The dust blows dry through Pueblo del Cielo and spits against the white mission walls at the end of its only street. A boy leads a curly-tailed dog by a rope through swirls of dust toward the old two-towered mission. The boy opens the mission door amidst a big blow of wind and the sound of breaking glass is heard from within.
“Jesus,” the padre says in the Spanish, “Close the door!”
“Si, Padre.” The boy obliges, and stands hat-in-hand, waiting, as the padre picks up the broken glass from a candleholder overturned by the wind. A shard of glass finds its mark and blood spurts from the padre’s finger. The boy drops the dog’s rope and rushes to help clean up the glass.
“I’m sorry, Father.”
“For nothing, Jesus. It’s not your fault. The wind is just angry today.”
“I think the old sailor is dying, Father. He asked me to come for you. He wants the absolution. He asked me to take his dog away.”
“The church is no place for a dog, my son. Especially now, with Rosa being ill here, as you can plainly see.” The padre motions with his opened hand and extended arm toward a pew.
Jesus sees a young girl lying on the pew; her mother huddled over her praying. The girl is shaking with fever.
“Father, please,” the woman cries, “ask God to spare my Rosa. I’m a sinner, let him take me.”
The padre approaches the woman, pats gently on her shoulder and comforts her before turning back to Jesus. “Come. Let us get the dog outside. Where is he?”
They search and find the dog. He has run to the altar and is pointing, his eyes locked on a large crucifix above. The boy grabs the dog’s leash and pulls, and the dog sits back on his hindquarters and raises his paws and strokes at the air.
“What is he doing?” asks the padre.
“I don’t know,” Jesus says quickly with an air of guilt. He pulls the rope leash hard and knocks the dog off balance, but the dog rears back up and assumes the same begging pose.
“Ai-eee,” says the padre, making the sign of the cross. “This dog loves the saints.”
“Maybe that is why Sailor named him Santo. Sailor said I should keep him and not bring him back. Is it okay to keep him?”
“Yes, my boy, if that is what the sailor wishes.”
“FATHER!” the woman screams. “Help!”
The woman’s daughter has arched her back and is convulsing. Her eyes are rolled back in her head and only the white shows as she shakes violently.
“PLEASE, GOD, not my Rosa! Don’t take my Rosa from me!”
The padre kneels beside the girl and grasps her hands between his and prays.
“Not my Rosa,” the woman sobs.
Jesus gravitates toward the convulsing girl, afraid, but simultaneously fascinated by the prospect of seeing death up close. Seconds pass, and the girl suddenly goes limp as all movement ceases.
“No, God, no!” the woman sobs.
The priest takes her hand and molds it with his and the girl’s, and continues to pray. The mother’s sobs slowly fade, until all that is heard is the muffled wail of the wind and spitting sand. Suddenly, the padre hears a wet lapping sound and raises his head. The dog is licking the young girl’s face, covering it with slobber. He pushes the dog away.
“Jesus! Take your dog!”
The girl is still, a sleeping angel. Tears streak the priest’s face as he gently wipes the dog slobber from her cheek with his handkerchief. The mother whines in stifled agony. The padre checks for a pulse and finds none, then bends over the young girl and places his ear against her chest. He sighs and lifts his head, then gently straightens the girl’s curled fingers and folds her arms over her chest in a cross. He crosses himself and whispers a brief prayer before turning back to the mother.
“Her suffering is over now,” says the padre, and the woman sobs louder.
The girl’s eyes suddenly open.
“Don’t cry, Mama. It’s alright.”
The woman screams and faints. The priest crosses himself again and looks up to heaven. He places his hand on the girl’s perspiring brow and feels that the fever is gone. He wipes her dry, and the dog tries to lick her again.
“Jesus, get this dog out of here!” he starts to say angrily, but bursts into tears and laughter. “It’s a miracle! A miracle! Thank you, Lord.” He bends and tries to revive the mother, who is still on the floor.
“What about the old sailor? Can you come see him now?”
“Yes. Yes, Jesus, tell him I am coming and that I will soon be there. Tell him not to die just yet.” The padre laughs through tears as he helps the mother from the floor.
Rosa sits up in the pew and looks around the church, then rises to help her shocked mother. She shows no sign of weakness or ill health. She and the padre seat her mother on the pew and her mother stares at Rosa in disbelief with a face of mixed horror and happiness. Joy finally overcomes all fear and the mother grabs her daughter and hugs her tightly to her chest, weeping.
The padre hugs them both laughing, crying: “Jesucristo! Jesucristo! A miracle!”