I put up four little trees, not real ones, but ones
with tiny flickering white lights. I placed two,
each one in a planter, and two side by side
in the same. I pulled down branches, fluffed them.
Sitting for a year in the basement crawlspace
waiting for purpose once more withered
their look. It was cold. An arctic chill swooped
down quickly this day. The morning was greeted
by a blazing sunrise of butter yellow melting into
neon orange, then ruby reaching it’s fingers into
royal purple. That’s the way to start a new
year, this first day of Advent, in a blaze of Light.
But icy cold haze rolled over us. Fog rarely seen
hid the park leaving only a picnic house with its
white painted beams glowing in ghostly
cover. My fingers stiffened bending the wire
branches feigning to be pine. My slippers
absentmindedly chosen not for weather
but for convenience did not keep frozen air
from numbing the tips of my toes. How do
those who don’t know this is the first day of
Advent, those on park benches and under
bridges, live in tandem with this cold? I finish
stepping back into the warm breath of my
kitchen to gaze out at my handiwork for
another season. Lights twinkle and words
from today’s homily pass my way once more.
Stay awake, be aware. My stiffened fingers
begin to curl smoothly again as I embrace a
lusty mug of coffee. I wait, aware of chill that
stiffens and the gift of light and warmth I have
been afforded this Advent, the first day of the year.
Sometimes I wonder
if I see the world
or in reflection
Is your smile a
transcription of mine
or mine of yours
Is what I see that which
clearly hangs in front of me
or rests looking up
in the sheen of introspection
If I could look through your eyes
I’d flip the spin
and fathom why
you don’t just walk by
As flakes twirl and skip
from clouds so high,
As my breath warm with
the thought of you
rises to tango,
I smile knowing you
smile too, maybe at the
thought of hazel eyes
or the brush of my hair
catching red in just the
In quiet, just a moment pause
taken between thoughts
I know you, no words needed.
The elfin crystal owl sat high
not within reach
placed with care away
from little hands
perfectly spotted to cast about
morning sun lambency
as if delicate ice somehow
formed itself overnight
into a winged creature
When the setting sun
made its perigee around the
house and through the
port window above the door
its ray shot through
the lucent bird-body bleeding
a rainbow onto the whitewashed wall
I watched every day
I yearned to capture not the glitter
or the arched colors created in tandem
I wanted to hold the wide-eyed creation
in my child hands
keep it forever
make it mine
prove my affection
I love not to own
not to hold so tight the sun
cannot catch your brilliant cuts
I must learn to let go
loosen my captive hold
only then can we dance
in His radiance
in vivid hues
in perigee or apogee
in our fleeting orbit
When I close my eyes to the end of day,
breathe deeply, stretch to reach
beyond myself, release all that
has cinched my being, I shift
to find you.
The night quiet is filled with
my breathing, a passing car,
distant barks appealing notice
in the chill. In this stillness,
your outline fills in.
I search through the day, arrive
at an entrance to the night quiet,
a place I rest to appease the fluttering
of nonsense, to pacify the pound
of the tattoo.
Now is where I rest, set aside what is
profane to your being, you who
dwells inside. I find you
where dark frightens but is
necessary for release, surrender.
If only a whisper I can hear, if only
a flicker to kindle, I will find you,
fan the flame, amplify your sigh,
for you will not leave me unattended,
I am never alone.
Gina wasn’t an artist. Well, not the kind that would be in art galleries or museums. She created, but in her own way. She was a writer, mostly. She loved to create stories and poems. Sometimes she made jewelry, stringing beautiful patterns of handmade beads into bracelets to encircle her delicate wrists. And she took photographs, on her iPhone. She gave up her big camera with the interchangeable lenses for a big digital camera after she could no longer buy film. But even that seemed too much. The iPhone was always in her pocket or purse. At a moment’s notice she could capture an image. She liked that. Capturing images.
This was one image no one should ever capture. Her laughter rang through the empty rooms of the art museum. She couldn’t help herself. Who in their right mind would think a bottle of hot sauce sitting on top of a toilet paper dispenser could be art? Not only art, but art in the biggest and one of the most honored art museums west of the Mississippi just east of Utah.
But there it was sitting proudly in front of a blue wall that must have been taken directly from a restroom somewhere. Art. Her laughter swelled.
