“Invocation and Intercession, this is Gondulphus, can you hold please? Thank you.”
The elderly monk stabbed a button on his phone and a fifth blinking light joined the previous four. Then another jab of the finger brought Caller #3 back onto the line.
“Hello? Yes, thank you for holding. What was the nature of your request?”
From the other side of the partition, Amalberga listened in, as she always did. She loosened the ties of her wimple and hiked up the sleeves of her woolen habit so she could rest her elbows on the desk and lean forward, careful not to let her crucifix catch on the drawer pull.
“I understand…” Gondulphus said. “…yes, well … you see, bunions are a different extension. I only handle toe fungus. Right. Completely different affliction. No, no worry. I can transfer you … yes, thank you. Yes. Please hold.”
After another frantic spasm of button-punching, his headset hit the desk with a loud clatter, causing his office-mate to peek over the partition.
“What even is a bunion, anyway?” he groaned, rubbing his face.
“You’ve had quite a busy morning!” Amalberga noted cheerfully.
“Busy?” Gondulphus spat. “By the Almighty, you’d think the End Times were at hand and a plague of obscure foot ailments had been visited upon the inhabitants of the Earth.”
“Except for toe fungus.”
Gondulphus shook his head. “Lucky me, huh?” Then he paused to stand and stretch his back.
“You’ve been awfully quiet today,” he muttered. “No desperate calls to heal the lumbar region?”
She smiled, sipping rosy chamomile from a mug emblazoned with ‘Work Hard, Pray Hard’. “Not a one. A nice break from last week, you’ll have to admit.”
He nodded. The week preceding the start of college always brought a flood of calls for intercession to the Patron Saint of Back Spasms on behalf of thousands of out-of-shape, middle-aged parents.
“Still,” Amalberga sighed, “management was kind enough to provide paperwork to make up the deficit.” She indicated the stack on her desk, which stood nearly as high as the partition.
“Let me guess … miracle co-authorizations?” Gonsulphus asked.
“Hmm,” she nodded. “And visitation requests.”
“Visitations? Do we still get those?”
“Once in a blue moon.”
“Still,” Gondulphus groaned, “it seems as though I get half as many calls as you, on average. And you don’t get many.”
The plump nun smiled wanly. “The name of Saint Amalberga of Wallachia doesn’t cross the lips of the faithful as much as it used to.”
“And being the Patroness of Bloodletters doesn’t add much to your popularity.”
“In this day and age, no. Thank modern medicine for that.”
“Same for toe fungus! Why pray when you can pop down to the chemist for a bit of foot powder?”
“Still … you’ve got deaf dogs and … what’s the third one?”
He huffed. “Outhouses.”
“I was talking with Agrippina of Mineo during lunch the other day … indoor plumbing’s mostly sidelined her, too.”
“What’s she, again?”
“Cholera and dysentery.”
“Bad luck. Anything else to fall back on?”
Gondulphus chuckled. “Small blessings.”
Amalberga scooted herself away from her work station. “If you don’t mind me asking—I’ve always wondered, but I hate to pry—how did you end up with such a strange combination?”
The monk slumped onto his desk, which creaked ominously. “Well … one doesn’t get to choose, as you know. And mine was too average and ignominious a death, I suppose.”
He shook his head. “I contracted plague, was given last rites, buried, recovered, dug my way out and waved down a farmer taking his swine to town for slaughter. Just as we were approaching the monastery, a sow shoved me out of the cart and I went under the wheel.”
“Goodness!” Amalberga said, crossing herself. “Such bad fortune.”
“Worse than having your wrists and throat cut?”
She shrugged. “That was rotten timing, really. If I’d left town the day before, I’d have avoided all that fuss with the Turks.”
“I woke into eternal veneration,” Gondulphus continued, “and on my way into the Golden City for orientation, I was handed a welcome packet explaining which intercessions I’d be in charge of. You can imagine my disappointment.”
After gazing off into a dingy corner of the office occupied by an overburdened wastebasket, he suddenly started. “Not that I’m ungrateful!”
Amalberga crossed herself as her gaze swept the ceiling tiles. They both knew who was listening … all-hearing, all-knowing, all that jazz.
“It’s a blessing to serve in the light of the Almighty,” she said dutifully.
“Of course,” Gondulphus said. “It’s just, well, with the … shall we say, more obscure adversities under our purview … how are we expected to make our numbers?”
Amalberga nodded. “My most productive days are usually when I cover for someone on holiday.”
The monk waved a hand skyward. “Anthony, Peter, Jude, Anne … each of them has an entire department of staff! But you and I?” He gestured to their shared space.
Theirs was a ratty closet of an office on the 27th floor of a brownstone-and-ivy tabernacle walkup in a less fashionable district of New Jerusalem. Out the window—if one stood on a chair to be able see through it—was a splendid view of Providence Tower: a 3,000-floor ultramodern spire clad in gold-tinted glass, rising all the way from Heaven’s misty foundations into the stratosphere. It was probably for the best these two minor saints couldn’t see where the upper echelons of the celestial bureaucracy—including the archangels themselves—spent their time.
Gondulphus’ gaze descended back to his phone, where a row of winking lights beckoned. Another heavy sigh escaped him.
“Say!” Amalberga said. “Let’s stop for a drink after work. You look like you need one.”
The corners of his mouth curled upward slightly. “Okay. But you’re buying.”
Jason Clor, 2023