Another installment in the on-going saga of Assumption Street.
The Bishop Johnson’s Diary, Part One
Telephone ringing, so answer it and press the black and cold Bakelite against your hot-blooded ear.
“Yes?” The Bishop Johnson answers, but I am The Bishop Johnson’s diary, so I am in his pocket and hear it all. I am his blood, his eyes, his mind. I see everything, the whole thirty-three years of this night and day. I shake when Cora’s voice erupts and shocks the air like thunder.
“My bebby! My bebby!” she howls.
The Bishop Johnson patiently shakes his head. He has heard all this before, for the ages unto ages. He lays the receiver down on the Holy Prayer Cloth and presses his cupped palms over his eyes and just listens. I know he is secure in his own mind, for the Blessed Study Room glows red neon from the CARONDOLET SAVES YOU sign outside. Lizards grip the window sill, but I see no roaches. Halleluia! There are no roaches in The Bishop Johnson’s Holy Study Room. Jesus! Blessed Redness in the Holy Study Room drives away the roaches and the nightmares, which is a Truth that The Bishop Johnson has declared through me. I am his Voice of Revelation. Amen.
Cora, though, she keeps wailing. “Aaaah-yeee!”
The Bishop Johnson witnesses all Cora’s life with his inner eye, the whole of Cora’s mind without end. The lizard’s, too. Thank you Lord Buddha..
“Aaaah-yeee!” Cora wails again. “My bebby! My bebby! You gots to come, My Bishop Johnson, you gots to come right now I tell you! You gots to come cause our Ro-chelle just lies there and precious Mee-chelle, our tiny little Mee-chelle, she won’t speak ’cause she can’t speak to nobody about it, what happened.”
“Ro-chelle? What do you mean?” The Bishop Johnson poses questions with his audible voice, yet inside he already knows the answers, yes, praise Jesus, yet he also has no clue. It’s a mystery, this knowing and not knowing. But that’s what life is for The Bishop Johnson. All of it entire, a mystery.
Cora yelps. “I mean Ro-chelle, she gone quiet.”
“Is Ro-chelle dead?” The Bishop Johnson utters the word dead so softly it falls into dust. I myself barely hear it, even though I am his heart, thumping and flexing and weeping, and I am his blood, rushing through his ears.I stroke the lizard on the windowsill. Blessed Brother. Is this your dream or is it mine?
“She dead?” Cora cries at last. “Dead? How does I knew if she dead?” Cora moans pitifully. “Ooooo_aaa! Hep me Jesus. This mess. Look at this mess here. Holy Jesus, oh, my friend Jesus! Hep me!”
Her cries pour through the night, flow out of the telephone receiver, drip onto the floor, splatter, then run into a pool. The Bishop Johnson witnesses all this. Every vibration and all manner of excitements doth he witness. The pool of Cora’s words are as a mirror at his feet, a mirror-eye of God through which all, and I mean every thing, appears and reveals itself. In my heart I write down every vision.
In the mirror at The Bishop Johnson’s feet, I see Cora’s room entire. The Gordon’s Gin bottle where liquor is forbidden, the cigar where tobacco is banned, the ashes where fire is strictly not allowed, the scar-faced wrestler standing spread-legged. This black-haired bruiser who calls himself Mario Galento, Jr. the Avenger. This scoundrel who raises cain in Cora’s high-ceilinged room where no man but The Bishop Johnson himself should ever appear. Ever, ever. Wind causes the curtains to pulse at the open window. Moonlight streams in and the moon glistens in the thousand shards of broken glass. The floor is silver fire around the motionless body of darling Ro-chelle.
Is this scene before my eyes nothing but a cheap magician’s trick? Hallucinations from The Bishop Johnson’s calumet, the Consecrated Meerschaum? Everything The Bishop Johnson has ever said through my blood—mark my words now—all that and everything else that enters to the human senses, eyes and ears, skin and bone, well the fact is, every thing we know is like unto a cheap trick. And whenever The Bishop Johnson utters forth this Essential Truth, his words are like fire dancing on his fingertips and up my arm and shoulder bone, up my spine, then home, singing
Even so, Cora must be dealt with. The Bishop Johnson whispers into the receiver. “Cora,” he says. “Do not say another word to Ro-chelle. Not another word. Do not touch her. Speak nothing to nobody nohow. You understand me?”
Cora emits incoherent yelps.