He didn’t say anything but silently stood beside her glancing at her and then to the hot sauce and then back to Gina. She snorted. That’s when she noticed him.
She could see he was smiling. He was taller than she was. Well, almost all men were taller than she was. His blue eyes sparkled and his grey hair caught the canned light from above making it seem like silver curls capping his head.
Gina looked a bit younger than she really was but that was because she dyed her hair and inherited her mom’s genes for good skin. Also, she never sat in the sun. When she was young she was always pasty white, but she hated the hot sun. It gave her a headache. Now, at fifty-eight, she was glad not to have as many wrinkles as most her age. She didn’t know if that’s what made her feel young, or the fact she never had children, or the fact that she just liked to be happy and silly sometimes. But she knew, even if he didn’t, they were probably about the same age.
“Oh, I am sorry. Am I too loud?” Gina looked into his eyes. They were smiling at her.
“No. I just wanted to see what was making you so happy.” He turned away to look back at the hot sauce. Gina turned the other way and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her sweater. Every time she laughed hard, her nose ran.
Gina looked at the tall man. He had a kind face. He held his arms clasped behind him. He wore a blue sweater with grey stripes over a light blue shirt. His jeans were neat and sharp and his brown shoes polished. He was casual, but dressed with care. She liked that.
He turned to catch her eye and she quickly looked towards the hot sauce once more. It was the wrong thing to do. She couldn’t help herself. It was such a ridiculous image, she broke out in huge guffaws. Grabbing her waist she turned to find the bench behind her and sat down.
He followed, this time joining her in her sentiment. Laughter ensued between the two of them to a crescendo that almost shook the blue wall behind the hot sauce. Gina reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet of tissues offering the stranger first pick. Then both wiped their eyes and then blew their noses.
After that, both took a simultaneous big breath filling their lungs, a slight pause, and then equally large exhales. Surprised, they turned back to one another and at the same time started to introduce themselves.
“I’m…” They both paused.
Starting again, “I’m…” and another pause followed by another smile, big breath, and exhale. They just looked at one another for what seemed like blissful eternity.
It was a moment Gina would remember years later as she packed up the bottle of hot sauce in bubble wrap followed by the toilet paper dispenser which she had taken apart and carefully placed piece by piece in the shipping container. It was the last remnant of that wondrous afternoon in the art museum and the last memory of the artist himself, the man with the blue eyes and heartfelt laughter following the cold but lovely rainy day ceremony at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Thank you to my friend, Sheila Lepkin, for the inspiration for this piece. The photo belongs to her. It just charmed me and I had to use it as my writing prompt tonight.
It came today. I knew it would,
the tracking notice told me to expect
its Saturday arrival.
But the day took over. Food prepared
to feed the stomach as well as the soul,
if done properly.
Notes written by hand and on keys fleetingly
tapped, heartfelt and true. Calls made,
clothes laundered, little time for promises.
When it arrived cold had settled with grey
day clouds shaking flakes into air so frigid
only a powder covered the walks.
I knew it would be there when time
allowed. It would wait for me tucked
safely away where no thief could reach.
But I must follow the path, do what is
needed, finish the job. In trust I worked
to complete the day.
Wrapping my neck against the wind,
gloving my hands, my coat and hat
encircled me against the chill.
A walk to the mailbox in tranquility
of winter snow. Hurried steps anticipating
the arrival slowed, then halted.
The muffled calm, snow’s offering. A quiet
accented by glistening white. Icy breath
filling blood-warmed lungs.
One can never fully conceive in expectation.
It takes trust, patience. Stillness. You never
know what gift truly awaits your arrival.
My pastor, Fr. Scott Jenkins at A Church of the Holy Family, and I are writing prayers for a Celtic Mass. It is a once a month mass and will be themed around Advent and Mary and Elizabeth. Expectation, conceiving, trust, and birth are words we having been exploring.
Today, a new book arrived. I didn’t have time to get to the mailbox until the evening following a very busy day. I am always amazed at how the Spirit weaves through my life.
She laid her hand on the counter covering the quarters she wanted to use to buy the newspaper. She wasn’t sure how much it cost and since she didn’t talk, and didn’t have any more coins than what were under her palm, she gave the man behind the counter a big smile.
