but I repeat myself) should get out now. Off you fuck.
If you are still with me, check the bedrooms to make sure no one has kidnapped your kiddies in the last ten minutes, pour yourself a drink and sit yourself down in your comfortable chair, and I will tell you all about the 2010 Annual Fair at the Convent of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen in Spokane.
The Convent of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, as any local will tell you, usually in words of less than two syllables, is the Chapter House of the Little Brown Sisters of the Gaping Maw. The Sisters are a mendicant order and, every day, be it frostily gloaming or nice and sunny, they sally forth from the Convent into the steep, narrow, and crooked streets of Spokane. There they devote themselves to doing all kinds of good and giving works among the degraded population of this impoverished area of Washington state.
The Convent is a towering, gambrel-roofed thing, walled off from the world, a curiously joyless collection of spires and tiny windows that looks as if it has a permanent grudge. Just imagine Dick Cheney in building form and you’re pretty close. It nestles into the edge of the Spokane River, somewhere on the outskirts of town among a number of the crumbling, worm-eaten factories that litter the waterfront, factories abandoned since the joint FDA/CDC raids back in 2007-8, and only now beginning to show signs of a sluggishly revived existence.
The river is quite close to the Convent, its water lapping sleepily at the shore and at the low black reef near the edge of the river and sometimes, at night, at the bricks at the base of the Chapel wall, there beneath the Sisters’ sleeping cells.
The Annual Fair, or Annual Fête as it used to be known before Americans unanimously decided that foreign words were scary in about 2001 and we had to change it, is the Sisters’ major fundraising event, and often quite entertaining. It is always frightfully British, you see, which takes me back to my childhood (only without the emotionally-crippled mother and the twice-monthly early -morning bedroom visits from Mr Snuggles).
There’s always a Tilt-A-Whirl, often manned by a gap-toothed adonis in a torn undershirt with gold-dusted abdominals and taste for frottage. There are donkey rides and cake stalls and even a coconut shy, although I have always thought the coconut shy to be the worst thing at a fair because if you win you get a fucking coconut. The Sisters sell vegetable produce and jams and fake relics of St Fidelis that they have made, and my friend Jane Robinson always dresses up in a turban and charges $2 for Protestant Palm Readings – she just tells everyone they are going to hell. There are sack-races and egg-and-spoon races, and if you sneak around the back of the Refreshments stall, you can smoke the finest Afghanistani opium sold by dark and furtive houris who speak only the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. $76 for two hours of transitory cosmic enlightenment is quite a good deal really.
2010 was the centenary of the foundation of the Convent of the Little Brown Sisters by Father Brigham Howard on April 30, 1910. Brigham was my great-uncle, and the black sheep of the family, sent away from Cambridge years before I was born on account of his nefarious and unspoken-of deeds. He had arrived in Spokane in 1909, a thirty-something blond-haired charmer with a contagious smile and a heavy hand with the Blood of Christ, at the head of a group of 15 stunning, curvaceous and quite fervently religious young Catholic nuns. Within a few months, Brigham had purchased land and been elected as a County Commissioner, and construction of the Convent was well underway. Brigham was very active in Spokane life, and many people came to listen to him preach and or to deliver brown paper bags to the Commissioner’s office. However, the Sisters were rarely seen. They lived as an almost entirely monastic order, spending every day in service to their god. Brigham himself, I am told, seemed to grow old very quickly after his sixtieth birthday, his body breaking down within weeks as he retreated more and more into the Convent. He was, of course, buried in the chapel.
Early one spring morning, soon after Brigham had died, all of the nuns came out of the gates of the convent. There were 24 of them by this time, Brigham having actively recruited from within the more more buxom-and-brunette section of the local population. They were all still beautiful, although among the original 15 there were some about whom it might be said there was a hint of something sullen and almost piscine around the gills, an extra little girdle of fat around the middle, that taken together made one think of wallowing or, perhaps, of eyes peeping above the surface of a waterhole.
The Sisters each wore a simple white dress, each carried a basket, packed with vegetables and the flat-eyed, white fish they had caught in the river the evening before. Each Sister knocked on a door, at a factory or a house, introduced themselves and proffered gifts appropriate to the particular resident, as they have every morning since.
You can imagine that the Fair (yes, I’m getting back to the Fair – I told you there would be conspicuous attention to detail) is therefore quite an important part of the Spokane social calendar, and for the Centenary, the Sisters had pulled out all the stops, inviting all sorts of special guests.
Late in the day, I was walking through the Fair with Sister Bertram and Ann Coulter – Ann and I are old friends, although I do get tired of her constant whinging about how no one “gets her as parody”. What can I say? Ann is a good looking woman with a taste for the wrinklies and sometimes Grammy likes a hate-fuck. I don’t let her talk.
Sister Bertram is the Mother Superior of the convent, although she transferred here only recently from the Arkham convent. I don’t dare to tell her, but she smells a bit like a lobster. A raw lobster, of course – I wouldn’t mind if she smelled like bisque. I have always been a little suspicious of her – there is something unblinking to her eyes that I find most disconcerting.
