Enrico stops before the missionary’s door, his throat parched from the long day’s ride. He thumbs the silverware secreted in a sack beneath his shirt and clambers off his mule, bracing an arm against his chest to prevent the spoons from rattling. He knocks timidly on the timber, dried and cracked from the long Mexican drought, then pounds.
“Open,” Enrico cries, and is ashamed at his own strangled voice. He clears his throat and pounds again. “Open!”
After what feels like a long while, a priest finally pries ajar the door, sending a miasma of dust across him. He peers at Enrico through a small sliver. Enrico can glimpse little more than one of the man’s eyes and a bare courtyard beyond it. Enrico pulls the sack from his shirt and thrusts it into the man’s hand.
“Please, padre. My son, he is very ill.”
The priest, gray-haired and balding, avoids his gaze for a moment, then presses the sack back into Enrico’s arms. “I have heard,” the priest says. “We are all sick in this town, my son.” He turns his head away showing the scaly protrusions of smallpox along his left cheek. He entreats Enrico with kind, sad eyes. “Go home, my son.” Then he closes the door.
Enrico rides, slowly with hunched shoulders, feeling a weight as heavy as a stone press on his back. At the marketplace, Enrico exchanges his silverware for sweetmeats and fruit someone has managed to save by storing them in the coolness of his cellar.
He even buys an orange – his son’s favorite – knowing it’ll need no cutlery.