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A Prayer: Take Two 
  sacred_ikon
 
05:50pm 23/01/2004
 
mood: accomplished

     The lights on the street are bright, and Elisabeth tries to
squint through them to the moving traffic.  All those people and 
their lives, she thinks.  Each and every one of them hurrying 
home from work to their husbands and wives and children and
dinner...
     She sighs and continues on her way, shoving her hands deep into 
her pockets.  Looking down, she tries to distract herself with the 
intricacies of the sidewalk the way she tried to distract herself 
from life with this walk.  Senseless walk, don't look up, look 
down, look down, she tells herself.  Don't think about him 
and what he had to say for himself.  Don't think.
     No clear sense of destination and no intentions to figure that 
particular bit of her life out in a hurry, she pauses under the dim 
glow of a streetlight.  Elisabeth watches the insects dance in the 
night air, wondering idly what it would be like to fly with them, 
playing tag just along the hot surface of the bulb's glass.
     Some idiot hick passes her in his truck and shouts, "Hey, 
pretty mama!" as he goes by.  She scowls at him and flips him off, 
but he's already halfway down the street and it only serves to break 
her contemplative mood.  She glances up to the night sky, as if to 
ask some higher divinity why, but all she can see is the pale of the 
city lights against velvet heavens.  There is no comfort to be found 
in the world's dark ceiling -- she never realised how easily city 
lights blot out ancient ones.
     She continues to wander aimlessly about the bright night 
streets,and surprises herself when she finds her feet planted firmly 
on the concrete steps of the city's best tourist attraction -- a 
magnificent stone structure that looms from the artificiality of 
modernity.
     Staring at the huge oak doors in front of her, she reaches out 
a delicate hand to touch one of the carvings engraved on them, 
carvings alternating flowers and thorns wrought with exquisite 
workmanship.  

     "...glory with all the choirs of angels..."

     She shakes herself as if to shake the memories that would come 
flooding back to her now; "It's just a church, Elisabeth," and not 
truly believing herself, but she opens the doors anyway.
     Inside there is only the quiet of a cathedral, the absence of 
noise in a spacious hollow where scattered here and there are lit 
candles few and far between.  She steps past the vestibule, light 
little steps that make no sound on the plush red carpet that 
shimmers so in the dim light.  Her eyes wander from stained glass 
saint to stained glass saint, so like the ones in her church back 
home, faces and names to go with them that she never learned -- 
either because her parents never thought religion important enough, 
or because she shared that same view.
     Despite this prevailing attitude, she has always felt 
comfortable in a church, and finds herself now walking towards the 
memorial candles.  There are several already lit, and she argues 
with herself about whether to light one now or not.  She drops a 
few dollar bills into the donation box and thinks, What the hell, 
why not? as she picks up a candle.
     
     Her grandmother's face peering out from underneath her wig.  
"This is what you do, Elisabeth," and she diverts her attention from 
swirling around in her beautiful white dress to watch as elderly 
hands deftly strike a match.

     The flame on her tea candle wavers for a moment, then steadies.  
She realises she has been standing there staring at it as if the 
face of God might appear before her, and, placing the candle down 
next to the others, she moves away slowly.
     She passes St. Acacias in his window and slides into a pew next 
to St. Brigit (always her favourite woman saint), automatically 
crossing herself as she kneels.  She tries to remember what has 
brought her here, intention or none, and... 

     "You forgive me then?" he asks, blue eyes wide open and 
startlingly clear -- wounded, but not as wounded as her soul feels.

     ...she tries not to remember anymore.  She bites into her lip 
hard.

     That first Easter, and she is four or five, led by her 
grandmother's hand, so firm and strong compared to her own.  They 
sit in the back, lucky to have gotten a seat; the priest in the 
front barely audible from their perspective.  But occasionally his 
voice grows strong enough to lift above the crowd, lift above the 
Easter bonnets on display, and in snippets of brogue, "This is my 
blood, which was given up for you.  Drink it..."; and later she 
believes that she will pee out the priest's blood, never mind how 
it got into her in the first place.  The thought is terrifying, and 
she checks the toilet every morning for weeks.

     Her hand to her lips because there's something wet there, and 
when she pulls away her fingers are dark with her blood.  Her lip 
is bleeding where she bit it, and she fumbles, silently cursing, in 
her pockets for a tissue.

     "The blood that Christ gave up for us!  He did it in love, 
so that we would be saved!  And that is the miracle that I want you 
all to understand, that we can be saved... that we are all loved!  
The power and the glory are His!" passion found in and passion given 
from an Irish lilt.

     "The power and the glory are yours, now and forever," she 
whispers, the hunt for tissues forgotten, the taste of iron on her 
lips.  "Amen."
     All the memories coming back at once now, all the times she sat 
through Mass as a child, restless and ignorant of ritual going on 
around her.  She wishes now she had paid more attention, tried to 
believe just a little bit more, because maybe then all this would be 
of more of comfort to her emotional exhaustion.

     Her eyes are cloudy from crying.  She is tired of crying.  
The coffin is at the front of the church, and though she is allowed 
to sit in the pew closest to it, she doesn't want that.  She doesn't 
want to have to see its shiny wooden finish, or the glossy 
reflection of candles flickering on its surface.  She doesn't want 
to imagine its blue velvet interior, the rosary beads and the 
photographs placed so neatly alongside its walls, the person 
beneath the lid who had smiled so gently at Elisabeth her entire 
life.
     So she stares at the mourners gathered here, at the backs of 
their heads and at their dark, grim hats.  She stares and she stares 
until the priest finishes and the pallbearers grasp the coffin and 
everybody around stands up to begin the final parade into the 
cemetery.  She stands with them and prepares to say goodbye to her 
grandmother the final time.

