Kissing the Cross

I am now so fucking Catholic you would not believe it. For the last 20 years I’ve kept quiet about it but now that it’s not cool to be a Catholic I have come out with a full-blown case of the biggest of Cs. I’m riddled with it. Last year I changed my shark’s tooth for a St Christopher. The fewer practising Catholics there are the more Catholic I’m going to become.

I used to be Catholic when I was small. I was an alter boy when I was little but I, or should I say we, got fired. Me and another alter boy were messing around behind the priest. There’s a bit in the service where you shake hands with people all around you. It’s messed up. Anyway me and the other guy were playing to the gallery, just doing everything with a flourish, until it came time to shake hands. I crushed his hand with mine because I thought it would be funny. It wasn’t funny because apparently the dumb fucker had just had an operation on his hand, didn’t bother mentioning it although I guess he did have a bandage on, but he still offered me his injured hand so it was all his fault. He screamed and sobbed through the rest of the service while I sat next to him like a twat wearing a Klan outfit thinking about how much trouble I was in. I knew I was in trouble. His parents were very Catholic and wielded real Catholic power. My dad was just Irish. We both got fired. The point is my new found Catholicism isn’t just something I’ve decided to do because it’s now uncool and therefore cool. I’ve got genuine history.

I think Enrique’s a Catholic. I think those people are. He has a big cross tattooed on his arm. I saw it one time he injected drugs into his arm.

On Good Friday us Catholics go to church and kiss the cross. That’s the sort of batshit mad things that makes being a Catholic cool. And Midnight Mass. That’s also cool. And Palm Sunday. It’s a shame us Catholics don’t call church ‘temple’. That sounds so fucking cool, saying you’re going to temple. Like Indiana Jones or a Jew. Anyway, I thought it would be good if we all went to church, it being Good Friday.

I asked Enrique if he was Catholic and he said he didn’t know. I told him he probably was and he agreed. “So we’ll go to church,” I told him.

“Sure thing, man,” he replied. 11 o’clock this morning we closed the shop and piled into my Land Rover. Enrique in the passenger seat and Marcel and Paula in the back. I felt bad making Paula sit in the back as the seats back there are narrow benches and you have to sort of perch on them. I was concerned about the state of her vagina but she’d been walking fine the last few days. As I helped her into the back I told her not to mention her abortion in church. She said she didn’t even know why she was going and I told her she could stay at work then and she said she’d come with us.

It was dead anyway as most of the Islanders spend Good Friday shouting at the bears at the Zoo. I don’t even know why we open. Apparently – and fuck knows where this came from – if a bear looks at you when you’re talking on Good Friday then whatever you shout at it will come true. I think it’s just a Jersey thing.

There’s a few churches in St Ouen, near the shop, but I don’t know what flavour they are. I know for sure two that are definitely Catholic. A big one in town where my dad had his funeral and the one in St Aubin. That’s the one I got fired from. That’s where we were going.

“Road trip!” I said as I waited for the heater plugs to heat the engine enough for it to start. This means counting to forty with the key held half-turned. When I first got the Land Rover it would start after the count of ten. After I said, “road trip!” we sat in silence for thirty-eight seconds then I turned the key fully and after the engine turning over for a bit, and in a cloud of blue smoke, the Land Rover rumbled in to life. “Road trip!” I said again and we were off.

“Why are we going to church?” Paula shouted over the drone of the engine as we headed past The Amaizin’ Maze.

“We’re going to kiss the cross.” I shouted back. Enrique looked at me from the passenger seat. “Kiss the cross,” I told him. He shifted in the seat and looked over his shoulder at Paula, his expression not changing. “Jesus!” I said ,”you kiss Jesus on the cross,” I told him. “Not the actual cross.”

“Jesus?” Enrique shouted. The Land Rover was really noisy.

