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Sing a Song of Sixpence

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Off the western coast of Ireland, on small, unregarded Craggy Island, was a simple two-story parochial house. Within, its four occupants were in various states of activity. Father Ted Crilly, in charge of the household through no will of his own, sat reading in an armchair. The dust jacket read Lives of the Irish Saints, but it was really California Caress (a much more ripping read). Mrs. Doyle busied herself with preparing the afternoon tea, even though it was several hours away. Father Jack Hackett sat slumped in his filthy chair, barely conscious from drinking - which was the way everyone else preferred him, anyway.

Father Dougal McGuire, however, was sitting on the sofa, staring at the television screen. Every once in a while he would laugh loudly and then lapse back into silence. The television wasn't turned on.

Ted put down his book and stared at the younger priest in concern. "What in God's holy name are you doing, Dougal?"

Dougal broke from his trance and looked towards Ted almost as blankly as he had the television. "What?"

"I said, what are you doing? The television isn't even working."

"Well, ever since the telly broke, I like to imagine my favourite shows, instead." He turned back to the screen, his attention rapt.

The old television had finally broken for good last week, and no amount of repair would fix it. Due to no fault of Ted's (he was adamant), they were completely out of funds to buy a new one. Not for at least another month, anyway. It didn't matter much to Ted, he could always settle down with a good book... but Dougal had been at a loose end.

"You know, Dougal, there's a whole shelf of books on the wall..."

"Now why would I care about that, Ted?"

"To read one?"

Dougal laughed. "Sometimes you have the oddest ideas, Ted." He went back to staring at the blank screen. With a shake of his head, Ted went back to reading his book.

The door to the kitchen opened beside Ted, and Mrs. Doyle came bustling out with a pot of tea. "Tea, Father?"

"Lovely, thank you, Mrs. Doyle," Ted answered, turning the page. It had just gotten to a naughty bit, and he didn't want to stop reading. "Just set it on the table there, please."

The housekeeper did as he asked, pouring a cup for him and placing it on the table, and then came around the side of Ted's chair. "Lives of the Irish Saints. How inspiring. Which one are you reading about today, Father?"

"Oh, um, n-no one!" Ted jumped out of the chair, fumbling to hide the racy text from Mrs. Doyle's eyes, and she stumbled back, dropping the tea kettle. She then tripped over it backward, and fell to the floor.

"Mrs. Doyle!" Ted hastily placed his book under a cushion before checking on her. "I'm so sorry! Are you all right?" He held out a hand for her to take.

She stood up shakily. "I'm fine, Father. But the tea isn't. I'll clean this right up and get you a fresh pot."

"Oh no, no, please, there's no need. We're fine, aren't we, Dougal?"

Dougal didn't answer, and Mrs. Doyle gathered up her kettle and her dignity. With a grimacing smile, she assured him, "Oh, it's no bother at all, Fathers." She limped away, favouring her right ankle.

That was close. Ted lifted the cushion to retrieve his book, but just as he did, the telephone rang. He left the book in its hiding place and crossed the room to answer it. "Hello, Parochial House, Father Ted Crilly speaking."

"Father Ted Crilly? As in an actual priest?" an agitated woman asked. Her voice sounded distinctly American. One of those Western states, probably, but Ted could not have said which.

"Uhhh, yes...?" This phone call was not starting out well.

"Oh, thank God..."

"Oh, well, I don't think there's any need to do that." Ted winced in embarrassment.

"No, you don't understand! I've been calling number after number, trying to get someone to listen to my proposal!"


"Proposal!" Dougal echoed, jumping halfway across the sofa.

Jack woke up at Dougal's shout to growl, "Feck!"

Ted tried to shush Jack with a wave, turning his back on the crotchety old priest. Jack flipped Ted off and slumped back into unconsciousness.

"Yes, proposal. I have a tour group I'm going to lead through Ireland, and I always plan a stop at a local church during the week. We usually stop in Limerick but there's been a mix-up and the priest says he can't do it this year..." The woman continued with hardly a breath. "And I keep trying to find a parish that can accommodate us, but no one will even speak to me. They say they can't possibly schedule us in so close to the date, and give me yet another number to call!"

As Father Ted listened, his bushy white eyebrows drew lower and lower. "So what it is that you're wanting me to do?"

