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Come around now, children, and S’ter will tell you the story of Solomon Grundy.
No, not that Solomon Grundy, the one you learned about in your rhyme. Not the one that goes, “This is the end of Solomon Grundy.” I don’t know if our Mr. Grundy will ever have an end. If he does, it’ll be long after I’m gone. This is the Solomon Grundy I learned about from Sister Miriam, and when I’m done with the story, I hope you’ll know of him, too.
Now settle down, make sure none of you have to go to the bathroom, and I’ll tell it.
To begin, Mr. Solomon Grundy was more than a fine figure of a man. He was a terrible figure of a man. Over seven feet tall, chalk-white all over, skin and hair, dressed in a tattered black suit that didn’t fit him any better than Frankenstein’s fit his, shoes that had seen their better days a half century ago, and a face, well, gracious Lord, that face would have given Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera fits!
And if any of you mention Freddy Krueger, you’d better not let S’ter know you’ve been watching such garbage. Am I clear, dear ones?
They say that Mr. Grundy started life as a common gangster, who sank to his death in the waters of Slaughter Swamp. That was where one of Bannermain Chemicals’ plants dumped their wastes, in the early years of this century, before they enacted the pollution laws. If they had, well, Mr. Grundy might not have risen from the marsh the way he did, or in the shape he did. He was transformed, in some other-worldly way, as if a goblin had taken a corpse, instead of a baby, for once, and left a huge Changeling in its place.
What’s that? Oh, S’ter only believes in Changelings when she sees some of you throwing spitballs and pulling hair and trying to dress like Britney Spears. That’s a joke, dear ones.
Mr. Grundy arose from the swamp with little more than power in his arms and hatred in his brain. His mind, what was left of it, was befuddled. Well, if you had been dead as long as he had, I imagine your mind wouldn’t be working half as good as his was. What was left was mostly that of the gangster, and he went into Gotham City, the nearest town, and started raising havoc.
He ran full-tilt into the Green Lantern in the course of things, for this was back in the early 1940's, and the Green Lantern stopped him with his mighty ring, but only just barely. He imprisoned Mr. Grundy, but Mr. Grundy got free time and again to fight the Lantern each time. Once, he challenged the whole Justice Society to get to the Lantern. By the end of the decade, though, the Lantern imprisoned him on a distant planet. He stayed there for a good, long while.
But he didn’t stay there forever, dear ones.
Eventually, so I hear, a low-flying meteor created a field that sucked Mr. Grundy and the green bubble he was in straight off the planet. He ended up in space, and managed to steer the bubble back to Earth, a planet for which he had an affinity. It took him years. But he had time. He didn’t need to eat, drink, or breathe.
No, he wasn’t a vampire. Didn’t S’ter tell you not to watch such things? Unless they had Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, or Frank Langella in them? I declare, sometimes you children don’t listen to a blessed thing.
Mr. Grundy came back to Earth, where the Justice Society had started fighting crime again, and he tangled with a lot of them. Both the individual heroes, and the team itself. Once, they said they thought Grundy had turned over a new leaf, when he went to another Earth–no, S’ter will tell you about those things some other time—and fought another brute called Blockbuster, and seemed to have the hate knocked out of him. But it came back, all too swiftly.
Finally, after years and years of such stuff, Mr. Grundy met a group of young heroes called, I think, Infinite Incorporated. “Infinity?” Is that what they called themselves, Roger? Thank you. He seemed to accept them grudgingly as friends. But it didn’t resolve matters entirely for him. He was walking the Earth, not knowing what to do, not knowing just who to hate, and not knowing a thing, probably, about love.
Mr. Grundy was like a hobo. He slept in his clothes, ate when he felt like it by breaking into fast-food places and taking what he wanted without much opposition–-yes, Alice, S’ter did say that he didn’t have to eat, but sometimes he wanted to, and he did—and going to the lavatory outside, like an animal. Sometimes the police chased him. Sometimes he turned their cars upside down. It wasn’t much of a life, but it was all Mr. Grundy had.
That was until he came to the Church of St. Stephen, and initially, I don’t think it was a thing he intended to do.
It was in the cold of winter, and even a monster like Mr. Grundy could get cold at times. The chill factor was pretty much nudging zero, with a 35-mile-an-hour wind blowing out of the north, and a decent amount of snow falling with it. You know how cold it gets in the Loop, dear hearts, at a time like that. Mr. Grundy was clutching his tattered black coat to his body, and I do believe, for all his strength, he was shivering.
