Bishop Miranda’s Trials

(some Gabriel Garcia Márquez fanfic; see A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings )

In fact, the mood in Rome was tense, amid vehement disagreements about the nature of this episode, and others like it, which had come to the Church’s attention from all corners of the globe. Great effort had been taken to appear aloof and unconcerned in these official correspondences. Committees of learned men assembled in luxuriously appointed rooms, gathered around ornately carved tables, and ate sinfully decadent savouries as they composed these brief, interrogatory missives. They stroked their beards, dictating and debating, as stone-faced scribes worked their quills.

Bishop Miranda, the first to receive Father Gonzaga’s letter from Macondo, and thus obligated to sign his name on behalf of the Church, agonized over the letters’ wording whenever the time came to press his signet ring in sealing wax. He called for light at all hours, sending eunuchs scurrying for lantern oil, and rarely left his desk. With an elaborate, gilded pen, he marked the letters the scribes produced. Grey head in hand, a hint of sweat at his lip, he toiled over each word. Some of the letters were reduced to a whirling riot of smeared ink and torn paper, while others escaped with only a brief note or change to its punctuation, but each, he declared, was unfit, and to be redrafted immediately.

His colleagues found this fervour excessive, and urged Bishop Miranda not to get too upset about the superstitions of village folk. After all, they said, there was no guarantee that Father Gonzaga’s ‘angel’ was not merely a Norwegian with wings, and besides, there was plenty in the Bible to get worked up about, and perhaps he should be focused more on that.

Bishop Miranda took this advice keenly, and passed several days in silent contemplation of the scriptures, taking no nourishment save a single sip of holy water that he blessed himself for the purpose. Afterward, he emerged from his chamber, and joined his colleagues in a drafting session. He had a permanent half-smile like a pinched nerve, and a sleepy, delirious air. He proposed many vibrant phrases and guileful questions for the various missives, and at the close of the session, his colleagues clapped him on the back.

“Of course I don’t think that all this angel nonsense is God’s will, you well know that,” said one as they shuffled out of the opulent drafting room. “But that oughta keep ’em guessing for a while, eh?”

Bishop Miranda nodded vigorously, head bobbing up and down without end, his half-smile unceasing. His colleague’s grin faltered, and he soon made an excuse to leave.

Before long, Bishop Miranda’s obfuscatory prowess in composing missives to the provinces was renowned, and the ranks of the drafting committee thinned. Perplexed by his overnight success, the various members maintained their positions and titles, but stopped attending the sessions. By the end of the month, Bishop Miranda was in the drafting room at all hours, alone but for the scribes furiously recording his every utterance as he gestured with his elaborate pen in wild, theatrical flourishes. His colleagues held their breath as they passed his room, and closed their ears to the muffled ranting proceeding within.

Burdened by their own problems, Bishop Miranda’s colleagues didn’t notice that the missives to Father Gonzaga and others had stopped being sent. They became accustomed to the harried eunuchs carrying stacks of blank parchment and canisters of lantern oil. Gradually they forgot about Bishop Miranda and the winged man in Macondo, and tuned out his raving when it bled through the walls. The rasping dictation came to seem like a sound that had always been there, as much a part of the Church as the tiled floors and painted ceilings.

After a time, the ranks of the Church were replaced, and the replacements, too, in turn. A renovation, years later, found Bishop Miranda, aged like Methuselah, his half-smile unyielding, his gilded pen clutched in gnarled fingers. He was seated, clothed in ancient rags, nearly buried in paper and parchment. The light had faded from his eyes, but still his cracked lips worked in small, ceaseless articulations, though no scribes remained alive to take down his words.

The works of Bishop Miranda have since been appropriated by scholars and theologians, physicists and fortune tellers, but in those early days, in his correspondence with Father Gonzaga, Bishop Miranda’s spiritual aptitude for delay and equivocation earned his place in the Church.

an exercise incited by Sharon English

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