"Say a Mass for us? Add in something afterward with a bit of local color? It would be June third... please tell me you're not already busy that day. I only have one more number left to call after this..."

The third of June was in a few days, but he had no idea whether he had anything scheduled. The woman talked so fast that Ted could hardly keep his thoughts together. "Oh, let me check..." He covered the receiver with one hand. "Dougal!" he hissed, "look up the third in the diary, would you?"

Dougal jumped up, his earlier fright forgotten. "Righty-o, then, Ted." He crossed to the sidetable to remove the book from the drawer and flipped to the correct page. "Let's see... Wedding, funeral, baptism..." he read, tapping various dates. "Fifth, did you say?"

"No, third!" he corrected, still whispering.


"June, Dougal!"

"Oh, right. Third." He laughed amiably. "Hospital visit."

Ted spoke back into the phone, a bit of relief in his voice. "I am afraid that I--"

"You can't?" She sighed. "I guess I'll have to call this Father Dick Byrne, then..."

Immediately, the expression on Ted face changed. "Wait, what? No, I just have to check on something first...!" He covered the phone received again and leaned toward Dougal, who was still holding the diary open obediently. "Who is the visit with?"

"Eileen McClellan. Cancer."

"Oh, she'll hold on another day." Into the phone, he said, "I think we can accommodate you. Of course, there are many expenses involved in preparing a local, uh, dose of colour..."

"Does this mean you'll do it? Oh, I could kiss you, Father. You don't know how happy you've just made me. Of course we'll reimburse you above and beyond your expenses."

Ted stood there for a moment stunned, as the tour director rattled off her information and the number of people who would be in the group. His mind drifted to a place where he started up a business showing American tour groups around Craggy Island, charging a `nominal fee' per head, and the director thanked him in a very personal way...

"Father?" the woman was asking, her voice concerned. "Will that work for you? I can't thank you enough for letting us share in the feast day."

He extricated himself from his fantasy long enough to answer, "Oh, you're quite welcome." He rang off.

Ted walked back toward the sitting area, a pleased smile crossing his face. "Looks like we'll be able to afford a new television after all, Dougal." Then he seemed to come back to reality with a jolt. "What feast day is on the third of June, anyway?" He looked towards Dougal.

Dougal looked down, frowned in thought, then turned the page. He ran his finger down the text, and then turned another page. Finally, he looked back up.

"Well?" Ted asked.

Dougal tilted his head in confusion. "Well, what now?"

"What feast day is on the third of June?"

"Now how would I be knowing that, Ted?"

Ted started to open his mouth, but let out a frustrated sigh instead of replying. "Never mind." He stalked over and snatched the calendar from Dougal's hands. "Let's see... the third of June... ah! St. Kevin's Day."

"St. Kevin's Day, hooray!"

Ted gave Dougal a surprised look. "I didn't know you were such a fan of St. Kevin."

"Who wouldn't be? Presents and sweets and merry music!" Dougal's face lit up with childlike glee.

"You're thinking of Christmas Day, Dougal. It's not even the right month... or season!"

Dougal's face fell. "Then what happens on St. Kevin's Day?"

"Well, we... I do believe that... hmm..." Ted scratched the side of his head. "My mind just went blank."

Dougal nodded sagely. "I hear you there, Ted."

Ted blinked once. Then he crossed the room to grab the actual copy of Lives of the Irish Saints, which was hidden behind several paperbacks. Flipping through the pages as he walked back toward the sofa, he landed in the K's fairly quickly. "Kenan... Kenneth... Kentigerna... Kessag... Kevin! Says he was a hermit in his early days, avoided people... he even pushed a woman off a cliff into a patch of nettles when she wouldn't leave him alone..."

"Sheesh, they're just letting anyone become saints these days, eh, Ted?"

"Dougal..!" Ted protested for a moment, then shrugged. "Eh, well, you're probably right."

"I am?" His smile was as surprised as pleased.

"Well, what else is there here... he also loved animals and birds... his symbol is a blackbird. We could get a few of those, maybe we could get Mr. McIntyre to bring over the sheep...?"

"Too bad we don't have the rabbits anymore."

"Indeed." Ted clapped his hands together. "So we get a cage full of blackbirds, prepare a reception..."