Eli’s smile was her gift. It was odd how people knew exactly what she wanted or needed, most of the time. She didn’t consider herself pretty. She didn’t speak. She never understood how things always worked out. But they always did.
The man had a mustache and dark brown skin. Eli liked to make up stories about people, where they came from, and what their dreams were. Or really, it wasn’t making up stories, it was telling their stories. Eli knew there stories were important. She didn’t know how or why they came to her, but they did, in her dreams. Dreams were important to Eli. Her favorite part of sleeping was her dreams. She had learned how to stay in them. Not everyone could do that.
When she was young, soon after she realized she wasn’t ever going to speak again, she had the first dream she could ever remember. The house was finally quiet. The fighting was over. He mother and father were each passed out in a different room and her brothers, both teenagers, left just as the fighting was starting. It was quiet now. She could relax.
She was four, an accident that no one wanted to deal with. She wondered that if she had never been born, if she wasn’t allowed to pop out as her brothers said, she wondered where she would have popped out?
Eli knew and she didn’t know how or why, but she knew, that people are not just bodies they live in. For some reason, Eli always knew that time really didn’t matter, either. She felt others around her, ones she couldn’t see but could sense. She could hear them. They would always be there. She had dreams.
All of that added up in Eli’s mind to more. There was more to see that we can’t see. More that must be touched that we can never touch. More we don’t hear, or don’t want to hear. More of everything. Living was very crowded and busy and noisy if you really listened and watched and touched.
That night after the fighting and the silence filled the house, Eli simply told the others who were still making noise that they must leave her alone, go to sleep, or at least sit quietly. She was thankful when the sounds that couldn’t be heard stopped.
“Thank you, ” Eli whispered to no one and pattered into her bedroom closing the door so she couldn’t hear her parents snoring.
She pulled the soft covers up to her chin and closed her eyes. She should have brushed her teeth, but she didn’t want to waste time in the quiet. Soon the sounds would begin again and she didn’t want to impose on them to ask them to stop.
She closed her eyes and was soon deeply drawn into a warm slumber. Eli didn’t understand the dream. She knew some of the people and not others. She didn’t quite see the place clearly, but she heard the voices and the sounds. She didn’t understand what it meant but she enjoyed being there. And the dream continued all through the night until the sun spread its light into her room. That’s when she realized she had the ability to stay in her dream and it was the only time she would ever talk.
“Sun, stay away for a while, I want to finish my dream,” Thick clouds rolled over the sun covering it blaze.
“Thank you, sun.” Eli always gave thanks.
“Come back. I didn’t see what happened. Please come back, I want to play.” Eli spoke to the specters in her dream and they obliged. And the dream took a turn. No longer was it a story Eli didn’t understand, at least not yet. It was her perfect playground with perfect playmates who laughed and played with Eli.
Finally, when Eli was tired and felt she had stayed too long, although she didn’t know why she felt that way, she thanked her dream friends and bid them a farewell.
Then she heard the clomping but there was no shouting. And she saw the smoke. There was smoke everywhere. He door burst open and something that looked like a robot grabbed her and ran out of the house. She couldn’t see much through the smoke, but she felt hot and the noise was deafening. She didn’t scream, because she couldn’t, or rather she chose not to so as to add to the noise.
The fire burned the house and her mom and dad. Her brothers set the fire and she never saw them again. Eli was sent to grow up with an aunt, the sister of her mother, who didn’t know how to raise a child. She had none of her own. But it was quiet in the house with no one wandering or making noise. Eli didn’t know why Julie’s house was so different than the rest, but she was happy to be there.
Yesterday was Eli’s thirteenth birthday and she wanted a New York Times newspaper to remember the day by. So there she was in front of the newsstand with her quarters.
“What do you want?” The mustache wiggled as the man spoke. Eli thought she might like a mustache if she could speak. She wondered if it tickled his nose.
Eli pointed to a New York Times behind the man. There must have been twenty or more different newspapers lined up behind him. Somehow he knew that she was pointing to the Times.
“You need another dollar.”
Eli looked down and pulled the corner of her mouth down in a half frown.
“Hurry up. I don’t have all day.”
Eli sighed and looked into the man’s eyes. He was busy thinking of many other things. It was very noisy.
“Here. Is that enough?” A large hand reached toward Eli’s with more quarters.
