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Edju - Staves 22 and 23


by RW Spryszak


22.

Men in white robes smiling. Innocent with their acolyte boys beside them. One to each man. White robes soon to be purple as the calendar changes. Blood red. But not the bright red of young blood, sealed off from the lost chances of age. Not the bright red blood of paint. Instead the mud red of old blood. Diseased blood, going solid in the vile as you watch. I awake to visions of the blood. Blood is never pure. It is off color and thick. I can see it on the floor. Liquid meat. Base fat.

I can see it on the floor as clear as the cities on the Sun. The majestic great thinkers of the lost ages call them sunspots but you and I know better. These are the hidden cities on the Sun. The masters of the universe. Hiding from our low, common ways. The cities on the Sun. Haven and retreat. They have the technology. They are safe like a rabbit in the weeds. We can only dream. Only imagine. Someday maybe I will take Alice there, if the passport is ready on the day I will die.

But those are white robes in the street. Malicious drums. The high golden banners. It occurs to me I have forgotten the feast day of Our Lady of the Snowstorm You Idiot. I have another chance. Another chance to atone for all the things I have done to the people who, in turn, abandoned me. I deserved it. Everyone off to the university and I alone in the summer city with every face a flat sheet of iron. Unknown and unrecognized. Silence for days on end and I deserved it. I deserve it still. Only if I confess. And here is another chance. The statue of the Great White Lady of the North bobs beneath my window. Her platform held high by six men in white robes turning purple. Soon enough red blood. A parade of righteousness through the streets.

I run to my bedside. The sanctified drawer where I keep my rosary and prayer book. My rosary, my prayer book, my six magic shells. Two fur covered marbles. An old piece of candy once touched by the Angel Gabriel. Fourteen multicolored stones. I am told they are from the floor of the stable where the Redeemer watched the donkeys eat the afterbirth. My holy drawer, scented with the incense from all the funerals I've attended. A scent I've laid inside on purpose to remind me of the difference between what is holy and what is profane. I must remain faithful. One day, seeing my devotion, the all powerful residing in the clouds will look down and pity me. This poor mendicant. Cut him some slack.

Fire may destroy or serve. Water may carve rock or ease passage. Medicines save until they kill. But the relics of the saints preserve only one rule. One order and one purpose. To focus the simple mind of the flawed toward the realm of the marvelous. They draw me to their power.

I take the crossed twigs tied into the shape of a cross with twine from my drawer. The Lady of the Snow will bless it and I will eat it and I will be pure. I stand by the window, Alice at my feet, and watch the holy procession march on below. There are the golden umbrellas. The ballerinas on imaginary high wires. The city elders in their top hats and canes. Bearded, gray and important. Welcoming the honor from the holy city as much as the revenue it means. Children strewing flower petals in the path of the statue itself. Weeping old women in a black pack at the back of the line, shuffling in hard block old woman shoes with thick heels and babushkas. Then, at last, the military band playing a secret song only performed when the Our Lady is on parade. It is a hypnotic melody. Some say written a thousand years ago and only allowed out of its cage in service of such an event as this. It has the effect of myrrh. I am excited beyond my bounds. Adrenalin and expectation balled up in a wad somewhere at the back of my heart.

Alice sighs and complains. It will never work, she reminds me. You always do this and nothing ever happens. I don't know why you bother.

My cross of twigs and twine in my hand, I take my sorry jacket off the hook by the door and run down the stairs in the blue rain.

This time they will see fit to free me from my pain.

 

23.

I tell myself the holy monk who welcomes me into the procession notices my cross of twigs. I am certain that he admires the careful way I hold them together with a few adept maneuvers of twine. I show it to him, put it closer to his face as we walk and the acolyte's finger cymbals tink around us. I'm sure he saw it. I'm sure he liked what he saw. But as I put it out for him he turns away and ignores it. He ignores me. He smiles at someone else.

Was I too proud? A matter of pride? I know pride is wrong. But he seemed to smile when he glanced at it at first. What did I miss? I thought he admired it. Was admiration wrong in him and he fought against it? Pride and admiration. Some kind of small human connection. I feel dirty, and put my cross of twigs in the pocket of my sad jacket.

And it isn't two minutes later I can hear screaming, and the groups ahead of us are changing direction. Us. We. That is to say the monks, the shopkeepers and weavers and cleaning ladies and priests around me. We stop and try to stretch ourselves to see what is happening. There is a force ahead of us. The music stopped. The procession has come to a standstill. People are crying. Then a wave.

A wave of people from up ahead smash into us and knock the feeble over. Feet tromp on the fallen and this makes some of the runners slip and trip and fall to the street. It's panic. The monk who wanted to hide his smile has lifted his thick robes and is running down a side street escape. A side street where there are no lamps and a dog howls like a wolf. The other marchers are fleeing. Running in every direction. I somehow stand my ground. My hands in my jacket pockets. People rushing to my left and right. They tell me, run. They say get out of here. Only at the last minute do I catch sight of the problem.

A line of young people are pushing against the members of the holy procession. Just before a club smashes into my head I see the uplifted statue of our Lady of the Snowstorm. Far ahead in a glow of green light. She is tilting and about ready to slide off the platform they use to hold her on high. I am ready for a tremendous porcelain smash. It must not happen. They don't know what they're doing. There will come lightning and the wrath of God for the loss of a holy icon. A terrible crime.

But I don't know the fate of the statue. I black out with the force of the club against my forehead. My last perception before blacking out is of boots walking over me as if I am a holiday.

There are flames when I come to. Fire to the left and right. An open door ahead of me. Heavy fighting behind. I run to the door, hands splayed, arms out ahead. I am a cartoon running wheels beneath my waist. I am inside.

I am inside and the first floor is strewn with paper and dead animals. The smell drives me up the stairs. A long narrow hall with rooms on either side. Closed doors. All closed doors. All shut but one. I go inside.

It is a small room. Coats on hooks along one wall. School books. Boots. The children huddle around a solitary nun who, eyes closed, prays. She prays so hard blood drips from her eyes. The children whimper and cry. Pray with me children, she tells them. The bravest of them get on their knees. I yell for them to get out the back door. To get down the stairs and get out into the back alley. Why, she asks, God will protect us here if we pray. Pray, children pray.

I turn to leave but see the fire has caught the building and the flames are lapping up the side that faces the street. In no time the stairway I came up is impassible from the flames. I return to the room of children.

The nun has them all in three quiet rows, kneeling. Heads bowed. Hands in perfect prayer points. She kneels facing them. They are saying the rosary. Mumble, rumble, toil and bubble, Amen. Over and over.

Get up and get out, I scream at them. the children flinch but the nun demands they finish their prayers. Some look at me. They are too young to know. They are believers. Believers will be spared. God answers all prayers. They stay at these prayers. Faces down while the flames lick at the wooden hall, approaching fierce and unforgiving.

Get out of here. Out the back way now,  I tell them. The nun hushes me and lowers her head, satisfied I am in my place now. God will protect us. There is nothing we need to do.

I return to the hall. The flames two rooms away. Once more I go in to them and scream at the top of my lungs. I order them. I tell them I will not take no for an answer. Nobody moves. The heat is turning my sweat into smoke. As I reach for one child there is an explosion and I am tossed down the hall toward the back stair.

When I get back to my feet I see the flames entering their little room like a rabid ghost. I can hear their prayers turn to screams.

The flames reach out to me. My coat begins to smolder. My face turns red hot and I can feel blisters bubbling up from the blood. I cover my face and run to the back stair. Three, four, maybe six stairs at a time. I am out and in the alley in seconds. And when I turn, the building collapses on itself and there are no more prayers.

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