Vincent Barry

The Scapular’s Tale

In April the Franciscans always did novenas at our parish — the Franciscans, with their three-knotted white cords for poverty, chastity, and obedience. We never missed a word of the “eternal struggle,” me and Anabelle Lee. . . .

Now, in the “cruelest month,” I do therapy, with its Jungian wall hanging—the Kilkor Mandala, with its cock, snake, and pig for lust, envy, and ignorance. “The three causes,” my therapist tells me, “of everything that happens in the world.”. . .

Both I share, cords and hanging, with my doxy. “Puts me in mind,” she goes, with a Celtic laugh, while fingering a spiral silver necklace, “av de Marx bothers.”  Then, for the benefit of my eyes, which, doubtless, are shaping a question, she swiftly adds, “‘Tree’ does.”. . .

Then I lie down by her side, as if  “my life and my bride,” and, scapular in hand, dream shamelessly of a sepulcher by the sea. . . .  


The Friar

I often wonder amid April’s scented showers whether good Brother Melchior ever blundered and called the eternal, diurnal, or thought, say after a belt or two, eternal struggles were for muggles. . . .

Of this, though, I am sure: He must have abhorred all the front pew snorting. I know I did. As well the trip back, with its inevitable stop for a chicaned treat of that tri-colored sweet, whereas the detour was for a bottle or more of the dry flavored treat, not bitter or sweet,” Rheingold by name. . . . 

No, I didn’t like making novenas with the old man. . . .


Novenas? Oh, novenas are what Catholics call special services on nine consecutive days. Why nine? Well, as a soccer fan I’d say because Pelé wore number nine. As a numerologist, nine comes before ten, divine perfection, which Pelé once wore—or is it “wore once”? . . . Whatever, nine does beggar the question: Why not ten? Especially since ten simply bogarts all the Bible’s other numbers. . . . Personally, call me an egotistical numerologist, but I like to think, of nine, that it’s really because I was born a New Years Day baby, which, numerologically speaking, makes me in the year of 2023 a novena baby: 1+1+2+0+2+3=9. . . . 


“Scapular,” Brother Melchior called the small square cloth with shoulder tapes. He said that Blessed Mary told some saint or other that it had “special power, ” which, of course, sent my towhead, fallen on cheek, swimming in the moveless church air. Force fields?— reality warping? But not for long. With an inherited trait— a pointy elbow—I nudged the old man awake . . . .

Tramping the flock with eyes water-clear, unbearably bright, and seemingly fixed on mine like two burning coals, Brother, in a faint susurration, called the scapular’s power a revealed privilege.” 

“Always to be worn,” he admonished, in the eternal struggle of good against evil.” 

An easy, well rehearsed pause, then a whickered through pale lips imperceptibly wobbling in a great equine face too big for its head, Save when bathing,” before a spluttered, evermore.”. . .

Embroidered on the scapular’s underside, I discovered, in the buggy white light of Gee’s Grog ’n Groc, as I sat and waited in the rump-sprung seat of our antediluvian Dodge Deluxe, the exact nature of the revealed privilege. It encircled the Virgin: Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”. . . 

Once back, his procurement in hand, we slipped off into the veiled spring night. . . .


I still have it—wear it, actually. Not mine, of course. Anabelle’s—“full of whispers, full of sighs”—hers I keep, even asleep, the poet’s “spirit of youth in everything.”. . .


The Maiden

I speak now, hyperbolically I confess, of goddess-born-ten Anabelle Lee: 1+2+2+0+2+3=10. Not the immortal one by the sea, but close enough, like me, make no mistake, in the Garden State.

For Anabelle Lee I still feign love for all manner of Nines.

The Margaret Novena and the Timothy Novena, the Novenas of Titus and Sebastian, of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, of Andrew Avellino and Isidore of Seville, not to say the patron saint of Brazil. And, of course, all the sainted Johanneses: Bosco, Neumann, Damascus et al.