“Good.” And the mustache man took the money, all of it, turned away, slipped a New York Times from it shelf and plopped in onto Eli’s hand. She looked to see what was on the other end of the large hand with the money.
“You’re welcome.” The man nodded his head and walked away.
For a moment Eli thought. She listened and something told her to take the paper and catch up to the man. He wasn’t moving fast so she almost bumped into him not judging how fast she needed to run.
He stopped and turned even though she hadn’t made any outside noise, inside there were loud cheers and happy squeals.
“You’re welcome.” And he continued on his way.
Eli ran fast to stop in front of him. She handed him the paper.
“Thank you, but no. It’s yours.” He nodded again.
She nodded back but didn’t move.
Her head was chest level to his so she had to look up to him. He had a sweetness about him, something gentle. The sounds around him were soothing and welcoming. This was one time Eli wished she had not made the decision to stop talking.
“Is there something else I can help you with?”
Eli didn’t know what to say. She started to say, something, anything, but it wouldn’t come out. Words and shouts filled her head. She wanted to ask him a thousand questions. She wanted to thank him.
“Well, if there’s nothing else, I need to be moving on.” He waited. She felt the words fall into her chest piled in a cluttering and clattering heap. She nodded. He stepped around her and continued on his way.
Eli stood with her back to him. She didn’t want to see him disappear around the corner or into the crowd or cross the street into traffic and the other side of the world. She wanted to hear his voices, see his people. She wanted a hug form the man who looked like her brother. Not the one who started the fire. But the one who stood with him and accepted part of the blame so the sentence would not be so harsh.
He didn’t say anything. He was just about to open his mouth and ask her a question, when Eli turned around. She knew he was there.
She wiped her eye.
“Can I get you a cab? Or walk you home? Is it near? Where do you live?” After each question he waited. She didn’t want a cab. She didn’t want him to walk her home. It wasn’t near. She didn’t live anywhere.
He could see how she was dressed, the filthy backpack overflowing with items that we necessities, not niceties. Her face was dirty and her hands were rough. The shoelaces on her shoes were worn and knotted together. She was homeless, her aunt having passed and leaving no instructions for her care. Eli left the house as soon as it happened so there would be no instructions. That was three months ago.
“I’m Jake. I work at the Compound. Do you know what that is?”
Eli just stared into his eyes. She thought she knew what the Compound was, a place for homeless to be safe for a while. She was doing pretty well, but she just spent the last of her allowance on the newspaper. She was going to have to have instructions.
He turned and continued his walk. He knew she would follow. She was young but you could never tell how young. The street made children old. It broke him but he knew she would follow.
Eli knew she could trust Jake. His people and voices and sounds swirling around him made beautiful music. She didn’t know why. But she would follow him.
She caught up quickly but didn’t walk with him side by side with him. She followed behind. She wanted to watch him. How he moved. Who danced with him. Who sang his songs.
Jake could sense she was there behind him keeping a distance comfortable for her people. He could feel them and hear their songs. All was going to be well.
The swirl of colors woke her up. It didn’t always happen that way. Usually she awoke from her deep escape to sepia tones. Her eyes would open and as objects came into focus they would be colored brown or tan, some maple or even ebony if sleep was deep and motionless.
Today colors swirled around her tinting each spot and object she focused on, not like a rainbow, but more like one of those paint spinners you would do at carnivals when you were a kid.
When the colors cleared, leaving the periphery of her reality, she could see through the window. The moon was just above the trees in the cobalt sky with wisps of grey clouds like a scarf left behind a specter’s flight through the night air.
Mags reached over to touch where she knew Rice’s back should be, facing away from her, smooth and muscled. She closed her eyes and pushed out as much breath as she could expel from her lungs. He wasn’t there. Then she inhaled as much of the night scented air as she could hold. Her heartbeat slowed, she came back into control from a momentary panic with a regular breath and fresh air filling her senses.
Mags always felt a jolt of fear when Rice wasn’t there when she woke from her slumber. She knew she was safe. She knew she could handle herself. She just wanted the assurance that she wasn’t left alone again. It was a fear from childhood, her parents’ death as part of the revolt.
She opened her eyes to the window again. She knew they wouldn’t be there, hanging, swinging, side by side, heads at an impossible angle, from the branches so carefully chosen just outside her bedroom window at the Manor.
