The old, warty toad waddled on creaking, spindly legs over to his friend, Tishbit, who though quite blind, managed the janitorial duties of the wee parish with unwavering devotion.
As Curate, Soloman was both a revered and disdained toad – depending on whose paws he was treading on at that moment – for as long as anyone could remember. It was rumoured that he had once lived with the Bishop of the Cathedral when he was just a taddy, and thus had excellent credentials.
“Tishbit, you missed a bucket, right there. Oh bother not, I shall fetch it. No, don’t fret, just wait a stretch.” Soloman was in a tither and he needed tea. He liked to take his elevensies with Tishbit right on time.
Just then, Father Ratti shuffled out of the shadows and bared his yellowed teeth in a smile. “Talk is wasted on Tishbit, but of course, you must know that. Here am I, along with Father Letti, to take you to early lunch.” Fr. Letti scuttled alongside his comrade as carefully as his undignified bottom would allow, and the two rats stood swaying in the parish foyer, of Behind-The-Walls in the great Cathedral. The tiny parish was kept and swept and always comfortingly dim, and no one ever paused to think it could ever be any other way, though the parish Priests gave no thought to acknowledging it. Soloman shuffled forward toward the two and frowned, twitching his spectacles higher up his nose.
“It seems that blue cheese does not agree with my digestion, thank you all the same. Tea is calling. Tishbit? Shall we be off?”
Tishbit’s whiskers twitched at the thought of biscuits and sweet cream, but one look at the priest’s long yellow teeth sent the old mole scurrying back into the corner to clean buckets.
Soloman gazed sadly at the old mole, now hunched and quivering in the corner. He was acutely aware of the demands that the priesthood of this parish had placed upon their parishioners and he found it distasteful. While confession was, of course, voluntary, one particular act of contrition was most often recommended of the penitent – cheese – and the bluer the better. But some- like Tishbit, who as a mole did not have cheese- found it difficult to obtain pardon for his sins. As such, he had resorted to wandering off on his own into the more sunlit levels of the Cathedral in hopes of finding it, until Soloman took notice.
“I can’t leave Tishbit just now. We are discussing catechism and the means for moles to find spiritual pardon.”
“Why tut tut. Just bring him to confession for a proper penance!”
“But that’s just it. Paying to obtain forgiveness? Bunk and malarkey. Penance is repentance, not filling your larder. You see? Take out the letters ‘re’ and the ‘t’ and you have penance from the very word!” The Curate snorted so hard his throat shook. “What ever happened to guidance? You ask too much.”
“Take care, Vicar. You clearly know nothing of God or how to appease His holy demands as we do!” Fr. Ratti’s whiskers actually bristled. “Why, you know nothing of repentance! This priesthood pays a penance too you know, and the cost is far greater than what we – I mean God – ask’s in return!”
It was true. Fr. Ratti had secured a peculiar method of penance for those in the priesthood. Little by little, they lopped off section by section of their own tails in hopes that such actions would purify their souls, and of course, show spiritual superiority to the others. Some even thought it made the clergy look fashionable. But Solomon found the Heavens rather quiet about the whole matter.
As solemnly as he could, he spoke out to the old Priest. “Fr. Ratti, you must reconsider your practice. I see your tail is shorter yet and your balance is really quite off.”
“Mind yourself and your warts, Sol.” With this, the rat pulled himself up so high that his long robes barely brushed the ground, which sent him into a flip head right over his heels.
Fr. Letti snorted in such a way it was hard to tell if he was shocked or snickering at his comrade. And It was all Solomon could do to keep from bursting out with laughter.
“Stop snivelling and help me up!” Fr. Ratti huffed. Straightening his knees and spectacles, he paused to stroke his vibrissae and regain some semblance of his dignity. “There now. I just prayed for the mole’s absolution. All done here. Lunch time now.”
As the two scuttled awkwardly off, Sol turned and gazed down at the perfectly polished tiles Ratti had fallen on and his eye travelled up over the scrubbed wall bricks where sewage used to drip. Corners once soaked in droppings and slime were clean as a whistle. His eye swept up to where higher crumbled bricks had been hollowed away by paw and claw to form ledges upon which small piles of edible bits and nesting scraps had been set for the less fortunate to find. His now watering eye roamed over to his friend and noted the spotty whiskers and mottled lumps of skin, all badges of honour from seeking redemption wandering about in painfully bright daylight. “Ah, old friend,” he sighed. “Let’s never be them.”
Arm in arm, Janitor and Curate waddled down Toad’s corridor to a nice warm fire and honey biscuits. As they rounded the corner, Toad stopped to pat his old friend on the shoulder.
“You’ve paid your dues, old friend. Penance be done, you’ve never needed it, you know. You just do what you do – just as you do it, for I happen to know the Great Creator who made you, hears you and loves you just exactly as you are.”
The two turned together toward the Curate’s welcoming doorway and both sighed, one with anticipation and the other, well, he felt tired. But there was peace too, edged with awe and a good dash of contentment. ‘Clean as a whistle, that soul,’ he thought. ‘Clean as a whistle.’
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…Hosea 6:6