The Faithful Fool – a novel of Francis of Assisi
I’m blind but still I see. The earth is just a shadow. Hell is black smoke inhabited by creatures of fire.
They torment me, these offspring of my madness. They snicker and mock me. When I recoil, they laugh. With dagger fingers, sharp and cold as ice, they poke at my wounds. With falcon claws, they pull my hair. They spew gobs of yellow pus at me, these creatures of my past.
I weep with clouded eyes but their voices get louder.
“Your father died from disappointment and despair.”
“You broke your mother’s heart.”
“You killed them as much as you killed those you left bleeding on the battlefield.”
“And those you did not kill will bare the scars of knowing you for all of eternity.”
“You are a fool.”
“You are damned.”
Through my tears I saw before me the breasts I caressed and the breasts I pierced. The lips that kissed me, the mouths that spit upon me, the tongues that cursed me. I watched a river of wine pouring from a golden goblet which bore my name and I felt dizzy with drunkenness. Then the wine turned to blood, churning with severed limps and heads picked clean by ravens and dogs. Battered armor and broken weapons were swept up in the current like fallen trees and so much debris.
My eyes burned with the sight. My wounds bled anew.
I then beheld a table laden with silver plates burdened by mounds of food, well-cooked and pleasing to eye and palate, causing my stomach to rumble and my mouth to drool at the memory of what was my delight.
I belched and shouted, “Where is it now? The plump capons? The ripe red grapes? The blood-red oranges? The thick slices of bread slick with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary? The fat fish baked with lemon? What remains is fertilizer for the fields, that’s all.”
And so they offered me another temptation.
Soft white flesh tinged in blushing pink, thighs wide open, slender arms with jeweled ornaments reaching out for me, to hold me close, to stroke my back and caress my limp manhood.
“Behold the wife you did not take. And the children who will never be born and therefore never be a comfort in your old age. Instead, you rest upon the cold ground while your brothers become rich and lazy. What good are such brethren when children of your own would keep you warm and fed and nurse your ills?”
“What a fool you have been.”
Through parched lips I moaned, “I gave up so little to gain so much. A wife could die in childbirth. A son or daughter could reject the father. This I know all too well.”
They kicked and slapped me for my reasoning. They seared my eyes with visions of the past. They laughed all the louder and danced around my stricken body.
“You are nothing but a fool, Francis,” they said. Contorted faces sneering at me. Deformed bodies twisting around me. Obscene acts of sweat and blood competing for my attention. “Nothing but a damned fool.”
So, I did what I do best.
I began to sing.