by RW Spryszak
If I stood before the glass coffin and waited.
If I stood before the glass coffin with the body of the dead saint inside and waited.
If I stood before the glass coffin with the body of the dead saint inside and waited for my miracle, would it come to me? Forgiveness? Rectitude? Absolution?
The chapel veil around her head is yellowing. Her face is sunken and plastic. Where the mouth was, a pushed in pile of blackened lips and catlike teeth. They have put a coating of wax on her body to preserve the miracle of the unrotting death. But I think when they poured it, it must have been too hot. It left her gray eyes staring out of dimly burnt sockets. Frozen in a brown edge singe.
The faithful rosary around her fingers, hands crossed upon her black cloaked chest. The rust of vivianite like a fashionable blue choker around her neck. Her clothes are dull and soiled. The regalia of an ancient doll found in a moldy basement. The pillows and padding around her are tattered and graying as much as her unconvincing skin.
If I stood before the glass coffin with the body of the dead saint inside and believed and waited long enough for my miracle, would it come to me? Would she grant my wish like a bone you pull at the table? A tasteless fortune cookie signifying nothing. A prayer to the empty sky. The feeble promise of the insincere.
They run from me now, everyone I knew as a boy. They think I am vile and keep their distance. Build walls. Make signals to warn one another I am coming. Or, worse, think of me not at all. They think of me not at all. And if they see me looking they go to each other and whisper. He is back. He has returned. He's looking at you from over there. Run away. Laugh and hide.
I may not look. They must not see me looking. I try to do nothing to alarm them. It has been a long effort. I have rid myself of possessions in an effort to be clean. I say nothing, and tell all my grief to the dead saint and her daughter.
If I stood before the glass coffin with the body of the dead saint inside and asked for oblivion, and believed and waited long enough for my miracle, would it come to me?
I am followed by men in hats, women in blanched white makeup and familial pearls, old pouting red lips, faces secure in their righteousness. Bad perfume heavy clouding unwashed skin. There was a policeman. Two clowns, one juggling. A man wearing a solemn gold mask and a woman kicking high feet from below her skirt. Babies wrapped in their mothers' arms. Nursemaids. Tappers. Pirates. Painted faces as if it were Carnival again. Foreigners. Released prisoners. Pensioners. Hangers-on. Fat people. Brown people. Men in square brown hats and cripples twirling their crutches as if just magnificent and recently healed.
They wait their turn to stand before the glass coffin with the body of the dead saint inside and ask for their own random oblivion and try to believe and wait long enough for their own miracles to come to them. But they can't get on so long as I stand here.
Beside me is a burlap sack I bought on the mountain. Alice is inside. The dead saint doesn't move. No miracle.
He set his candles in the red sand. they must be in a line and set just so or the prayer won't work. the curse they come again. but the greens they knock it down, he attempt to remake.
I put money in the can and take five candles from the orange wooden box. They are ivory white and smell of myrrh or the scarcity of ages. Or the trinkets of memory in the damp historic halls. Or perfumed turtles. Or the smooth ink scent of old prayer book paper, crinkling and thin. They have a beautiful scent and it will get better when I light them, if ever that day comes. I must place them standing up inside a box of red sand. And I must space them perfect one to another, the line undeniably straight. It is a careful process. If I do it wrong they will not allow it. Everything depends on the red sand in a barrel.
Having hauled Alice from my apartment I made my larger muscles tired. And now I use the smaller muscles and they quiver as I set the first candle into the sand. I do this knowing it will not work. I will put the second candle in the wrong place or at the improper distance. Not that I am trying to. But they will come out and say it is wrong like they always do even if I think I'm doing it right. I cannot go from large to small muscles so fast. The next candle will be wrong as well. And they will come out and tell me it is wrong and I may not light them. Because you can't light them until they are perfect in the red sand. I will look closer at my alignment and my placing and I will only then see what they are talking about. There is only one chance, and I have lost it.
As I'm doing it, of course, I believe I am putting them in the red sand in perfect order. Or I think I am and maybe one or two are off and I hope they won't see it. But all the time I know it won't be good enough. I do not know why I persist in this effort. I know I cannot do it right, but keep trying. I know they will find fault no matter how well I think I've placed the candles. Yet I return and try again.
I finish my row of candles and pull the cord attached to the small brass bell above my head. A monk emerges from behind an ornate carved door and stands beside me. He studies the arrangement. He shakes his head. I can't see his face for the hood. But I've failed again. He pulls the candles out of the red sand and returns them to the box I bought them from. I may try once more or as many times as I'd like, but I will have to buy the candles all over again each time.
I push my hands in my pockets to see if I have money to buy more candles, but my pockets are empty and all my money is gone. I always seem to forget to bring enough. I'm not sure what is happening to my mind these days.
It is time to return home. There is some money there I think. So I pull the sack out of the cathedral and walk along the broken sidewalk to my apartment with it.
When I was younger I could carry Alice wherever I went. But these days I drag her here and there. I have become too old and weak over time. The weather always chills me. The church takes all my money. I have sweaters.
All rights reserved.
As usual, this will not stay in place for long. It is the opening of the latest project.