"Oh! Do you think the blackbirds will really pop out of the pie and sing?"

"The pie...?" Ted looked confused for a moment, and then realized what Dougal was referring to. "Oh, no, Dougal, we won't be baking the birds into a pie! And they certainly wouldn't sing. That's just an old Mother Goose rhyme."

"Ah, I get it. So it's like that donkey who could talk, then."

"No... that was real. The story of Balaam's ass is in the Bible."

"Heh," Dougal said with a shake of his head. "I dunno how you keep that straight, Ted."

Ted opened his mouth to explain... but then thought better of it. "Anyway, since he loved animals, Mrs. Doyle can prepare a vegetarian feast for them. Cucumber sandwiches or something... We have two days to figure it all out." He smiled as he jotted down a list of what they would need. Maybe this tour group would lead to bigger and better things - a cushy job in America at a nice suburban parish, maybe a television programme on Sundays... Better yet, a call-in show. "I'd better make this the best Mass I've ever given. I didn't win a Golden Cleric award for nothing! I'm going to start practising my homily." A three-hour sermon sounded just about right.


The third of June dawned bright and sunny, a perfect day for an outdoor Mass. Ted opened his eyes, eager to get preparations started. The tour group would arrive in a few hours...

Dougal's eyes snapped open the moment Ted shifted in the twin bed only a little distance from his own. "Good morning!" he said, eager as a child on Christmas morning.

"Good morning, Dougal," Ted replied... or at least tried to. His lips formed the words, but no sound issued forth.

"What was that, Ted? I couldn't hear you." Dougal swiveled his legs to hang off of the bed and leaned closer.

"I said 'Good M--'" He could only mouth the words. Ted's eyes opened wide in terror. "God Almighty, I've lost my voice!" Ted wrapped his fingers around his throat.

Of course, Dougal was completely in the dark. "What?"

"I can't talk!" he mouthed again.

"Why are you just moving your lips, Ted? I can't understand a thing you're saying."

"That's because I--" Ted broke off the useless pantomiming and grabbed a notepad beside his night table. He scribbled, CAN'T TALK, and showed it to the other priest.

"Even I know that, Ted, and I'm an awful eejit."

Ted growled in frustration, and then winced at the pain in his throat. He wrote again, LOST MY VOICE.

Dougal nodded, clearly agreeing with Ted's assessment.

Ted added to the note, pressing harder with the pen than absolutely necessary. TOUR GROUP COMING!

After a moment to process, the light came on in Dougal's eyes. "Oh! What are you going to do, Ted?"

Ted didn't bother to write an answer. His mournful shrug said it all.

Dougal suddenly jumped up. "I know! I'll say the Mass for you, Ted!"

Ted's hands flew up at almost superhuman speed, frantically gesturing, No! No! No!

"I can do it! That thing at the funeral was just an... well, an accident! I know how to say Mass, I remember the time you said it when I was stuck on the milk float!" Dougal paced back and forth excitedly. "And I remember about Kevin, too. He liked animals, right? I like animals - especially rabbits! What could be simpler?"

Ignoring Ted's frantic gesturing and scribbling on his notepad, Dougal hopped into a pair of trousers. "This is going to be great!" He grabbed his hat from the shelf and sped out the door of the bedroom, tossing over his shoulder, "Wish me luck, Ted!"

Ted froze in his silent protestations, dropping the notepad to the coverlet. Then he flopped back onto the bed in despair and curled into a ball.


A few hours later, Dougal found himself standing in front of a makeshift altar in the field outside the parochial house, the dozen or so American tourists gathered interestedly in front of it. Mrs. Doyle had scrounged together all of the items in the last few days, despite her sprained ankle. Dougal didn't remember what Ted had said about why the Mass had to be said outside... and Mrs. Doyle had forbidden Ted to leave his room. When she found out he was sick, she had given him a home brew and cheerfully barricaded the door, promising Ted she would look after Father Dougal this time. One sick priest was no match for a determined, though injured, housekeeper. Mrs. Doyle had even made sure Dougal was wearing the proper colour of vestments, a lovely shade of green.

A couple of sheep bleated nearby, held by Mr. McIntyre. On a pedestal to the other side was a cage full of blackbirds, fluttering their wings against the bars of the cage every few minutes. He guessed it wouldn't do to bring live animals into the church, except how did they do the sacrifices, then? Dougal decided he would ask Ted once the older priest got his voice back.

