“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.