It’s what they did, the Bray. They controlled by fear. And when you are five, fear is all you have when you find yourself alone.
She focused on the moon measuring its size simply by eye. She was good at measuring and knowing the sky. She had been asleep for not the usual two, but three complete days. That’s what the moon told her. And she remembered the storm was promised to move in. That’s why they chose the firestart for three nights ago.
Again with eyes closed and deep breaths she traced her memory back to the start of the fire. It put her at ease. Everything went smoothly. A snap and it lit. Beautiful orange, deep red a surprise, and blues and yellows burning the night. Back to the car. Driving into the Woods. Then the sudden stop to avoid hitting Rice. She took another deep breath. She liked surprises and the thrill of a mishap thwarted. She remembered the cold ground on her back and the leaves and his breath. The Firestart was a success.
“You should be proud. It was clean and complete.” A voice from the opposite side of the room from the window broke her trance.
Mags sat up, threw her few out of the bed, and with one great leap, jumped into Rice’s lap. It surprised him. He tried to place the coffee cup onto the side table when he saw her coming. He should have known better but he wasn’t quick enough. Before he knew it she was straddled on his lap, her cotton tee wet with coffee.
“We were good. Weren’t we?” She kissed him in every spot she could reach.
“Yes.” He grabbed her hands gently stopping her. “The meeting starts in about a half an hour. We waited for you.”
“Shit.” Mags pulled herself out of his hold and stomped into the bathroom.
The Manor was, like the filigree silver box, old. But it had gone through a transformation once the Bray’s threat had become credible, Madame passed, and a need for housing the Firestarters presented itself.
Mags held the cards. She was the oldest of the direct heirs. She wasn’t one who liked power, but she knew who she was and what duty and what burden it held for her. The family would have to give over to the cause. It was her call. She didn’t care what the other’s thought. It was the right thing to do.
Once the others moved in, the rooms needed updating. Small bathrooms were added. Some walls were taken down and efficiency kitchens built in for couples or small families who wanted to join the cause. Other rooms were fitted with rows of bunk beds for those in training.
But Mags kept her room, despite the memories. She insisted. They wanted her to lead and move into Madame’s room. But she refused. She not only knew she wasn’t leadership material, she couldn’t imagine sleeping in the same room as her grandmother. All those years and men from every walk of life and profession still held court there. Madame didn’t like fresh air and her room bore the aftereffect.
She didn’t feel contempt or disgust at Madame’s conquests. Mags realized it was part of the game. Women needed to use what they could to get what was needed. Madame was a master. Mags suspected that her grandmother enjoyed that part of the game quite a bit. But she also knew Madame did it for the good of all, if that was really possible.
Madame was always in control. When her parents were hanged, Mags would sit at Madame’s feet to learn. She wanted to be strong like her grandmother. She wanted to be smart and know all the details of running the Manor. She wanted to learn about the economics of waging war and how to feed people. But most of all Mags wanted revenge.
“Revenge is a bitter soup to sip, my dear.” Madame would stroke Mag’s head of long titian curls. Now she wore just a cap of curls kept close cut for convenience.
Madame lifting Mags chin up with one fossilized finger to make direct eye contact between the two, “One mustn’t respond in hate, it clouds the judgment.”
“And one must always fully enjoy physical pleasures,” Madame’s mien a bit haughty.
When she was young, Mags thought of the pleasures of hot chocolate and fresh honey directly from the hives drizzled over cakes of sweet barley. But as she grew and watched Madame, even as her grandmother became grey and withered, Mags realized that pleasure was also power and much more satisfying than a simple taste of something sweet.
And the one Mags took to heart deeply and immediately, “Don’t ever hurt the one who really loves you, else you will always regret it.” Madame looked out the window to the garden with her hand on her breast where the locket was always pinned. By Madame’s will, the locket went with her to her final fire. Mags was assured the burn was hot enough to melt the gold and whatever Madame had placed inside.
Mags pulled off the cotton tee and let it fall to the floor. She slipped out of her panties with a bit of a tease knowing Rice’s eyes would be on her. She smiled wickedly over her shoulder as she stepped into the shower. His eyes followed her moves until steam rose from the hot water hiding her within its swirling fingers and staining the glass with moisture.
“We’re going seaside.”
“What?” She was teasing him.