But people were still getting out of his way wherever he walked, to be sure.
The doors of the Church are always open, but at that time of night, there weren’t too many people around. Frank the guard was on duty, and as soon as he saw Mr. Grundy, you can bet that he got on his talkbox and said, no, screamed to the Father on duty, “There’s a monster! A monster! A–“ And that was as far as he could get before Mr. Grundy picked him up, turned him upside down, stuffed him in a trash can outside the door, and walked to the big double doors of the Church.
He opened one of them, pulling a bit hard, enough to dislodge one of the hinges. Then Mr. Grundy walked in.
You could hear Mr. Grundy when he was ambulating, surely enough. Those big, even footfalls making a BOOM...BOOM racket over the entire church. With the acoustics in here, there was absolutely no way you could avoid it. And to Sister Miriam, who had lived in Communist Poland for all those years, well, blessed Lord, it was just like the tread of the soldiers who used to make their lives so difficult back then.
Sister Miriam had been a nun of the Church in Poland for over 25 years. Would you like to contemplate what that was like, dear ones? I don’t think you can. The only reason the Church even existed in Communist countries was because they couldn’t stamp it out. They restricted it, they attacked it, they turned people away from it, they denounced it, but they couldn’t get rid of it. Lenin or Stalin, I’m not sure which, was the one who said, “Religion is like a nail, the harder you strike it, the deeper it goes into the wood.” Well, thank God that the wood in Poland was sufficiently deep and sufficiently strong to sustain a woman like Sister Miriam for all those years.
A lovelier woman than the Sister I don’t know that I’ve known on this Earth, not speaking of her physical self, but her spirituality and her disposition. I could tell you many tales of her, children, both what I knew and what I learned from talking to her and others who knew her...but that would make this tale much longer than it already is, and I intend to finish with it tonight. So best we leave the rest for other nights. Trust me, there will be other nights.
As it happened, Sister Miriam was the nearest one to the front of the Church when the noise was heard. The intruder had already gotten into the place of worship proper, and was standing in back of the pews, facing the pulpit, as if he wasn’t quite sure where he was or what all of this was for. The sister emerged from the back, took one look, put a hand to her mouth, and was definitely of a mind to run back the way she had come from.
For Mr. Grundy was a frightful sight, no mistaking about that.
He looked straight at her, as she was the only other one present at the time. There was no way to read what was in his expression, just then. If you saw Frankenstein before you, children, would you be inclined to ask him what was on his mind, or just to turn tail and run the dickens out of there? Don’t answer, because I know what you’d do. I might have done the same.
But Sister Miriam wasn’t quite like that. She’d had to stand up to the soldiers time and again. She’d had to talk to the civil authorities and endure their abuse. Sometimes, I’m sure, she had to take abuse that was more than verbal. She did not talk about that, but sometimes you can read it in one’s eyes. At least I believe that is so.
Did she hear a still, small voice like Elijah in the cave, asking her, “What do you do here, Sister Miriam?” I do not know, and I have not asked. But something there was that made the Sister put one foot in front of the other, approaching Mr. Grundy, who did not move an inch, it seemed. For there is something we know that perhaps you have yet to learn: that everyone who enters the house of God, whether he know it or not, is to be treated as a guest.
Even if that person have the aspect of a very devil.
So before anyone else could get there, Sister Miriam was standing before the man, the monster, himself, and asking him, in a hesitant way, “Sir, have you come here to seek sanctuary? I am Sister Miriam. What is your name?”
He took a long time to answer. But when he did, he finally said, “Grundy. I am Solomon Grundy.”
“Mr. Grundy,” she said. For it was a reassuring thing, just a little thing, to learn that the man before her could speak. “Mr. Grundy. Well, then, Mr. Grundy, welcome to our church. Are you hungry? Are you tired? Do you need someone to pray for you?”
“Pray. What is pray? Yes, Grundy is hungry. Yes, Grundy is tired. Bring Grundy food, or he will smash.”
The Sister was taken aback a little at those words, and drew away for a second, but only for that. Then she said, “Mr. Grundy, there is no need to smash anything. You are in the house of God, sir. You are welcome.”
“Welcome?”, he repeated, and gave her a look she could understand. One of dumb curiosity.