Dougal lifted the big book above his head before reading from it, the way he had seen Father Ted do before. It was a good thing that the pages were already marked, or he would have probably opened somewhere in the centre and started there.

"A reading from the Holy Gospel of Mark," Dougal began. "Whe--"

"Glory be to you, Lord," Mrs. Doyle murmured, cutting him off, while crossing her forehead, mouth and heart. Ms. Jones, the tour director, followed suit. The tourists quickly mimicked the two of them.

"Oh, right," he tried to cover. "Glory and all that." He cleared his throat and read, "'When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising--have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!' The Word of Lord."

"Thanks be to God," came the faint response from Mrs. Doyle and Ms. Jones.

Dougal waited patiently for what would happen next, completely forgetting that he was in charge of the show today. When people started to cast curious glances at each other, Mrs. Doyle spoke up. "Father, we are eager to hear your thoughts on this joyous occasion."

Dougal started and looked down at the book again. He was supposed to say something here? There was nothing but more Bible readings on the page. The times he found himself at Mass in the past, he vaguely remembered there was some sort of little speech... did he have to actually come up with that himself?

"Er, um, yes. Well, as you all know, it's St. Kevin's Day. We celebrate him because of..." Now what was it again that made him such a great Irish saint? Oh, yeah. "...because he just loved animals. Animals are just great, aren't they?" He smiled at the gathered group and got a few tentative nods back. "There are rabbits, and dogs, and sheep and birds, and... well, I guess that God created a whole mess of them. Who doesn't love 'em?" He stopped for a moment, frowning in thought. "All except for the bishop. He hates rabbits..."

He shook his head to help him get back to his point and walked out in front of the altar, gesturing around him. "Kevin loved them so much he went to live out in the woods, away from all people! Now that I think about it, it's sort of like how the three of us priests live out here away from everyone." Mrs. Doyle nodded in agreement, as if his words were inspired. "Oh, except for Mrs. Doyle," he added, reminded of her presence. "And there are no woods... or animals, either, I suppose."

Dougal racked his brain to come up with more to say. "He must have been saying: love the animals, everyone! They are all part of God's creation!" The tourists began to murmur in approval. Warming up to his subject, Dougal strode over to the blackbird cage. "They should be free to roam the skies!" He opened the cage door with a flourish, looking up into the sky.

But they did not fly for freedom. He peered back into the cage and found them gone, so where...?

The group gasped and murmured as they saw the same sight. The blackbirds had flown directly to the altar, and were feasting on the communion wafers. Dougal looked on in shock for a moment.

But Mrs. Doyle wasted no time, hobbling over to shoo at the birds with her crutch. They leapt into the air to avoid her, but settled back onto the altar as soon as the crutch passed over the table.

Dougal broke from his trance then. "No! Mrs. Doyle!" He grabbed her by the shoulders without thinking, continuing his train of thought from before. "God would want all his creatures to share in the feast!"

Then that train, not the sturdiest of machines, suddenly derailed. He realized that he had his hands on... a woman! He let go of her quickly. Too quickly. She toppled backward with an awkward crash.

"Oh!" Ms. Jones cried, shooting him a horrified look. She bent down to check on Mrs. Doyle in the dirt.

Dougal felt bad, but still kept his distance. "Are you all right there, Mrs. Doyle?" The chaos at the altar went on undisturbed behind him. The sheep that Mr. McIntyre had brought were starting to go in all directions as well, spooked by the confusion.

From the ground, Mrs. Doyle assured him, "Oh, Father, I'm right as rain. Lord knows I've had much worse falls." She stood up with Ms. Jones' help, trying the weight on her injured foot. "Oh, my... my ankle! It doesn't hurt at all! When you touched me, you must have healed me! It's a miracle, Father!"

Dougal was even more bewildered than usual. "It... it is?"

"Oh, go on, Father, you're much too humble." She gave him her most winning smile, all teeth and crinkled eyes.

"Er..." He needed to wrap this up, right away, before things got any crazier. "Let us thank God for all his many blessings... Amen."

Everyone stayed right where they were, confused but not moving.

He added, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen."