Without noticing, Rice continued as he thumbed through his notebook. “Seaside. We’re going seaside. I know you’re not as familiar with the set up there, but our maps are clear and current. We’ve…
“What?” She tried again.
“Seaside. I said…” He heard the giggle. Walking to the glass box, he kicked it with his booted foot lightly but with enough force to let her know it was now time for doing business.
“I’ll see you downstairs.” And he was gone.
Mags shouted out and waited for a reply that she knew wouldn’t come. Then she gave a hardy laugh as she finished lathering and scrubbing. Starting fires is a dirty pursuit. She would have to remember to put clean sheets on the bed before they left for seaside.
Mags turned off the water and reached for one of her greatest pleasures. Even after ten years, Madame must have left enough money in the pot and had someone with enough dedication to supply her granddaughter with soft and luscious towels.
As Mags dried herself off, her eyes caught her reflection. The scar was still there. She hoped after it happened the scar would fade. But it hadn’t. She was glad Rice didn’t mind it. But she did. Revenge was a bitter soup. But she was hungry and she was going to feast.
Just as she reached out to the mirror to trace the scar, she would never touch it on her body, it made it too real, the mirror shattered into a web of cracked silver pieces. The blast threw her to the floor and she narrowly missed hitting her head on the claw foot tub.
“Son of a…” before she could finish, Tara came flying into the bedroom.
“Mags? Where are you? Are you all right? Maaaaaags?”
Tara was her younger sister. She held guard outside Mags’ room. It was her job and she took it quite seriously. She was a part of the Armor. She was the most accurate shot and seldom missed during practice. Tara had not seen actual battle as of yet. Mags’ insisted on having the best to protect her. No one argued with her so she never had to defend her demand. It was a good thing because she was sure she would show too much emotion and everyone would see right through it. Mags wasn’t protecting herself, but her little sister.
Tara was only a few weeks old when their parents were murdered, but she bore the brunt of the heinous act. Tara was raised by an old woman and a child. One didn’t have time to mother and the other could only be a sibling. So Tara grew up not sure of anything except a target. She wasn’t as sensuous as Mags but she was just. Tara wanted to be sure all would be well. And it wasn’t.
Mags grabbed her clothes from the firestart night. She didn’t have time to find new ones. She dressed as she moved to find Tara in the bedroom tearing sheets off the bed. All the while shouting louder and louder in growing agony.
Before Mags was able to get to the bed, a second explosion caused the windows to shatter. She could now smell something burning. The Bray’s answer to her last Firestart.
Tara screamed and began to pull on her hair. It had been a while since she sported bald patches, a tribute to the dedicated work of the Firestarters and Mags’ promise to protect her sister. But everyone knew this was coming. The Bray was strengthening. The Firestarters needed to regroup and plan anew.
Mags held Tara tight. She knew this was the only way to get her attention.
Another blast. Tara pulled away from Mags pushing her off the bed and bolted out the door. Mags grabbed her backbag and followed. It was important not to lose sight of Tara.
It was beginning.
The soup was boiling. Mags was hungry and the feast was ready to begin.
Back to Firestart tonight.
I am working in an odd way this NaNoWriMo. I am hoping that writing from a prompt will bring me ideas and characters to put together. Plus if one story isn’t flowing, something new from a prompt might give it more life or take me down a totally different path. I’m game. Also, with my crazy work schedule, this may be the best way not to stress it.
Here’s to taking chances and writing for the love of it.
The prompt from Bonnie Neubauer’s Story Spinner was perfect for it:
The swirl of colors
If you would like to read the first part of Firestarter, here is a link to it and my other NaNoWriMo entries so far:
“Why do you wear glass slippers?”
“Fur. And they are not slippers. Shoes.”
His hand fitted into hers. He liked her soft hand. It was bigger than his, but not too big. It was just big enough to keep the wind and the chill from making his fingers stiff. It was warm and smelled like lilacs, even though in the winter it should smell like pine trees and cinnamon and nutmeg.
“No, they are glass.”
They were a unique pair if anyone would notice. She carried a small suitcase in her right hand. She held his right hand firm in her left. He was about nine years old, but was small for his age. This was due not to just poor nutrition, but genes. She was not his mother. She was no one’s mother.
As Anna and Ralston walked to the Great Cathedral others passed, sometimes bumping into her or him and never noticing them.
