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
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
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
"...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
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
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
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
Against her eyelids she can still see the flames of the
candles, and she squeezes them tighter to try to block these images
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
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
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.
[April 1, 2003|10:24pm]
[Re-write: January 23, 2004|5:50pm]
( Take oneCollapse )