“You call him he-zuss! Jesus! A model of him! Not the real…” We drove past the Co-op in St Peter, down Beaumont Hill and along the front to St Aubin. We parked opposite the garage and piled out of the Land Rover. It was sunny and warm out of the wind.

“So what are we going to do?” Asked Paula. We were all smoking.

“We’re going to go over there and kiss the cross.”

“Kiss the cross?”

“Not the cross. Jesus, you kiss Jesus. A model of him.” Paula was doing that thing that woman do in car parks – getting right in the way. She was stopping traffic from easily driving around the car park by being a foot or two too far out from the cars and I pulled her over so we were stood in a tighter group at the back of the Land Rover.

“Why?” She asked.

“Oh my Christ,” I exhaled. “The fuck should I know?”

“What?” asked Enrique.

“I thought you’d know, with your tattoo,” I gestured to his forearm that was covered with his white shirt sleeve and white suit sleeve. He looked at his covered forearm and then pulled his sleeves up revealing a large cross.

“Dis?” Asked Enrique, “Dis aeroplane.”

“That’s not a fucking aeroplane. It’s a cross,” I told him. I was getting cross.

Enrique studied his tattoo. “Pilot sit there,” he said pointing at the end of the long bit.

“Why’s it so square? Where’s the tail?” I asked him. “Where are the windows? It’s a cross. Come on, cross,” I told the group after I’d checked for oncoming traffic. Although they were all adults I was sure if I took my eyes off them for a minute they would run out into the road and be killed.

We crossed to the church and went in. It was dark and cool inside. There were small recesses in the granite wall next to the door that were filled with holy water. You were supposed to do something with it but I couldn’t remember what so I just dipped my hand in and then rubbed my hands together like I do when I visit a hospital. The others all copied me.

The church was pretty empty because we were early so we got seats right at the front. In the next five minutes the church filled. “Good timing, eh?” I told the others. They nodded. Marcel was studying the hymn book that he’d found in the wooden shelf thing that was in front of us.

Paula huffed and puffed a bit to show she wasn’t happy to be there. Before the priest came out she whispered, “can’t we go to the zoo?” I just looked at her like she was mental then the priest did come out and he started talking. At various points people stood, sat down, knelt and stood up. I took my cues from other people and Enrique, Paula and Marcel took their cues from me. There was singing but none of us sang. I found out what song was being sung in the song book and pointed to the words. The others crowded around me and nodded. I stole a few glances around and nobody was looking at us for not singing. The service went on a bit but it was probably better than being at work.

“It’s better than being at work,” I whispered to Paula.

“Not really,” she replied.

Then it was time to kiss the cross. I saw part of myself in the two alter boys who carried the cross to the middle of the stage bit of a church, at the end of the aisle. I didn’t remember doing it myself when I was an altar boy but maybe I had. The cross was about five foot tall with a Jesus nailed to it. As we were at the front we went first. It was like getting off a plane.

Enrique was closest to the aisle and so he went out first. Then Paula and then me and then behind me, Marcel. “Just kiss it,” I told Enrique. He looked unsure and then he looked at the priest who nodded at him and then Enrique bent down and kissed Jesus. The alter boys giggled and one of them wiped Jesus’ mouth with a cloth or wet wipe or something. Paula kissed Jesus next. I was watching the alter boys, they were on the verge of losing it. I smiled. I’d been there. It was my turn. I was confident, I kissed Jesus and heard the alter boys stifle laughter. That annoyed me a bit actually, I’d kissed Jesus with supreme confidence. I didn’t see Marcel kiss Jesus as after kissing him you walked to the other end of your wooden bench thing and shuffled along until you were back where you started. There you sat down, job done.

I watched the other church goers kiss the cross. At first I didn’t notice anything different about how they were doing it but then in a terrible instant I realised every single other person was kissing Jesus’ feet. We’d all kissed him on the mouth.