That’s how it was in the big city. That’s how it was even when they were at the steps of the Great Cathedral.
Anna’s favorite place to sit was across the street from the Great Cathedral on the park bench. There was a Great Garden where children ran in summer after Sunday Mass in their good clothes. And their mothers would shout at them to not get soiled for their later trip to grandma’s and brunch. But the children never listened, well almost. And the mothers would brush off and try to rub away the green stains from falling down or kneeling under the sun’s rays. Then elbows would be grabbed and little bodies trundled into cars and tires rolled away from the Great Cathedral not to return until next Sunday, to be done all over again.
Sometimes one little girl would obey. She would stand at the side and watch the other children shout and jump. Her mother would give her praises for being good and following directions. And her mother would tell her how proud she was and how much grandma will love to see her all unspoiled.
“Why do you wear glass slippers?”
Anna led him across the street to her little bench in front of the Great Cathedral. They arrived in good time, right before Communion so no one was leaving yet and scurrying down the steps to their real lives.
“You have glass slippers.”
Anna watched as the doors to the Great Cathedral opened with a sigh as the altar boys, not girls, the same age as Ralston but garbed in long magenta dresses overlaid with white lace smocks, used their bodies to hold the doors wide.
“They look like glass. Like Cinderella.”
“She had fur slippers.”
“Fur. It’s from the French. Fur. Furrure. Glass. Verre. You see? Mixed up translation.”
Her name was Anna. She was a saint. Not that kind. At least she didn’t think so, but He did.
He touched her heart, the world opened
It wasn’t worldly beauty she saw
But cracks and crevices diving into blackness
where the color of blood
mixed with loneliness a beauty of its own
Anna walked barefoot, not because she didn’t like shoes. Not because she didn’t have slippers. She wanted to feel. That’s all.
sticks and stone
may break my bone
but names carve
black and bloody
Anna sat on the bench with Ralston across the street from the great Cathedral so she could see the bell tower, so she could watch his hands grab the rope.
Wrapped around and around the wrinkled skin
boney knuckles, yellowed cracked nails
first a heave, then a sway
wider and wider until her
with His lonesome call
Sebastain knew she would come, everyday for the noon Mass, bare feet holding thin ankles. Perfectly shaped.
He smiled at His creation knowing she would be the saint He intended.
Today was like every weekday except that it was New Year’s Eve. Shops would close early for the last big hurray of the season. Offices would start their parties early, too, so the workers could arrive in time to other parties that would take them bleary eyed but hopeful into the New Year.
Anna awoke at midnight of the Eve. She had much to accomplish before Sebastian rang the first bell of the New Year.
Anna lived alone in an apartment just on the outskirts of downtown proper. Most of her suburban friend considered it downtown. She was lucky to get the one apartment in the middle on the top floor that looked between two of the new buildings down a narrow alley that gathered men and sometimes women looking to stave off the cold wind and possibly find some food from the garbage thrown into the dumpsters lining the walls.
This scene didn’t bother Anna. She understood. She understood that some people could not live the lives of daily jobs and paying bills and raising children who would grow up to do these same things all over again. Anna knew there were those who needed to be outside and alone. There were those who couldn’t be stuffed into clothes that constricted like a python living among people who chattered like monkeys. Their skin would crawl in agony in want of release. A soft bed, warmth from a grate blowing dry heat, cooking food to make it taste good, a person getting too close, touching, all these things could make a someone crazy. Anna understood.
Anna was glad for this long dark aisle that didn’t sport pretty tiled patterns and stiff hard wooden pews with kneelers on either side. This aisle to the world gave shelter, minimal and harsh. It was needed and right for those who found it. It smelled of urine and wine from broken bottles and emptied stomachs. She couldn’t open her window in the heat of summer because she didn’t like the smell. But through this glut, there was the view. Through the slit between two shiny new structures, one an office building, the other condos for the young lawyers and executives, Anna could see the top of the Great Cathedral’s cross and just beyond the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains.
She was middle aged, she thought aged “to perfection,” as the saying goes. Her hips were rounded and her stomach, too. Her breasts were beginning to sag, but they were real and soft and many enjoyed their pillow. Her hair was thick and sleek, not curly like her friend Pam’s. It was usually short cut right at her jaw-line. It framed her face perfectly. She didn’t care if men liked long hair on women, she had other gifts to offer. Anna worked as a banker, had a college degree, and cared for her mother in her last year of her life. She had no children.
