One Day After Saturday
Father Anthony Isabel of the Holy Sacrament of the Altar had just risen to the pulpit. He was about to begin the sermon when he saw a boy enter with his hat on. He saw him examining the almost empty temple with his large, serene, and clear eyes. He saw him sit down in the last pew, his head to one side and his hands on his knees. He noticed that he was a stranger to the town. He had been in town for thirty years, and he could have recognized any of its inhabitants just by his smell. Therefore, he knew that the boy who had just arrived was a stranger. In one intense, brief look he observed that he was a quiet soul, and a little sad, and that his clothes were dirty and wrinkled. It's as if he had spent a long time sleeping in them, he thought with a feeling that was a combination of repugnance and pity. But then, seeing him in the pew, he felt his heart overflowing with gratitude, and he got ready to deliver what was for him the greatest sermon of his life. Lord, he thought in the meantime, please let him remember his hat so I don't have to throw him out of the temple. And he began his sermon.

At the beginning he spoke without realizing what he was saying. He wasn't even listening to himself. He hardly heard the clear and fluent melody which flowed from a spring dormant in his soul ever since the beginning of the world. He had the confused certainty that his words were flowing forth precisely, opportunely, exactly, in the expected order and place. He felt a warm vapor pressing his innards. But he also knew that his spirit was free of vanity, and that the feeling of pleasure which paralyzed his senses was not pride or defiance or vanity but, rather, the pure rejoicing of his spirit in Our Lord.

In her bedroom, Rebecca felt faint, knowing that within a few moments the heat would become impossible. If she had not felt rooted to the town by a dark fear of novelty, she would have put her odds and ends in a trunk with mothballs and would have gone off into the world, as her great-grandfather did, so she had been told. But she knew inside that she was destined to die in the town, amid those endless corridors and the nine bedrooms, whose screens she thought she would have replaced by translucent glass when the heat stopped. So she would stay there, she decided (and that was a decision she always took when she arranged her clothes in the closet), and she also decided to write "My Eminent Cousin" to send them a young priest, so she could attend church again with her hat with the tiny velvet flowers, and hear a coherent Mass and sensible and edifying sermons again. Tomorrow is Monday, she thought, beginning to think once and for all about the salutation of the letter to the Bishop (a salutation which colonel Buendra had called frivolous and disrespectful), when Argenida suddenly opened the screened door and shouted:

"Señora, people are saying that the Father has gone crazy in the pulpit!"

The widow turned a not characteristically withered and bitter face toward the door. "He's been crazy for at least five years," she said. And she kept on arranging her clothing, saying:

"He must have seen the devil again."

"It's not the devil this time," said Argenida.

"Then who?" Rebecca asked, prim and indifferent. "Now he says that he saw the Wandering Jew."

The widow felt her skin crawl. A multitude of confused ideas, among which she could not distinguish her torn screens, the heat, the dead birds, and the plague, passed through her head as she heard those words which she hadn't remembered since the afternoons of her distant girlhood: "The wandering Jew." And then she began to move, enraged, icily, toward where Argenida was watching her with her mouth open. "It's true," Rebecca said in a voice which rose from the depths of her being. 'Now I understand why the birds are dying off."

Impelled by terror, she covered herself with a black embroidered shawl and, in a flash, crossed the long corridor and the living room stuffed with decorative objects, and the street door, and the two blocks to the church, where Father Anthony Isabel of the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, transfigured, was saying, "I swear to you that I saw him. I swear to you that he crossed my path this morning when I was coming back from administering the holy unction to the wife of Jonas the carpenter. I swear to you that his face was blackened with the malediction of the Lord, and that he left a track of burning embers in his wake."

His sermon broke off, floating in the air. He realized that he couldn't restrain the trembling of his hands, that his whole body was shaking, and that a thread of icy sweat was slowly descending his spinal column. He felt ill, feeling the trembling, and the thirst, and a violent wrenching in his gut, and a noise which resounded like the bass note of an organ in his belly. Then he realized the truth.

He saw that there were people in the church, and that Rebecca, pathetic, showy, her arms open, and her bitter, cold face turned toward the heavens, was advancing up the central nave. Confusedly he understood what was happening, and he even had enough lucidity to understand that it would have been vanity to believe that he was witnessing a miracle. Humbly he rested his trembling hands on the wooden edge of the pulpit and resumed his speech.

"Then he walked toward me," he said. And this time he heard his own voice, convincing, impassioned. "He walked toward me and he had emerald eyes, and shaggy hair, and the smell of a billy goat. And I raised my hand to reproach him in the name of Our Lord, and I said to him: 'Halt, Sunday has never been a good day for sacrificing a lamb.'"

When he finished, the heat had set in. That intense, solid, burning heat of that unforgettable August. But Father Anthony Isabel was no longer aware of the heat. He knew that there, at his back, the town was again humbled, speechless with his sermon, but he wasn't even pleased by that. He wasn't even pleased with the immediate prospect that the wine would relieve his ravaged throat. He felt uncomfortable and out of place. He felt distracted and he could not concentrate on the supreme moment of the sacrifice. The same thing had been happening to him for some time, but now it was a different distraction, because his thoughts were filled by a definite uneasiness. Then, for the first time in his life, he knew pride. And just as he had imagined and defined it in his sermons, he felt that pride was an urge the same as thirst. He closed the tabernacle energetically and said:


The acolyte, a child with a shaven and shiny head, godson of Father Anthony Isabel, who had named him, approached the altar.

"Take up the offering," said the priest.

The child blinked, turned completely around, and then said in an almost inaudible voice, "I don't know where the plate is."

It was true. It had been months since an offering had been collected.

"Then go find a big bag in the sacristy and collect as much as you can," said the Father.

*And what shall I say?" said the boy.

The Father thoughtfully contemplated his shaven blue skull, with its prominent sutures. Now it was he who blinked:

"Say that it is to expel the wandering Jew," he said, and he felt as he said it that he was supporting a great weight in his heart. For a moment he heard nothing but the guttering of the candles in the silent temple and his own excited and labored breathing. Then, putting his hand on the acolyte's shoulder, while the acolyte looked at him with his round eyes aghast, he said:

"Then take the money and give it to the boy who was alone at the beginning, and you tell him that it's from the priest, and that he should buy a new hat."

--- From Collected Stories
Gabriel García Márquez
Gregory Rabassa, Translator
©1991 Harper Perenniel
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