Just ask, and will flow still, with laughter low, mysteries upon us, me and Anabelle Lee: 

Fire and flood.”

“Any old crud.” 

Dysentery and dyspepsia.” 

“Leprosy and catalepsy.” 


A tongue that’s glaucous.”

“Lost keys.” 

Mouldy cheese.

Financial distress.”

“ Murder most foul—

“— on the orient express!”

It’s a game we play, me and Anabelle Lee.

We are as one, y’see, home free in our kingdom near ’nuf the sea, me and Anabelle Lee, whose lambent face still draws from me a doggerel blush with that first light brush in the night’s still hush, —just two sleepy people by dawn’s early light, too much in love to say goodnight.”. . . 

I know, I know, foolish after all these years—Hoagy Carmichael. . . . 


But here’s the thing. My obsession: What poetic wind was it that came out of a cloud, or was it just me alone, the boy from Bayonne, with doggerel schmoggerel in his genome, that chilled and killed my beautiful Anabelle Lee? . . . 

’S my obsession, y’see, my mad obsession. . . .


The Therapist

 . . . . You swapped— scapulars?” 

“We did.” 

“Scapulars,” she sniffs 

You say that as if—”

“Hers—what became of—?” 

“Hers I still have.” 

“And yours?” 

“Mine. . . .Well, I like to think. . . .” 


“She saved it.” 

“Like a flower or leaf?” 


“A ticket stub, possibly?”

“God no!” 

“No? Why no?” 

“They’re pressed.”


“In scrapbooks and yearbooks and books kept by schnooks.”

“And a scapular?” 

“Ah! A scapular is worn, not pressed. Ever.”

“Around the neck,”—spoken here, as if of an object of horror, and, for some reason, I think of what somebody or other says about two people when they meet: There are really six people they greet. 

I try to recall what whoever means when, with a sigh, she turns her head awry, preferring, I surmise, to make oblique eye contact, before she clears her throat and says, with pursed lips and the quickness of a coiffeuse, Perhaps, you can save it, just not wear it?” 

An uncomfortable one, but a pause no less with potential ensues. 

Each, I am thinking, as they see themselves, each— when, of a sudden, she breaks in like someone used to reading the meaning behind bad tempered eyes, narrow and slanting and unrealized, as hers go sidelong, of the scapular, At least not all of the time.” 

More pauses, before from her, softly, confidentially even, At least not when you’re being—” 

“Intimate?” I fill in.

“Don’t misunderstand, . . . I don’t mean to be—” 


“It’s just that, frankly,—” 

“By all means.”

“I think it’s become—“


“—your white whale.”

“‘White whale?’”

“No-no, not white whale,” she laughs, blocking her eyes with a descriptive hand and offering up the lament, Albatross is what I meant.” And, weirdly, I think, of those arched fingers of hers, so long, so slim, They should be holding a Virginia Slim. . . . 

Now, to interject here, though by no stretch a member of the literati, let’s just say that I have traveled enough in the land of symbolism to know an albatross from a white whale. ’S why I say, But isn’t an albatross a sign of good luck?” 

Not,” she goes with black, quick eyes, “when you’re wearing one!”

Right after that it is, I think—yes, right after it is, after she speaks crossly of the albatross it is, when she faintly nods toward the wheel of emotions clock, or is it a wheel of life? Whichever, one of those Zennish timepieces that hangs on her wall across from the mandala, which is carefully curated, the timepiece I mean, to put one at ease, I suppose, amidst aspirational schooners breasting beastly seas—she nods toward it. Well, naturally, as one well accustomed to reading the nod of a nod to a clock, I know in an instant our hour is up.  

It’s a game we play, my therapist and me. . . . 


Her point— make no mistake, I get it. I mean about wearing the scapular and such. . . . But “‘Fetish’”? 

 “Symbolism, I prefer. After all, we have, have we not, established that I know the difference between what swims and what flies—symbolically speaking?”

But her point I get. Intimacy. Avoiding, fearing—

The struggle of fear against intimacy,” her  exact words. . . . 