Anna liked her hands. Her fingers were long and slender with tiny wrists. Ankles, too. If she could stand wearing high heals, her legs would be considered sexy. Gray started to peek out at her temples first. When she first saw it, the grey was ignored. But as the strands lengthened and some started to sprout from the top of her head, she decided that her only vanity was to dye her hair. She didn’t wear make-up. She couldn’t afford fancy clothes other than what she had to wear to work in at the bank. So she decided to dye her hair.
After her mother’s death, Anna didn’t go back to work. She wanted to do something good for the world. So she sold everything and found the small apartment on the edge of downtown. It wasn’t safe and her mother, and her father when he was around, warned her never to go there, especially by herself and, most especially, not at night. It was the first place she looked at for her new home and she paid in advance a year’s rent in cash.
Slowly Anna fashioned the apartment from nothing, except a few rosaries, small statues of Mary and St. Therese of Liseaux, a gold cross that was given to her by Fr. Gold on her wedding day, and her bible. She brought with her a small suitcase. She had been a Catholic all her life. But she was changing. She knew it, but the church didn’t.
Anna started to change the world by going to the Great Cathedral. She went to Mass everyday. She tried to volunteer, but things didn’t work out. She didn’t fit in.
Anna didn’t fit into much. Her marriage. Being a daughter. Her job. It seemed no matter where she went, she didn’t fit. She had a few odd friends, but not odd enough. They no longer understood and they certainly didn’t want to come to her new house for dinner. And she didn’t have a car any more to drive to their safe suburban homes.
She understood that everything needed to change. And it did.
Anna soon found herself out of the Roman Catholic Church. She could no loner make excuses for the incredible wealth the Roman Catholic Church held onto while people were hungry. She could no longer tolerate priests having sex with boys and being redeemed and hidden and excused. At the same time forgiveness and Communion was being withheld or some people were not even welcomed into the church building because they were living imperfect, human lives. Anna realized that, as in the rest of the world, if you were in the “special” group or “in” group, you were forgiven and included. If you were below that, you were a sinner and not worthy until you repented into their way of thought. Anna wasn’t unsoiled.
She was a liar. She lied that she was spotless when she went to Communion, not having gone to confession before. She could never bring herself to tell her sins to a man who might be screwing little boys, or tried to rape her grandmother. How could she trust someone who never apologized to her grandmother and still kept his collar and was allowed to say Mass?
Anna didn’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. So after Mass one Sunday, she walked with Sebastian and Frank out the main doors of the Great Cathedral and across the street to her church under the sun near the Great Garden, as she christened it, on the park bench to give her reverence to God.
Today it was blustery and she would have to dress accordingly. She loved that she had to start over with a new wardrobe, too. She sold her suits and shoes and purses during the move so she could start over here, too. Her favorite store was Goodwill. She could finally dress how she wanted, long broomstick skirts with simple shirts or sweaters. That’s it. They didn’t have to match. Simplicity. She liked the feel of freedom the flowing skirts gave. She liked the feel of the old, much-laundered fabrics against her skin. She didn’t have many, but they were ones she adored. Her shoes were simple slippers. One pair for each season. Fur for the winter. Clear plastic for the spring. When she wore those, she would paint her toenails, each toe a different pastel, just for fun. Flat sandals for the summer. And a pretty orange leather for the fall.
She had a shawl to wrap around her shoulders when there was a nip in the air. It was a black scarf with red roses. It felt as though she was wrapped in St. Therese’s love when she wore it. St. Therese was her favorite saint. One reason for this was that the saint loved to eat. The nuns would often find St. Therese in the kitchen after midnight chewing on a chicken leg. Anna prayed to St. Therese during her bout with cancer. Roses always appeared.
It is said that if you say an Our Father and ten Glory Be prayers to St. Therese for ten days in a row, a rose will appear with your prayers answered. Before her sickness, Anna didn’t believe in such things. But cancer calls for all the guns to come out firing. And every night as Anna was falling asleep, she would say her prayers to St. Therese, as well as her own style of rosary to Mary in thankfulness for those caring for her and for her family and for her friends and for acceptance and grace of whatever the cancer would bring. That was almost twenty years ago.