The Cathedral of Bird Shit

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Eddie Orpa stands at the bow of the ship with one loafer perched on the railing, staring out to sea. The wind catches his navy blazer, undulating the worn fabric, and tousles the hair beneath his captain's hat. He looks like he is stretching, but Brie can tell that he is posed in preparation for a speech.

"Take a breath people," Eddie says. "Clean 'er out. Salt air does wonders." He goes to turn, but the toe of his shoe is caught between the iron rungs of the railing. He gives a good tug, his foot falling loose of the shoe, but he overcorrects and his knee knocks the shoe through the rungs and down into the dark waters below. Eddie stares over the railing for a moment, a sigh expanding his rib cage. Then he turns and gives a healthy snort. "Gotta let go." He points behind him. "That wasn't planned, by the way. These are the only shoes I brought. But it does illustrate my forthcoming point with elegance." His eyes travel the faces. "Give in. Let go. Go for it. What we will accomplish together this weekend can be magical, transformative, and funny, yes, even funny, but only if you can devote yourself to absolute honesty. You gotta let go. You gotta be willing to reveal yourself, the uglier the better, because it's only when we get down to the core, to the bloody innards, that we can begin to understand the pure essence of your being." Eddie paces the deck with one shoe. "It is inside this pure essence where we find it all... the truth, the humor, the pain, the path."

Brie perks. The path.

"So," Eddie claps, removing a scroll of papers from inside his lapel. "I want you all to sign a pledge... nothing less than absolute honesty. You must promise to be truthful, not just with me, and with each other, but with yourself. That's where the gold is. That's the primo, grade-A shit. The truth shall set you free." Eddie procures a pen and collects each of their signatures. "And the truth," he says, rolling up the papers, "is where we find the funny. Just wait, you'll see."

He folds the stack of papers in half. "I used to write these on much smaller pieces of parchment and employ the use of one white dove per student, which would fly into the air (the dove, not the student) with the pledges tied around their ankles, a moving symbol of the freedom you have just committed yourselves to, but the cost of dove rentals has increased significantly since people started releasing them not just at weddings and funerals, but also at various live performances, so today we just imagine,"—and Eddie pinches the pledges at the fold and pantomimes a bird in flight—"a white bird carrying your solemn vow into the air, disappearing into the clouds, thereby forcing you to honor your pledge." He folds the papers once more and stuffs them back inside his jacket. "But since I hold onto them these days, I get to wave them in your face if I think you're holding back." He claps and rubs his palms together. "Alright, full steam ahead!"

***

The Engine Room, the belly of the beast. This is where the fuel is burned to heat the water to produce the steam to turn the propeller to get you where you want to go. It's a metaphor.

Like the initiation ritual of some harebrained but well-meaning cult, they stand around the engine order telegraph gazing at its many settings—Full, Half, Slow, Dead Slow, Stop—trying to infer greater meaning. "Down here, it's strictly operations, no interpretation," Eddie explains. "So don't think, just answer. Susan, what's your earliest memory?"

"Being kissed by Frank Sinatra wearing a Santa suit in Palm Springs."

"Hold up," Leon says. "Was you wearin' the suit or was Frank?"

"Ahoy!" Eddie claps. "No follow-up questions. Leon, give me one word to describe your mother."

"Tired."

"Nasreen, what did you dream of when you were a girl?"

"My wedding."

"Brie, what would your mother say is your greatest strength?"

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