“You listen to me, now, Cora. Leave . . . Ro-chelle . . . alone.”
“What? What you say to me cocksucker?” Cora’s voice is growly low and full of demons now, for she has left off her lamentations. “What . . . you . . . you Bishop mean, telling me don’t speak to Ro-chelle? She my daughter, ain’t she? I speak to her iffn I damn well fukking please, Jesus-be-my-friend! At’s right. Mommas rank higher than Bishops do, any day. You check you Bible, see iffn it ain’t so.”
Rumbling anger-surges deep in my chest and in the mind of The Bishop Johnson. I swear my witness on Cora’s wallpaper, the miraculous chrysanthemum buds like popcorn dancing in an iron skillet. The incense rising around the wrestler Mario Galento, Jr. the Avenger like a thousand hands reaching up to twist his black mustache. And The Bishop Johnson’s anger is a Holy Anger.
“Cora, shut up!” blasts the foghorn voice of The Bishop Johnson. “So help me woman, if you speak one word to her, you daughter, she will die dead.”
“Oooooooh!” Cora snivels and weeps.
Her pitiful state touches my heart and The Bishop Johnson’s Holy Anger, which is now like unto a spent tsunami as it subsides.
“Fret thou not, my Cora Belle,” says The Bishop Johnson’s soothing voice. “Yea, and this I say unto you, my warning is not given for the purpose of injuring you, oh no. Indeed Cora, you must see my admonition in a positive light. Take my word: the healing balm of Gilead be unto you. Compris?”
Cora moans again, reaching a new crescendo of pain that pierces my ears. What a waste, woman.
“Cora!” declares The Bishop Johnson. “In the name all the gods and their messenger, me, The Bishop Johnson, I warn you!”
“Do as I command! Just let Ro-chelle our daughter lie there, woman. Be you like the Holy Sister herself and kneel. Kneel yourself down right now, this instant, and pray as it was instructed to you by the Disciple of All Gods, living and dead, and, low, the Serenity will enter you. I promise. It will happen. Pray humbly and be saved! CARONDELET SAVES YOU!”
Cora chunks her telephone receiver up against the wall. Chrysanthemum buds scatter and fall. Ice picks of pain attack The Most Reverend Bishop Johnson’s ear bone straight into his unexplored mental regions where the pain penetrates the upper reaches, the sources of his Spiritual Nile, the Sacred Cortex. Pain is but water flowing, rushing, crashing on the seawall, then sliding, powerless, back to its mother, the Deep.
We see Cora’s phone receiver come to rest on the rose-patterned linoleum floor beside the rough wooden table under the framed portrait of Jesus fondling his heart-a-burning. The dreary scene is lit by an over-hanging ceiling fan lamp. As I gaze into the tableau, I see over in the corner the baby Mee-chelle all alone. She looks forgotten, kneeling there beside the radio. She is wearing headphones and listening to the air devils. Mario Galento, Jr. the Avenger emits a woeful laugh. He is mean as snakes in an oil drum.
Right away, The Bishop Johnson realizes deep in his Holy Cortex that the baby Mee-chelle is in danger now. She is not his real daughter, not the way Ro-chelle is his real daughter of the flesh. Mee-chelle is his spirit daughter, but he alone knows this truth triumphant. That has always been part of The Bishop Johnson’s power, to comprehend that which nobody else can even begin to get the hang of and take into his being those essences unknown even to his diary, even to his very own heart and blood. Not even I know all of The Bishop Johnson. I need a witness! Glory!
Pondering Mee-chelle’s fate and gathering our strength, The Bishop Johnson extends his hand toward the mirror on the wall of the Holy Study Room. The reflecting glass is an upright pool of neon red.
Eventually he speaks through me and says, “The telephone receiver you hear my voice coming out of, Cora, now you hear me? The receiver will lie where it is until I am there to replace it on the telephone my own self. Nothing—and I mean not one fucking thing—will happen in that room until I, The Bishop Johnson, arriveth to sort things out. When I get there, Ro-chelle will not be dead. The baby Mee-chelle will still be headphoned beside the radio. And Cora, you will stand mute where you is.”
After a long pause, Cora squeaks, “But what about Mario?”
“Way I see it from here, Cora? Mario, he’s there when I gets there, I’ll rip that silly mustache offa his lip and choke him to death with it.”
“Aaaah-yeee!” Cora wails. “My bebby! My bebby! Hep me Jee-sus! Save my bebby!”