Saturday, December 4, 2021

Polypimple's Apocalypse, a short story by Leonard Cline

Polypimple’s Apocalypse

The Rev. Horace Polypimple sat alone in his room, in the boarding house on Catherine street, just behind the red brick church of the Friends of Jesus. Late into the night he brooded, biting his nails and scratching his acne. These devices acted as a mild sedative upon him. He was pledged against tobacco and wine, but indeed he had never had any craving for these things. Only in the communion did the juice of the grape, sedulously watered, moisten his lips.

Biting his nails he brooded; and all the strength of his ministry, he felt, depended on the resolution tonight of a horrible doubt. Things had happened recently that were undermining his faith.

The words of Christ, “When two or three are gathered together in my name . . . ,” flamed in Horace’s harrassed consciousness. Well, and what had happened when two or three had been gathered together in His name? Strange occurrences, recently; very strange, and inexplicable by any process of faith or reasoning that Horace could bring to bear upon them.

Just the week before, while Dr. Higbie Chaffinch’s con­gregation in the Episcopal church on Cross street was in the hoarse throes of a hymn, lightning had nipped the cross right off the steeple and; sprinkled splinters all over the neighborhood.

Then, at Wednesday night prayer meeting in the Rev. Lubly Phwat’s Presbyterian church, at Front and Catherine, when patriarchal Deacon Goodie, palsied and holy, arose to give his weekly prayer, the ceiling had given way and crashed down upon the old man’s lifted face.

These little episodes were disturbing in a general way, although of course, from the higher sanctity of the church of the Friends of Jesus, Horace smiled a little secretly at the discomfiture of his wealthier and more stylish colleagues. But only this past Sunday the most startling of  all the recent disasters had taken place, and it was in his own church.

His congregation swarmed forward to the communion table, Elder Beagle well in front, with Elder Gottwoof and Deacon Blum staggering hotly along behind him. Elder Beagle filled his glass and downed it. Elder Gottwoof filled his glass and downed it. Deacon Blum filled his glass and shuddered the wine joyously down. Then Elder Beagle gave vent to a most horrible oath and fell on his face. Deacon Blum, gagging convulsively, regurgitated on the communion table, and his spectacles fell down and broke into a million pieces. And Elder Gottwoof, who was still, in spite of his sixty years, robust enough, charged head-down into the on­coming flock, madly clasping his stomach.

He caught slim, shivering old Miss Pennystiff fair in the middle and floored her, gasping for breath. He trod full on the toes of choleric August Schmierle, fat and em­purpled; and August, fighting frantically back out of the path of the wild deacon, knocked little Tommy Jones out of his mother’s arms. Then, while Tommy’s god-forsaken squall shrilled piercingly above the general whoobub, Deacon Bea­gle disappeared out the front door.

Down Plum street he dashed, screaming curses. At the corner there was a watering trough. The Deacon did not hesitate. In he went, still head down. Only the quick work of an unreligious milk-man, somewhat tipsy with moonshine, saved the deacon from being drownded.

Horace arose and paced his threadbare carpet, picking his nose. Yes, drownded, and he might just as well have been, for it was doubtful whether the deacon would recover. By mistake, the communicants had been served varnish instead of wine.

There was, of course, an element of human carelessness behind all this trouble. But—and on this point Horace’s whole career depended—why had the varnish remained var­nish? Memory of the marriage feast persisted in Horace’s mind. Why did not the hand of Providence, intervening, rectify the error of the pastor on this one occasion, vouchsafe just one more miracle to vindicate the church before the scoffers? Was it more difficult for the Almighty to change varnish into wine than it was water? And was the occasion of holy communion less sacred than that of a plain wedding?

Horace, sweating, rejoiced dismally that his church had not adopted the doctrine of transsubstantiation. How could Dr. Chaffinch have explained such an accident to his flock?

But how, indeed, could he explain this negligence of Providence to his own satisfaction? If he had been Jahweh, would he not have been glad to say the word. Just say a word, and lo! the varnish would be wine. Horace itched and perspired, and frantically gnawed his nails. Then suddenly the truth burst upon him with a glory intolerable, and he sank to his knees and began to cry.

That was it, of course. Centuries ago, when the wedding guests slavered with tongues hanging out, wine was a good thing. Everybody used it. But now the world, hurtling on to a millennium of righteousness, had decreed that wine was raging. The church stood up unanimously against it, irrespective of creed. Heaven itself was undoubtedly convinced; prohibition, alleluia, prohibition, hosanna, amen! Should the Lord turn bootlegger? Here was a divine revelation that Volstead and Providence were of one mind.

Horace rushed to his desk, and feverishly began to write. What a sermon! The burning bush was out of date; the Lord had appeared to him in a jug of varnish. He would deliver the sermon next Sunday. Or, if Deacon Beagle should die, he would use it at the funeral.

And at the thought of that dramatic triumph the eyes of the Rev. Horace Polypimple shone with ardor, and his hurrying pen blurted great gobs of  ink on his paper as the inspiration fell into burning words. 


From: Laughing Horse, 1 No.7 (1923)

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