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My priest, who was born in the countryside, has lived in the city for many years watching the dying day and night and gathering a few left over pennies for the hospital. He ministers to only the lost women and children, and in the new hospital they have their own section, full of small, iron beds painted white. Those who have survived still come back to visit him for advice with their affairs, but his emaciated zeal has dwindled among the smell of beds and conversations with wheezing patients, and in accompanying his dead, whenever he has time, to the grave to bless them with water and pray for them.

One evening in March, already hot, my priest buried an old woman covered with sores: she had been his mother. The woman had died in her village because the hospital frightened her and she wished to die in her own bed. That day my priest carried the same stole as for his other deceased, but he sprinkled holy water for a long time upon her coffin and prayed much longer. In the sweltering evening, the earth piled above the coffin smelled of rot: the old woman had died from despair, eaten away from watching her land disappear while she, remaining alone, tried to save it by herself. Beneath the earth, a rosary was wrapped around the wounded hands which, when alive, along with three or four crosses on pieces of paper, had brought her such misery. And my priest prayed that the audacity be forgiven in the widow who, while her son studied at the seminary, had never sought advice and had attempted so much.

The hospital garden, with its odor of earth, was created with labor to provide the patients fresh air. My priest knows the plants and the shrubs even more than his dead; they are renewed, but the plants and shrubs are always the same. Among the green tangle along the path he takes by the tombs, in the moments he steals from the sick, he always neglects to stop in front of the Nativity grotto the sisters have made at the bottom of the avenue. He complains sometimes that the ministrations have always prevented him from attending to the needs of the withered trees and that never, for thirty years, has he been able to think of the eternal rest.
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Author:Pavese, Cesare; Davison, Scott
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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