“Yes, Mr. Grundy,” she said. “The Church welcomes all men in their time of need.”
“Grundy is not man,” he said. “Grundy is monster. All they tell him, wherever he goes. Monster. That is all.”
Sister Miriam drew closer to him now, almost touching him. “No, Mr. Grundy. In the house of God, you are not a monster. You are a man. Believe that. In here, you are a man.”
“In here...” He couldn’t seem to get it out, at first. “...Grundy is man.”
“Yes, Mr. Grundy. A man. Many have come here, in worse tatters than you, and been accepted. They just had to accept that they were accepted, themselves. Can you do this, Mr. Grundy? For yourself, and for me? And for God?”
“God,” said Mr. Grundy. “Grundy does not know this God. Grundy does not know acceptance. Grundy knows food, and sleep-place. Grundy will have these things.”
“Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Grundy. You will have these things. But first, I want to do something for you.”
“What does woman want to do for Grundy?” He looked suspicious as he said it, and believe you me, Mr. Grundy was not a person you wanted to be suspicious of you.
“I wish to pray for you,” she said.
“Yes, Mr. Grundy,” she said, and she touched his hand. She almost flinched, for the skin of his hand and the bone under it was different from any man’s she had touched. But instead, she made herself grasp it all the harder. Her other hand, and her face, she lifted to the heavens. And she prayed. This is what she prayed:
“Lord Jesus, the Church has a man within it who is in need of your help. He is in need of food, and sleep, and sustenance of body and spirit. His name is Mr. Grundy. He does not know You, but he is about to learn of You, and of Your bountiful spirit and blessings. He is about to learn that You judge not as men do, not only of the appearance, but of the heart. And he is about to learn that You will judge him to be a man, and will accept him. Please let Mr. Grundy know this. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.”
When she looked at him, she saw that Mr. Grundy looked quite dumbfounded. These were words he hadn’t heard even from those of Infinity, when they accepted him. It is possible he knew nothing of religion, hadn’t even heard the name of Jesus except as something crude men swore by. It is possible he had never heard of the love of God. We are not certain of any of these things, except for one.
It is definite that he had never met anyone like Sister Miriam.
Several of the guards and nuns and Father Byrne himself had gathered at the doorway by then, and were looking on in astonishment. But the Father himself had motioned for them to be silent, as he seemed to understand what the Sister was trying to do. As if he knew only the Sister could do it, and that, if it wasn’t done properly, the lot of them were going to need the protection of God very quickly and very thoroughly.
Perhaps they already had it.
“Are you ready to accept God’s blessings, Mr. Grundy?” said Sister Miriam, looking straight into his face.
“Will this get Grundy food, and bed?” he said, in an uncertain voice.
“Yes, Mr. Grundy. That, and so much more.”
“Then Grundy says okay.”
She smiled at him, then. That ugly, horrible being with the face of chalk and hair that hadn’t been combed or washed possibly since he was reborn, towering over her, smelling like a swamp and dressed in something you wouldn’t put on a self-respecting scarecrow, she smiled at him.
I do not know whether or not he smiled at her. But he came with her, and she took him towards Father Byrne and the guards, and said, “This is Mr. Grundy. He has come to seek sanctuary. I’m taking him to the kitchen.”
To his credit, Father Byrne said, “Welcome, Mr. Grundy. The Church of St. Stephen accepts you as a guest.”
He didn’t add, “As long as you don’t tear it down.” If God was willing to take a chance on Mr. Grundy, perhaps Father Byrne was willing to do the same. At any rate, it was his job.
It turned out that God and Father Byrne had placed a good bet. But at least the Father didn’t know it at the time. That is what Faith is about, dear ones. Believe me.
And though that faith was tested, Mr. Grundy didn’t let them down. Even when they faced the greatest test of all.
What was that? Why, my dear Lord, look at the time. Time for all of you to be in bed. Come along with you, now.
The story? Oh, you wanted to hear more of that?
Well, you know, dear ones, if you behave and none of you has to go on report tomorrow, and I mean none of you, then Sister Sonia just might tell you a little more of the story. Just call me Scheherezade. You don’t know who she was, but you will by the time I’m done.
We’ll make it a continued story. That’s what I’ll tell you each night until the story is finished, just like they do at the bottom of a magazine page:
“To be continued.”