The church was burning, orange flames streamed out from the top of it, like a pillar to god, the smoke reached to the heavens. There where cries from inside, horrible cries, not of pain, a low moaning cry of loneliness gathering together into one voice emanating from the inflamed stone. The church was pitiful in its weeping, in its sadness. The fire made no noise as it glowed in flame, no noise at all besides the chapel’s lamentation.
A dark figure walked up, a stiff silhouette against a red sun. He moved forward smoothly, looking strait ahead. He was an older man with only a little hair, a pen striped suit. He looked at nothing through eyes that seemed caught up more in another world of visions than this place. A quiet rage boiled within his stream of thoughts and only through his eyes did they seep out. The man came to the steps of the church and looked up, straitened his tie and moved into the chapel. The bell tolled slowly, three times. The tone rang out to the countryside humming into the farthest crevices and reverberating off the smallest stones. Black birds flew from their perches into the sky at the noise, and the sun couldn’t shine through, there where so many. And the smoke still billowed into the sky off towards the sun, setting in the west. All was dark and quiet as the church burned.
A priest in his robes, hooded and silent sat kneeled at the head the isle praying as the church blazed without a sound. The man in the business suit crossed himself and walked up to the priest. He moved off and sat in a fiery pew in the dark by the corner and waited. He still looked strait ahead.
A timber fell from the great vaulted ceiling crashed silently into the organ; and from this came the church “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love I gain nothing Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away...And now these things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. --1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13”
“He who sits in the heavens shall laugh. --Psalm 2:4” came a cold response from the alter, the friar did not move as he spoke.
A faded Jesus looked down from the giant stain glass window, depicting pretty patterns of stain glass. The church moans again, lower now, as if preserving its energy for some far off time in which it can be of more use. But what use more than here?
The great stain glass window faces west and the sun shined through crimson and terrible.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned,” The priest did not move then, save an ever so slight raise in the shoulders. “I loved a women once, a long time ago, we where both young, we where both full of passion. I met her in Rome, she had the most full and beautiful red hair, cut to her shoulders, and yet there was a sea of it which I remember distinctly. The smell of it when I pressed close was so…” he paused searching for the right word “wonderful, so exquisite.”
“It is nothing but the effect of a commercialized product of a money loving company, naught to be loved by the side of god.” The cold voice from the praying figure was directed at the man in the suite, who broke his speech, silently indignant, then continued.
He explained to the walls around him, “Her skin was so soft when I caressed it in the dead of night hiding from the light. And we’d try to kiss the dawn away so many times yet each one I remember unique and clear. I could talk forever of her form, of her beauty” again he stopped considering pursuing her splendor more, “We met at a restaurant off the Tiber, Lilly’s, it was crowded then, and it smelled of welcome. In Rome they fill the tables even if you must sit next to strangers, which makes for strange company, and many times exquisite company. And so we sat next to each other and talked, for hours, once the food was long gone. She was an art student, from D.C. finding her fortune. I asked her to walk with me to the, to get a cup of coffee. The Italians take their coffee like medicine, strait down, but I only sipped softly on it and looked into her eyes, like another world away from our own. She talked of art, which I dabbled in, I kept the conversation going well enough. I got so wrapped up in her words, the music and magic of them enveloped me like a warm blanket and it was so cold on the outside, I didn’t want to leave its warmth for the life of me.”
He paused here not sure how to say this to the church, “I suppose you’ve never been to Rome, but at night… At night it comes alive, we stood on the Bridge of Angels as the mopeds and one seat cars whipped past behind us. We leaned out over the edge, now that the street venders had packed up and left. We looked over the edge at the Vatican, and the Basilica, it shimmered on the water, and she said to me “ Sometimes I wonder which is real, the one on the water or the other one, if the world we live in, in dreams is more reality than this one” I said “It would be a little inconsistent, one night one way another night something totally separate.” “Well isn’t that the beauty of it? Nothing holding you down, nothing that lasts to long, each night another adventure.”
I responded, “Only if love lasts in dreams.”
Lights lit the streets and we walked down them to the Piazza Navona. We passed odd clubs and late night vendors, a man with puppets dancing on a table and a crowd gathered around donating small change for a small spectacle. And everywhere there where restaurants on the side of the road, on one way cobble streets five times to thin for the SUV’s back home. We got a gelato and sat at the edge of the fountain’s edge, as water came out of all sorts of holes in the baroque statues, goddesses and mythical beasts caught in stone forever to spill water from their mouths gushing as we where breathless secrets of our lives. Out came embarrassing childhood memories fantasies and then came teenage problems and worries. I felt like at last I had come home with her, I felt that it was the one thing my whole life had been built up too. Sticky sweet chocolate gone we exchanged a sticky sweet kiss and I took her home to her apartment, she gave me her number. I went to bed happy, wanting like a child before Christmas to go to sleep as fast as possible so as to wake start the next day faster, and as a result unable for the life of me to sleep.
We met again the next day, and the next after that. We made love in the remains of the Circus Maximus, visions of what it must have been like there discarded for visions of her. We lived together in Rome for two years, in her apartment building with vines creeping up the side poking there little fingers in the windows and potted plants lining the casements. She painted and drew every day, and her place was always filled with it, colorful and wild expressive and new, only to suddenly change to stark realism and darker subjects. She was still finding her place she said. And everyday I wrote, as I always did, little bits or longer bits and always she coaxed me into letting her read them, little stories, short stories and poems, I wanted a novel someday I just wasn’t ready yet.
The ring wasn’t good enough, I never thought it was good enough. I recreated that first night for her, and she said yes when I kneeled voracious for her hand, at the same spot where I first kissed her. She tasted so sweet in my memory I never want to let that memory go never let it slip into dreams, morphed to something else other than the perfection of it. Oh, the days and nights where never so bright never so warm.
