As I entered the pizzeria, I picked up one of the free newspapers from the stand and pretended to read it. I was really checking the place out to see if any of the people who where preparing pizza’s had demon heads. None. That was good, I did not want to eat a pizza prepared by a demon. Sounds crazy now that I think about it. Everyone in the pizza restaurant had blotches, some faint, others very dark and pronounced. The only one with a demon head was the waiter who spotted me and came up to me.
“You want to sit at a table?” He recognized me from earlier. “Hey, you were in here before with your buddies. Are you OK? What was it you saw when you looked at me? I heard you ask your friends if they noticed anything strange about me.”
I was extremely difficult to look into his demon eyes as his face shifted from demon to human and back to demon, and not react like I had earlier. I smiled and folded my paper. “I’m sorry, I had a bit of a panic attack earlier. I’m overdue for an eye exam and kept seeing spots all day. I’m feeling better now, seeing things as they really are.”
“Cool man, OK. Say, if you ever need anything to help with panic attacks or anything at all. You come see me.” He leaned in close as though we were now best buddies. “I’ve got some good shit. It’ll blow your mind.” He winked. I saw his demon mouth drool.
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So, you gonna sit at the counter? Joe will take care of you.” He pointed at the man taking a pizza out of the oven.”
“Thanks.” I took my seat at the counter and looked around. Demon waiter buzzed about the place serving patrons at the tables.
Joe came up to the counter. “What can I get you?”
“Two slices of pepperoni please and a coke.” I replied.
Joe took the stub of a pencil which he kept tucked behind the top of his right ear and wrote my order on a small sheet of green receipt paper. Then he put it on the narrow counter behind him with the other order tickets. Five minutes later, he placed two hot slices of pepperoni pizza and a coke in front of me. “Thanks!” I said.
He nodded and got back to his pizza making.
Half way through my first slice, a man and a women entered the restaurant. The man had a demonic head and the woman had blotches on her face. They took their seats at one of the tables. Another customer entered a minute later. She took a seat at the counter next to me. Even with the blotches on her face, I recognized her as the young woman from my dream. Her face and outstretched hand was emblazoned on my mind.
Joe came up to the counter. “What can I get you?”
“A cheese calzone, please.” After ordering, she fidgeted nervously. She caught me looking at her.
I gave her a smile. She forced a smile and looked the other way. I noticed the scars on her wrist. “How are the calzones here, any good?” I asked.
She turned her head, surprised by my question. “Yeah, they’re pretty good.”
“I haven’t had a calzone in ages.” I said.
She did not respond.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I asked.
Her head whipped around. She looked me over. “Aren’t you a priest or something? You’re not supposed to be hitting on women are you?”
I blushed a bit. “I’m sorry. But, I’m not hitting on you. I just became a priest today, as a matter of fact.”
“Well, fact is ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ is the lamest pick up line in history,” she said. “Besides for all I know, you could be some psycho pretending to be a priest.”
I laughed. It caught her by surprise.
Joe came to counter with her calzone.
“Thanks,” she said.
I extended my hand to her. “My name is Fr. Oliver. I’m not a psycho. I promise.”
She shook my hand. “Clare.”
“Nice to meet you, Clare.”
She blew on her calzone to cool it off a bit before bitting into it. “So, what made you become a priest? She looked me over again. “Kind of a waste if you ask me.”
“It’s just something I always wanted to do. It’s a little hard to explain. It became kind of an obsession. I just had to do it.”
She took a bite of her calzone. “You’re a psycho. You gave up sex.” She said as she chewed her food.
“Sometimes you have to give up something to get what you really want. For me, it was to become a priest.”
She shook her head. “Whatever. I couldn’t do it.”
“I know, you couldn’t even if you wanted to. They don’t allow women to become priest.”
“That’s bullshit,” she said. “Was that a God thing, or did some frustrated old fart make up that stupid rule?”
I laughed again at her response which made her smile. “It’s complicated.” I said. “But that’s the way it is. In my heart, I don’t believe it was a God thing. Your old fart theory might merit further investigation.”
“I don’t believe in God anyway.” She said, as she took a sip of her soda. “No offense, I just don’t think a God would let so much bad crap happen if he really existed.”
“What kind of bad crap are you talking about?” I asked.
She turned to me, her piercing green eyes surrounded by the dark blotch all over her face. “Don’t you ever watch the news? People killing each other, idiots running the country, greed, simply trying to survive, men who can’t commit to anything except beer. All the good men are taken, the rest are gay, or unavailable because they’re priests or some such crap. Then there’s the past due rent, stress from all the BS at work, the abortion which you live with everyday of your life, the guilt, the feeling of hopelessness and loneliness, the successful sister who has it all and thinks you’re a loser. I can go on. It just makes you want to stuff your face with a calzone followed by a gallon of rocky road ice cream, or better yet, to check out all together. Today it’s the calzone, tomorrow – who knows.”
I paused and gave her my full attention. “Blessed be You, O God, for having created me.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She asked with a mouthful of food.
“One of the reasons I became a priest is because I’ve always been inspired by Francis of Assisi. If he were alive today, he’d be locked up and labeled crazy. He walked away from a life of riches and luxury and embraced a life of poverty and devotion to God. I think he may have been the happiest man on the planet at the time. There were others with wealth who wanted that kind of joy. Some wound up giving all their stuff away, land, money, you name it and joined Francis.”
“Yeah, so, he was crazy. So were those rich guys.”
There was a woman who decided to follow Francis and left everything including a proposal of marriage from a rich man. Her name was Clare. She was an inspiration to many other women of her time and they joined her. She lived in poverty and did manual labor. I do mean poverty. She had nothing. The last thing she uttered before she died was “Blessed be You, O God, for having created me.”
“So, what does that have to do with me? Just because we have the same name doesn’t mean squat, and it certainly doesn’t make me a saint.”
“No, it doesn’t. But aren’t you the least bit curious how someone with absolutely no possessions, no conveniences, no mate, doing manual labor, the subject of constant criticism could be so happy as to utter those words on her death bed? By comparison, you are wealthy, you can afford the calzone you just ate and a gallon of rocky road ice cream if you wanted it. You have an iphone, access to wifi, and you probably own some jewelry like the necklace and earrings you’re wearing right now.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess she was crazy too.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t you want a little bit of that crazy? To feel such utter joy, even with nothing? I wanted that kind of crazy. Don’t you want just a little bit of that feeling? A feeling no one can take from you?
“Now you sound like a pusher. You’re not trying to sell me drugs are you?”