The Fair had been a success. The Archbishop had managed to make his opening ceremony speech without calling anyone a whore, Pastor Huckabee had been dunked into the three-throws-for-10-dollars slime pit dunking machine at least fifteen times during his half an hour shift, Condoleezza Rice had broken her ankle in the greasy-pig chase, and several youngsters were copulating frantically in the shadow of the chapel after eating one of Grammy’s special strawberry and cream cakes. All that was left was the special closing event in the chapel and later, if all went well, the ceremonial stoning of the adulteresses in the parking lot of the next-door Seven Eleven.
Over to our left, the carny was enticing Chris Christie onto the Tilt-A-Whirl for “just one spin”, even though the ride was deserted and dusk had already begun to trickle into the spaces between the tents. Christie was clearly unwilling, but there was a photographer nearby and so he gingerly shoehorned himself into the tiny seat. The carny swung down the retaining bar and then, the bar not clicking into place, bodily reached into the car, lifted up an armful of Chris, popped the bar under and let all that stomach flop down again. The carny walked over to start the ride and pressed the start button, giving me a huge wink as he did. I rolled my eyes at him. As we continued on towards the chapel, I could see the light from the setting sun strike Christie each time he was whirled around, feel an odd, electrical burr in the ground below my feet, a vibration that seemed to increase slightly as the ride began to spin faster.
We were almost the last to arrive. The nuns were all seated in a semi-circle around the chancel, around the glittering black stone tablet that covered the corpse of Brigham Howard, with all the townspeople gathered behind them in their pews. Sister Bertram nodded to us and went over to stand before the grave. Pastor Huckabee and Ms Rice were seated on a row of chairs in front of the altar along with various local dignitaries. As Ann and I came in, the Pastor gestured to the seat next to him. I shook hands with him and murmured some pleasantry as I sat.
Sister Bertram voiced, at length, her thanks to everyone for the successful day. She was scrabbling in the pocket at the front of her dress, and as she spoke she drew out a little black statue, no bigger than her hand. It was human in shape, but where it glittered in the red sunlight streaming through the barred windows of the chapel we could all see the curve of its long head, the rubberiness of the knots of thick, ropy stuff that curved out from its jaw. The thought that it looked like a Cher action-figure rushed into my head, but I quickly dispelled it.
I had seen the like of the statue only once before – in Egypt during the war, clutched in Hermann Göring’s fat sweaty hand as he boarded a plane for Berlin which had I arrived far too late to stop.
Now Sister Bertram had ceased waving it in the air. She knelt and placed it on Brigham’s grave and it made a sharp metallic click as the two stones touched.
I looked at Huckabee with an expression of alarm on my face. He peered at me vaguely as I made frantic signals with my eyebrows towards a heavy gold candlestick that was sitting on the floor near his foot. I was distracted then by a high pitched cry of fear coming in to the chapel from outside, the sound dopplering each time the Governor was whisked past the door. At the same time, that electric buzz seemed to ratchet up a peg and spread to the air, making the chairs vibrate and my false teeth ache.
A young sister, her eyes now a gimlet green and staring lidlessly, her lips slack and drooling – a little like Peggy Noonan first thing in the morning – handed Sister Bertram a book. I could see it was the hideous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Obama Alhazred, the edition published in the eighteenth century by Carolus Steinberg – the one with the fold out diagrams and the pop up orgy scenes where you can twiddle a paper knob and make the devil rut harder or the eyeballs pop out of the sinners’ skulls. Sister Bertram began to read.
Then I felt something press against my leg. I looked down and, thankfully, it was the candlestick. I clasped it firmly and nodded thanks to Huckabee. For a moment I simply held my breath and waited. Eternities seemed to elapse. As Sister Bertram read, some of the members of the crowd began to stand up and call out as a nauseous fishy odour mounted over the room.
Sister Bertram slammed the book shut and cried out, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
While she was still wiping the spittle off her forehead, Huckabee leapt to his feet, shouting, “Hold there, you monstrous strumpet of hell”. He started to advance on Sister Bertram, but found himself swung around from behind, one arm and then the other clamped in two hellish grips. He gazed into the dead eyes of Ann Coulter and Condoleezza Rice. Both were suddenly bloated and green, their skin mottled and flaking. It was just like the paintings they both keep in their attics had been simultaneously seized and stabbed right up from top to bottom.
Huckabee spluttered at them, “What are you doing, you vile harridans?”
When they spoke, one into each of his ears, their voices were as one voice, low and dark and sultry, and echoes struck off the walls like drips of dark water.
“The dark moon Yuggoth is in alignment with the earth. In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. You will couple with us both, and the Old Gods will arise.”
Huckabee looked frightened then. He let out a whimper that bounced from wall to wall, mingling with the choked wails that still filtered through the chapel door from outside.
It was time for me to do something. I stepped forward, the look of fear again on my face, but with the candlestick brandished in one hand. A look of relief flashed over Huckabee’s features and he struggled and managed to break his arm away from Ann Coulter for a second. His expression didn’t have time to change to one of surprise before I whopped him on his stupid fat skull with the candlestick and he slumped to the ground, bleeding from his temple.
Good heavens dears, is that the time? I’ve been invited to a late supper with George Clooney and I do want to get there before he bogarts all the coke. Besides, you should all be in bed by now, happily procreating for when god comes with his terrible hunger.
I’ll have to finish this story later, I am afraid. Is next Saturday night good for you?
[Cross posted at Balloon Juice.]