“These noodles are despicable!” shouted the priest.
He was glaring at the bowl set before him, his eyes glistening like globs of molten fire. Or rather, his eye, for he had just the one. He had plucked out its twin, years ago, in an act of penitence for sins as despicable as his noodles.
“They are the last noodles in the monastery pantry, Father,” said the monk.
“I am a Monsignor!” shouted the priest, “And you will address me as Your Magnificence!”
He was a very shouty Monsignor.
“Forgive me, Monsignor, but I do not think that is the correct form of address for your station within the hierarchy of the Church,” said the monk. Deftly, he placed a pair of chopsticks next to the bowl. “Now eat up before your noodles go cold.”
The Monsignor’s eye burned with even greater ferocity and he banged his fist upon the table. He had only the one fist, for the arm to which its twin had once formed the extremity had been ripped from its socket, years ago, in an agricultural mishap.
“Cold and despicable noodles!” he shouted, “Is this how you welcome My Magnificence to your shabby abbey?”
“This is a monastery rather than an abbey, Monsignor,” replied the monk, tucking a bib of golden cloth under his superior’s chin, “And though the shabbiness of its fabric is unarguable, our souls are pure, or at least as pure as constant and hysterical prayer can make them.”
The Monsignor swept the bowl aside with his one forearm, and it clattered to the floor, strewing the noodles all kim kam. The bowl did not break, for it was made of tin.
“Bring me better noodles!” he shouted, “And serve them in a ceramic bowl!”
“I am afraid I cannot accede to your request,” said the monk, “For as I have explained, these noodles were the last in the pantry, and our stocks are now exhausted. As for the bowl, it has perhaps escaped your Monsignorial notice that we are a tinny monastery, and quite, quite potless.”
As he spoke, the monk used a broom to sweep the strewn noodles back into the bowl, which he replaced in front of the Monsignor.
“There,” he said, or cooed, “No harm done. Tuck in.”
The monk was going to add a jaunty remark about mishaps in a monastery refectory being far less traumatic than agricultural mishaps, comparing the circumstances and ramifications of both, but before he could do so the Monsignor started shouting again.
“What filth has been commingled with these noodles as you swept them back into the bowl from your refectory floor?” he roared, with such titanic rage that his whole body trembled and the bib of golden cloth came loose. The monk gently tucked it back into place.
“I grant there is filth on our floor, Monsignor, but rest assured it is mild filth, the odd pock of dust and perhaps a few million harmless bacteria. Who knows, they may add a certain piquancy to your noodles.”
The Monsignor’s countenance, already florid, now took on the tint we imagine a painter might use to depict the fires of hell.
“These noodles were despicable when first you set them before me!” he shouted, “And now they are doubly despicable! You have the gall to make My Magnificence feed on dust and bacteria as well?”
“Monsignor,” said the monk, his patience almost inhuman, “There are paupers in the hovels surrounding our monastery who would happily lick that tin bowl clean. Might I suggest you take off all those bright-bejewelled rings on your fingers the better to manipulate the chopsticks?”
“Speak not to me of paupers!” boomed the Monsignor, “I swept past their hovels astride my horse on my way here! Had I still a second arm I would have used it to cut them down with a mighty Monsignorial sword!”
“All well and good if it please you,” said the monk, “But slaughtering paupers, even in thought only, is hungry work, as many a baron and brigand can attest, so you really ought to gobble up those noodles while they’re lukewarm.”
“Where are all the other monks?” shouted the Monsignor, changing the subject suddenly, to distract attention from the fact that now he began sliding the bright-bejewelled rings off his fingers using his teeth, prepatory to picking up the chopsticks and eating the contents of his tin bowl. His hunger had defeated his pride.
“Don’t you worry your little head about them,” said the monk. It was his first error, in this battle of wits to force the bowl of noodles and dust and bacteria down the Monsignor’s gob. If there was one thing the Monsignor was sensitive about, to the point of psychosis, it was the size of his head. Once, it had been of average adult human head dimension, but following a missionary-among-jungle-tribesmen mishap, years ago, it had been shrunk to the size of a potato. A bigger than average potato, but a potato nevertheless.
Once again sending the bowl clattering across the floor with a sweep of his forearm, the Monsignor rose from his stool and clumped out of the refectory on his crutches, shouting incoherent imprecations as he went. Outside, in the rain, his tubercular yet elegant horse was waiting. He mounted it, slotted his crutches into the panniers, and hi-ho’ed away, towards a different monastery, surrounded by different hovels, where he hoped to be fed less despicable noodles.
In his tantrum, he had forgotten to retrieve his bright-bejewelled rings. The monk gathered them from the table, and later that day, when it had ceased to rain, he squelched out into the muck and distributed them among the paupers, first insisting that they kneel down and pray, constantly, hysterically, and at so high a pitch of frenzy that miles away, sitting down to a supper of picable noodles in the refectory of a nunnery, the Monsignor thought he could hear the shrieking of the damned. It was a din that delighted him. As he swallowed the last noodle from his ceramic bowl, he grinned, a grin somehow wider than his tiny head allowed, and so terrifying that the nun who served him his noodles swooned.