Parakeets in the Choir
Cornell, a Mississippi channel catfish with extra thick barbels and a perpetual scowl, swaggered down the church aisle to his customary pew. He sat in the middle section to the right, the preacher’s left, just in front of the Alabama mud hens who loved to cluck and gossip about trivialities.
Cornell was often seen swiveling about in his seat to hear the latest news. The talk today was about Mrs. Jessep’s daughter, Silvia, who was running with a hulky fellow who had chains dangling from his belt and silver earrings in his lobes. Silvia, the deacon’s daughter and a vivacious feline with silver tipped paws, was a bit rebellious.
Cornell gobbled up the news, his back fin wriggling with nefarious delight. He knew better. He had heard several informative sermons on the illicit dangers of perpetual bottom feeding, but none of it stuck. Gossip, innuendo, rumors, and whisperings, which resided in the muck of the social graces, had a grip on his senses. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t forswear these vices.
Many times Reverend Smathers, the preacher, would look right at Cornell during the sermon, pointing a stiff and censorial wing in his general direction saying, ” . . . and furthermore, it’s just plain wrong. Anybody who loves to muzzle up to the muck in the river bottom, if you know what I mean, is a pretty sorry church person, I’ll say that. Whoooee, yes sir, I’ll say that right here in front of God Himself.”
Preacher Smathers was a serious heavy-lidded white-faced owl who didn’t take well to insubordination, snoring in church or bottom feeding. He didn’t mind preaching about it either.
The mud hens usually took it pretty hard. Parishioners nearby could hear them clucking softly during these sermonic tirades. But Cornell paid little attention to this. He just scribbled on the bulletins, drawing stick figures of cats on fence railings and dogs howling against large moons. Once the service ended, he was quick to swivel around and continue any conversation interrupted by the call to worship.
I can’t recall exactly when the change in Cornell started. I think though it happened the day his sister, Malinda, a slender catfish with white lips and alluring eyes got pregnant. This event, of course, caused great consternation in Cornell’s family.
The tides rose and fell around Malinda. She was the star of the household, and her parents had high hopes for their talented daughter swimming the full length of the Mississippi and earning an athletic scholarship to college. The local media had already interviewed her twice. She had even appeared once on the six o’clock news.
Then came the unexpected pregnancy. (Malinda wasn’t married). Now her future was suddenly in question, and her story appeared in several catfish tabloids. It was starting to get nasty.
Cornell heard the mud hens whispering about her in church one Sunday morning. He had just slipped into his pew and there it was. He didn’t turn around, but he could make out the coded language.
” . . . and she heard it from Jake who swore on his mother’s picture that it was true,” said one hen covering her mouth with a wing.
“You can’t believe Jake,” said another hen. “He’ll say anything to get attention.”
“No. This time, he wasn’t joking. He saw Malinda picking out maternity clothes at Jibes Pet Store downtown.”
“Really?” said three hens together bending in toward one another in a mud hen half circle.
“Yep. I swear it.”
Cornell couldn’t stand it. He was getting mad. His back fin stood straight up trembling and fluttering with agitation. He turned around and told them all just before “Holy, Holy, Holy” was set to begin, that they shouldn’t talk about other people like that. “That’s wrong, you know. People have feelings. And besides, this is a place of worship, not idle talk.” His whiskers pointed like tiny daggers at the hens who pulled back with fright pressing into the back of the pews.
Cornel sat rigidly through the entire sermon, his lips shut tight. He scowled so hard he could barely unlock his jaw after the last prayer and the people rose to leave. I’m not sure what Cornell was thinking during that sermon but this one thing I know: Cornell never gossiped again. In fact, he has since become a model catfish serving on the deacon board and helping out in the seven-year-old classes during Sunday school.
And by the way, his sister, Malinda, had her baby and still swam the river. She will be attending, on full scholarship, Catfish State in the fall.
“For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (2 Cor. 12:20).
Dr. Nicholas Trusaint