The instant that Priest Juan Manuel DelaRosa turns around, Sunday paper in hand, and sees that the cat has caught the mouse, he drops the daily news and runs to the church. The Moors had sculpted a cat to the left of the stone arc above San Xavier cathedral’s door and a mouse to the right side, with purpose; “If the cat catches the mouse, it means the world is ending,” the first priest was told. That was 200 years ago, and it had become a joke, like snow in hell or flying pigs. And yet, a carved cat faces him now, slight tail dangling from its full mouth, and when the priest tilts his head upward, he sees that even though he watched dawn arrive through stained glass an hour ago, the sky is darkening.
“¡Dios mío!” Priest Juan cries as he enters the church, locking the oaken door behind him. What should I do?
The Moors believed in symmetry. Halfway down the aisle was an exit to the left of the left pews. For balance, they’d painted a door to the right of the right pews. Every time the interior had been repainted, the tradition continued. Now, it stands open. Not the real, but the painted door. Juan blinks and rubs. Surely, he is seeing things. But no…
He crosses himself and enters.
What he views, the seminary has not prepared him for—no talk of Hell, no reading about the tribulation—ever could.
The second he crosses the threshold, he remembers being a child in Mexico. His mamá, hemp hair halfway down her back a sway, put a finger to her lips to silence him and, motioning to stay, looked at him long, soft, and sad; stroked his smooth cheek; and disappeared into a cave. It was just them, he—age five—she, Lupe, still a teen—their stomachs bedeviled daily by want.
He never knew what happened that night—only that his mother was never the same but they were hungry no more. She smiled less and less, then not at all, and died young.
Now, he is inside that same cave, his madre joven holding a knife, chanting. This isn’t possible. Is she a bruja? Is this black magic? But what happens next is unlike any ritual he has witnessed.
Lupe kneels before a boulder swathed in vines; cracks beneath it spread like rivulets across the floor. She places her palm upon the cool stone and mumbles something ancient, something Mayan?—then plunges the knife deep into her chest. Her eyes become veiled. She slumps to the ground; her blood is drawn toward the rock via ravines. Suddenly, a vapor from the boulder enters her; the curtain covering her eyes draws back.
Juan flees, flinging open the Cathedral door without caring what awaits outside…
But the cat is nowhere near the mouse. The sun supervises Arizona sky. And the priest realizes, it is not the end of the world—only his own as he’s known it.
Janine Harrison teaches creative writing at Purdue University Northwest and is the 2017 Highland (IN) Poet Laureate. She wrote If We Were Birds (Moria, 2017). Her work has also appeared in Veils, Halos, & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, A&U, Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, and other publications. Former Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras included Janine in his The Wabash Watershed “Six Indiana Women Poets” feature. She is a poetry reviewer for Florida Review and a former Indiana Writers’ Consortium leader.