The Vessel

Posted on July 28, 2009


Billy Monahan came round the bend across from the brothel, when Thomasius von Bornheim appeared, staggering drunk, quoting lines from the book of revelations, but not revealing anything.

“I am a prophet”, von Bornheim cried, “but nobody wants to hear me out!” Billy cringed. He loathed this kind of wallowing but he liked the scene: the dark mass of the cathouse against the bright roof lining of heaven was a stage on which the large and long-faced blond Thomasius von Bornheim, the krautish count, the canvasser of truths, stood like an orphaned wingless angel.

Billy went up to him and said: “Do you need help?”, and von Bornheim said “I’d be delighted, Billy. I even remember your name through the curtain of shame that separates me from the Lord’s business”. Von Bornheim was the town priest and he was in love with Goedyva Laedily who ran the whorehouse. “I am the prophet of doom”, he shouted. “I am the eager Eagle of God, I am his lusty Lion and his ballsy Bull, and”- he almost choked on his own words – “I will not waver.”

Billy said nothing to all this. He was busy working things out in his head, and he liked Thomasius’ beard which was a strong, peppered and salted affair and came almost all the way up to his eyes — he’d never noticed before just how hairy the priest was. “I’ll tell you a secret”, von Bornheim said as they walked on, resting his left arm on Billy’s shoulder, anchored in the boy’s youthful gait, “and you’ll thank me for it”.

“What is it, Father?”, Billy said. He loved secrets. The world was a secret, an umbrella for even greater secrets, and Billy himself felt like one at times, a secret that he could not even spell but he knew it was there and he was bent on getting it out, colored with marks of his own making.

“Awww, women”, von Bornheim said, “women are like water. They run through your hands if you don’t have a vessel”, he said, “A vessel!” he screamed and almost fell as they left the high street cobble stone and stepped on the grassland around the vicarage. “But here’s the thing: i just don’t have a vessel, my hands are empty and horny”.

“I am sorry”, said Billy, and he suddenly knew how he’d paint the priest: standing in the door of the brothel with his shock of hair shooting off in all directions and the hair and the door frame talking to each other like intelligent earthworms, and the same hairy lines pursuing each other in all directions from the house across the sky, and the preacher with his mouth open, so round and so wide that you could see his missing teeth and the small dangling, fleshy hook in the back of his throat.

They had reached the house of the priest, who slumped on his staircase. The sun was setting reluctantly, and the boy stood in front of the cleric who looked like a freckled night jar covering his face with his van. “I just don’t have the vessel.” He groaned. Billy thought it more polite not to let this go uncommented.

“What’d be a good vessel then”, he said, though he wasn’t sure what exactly the priest was going on about: everyone knew that von Bornheim’s heart was cruelly split in two, with the larger half held by Goedyva Laedily who had slept with almost every one in town but who had not made love ever. Billy knew that because Goedyva liked his paintings and had bought one for her private rooms. When he brought it wrapped in bubble foil she had talked of a great arc of love and how she used to draw it as a child and a thousand other things that he could not remember, except one, namely that she, too, loved the priest, had never loved anyone before or since, but considered it uncongenial to approach him just as von Bornheim considered it improper to lay his arms down for Goedyva.

“A vessel like a iron arm to hold her through the storm.”, the count said, “A vessel like a bowl at whose bottom our faces swim licking each other. A vessel like a dress to reveal all that lies bare beneath the skin. A vessel like a bow drawn to send an arrow through bone marrow straight at the eye’s I”. He sobbed.

Billy was trying to follow, but he had got tired and he needed to go home. He had helped the priest which surely was a good thing, so he bid him goodbye and left, his head full of strange thoughts and images, always more images and colors and lines and a few ideas for a later that surely would come. He was a painter now commanding a vessel all his own, its sails filled with delicious wind. The world was a forward place at his boyish beck and call.