We went back to the states together and I met her parents and her mine. The day came, quiet, peaceful, and perfect.
A year and the news came, and as her belly grew so did my hopes. I could not have found a higher ecstasy. We talked as we always did of the future, of times to come. But mostly of names for our child, and all where considered. I could feel him palpable in my hands weeks before.
I recall the place was very blue, and white. It felt numb, pumped full of too many drugs. I sat there after it had come out, I held the towel on which the baby sat, feeling a dull sense of disbelief. Life had come through, my mom always said that things work out okay, maybe she was right. I stood up and smiled at the bald man in the lab coat who came up to me. He didn’t smile. He stood stiff, like a kid about to confess to something terrible, hands in his pockets. He tried to look at me, but he couldn’t.
The news came soft and sad like the slow realization that we all die, and that it doesn’t really mater nothing really maters. Maybe it would be best to live in dreams and never be tied down to anything. I wondered as he told me my baby was going to die of some eight-syllable complication, what the point of life was. As pure animals we are meant to reproduce, to keep the species alive, to remove the weak and make sure we stay strong. Stay strong, the tears proclaimed, a river of them, the Vatican shining down upon it for a second then only the blue white of the maternity ward. The lump in my throat never really went away. As individuals as my professor had said “we attempt to create happiness for ourselves and immediate others at whatever cost.” Happiness rises and falls with the tides, and is only a dream we attempt to snatch away and hold down, but like the soap from under our fingers always slips away. As a society, as a people, we attempt to better ourselves through knowledge, justice, technology; individuals will never achieve this separately. Probably the closest and farthest from our most basic purpose, like a ring, which doesn’t quite meet at the ends. And to live this at the utmost? Like a colony of ants going about their work mindlessly, repetitively, inevitably washed away by some mischievous kid.
“And she won’t be able to have children again.” He finished patted my shoulder turned and walked away returning his hand to his pocket.
Father here I sinned, I fell so hard within myself my wife was left out of the picture, the one thing that got me this far I dropped like dead weight. I hit the bottle, tossing back shots till far after day had gone; day for me had fled long ago. In my drunkest moments, desperate of lost happy memories, when my consciousness had faded to where I longed to keep it I would pantomime with my hands the baby I once held, they instinctively knew how to hold the once so precious bundle. Then I would speak his name in a drunken tongue and cry liquor’s tears. Depression is a black beast father, it bears upon you so hard it smothers the life out so fast that you don’t have time to do anything but drink. The light at the end of the tunnel is nothing but the lights of hell. We fought in a pitiful house so far away from Rome. She smashed our picture on the floor, when I cam home drunk. And I didn’t even care, I just sat and held my head in my hands. My drunkenness was worse than a teens excitement over the forbidden, it was a meek excuse for salvation, a goal when only a drink away slips to two and from two to four and so on in an endless spiral of DUI’s and fender benders. She screamed at me about how I ruined her dreams, and I retorted that she only ever lived in dreams-this was reality. She pointed to the beer cans on the counter days old, “And what reality is that?” She sunk down against the wall and cried, I couldn’t go to her the bottle held be back. I wept in the other room, always thinking of times past, now as evanescent as the mists, which clung to my head. The nightmares I had I found comfort in, away from the truth, which I couldn’t stand to face. For each night the old nightmare would die, and something totally new would appear, all but in reality, in reality it was always the same. She didn’t paint any more an empty canvas more than expressed the feeling we both shared the one that set us against each other, each day she rode to work at the drug store envisioning far off places and far off times. I never got my novel. Empty pages like the pearly gates I might never see laughed at me for even thinking that the balm of Gilead existed.
One night I just drove past our house into the night into a darkness still unimaginable. I somehow made my way back on my feet again, but life was never good again. I never saw her smile again, never smelled her hair again, never felt her touch again. I lived a life inside a dead dream, carving out my existence in festering bones so as to remember the flesh. And so in the end of my days I have come to you father to beg forgiveness. I would cast myself to hell for her, I would, to erase what is done. I forgive for her not for me. I do not fear death or what lies beyond, I was never a very religious man, but I just needed and still need to pull that all out of my heart and clean the dirty sooty old thing.
Still the silent church burned, the doors behind him where now a wall of flames.
“You are forgiven, as was said by one far wiser than any here “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” And by the bitterest you have learned, the sin you have repented for my its very act. Ego te Absolvo.” The church spoke softly a kindly. A timber fell and smashed the stain glass. Millions of shattered pieces tinkled loudly in the silence on the ground and glittered from the setting sun, pink and yellow against the sky. Slowly rotating in the air the crucifix fell from its perch above the glass and clattered on the floor among the remnants of the grand window. The church moaned one last time, this time in agony of which is not imaginable, a scream like a thousand trumpets at the highest note proclaiming apocalypse to the heavens, the wind blew and the fire raged, like a switch sound exploded back into the realm of reality.
And such a tempest of flames heat and sound raged that the earth shook and embers rained from the sky. The flames snaked skyward laughing at the pitiful state of humanity.
For many minutes the just sat.
The man in the suit hurried past the praying monk (still perfectly still), picked up the form of Jesus on the cross and stole a look back at the friar. His face was bitter and dark, a strait glare not wavering for any deviation in reality that was his most magical god. Just out of the corner of one eye a tear fell from his cheek, slow and proud onto the burning ground. The man in the suit stepped across the burning logs away from the roar of the flames onto the grass. He didn’t look back as the church collapsed and burnt to embers and was eventually swept to ash and foundations, and in the eastward wind it was heard “There are many wonderful things, but none is more wonderful than man.”
And thus ended my dream