I knew you kissed his feet. I knew that but I was just doing what the others did without thinking. I looked up at the priest, he was glaring at me. I looked at Paula and saw that somewhere in her mind she had realised we had done it different than anybody else. She started pointing at the crucifix and then turned to me. Before she could speak I said, “I know.” I looked at the alter boys, they kept glancing over, and then turning right away and I watched their shoulders shake. A few people who filed past us after they had kissed Jesus’ feet looked at me and shook their head.

The cross was eventually taken away and although initially it had been cool in the church it now felt hot, too hot, my face was burning.

The priest droned on for a what seemed like hours. More standing, kneeling, not singing. We did the bit where you shook hands but I didn’t meet eyes with anybody whose hand I took from the row behind and just when I thought it would never end it did. The priest said something, the people in the crowd said something and then people were leaving. It took us ages to get out as most of the people in the church were old and only there to socialize and because we were at the front we were furthest from the door.

Outside the air had never felt fresher, the breeze that had been warm an hour earlier felt chilly and wonderful. I wafted my Spar polo shirt a few times to cool my torso.

“Fucking hell,” I said to Paula when we’d reached an acceptable distance from old church goers. “I’m not bringing you idiots again.”

“Let’s go to the zoo!” She said.

“What, to shout at a bear?” I snorted.

“Can’t be any worse dan dat, man,” said Enrique.

“Yeah, that was fucked,” said Marcel. The first words he’d said since leaving. I nodded, they were right in a way, it was fucked but I wasn’t going to the zoo. It was five miles away and cost about £20 each to get in. Fuck that. No fucking way, my friend.

50 minutes later we were in the queue to enter the Zoo. You could see it was packed inside from the turnstile as we drove past. It had taken us 20 minutes to walk from the overflow car park. The noise coming from inside was tremendous. It was £20 each to get in. I was amazed that inside we could actually see a bear as the bear enclosure has a very tall tree trunk or man made pole in the centre of it. The bear was sitting on top of it chewing something. Thousands of people were trying to get its attention.

Bear! Bear! Cure this! Need new windows! Bring this kid back to life! I need ten grand!Leukaemia! Bear! BEAR! BEAR!

The bear was playing it cool, looking at its feet and sometimes the sky. I turned to the others and raised my eyebrows. Paula nodded and then I heard her shout, “Bear!” She shouted. “Look after my baby!” I looked to the bear who didn’t look to Paula. I then looked at Paula.

What?” I shouted, but Paula was shouting for the bear. “Bear! Tell my baby I love her!”

I looked at Enrique and shook my head, his eyes flicked to me and back to the bear. He was licking his lips nervously. Before I could impart on him just exactly how fucked Paula was being by using nothing but my expressive facial expression Enrique shouted something in foreign. I looked at him with my questioning face and Enrique mimed steering a car. I nodded and looked back at the bear. People I didn’t know were shouting right next to my ear. No shame at all. I turned the other way and saw Marcel. He was shouting something at the bear. He was shouting in French and sweating in French. His face as red as the red bit of the Tricolor.

I’d had enough, “Bear!” I shouted in a funny voice to show I was only fucking around, “Bear! I want to…” What should I shout? “I want to be happy!” The bear didn’t look at me. I chuckled then licked my lips. “Bear!” I shouted but it didn’t turn. “Bear!! Help me, bear!” I shouted.

At 4pm we were ushered away. We’d been shouting at the bear for over two hours with no success. At one point it had sort of almost glanced in my direction while chewing lazily on what looked like bark. I heard Paula shout frantically beside me but I pushed her to the ground and waved at the bear while screaming at the top of my voice but the bear was already looking at its feet again.

In the gift shop Enrique bought us all a new Cookie Maxibon which we don’t stock yet. We ate them on the way to the Land Rover. They’re gorgeous. Was I happy eating it? For sure. Perhaps there was something in the whole bear thing, I thought, smiling through tearful eyes. And then I drove us back to the shop in total fucking silence.