The Apocalypse According to Benedict
The special deference shown by the cardinal to his maidservant might have been interpreted by her as leave to take the initiative and request a few “brief moments” for some relatives who had arrived from the Yucatan Peninsula.
—Eminence, they prepared for the trip well in advance, saving money and doing without many things so they could meet you.
The cardinal was aware of the reputation he had earned as protector of a humble Central American woman whom he had raised from the depths of despair to the summit of knowledge, and he therefore understood the admiration her relatives must have felt for him.
The cardinal’s apartment had been decorated with flowers to receive the group of women for a few minutes. He wouldn’t modify his Saturday routine, but would continue reading a book of philosophy, and neither would he neglect the proceedings of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The residence was awakening after a long siesta when, at 4:20 p.m., Sister Pascualina announced:
—Eminence, my cousins have arrived.
The cardinal’s first inclination was to postpone the interview but changed his mind. Conscious of the sacrifice made by the women, he raised his right hand, letting it be known that he would be with them at any moment.
Forty minutes had gone by when Joseph Ratzinger entered the room where he regularly received ambassadors, politicians, and powerful businessmen. The women, dressed in black, wore mantillas as a sign of respect.
—Welcome, ladies … But you are among friends now!— he said, pretending to be interested in what their faces might look like.
They were seated next to each other, accompanied by the cardinal’s cats, silent beasts that appeared drugged by the ladies’ caresses.
—I see that you’ve become friends!— His Eminence interrupted the animals’ bliss, as he made the curule chair in the middle of the room creak.
—One mustn’t get them used to human weaknesses!— he warned the women in a tone of voice that seemed to reek of jealousy. He then ordered Pascualina:
—You may bring the refreshments.
To please His Eminence, or maybe as a gesture of familiarity, Magdalena removed her mantilla, exposing her ugliness. She had stains of rouge on her cheeks and muddy brown mascara on her eyelashes. A futile effort to disguise her timidity, thought the cardinal. Straight away, Ananeglis followed her example, laying bare sufferings that couldn’t be painted over.
—Your Eminence has been very generous to receive these old ladies— said Magdalena. And she continued: —We have your picture on top of a dresser … next to the images of Chac and Cuauhcíhuatl. Our prayers are addressed to all of you.
The audacity with which the Indian women uttered these heathen words surprised the cardinal, who decided to humor them:
—Allow me to tell you that for some time now I have been curious to learn more about my assistant— he said amiably, unable to disguise the cloying sickliness of his voice, a product of the loss of inhibition that was overpowering him. Ananeglis, smiling as if somebody were flirting with her at a public fair, seemed to noticed his discomfiture.
Following that friendly confrontation, the expressionless women began to pull faces, which generated gentle electric charges to the cardinal’s neck and libido.
—Young ladies, I’m so pleased that you’re here!— he said euphorically, as if they were wares chosen at a slave auction. —Fa caldo!— he added, drying his perspiration as if he were an impressionist painter applying gentle brushstrokes to his stony brow.
In all likelihood the heat of the smoking candles melted the paint of Magdalena’s eyelashes, which began to drip over her eyelids and stained the rings under her eyes, turning them into pools of oil into which she could sink her gaze. The spacious living room fell dark in anticipation of a summer storm.
—I’m sorry, young ladies, the lights are low … I’ll order that they turn them on!
—But that’s how we like it! Just as Your Eminence likes it— suggested Magdalena. —And now, my lordship, tell us your true feelings for our cousin.
The cheek of this question silenced Ratzinger, whose instinct told him that he was in the presence of a group of mockers. He associated them with the witches burnt at the stake by the Inquisition. But Magdalena and Ananeglis didn’t seem in the throes of torture. On the contrary, he was the one suffering the unbearable torture of feeling abandoned in his own home.
—I have nothing to say about her— he murmured, twisting his tongue in response to the vaginal fumes that were beginning to impregnate the chaste atmosphere of the refined drawing room. Joseph had never experienced such a fragrance. Seldom, and only on very rare occasions, the effervescence of champagne had provoked in him inappropriate desires.
—You have nothing to say?— replied Ananeglis, standing next to him and brazenly rubbing the old man’s shoulder. —Go on, Joseph, tell me! What feelings do you have for Pascualina?
Ratzinger, sensing that he was in conversation with emissaries sent by perverted preachers of liberation theology, reacted by shouting: —A witch’s blasphemies are coming out of your mouth!… That servile Indian means nothing to me!— But he slowly lowered the tone of his voice as he became aware that he was warming one of his hands on the thigh of the woman accosting him.
—And why do you touch me then?… Am I not also an Indian?— she taunted him, and then laid a curse upon him: —Pascualina will be your salvation.
The cardinal had a vision that shook him to such an extent that he thought he was at the mercy of two Indian time travellers. Afraid of being exploited by diabolical forces, he shouted from the depths of his soul: —Pascualina! Pascualina! It was a cry for help from the rancid breath of an old priest.
Sunday began alarmingly with the mews of the cardinal’s pets, velvety beasts that rushed at the windows the moment that Sister Pascualina shooed away the two black pigeons seeking shelter behind the window pane.
—Is something the matter, Eminence?— asked the nun as she brought over the breakfast tray.
—What?— Joseph struggled to reply, almost tumbling out of bed as he tried to wake up.
—Did you sleep badly?
—No, no!… Where are your relatives?
—I’m so embarrassed, Your Eminence. I can’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t come.
—But …!— he responded, lowering his head so that the nun wouldn’t notice how overcome he was with bewilderment. Had it all been a message revealing Sister Pascualina’s true identity, or just another nightmare from which not even a future Pope was immune?