By Mary Jane "Peaches" Rohr-Weaver
"Damned old man," the old woman grumbled, drawing back the lace curtain as
she watched the hunched figure in the orange and black jester costume dealing
candy to the children. "What a cheap trick, using Halloween for his treat. Has
he no shame? I'm going to call the police."
Father Francis had spent the night in jail. This was the third time he
had been incarcerated for perversion, later released for lack of concrete
evidence. The old priest loved the holidays, anything for an excuse to dress
up in the current festive mode. On St. Patrick's Day it was the wearing of the
green topped with a bishop's miter, tapping his crook through the crowds and
distributing gummy candy snakes to the kiddies. During the Christmas season, he ran from the police, losing himself in a sea of red Santas. This time it was
Halloween, his favorite of all seasons.
The sagging mattress felt familiar under his bony frame. A ragged woolen
blanket was a warm relief from the autumn chill. "God, you're so good to me," he
uttered with gratitude, drawing his feet out of the worn shoes he had found in a
dumpster. He had given many such discarded pairs a new life as he strolled along the city sidewalks dressed in the current holiday attire.
His fellow Franciscan friars said in his defense that the good padre was
harmless, just missing a few in the belfry, and bailed him out every single
time. This time there was clearly nothing Francis could do but flop down on the
assigned cot in the dilapidated jail cell, which he shared with the regular
denizens and listen to their drunken gibberish. He welcomed the moonlight that
shone through the small window, giving thanks to the Almighty that he wasn't in
the darkness of a padded cell. He longed for the freedom beyond the iron bars,
wanting to be back at the monastery again.
Tomorrow would be Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. The following day
would be a holy day of obligation, and here he was, locked up in a jail cell,
unable to attend Mass. His thoughts drifted back to stories about ancient
Druids, how they had met on a hilltop and offered embers to the families to keep their homes warm and free from evil spirits. The dead took on different forms; bad spirits looking like animals, especially cats. But believing this to be untrue,
the old priest deemed superstitions to be blasphemous.
Father Francis felt his lungs fill with the stench of liquor permeating
the cell. Upon finishing his evening prayers, he made his way to the window for
a breath of clean air. There he welcomed a bulging fluff of orange and black
squeezing its paw through the partially opened pane. True to the character of
his namesake St. Francis, Father Francis had a real passion for animals. He
loved all creatures, man or beast and lived for others, giving attention to
those in greatest need.
"Poor kitty," he said as he pulled the yowling cat from between the bars,
surprised by what he saw. There was something about the cat, an urgency, soon to be revealed. "Saints preserve us. You're about to be burdened with a family.
I'll be careful, Mama. I won't hurt you," he said, giving a final tug.
"Looking for food, are you? Well, let me tell you, by the looks of you, you're
probably in need of a nest. "
The animal's eyes, full of distrust and hesitation, glowed like a car
running a yellow light. At that moment, the cat wriggled free from the old
man's grasp, scurrying under the cot where she remained in confinement,
demanding her privacy. True to his saintly patronage, Francis knew his animals.
By the signs he knew the feline's time was near as he fitted the woolen blanket
around her. He had an overwhelming urge to help, but decided to let nature take its course.
During the night Francis was awakened by frantic yowls, tapering into
throaty growls. At this, he jumped to his feet and pulled out the blanket,
which revealed the blessed event. Six black, white and orange colored kittens,
stretched across the new mother's belly in a feeding line, kneading and pawing away at their early breakfast.
"Congratulations Mama," Francis whispered. He grinned broadly at the
exhausted cat and her litter of kittens. With the likes of kissing and bathing
her babies in slow motion, purring like a well-tuned engine, it was quite
apparent that Mama's anxiety had passed.
Later that morning the Franciscan Friars were back as usual to take Father
Francis home again. All of his life he had wanted to be a father, never
dreaming his wishes would be granted to this extent. His eyes welled with tears
as the old padre swaddled Mama and her newborn family in the worn blanket,
giving him a multiple Baby Jesus feel.
"Can I keep the blanket?" Francis asked the jailer.
"Yes, and the whole kitten-caboodle," the husky officer responded with a
"Happy Halloween," Father Francis said, admiring the appropriate color
collection of orange and black fur, looking like a peaceful, happy child.
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