Still nothing except the flapping of wings and Mr. McIntyre's shouts. Dougal shrugged. "It's over, let's eat!"


Mrs. Doyle had prepared a literal feast indoors. There were piles of vegetables: potatoes in several forms, salad, raw veggies. There were sandwiches in even larger mounds and of course, there was tea. Gallons of it. By the time Dougal entered the room, having changed from his vestments in the hallway - he didn't dare let Ted out yet - the group was eating and chattering animatedly in the sitting room.

He carried the chalice in with him, still full of communion wine since there had been no actual communion. With fingers only nimble where alcohol was concerned, Jack slipped the chalice out of Dougal's hand the moment he entered.

"Drink!" Jack pronounced, swigging it down in one, long swallow. He tipped the cup overend to check for more - but it was empty. "Feck!" He tossed it aside, like a bit of rubbish. Then he pulled a hidden bottle of whiskey from behind his chair. "Drink!"

His joyous shout was mostly unnoticed by Dougal (who was used to it) or the tour group (who were talking quite loudly). In fact, Ted had been pounding on the door upstairs for some minutes, completely unheard by anyone. Dougal moved through the crowd, hands in his pockets, nodding nervously at everyone.

"Lovely Mass, Father," one woman said politely on his left, holding out her hand to shake.

Dougal began to remove his hand from his pocket, but pushed it further in instead. He didn't want a repeat of what happened with Mrs. Doyle!


"Oh, yes," a man from his right. "So different and interesting."

He received many comments like that - lovely, different, interesting, quaint, thought-provoking. Just before the group made ready to leave, two young men approached him. "Father?" the first one greeted. "Wonderful Mass."

"Yes, it was fantastic! I've never seen anything like it!" the second one enthused.

"The way you advocated harmony with nature like that... are all of your Masses like that?"

Considering how many Dougal had said in his life... "Nearly all."

"I've always heard that there was a revival going on over here, but this is beyond amazing!"

"We'll sure have a lot to talk about when we get home."

"Everyone to the bus!" Ms. Jones called out from the doorway. The two young men gave a sort of bow and said their goodbyes. As people put down their plates and cups and headed for the door, she came over toward Father Dougal. "Father?"

Ms. Jones was a fair bit younger and more attractive than Mrs. Doyle - so he naturally took several steps backward before answering. "Yes?" he squeaked.

"Thank you for the lovely time. It was so much more than we could have hoped for. I hope you'll let us come visit with another group again?" She held out an envelope for him. When he made no move to take it, she laid it on the table. "Happy St. Kevin's Day, Father."

It wasn't until the bus was far down the road, completely out of sight and hearing, that he touched the envelope to open it. He lifted the flap to view the contents. "God Almighty," was all he could say.


Several months later, Dougal sat in front of the new television - a very large one which Dougal had picked out himself. Of course, the only channels they could get were the basic ones, and the religious ones the archdiocese provided - they still couldn't afford satellite. Ted was reading - he would rather do that than watch the Catholic news station Dougal had on right now.

"Oh, look, Ted!" Dougal shouted, waving Ted over to the sofa. "It's those blokes I met last summer!"

"Who?" Ted was curious despite himself. "What are you on about, Dougal?"

Dougal pointed toward the screen, where a couple of young men, their eyes alight with religious fervour, were speaking to a reporter. "Oh, yes, we got the idea from a trip we took to Ireland," one of them said. "We tried to get the priest to come to America to train us, but he refused."

"Too busy with his own work, God bless him," the other agreed.

Below their faces, the bold text read, "All Creatures Great and Small?" In smaller text, it read, "Popular new church welcomes animals in its parish doors year 'round."

"Is this the wave of the future?" the reporter wondered, facing the camera. She held a small black kitten in her arms. "This church of five thousand certainly seems to think so."

"Dougal!" Ted turned in astonishment toward the younger priest. "They asked you to come and you said no?"

"Of course I did, Ted. You're always telling me that I'm too trusting. Never know what kind of nutters they are." Unconcerned, he picked up the remote control and pointed it toward the television. "I wonder what else is on?"

Ted's mouth dropped open as he watched Dougal channel surf. Then he pulled his legs up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around them. In a mournful voice, he mumbled into his knees, "It should have been me..."


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