Oh, believe me, I grok. 

But this too I get, this very night, and with no regret, I get— and, perhaps,  who knows?, may share with her yet. . . . 


The Doxy

I speak now of a grotesquely farded face that some would call vulgar and some would call hard, pure haunty, perhaps, or some such canard, but whose strange red mouth is for me more marquee, wide and gen’rous, y’see, and faintly ajar, though I grantcha, I could do less with that fiery scar. Still ’an all, as we Irish say, she is “the image of massive away with the fairies,” and to boot,— get this!,— moles here and there and flaming red hair. From this waterfront fare, with cloyingly sweet smell, I get, I swear, ’midst mumbles and bumbles through untidy lips, Whatsat roun’ yer greg, me wee lordship?”

Whereupon follows the full-frontal descant, begun as always, not that I am promiscuous, minja, by distinguishing the religious from the medical— context, y’see, always essential, don’tcha ’gree? 

The medieval monks,” I enlarge as my fashion, as she undoes and unfastens of the protective garb worn over the shoulders of eremites awork in the fields, the Latin scapula. . . ,” and so on and so forth ’bout blades and spades and shovels in Brussels, giving it socks, y’know, with the usual shuffles till with plump, upraised hand with pastel tip nails with imperfect edges, she stops me like-like, well, A crossin’ guard,” howling of herself, wi’ a palm tattoo!,” of a wheel with four spokes that awake at a stroke something akin to a struggle within. . . . 

Naw ordinary strooggle, aye?,” she then goes with a knowing wink, I think, but truth be told, my mind by now’s well bent. Still ’n all, long story short, there follows a wafture of incense along with more than a dash of doxy nonsense. . . .

Afterward ’tis— yes, yes, ’cuz always afterward ’tis, after she takes the cloth I been tellin’ ya ’bout, twixt finger and thumb, and just holds it out, like—even sinful to say, but say no less, of such wicked foreplay—like a priest may a host, but ’tis, well, ’tis honestly foremost, afterward always. And me? Well me, I just survey it I do,—oh, not it, but the Dharma’s four spoke wheel on the palm of her hand, y’see. 

And that’s when damn wham, Blam! and I say, Didja hear that?” And from her in our huddle, Bejasus!,” and then in a muddle, a whispered somethin’ ’bout de eternal strooggle.” 

Well, of course, I be thinkin’, She’s not the full shillin’, makin’, you know, so holy a show, when Arrah!” barks from me, right after, ’tis, from her own, Evermore,” of the aforesaid “stroogle wi’ descendant galore!” . . . 

Maybe ’tis—the friar’s eternal struggle, I mean,— or maybe just what we drop, which is, I admit, quite a lot. But whatever ’tis, all I know ’tis then we rise again and strive in vain to cover up quick, lickety split, as though, damnedest thing, ashamed, yes ashamed, to be naked in the face of the sacred. 

And then, so collected, there comes from behind, or beyond, a bokeh most sublime and the words, “Puts me in mind,” spoken with that Celtic laugh of hers, “av de Marx bothers. . . . ‘Tree’ does.” . . . 

“Three,” I say.

Then she comes around and meets my heavy eyes.

That’s when, with the serious wonder of one who might opine of a nine by nine puzzle, she fingers her spiral silver necklace, and says as softly as an enameled sky, “Gran’, so den lay down by me side, me wee lordship.”

And do so I do, lie down by her side, as if  “my life and my bride,” and, scapular in hand, dream shamelessly of a sepulcher by the sea. . . .

It’s a game we play, my doxy and me. . . . 


After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Saint Ann’s Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Broken City, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions. Kairos, Caveat Lector, Terror House,The Fem, BlogNostics, The Writing Disorder, whimperbang, The Disappointed Housewife, The Collidescope, Anti-Heroin Chic, Beakful, Bombfire, Fleas on the Dog, Potato Soup Journal, Pigeon Review, and Chrome Baby. Barry lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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