     There are tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, quiet 
mourners for her memories, and she wipes them away quickly, lest 
someone enter and see her.  She stares at the floor for a moment, 
then glances back at the candles.  "I--" she begins.

     It's really none of my business," she says, and his eyebrows 
furrow in confusion.  She adds hastily, "So there's nothing for me 
to forgive."  She can't breathe, can't elaborate any further on what 
she means, can't do anything but stare at him and his eyes.  And he 
looks as if someone just ran over his puppy.  She thinks perhaps she 
should say something else, but before she can, he turns and walks 
away.  She watches his back recede further and further away from 
her, watches as his silhouette winds its way through the crowded 
station where he found her, and she can't believe that he's gone 
before she ever really got the chance to see he was there.

     Movement from the front of the church catches her eye, and a 
young, lone priest begins lighting more candles.  She doesn't want 
him to break this solitude of hers, so she squeezes her eyes tight 
and moves her lips silently in false prayer.
     "Oh, Saint Quixote, grant me forgiveness, grant me mercy, grant 
me..."
     Against her eyelids she can still see the flames of the 
candles, and she squeezes them tighter to try to block these images 
out.

     She is eight, and it's her First Holy Communion.  She sits 
in one of the first pews in the front with her classmates, her legs 
swinging out underneath her new white dress because she's not quite 
tall enough to reach the ground yet.  She knows her parents and 
grandparents are several pews behind her, and that they'd be angry 
if they asked her questions later about the ceremony now that she 
couldn't answer, but she can't bring herself to pay attention.  And 
the April sun streams through the stained glass window next to her, 
and she watches the pretty blue lights that result chase each other 
in the aisle.  She'd like to try to catch one her hand, try to 
gather it up and make its beauty part of her.

     "The power and the glory..." she whispers, pretend prayer 
forgotten in favour of the memory of those lights and how 
brilliantly they burn, how bright and sacred and ancient and 
beautiful and colourful they are, and how they seem to dance in her 
vision even now.
     She feels the tears edging out of the corners of her eyes, but 
she keeps them closed, knowing they only flow because now she thinks 
she can understand the Christ better.  Not that she ever attempted 
to understand the Christ in any way at all, just always said, "Yes, 
love, that's it, that's why..." but now she understands love.  Love 
as suffering, and love as sacrifice, and love as learning and 
teaching, and love as loss, but love as fulfillment always at the 
same time.  And this epiphany doesn't maker her a believer, but at 
least she understands now.

     How beautifully quiet it is, and how beautifully her dress 
rustles to softly break the calm.  She is twirling in the middle of 
the aisle, alone for the moment, dancing for the blue light that 
still comes through the window.  Then her grandmother comes back 
smiling, and she is glad to share the moment with her.  Her 
grandmother tells her how proud she is to have a grandchild like 
Elisabeth, and that she'd like to show her pretty things while 
they've got the minute and the church to themselves.  So solemnly 
they march along the Stations of the Cross, her grandmother 
explaining what each little wooden image means, leaning in to 
whisper as if she were divulging the secrets of the ancients.  After 
that, Elisabeth is led to each statue, each stained glass window, 
every miracle of the Church until finally they reach the remembrance 
candles.

     She opens her eyes slowly and sees the priest is staring at 
her, his long match burning short and dangerously close to his hand.  
Elisabeth doesn't waver in her own stare back.  Eventually he 
blushes and turns away.
     Swiping at her eyes and cheeks for any remnants of her tears, 
she sits back into the pew with a sigh.  "Hail, Mary, full of 
grace," she says, but her eyes are not on the statue of Mary but on 
her son, who hangs eternally crucified at the front of this 
cathedral.  "Lend me your grace."

     "You know about Maggie," he probes, but it's more of a 
statement, and she's glad at least they've decided to be honest with 
each other.  Not that they were lying, not that either one of them 
owed the other to be so forthright; but now at least they can move 
forward instead of backwards in a circle.  Geometry, she 
thinks, is a very strange thing.
     Elisabeth feels the gnawing begin in the pit of her stomach at 
this girl's name and tries to push the feeling away.  She does not 
have the right to be hurt by this.  This girl did nothing wrong.  He 
did nothing wrong.  She understands this.  She tries to approach the 
situtation with her usual detachment.  She will not cry in front of 
him, and certainly not here in this all too public place where he 
found her.  Because, anyway, this is outside any parameters of their 
relationship, and she does not have the right to be hurt by this.  
It is none of her business.
     "Yes," she answers.  "I know about Maggie."

     She stands quickly, and, crossing herself as she exits the pew, 
makes her way past all the delicate statues to the back entrance.  
She dips her fingers in the holy water there, first time ever, and 
crosses herself again.  "The power and the glory are yours, now and 
forever."
     More quietly, "And the love," and she pushes the heavy oak 
doors open to the night.

     "Is this what love is supposed to feel like?" she asks of 
the crowd around her.  She isn't surprised when nobody answers.


[A.E. Frost]
[April 1, 2003|10:24pm]
[Re-write: January 23, 2004|5:50pm]

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