The old, warty toad waddled on creaking, spindly legs over to his friend. Tishbit was quite blind yet had managed janitorial duties for the wee parish for quite some years now with unwavering devotion. As Curate, Soloman was both revered and disdained – 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.
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 lunch.” Fr. Letti scuttled alongside his comrade as carefully as his undignified bottom would allow. The two rats stood swaying in the parish foyer at the entrance of the behind-the-walls section of the 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. Soloman shuffled forward and frowned, twitching his spectacles higher up his nose.
And he sighed. “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 those long yellow teeth sent the old mole back into the corner to clean buckets.
The priests of this parish often recommended one particular penance from parishioners – cheese – and the bluer the better. But some- like Tishbit, who as a mole did not have cheese- found it difficult to obtain pardon and so he had resorted to wandering off into the more sunny levels of the Cathedral 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 for 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 the warts on his toad nose shook. “You demand too great a sacrifice.”
“Take care, Vicar. You clearly know nothing of God or how to appease His holy demands as we do!” The rat’s whiskers actually bristled.
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 their spiritual superiority to the others. Some even thought it made the clergy look fashionable!
“Fr. Ratti, you must reconsider your practice. I see your tail is shorter yet and your balance is quite off.”
“Mind yourself and your warts, Sol.” 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. This sent Fr. Letti into a frenzy. What to do, what to do!!
“Stop snivelling and help me up, Fr. Letti,” Fr. Ratti huffed. Straightening his knees and spectacles, he paused to stroke his vibrissae and regain some semblance of dignity. “There now. I just prayed for the mole’s absolution. Lunch time.”
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 to form ledges upon which small piles of edible bits and nesting scraps had been piled for the less fortunate to find. His watering eye roamed over to his friend and noted the spotty whiskers and mottled lumps of skin, badges of honour from seeking redemption in painfully broad 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 with 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 et al. You just do what you do just as you do it, for I happen to know that the Good Lord who made you, hears you and loves you just as you are.” Clean as a whistle, that soul, he thought. Clean as a whistle.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice….Hosea