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Robbie MacInnes, 12 Nov '12

Wait, you’re not recording this are you? People often ask me how I lost my eye and I’ll lose business on the after-dinner speaking circuit if it gets out.
I call it
Japes in the Swiss Guard, written and performed by Ludo Staunch.

I was a raw recruit when I first stumbled into the path of Captain Stilicho. I had just finished six months of training which, although I had passed, never really agreed with me. Everybody in the Vatican knew Stilicho. Despite being only a captain, he had not only gained the respect of his senior officers but, critically, he was well liked by the clergy. When he cracked wise, the deacons split everywhere; when he splattered charm, the vergers swooned. Plus he tickled the bishops pink.

Yet he was a cruel man and one day, as I was sharpening my pike, he approached me and just started speaking. He told me how the Swiss Guard runs on a system of patronage and that, were I at all ambitious, I would need the backing of a senior officer. I flushed violently… with joy because I thought he was going to take me under his wing, something I wanted desperately. But no, more senior than him. Who then, Major Rounce? Surely not Colonel Scipio himself? I am referring, young man, to our Heavenly Father. One cannot advance past lieutenant in this force without His greasing a few palms on your behalf.

This news broke my heart and felled my crest leaving me utterly peaktrodden. Someone as important as God wouldn’t have time for young nobodies like me- He probably didn’t even know I existed. So I told Stilicho that I would rather work my way up by my own merit. He sneered, revealing a surprisingly deep mouth. Don’t despair, he slimed, He likes an enterprising recruit.

And then he let me in to the big secret. God lives in the sun, he told me, and can be seen at noon through a telescope. So every day for a month, when the bells tolled noontime I picked up my telescope and sought God. It was a very powerful telescope, and there wasn’t a cloudy day for three weeks. But I ignored the headaches and turned a blind eye to the fainting fits. That's an example of gallows humour because after a month of this punishing search for God, my left eyeball suddenly fizzled to a crisp while I was talking to Major Rounce. I just stood there horrified until I showered him with dry eye dust propelled from my sun withered socket, by an unfortunately timed sneeze. That's something we've never been able to laugh about.

I later ran into Stilicho in the Cloisters of Peace. I hadn't yet sorted out a patch. I asked him, where, sir, where is God? When he saw the crater in the front of my head he doubled up with laughter before rising suddenly to slash his rosary across my face. Do you really think, you dolt, that our Lord and Saviour lives in the sun? Don’t you know how hot it is? Nor how far away? I immediately fled but through my tears I could hear his laughter and that of the other deacons chasing me down the Cloisters. There was also a fat cardinal maniacally screaming "what japes!" over and over again.

That night I lay in bed thinking things over. I tried to stay cheerful and told myself that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king! I then concluded that I would rather have the second eye.

My head swirled with thoughts of Stilicho and how he had taken probably my favourite eye. I distracted myself in my usual way of flicking through a tawdry tittie mag and cutting out the eyes of every model with my little scissors. Once I'd completed the magazine and put the paper eyes in my special box I felt much better. All the same, I knew I wasn't going to sleep that night so I decided to go and see my old friend Father Nero. I knew he was pulling the night shift in the confession booth and would be glad of my company.

Nero and I had graduated in the same year from the academy but, unlike me, he didn't take up his place in the Swiss Guard. He was the son of an influential deacon who, it was whispered, had the Vatican sewn up like an old quilt. Nero had always been earmarked for the clergy but his father had insisted on his training as a recruit. He said Nero needed toughening up since it was well known that he was a yellow bellied coward. Personally, I think Nero has more bravery and charisma than most people have in their little fingers.

The church was empty when I arrived, save for that same fat cardinal who had laughed at me earlier in the day. When he saw me he tittered shrilly and then wobbled off at speed. At first I wasn't sure if Nero was in the confession box after all, but then I saw his stilts leaning against the pulpit and knew he must be around. God he loves stilts. I approached the booth and let myself in.

Nero must have known it was me because he dispensed with formalities: I heard about your eye; he's a brute that Stilicho. Across my gob a smile flickered weakly like the wings of a doomed miner's canary. Nero then told me how only last week Stilicho had personally tarred and feathered a woman who had come to the Vatican seeking a healing for her sickly child.

You needn't worry about him any more, he told me, the Council of Elders has decided that whales have become bigger than God intended and that this hubris cannot go unpunished. They are sending out delegations to bless harpoons in the handful of countries where commercial whaling is legal. My father has ensured that Stilicho will be included in the expedition to the Cold Rock Islands. He has been looking for a way to get him out of the picture for months now, ever since he decided that Stilicho is far too capable to be allowed to stick around. On the other hand, dad sees a great future for you around here.

For the second time that month, I flushed uncontrollably. I had won my patron after all in the form of Nero's influential father, and in my joy I asked Nero if I could borrow his stilts. To my surprise he consented on the condition that I return them completely intact before sunrise in three hours time. As I strode off into the night I felt ten foot tall. Things had worked out. I considered that just as Oden gave one of his eyes for wisdom, in a funny way, so did I.

(Although Oden undeniably got more bang for his buck: he gained omniscience in exchange for a swift removal whereas I endured a month of self-inflicted mutilation for some sort of life-lesson, the nature of which to this day remains unclear.)

Comments · 3

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  • Robbie MacInnes said...

    Radio Wildfire Entry

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Ross Tarran said...

    This is great - I remember reading it before the audio version was available and quite liking the mixture of dark and rather absurd humour, but the narration is of such a high standard it really adds another dimension, being well paced and really bringing the characters to life. It sounds like the work of a professional voice artist or actor, not sure if you're either of those?

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Robbie MacInnes said...

    Hi Ross thanks for the comment. I'm not an actor, just took my time over it!

    • Posted 10 years ago