Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Upset

Welcome to Fighting Talk. In this blog I will publish new short stories and other bits of creative writing. Please have a read and leave a comment. If you like any of the stories, I want to hear from you. If you dislike or were offended by any of the stories, I really want to here from you. The first story is called Stained Glass.

Stained Glass
By Andrew Hamilton

She stops the car.
“Is this the place? Harry. Harry, this is the place, right?”
Harry doesn’t move. Eyes straight ahead, he searches the skyline, the road, the trees – anywhere but her face and the building that lurks outside her window. She pulls the hand-break tight, takes the keys from the ignition and buries them deep in her handbag. The cracking of the cooling engine breaks the silence and keeps time with Harry’s breath. Faster. Faster. Slower.
He looks to the hedges – his hedges – now invaded and almost fully conquered by the wild brush from the gutter. The unkempt lawn sneers and spits at him as his eyes study the menace of the half-submerged potholes.
“Come on Har, this has to happen. We go in, we see the place, we walk around a little and then it’s all over. Twenty minutes and we’re done. We’re gone. Then we can go home, get drunk, and start again.”
Harry exhales deeply, his thoughts still filled with the trappings of domestic failure. His face is hard, filled with stubbornness and fear. He catches his breath as if to speak, but no words come. He shouldn’t be here. This isn’t right.
She begins to tap the toe of her shoe against the rubber saddle of the break pedal – slowly, but deliberate. Without looking, he can see the expression on her face: her neck arched uncomfortably, her tongue forming an ugly bulge in the pit of her cheek.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
She is going to blow. Harry knows it. And when she does his last chance of happiness, of redemption, will be blown with it.
Tap. Tip tap. Tip tap. Tip tap.
She fumbles for her bag.
“Okay,” he says, letting his face fall into the cradle of his open palms, “Okay”.
Harry opens the door.

Before the upset, Harry liked to visit Rome and The Vatican City almost every year. He loved Rome. It was the feeling of stone beneath his feet and the angular simplicity of its magnificence. Turn right at the Colosseum, continue straight along the walls of the old forum until you meet the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. Pass a secret word to the Unknown Soldier and then straight to Piazza del Popolo, where an easy left turn brings you to the gates of the Vatican. Simple geometrics – lines, angles and corners.
Harry was at home in Rome. There he was calm and confident. It was a simple calm, grown only from knowing his way around a foreign city, but a righteous and glorious calm none-the-less. When he could, he would make his yearly pilgrimage alone. Other people spoiled the experience. They insisted on taxies or pictures or behaving like tourists or talking.

The giant oak door swings freely on its hinges. She hesitates - her eyes jumping from the car, to the courtyard, to Harry, and back to the car again.
“Now or never,” she whispers to herself as she leans against the door before wedging it open with a fragment of a shattered holy water stoup. The chapel is damp, and despite almost every pane of glass being smashed, the air is sour and stagnant.
Harry pauses at the threshold, blesses himself, and steps inside.
The old building rises and groans to greet him. It is a half-hearted welcome, a reception reserved for sons and daughters who abandon their family at a moment of need, only to return when all the work has been completed. The room is different - worse than he could have imagined. Worse even than his dreams.
She follows at a distance. Space, she knows, is the key to this reunion – time and space.
Wildlife, damp and teenage drinkers have all found welcomes here. Many of the pews have been burned or stolen and the floor is covered with decaying leaves, rubbish and a snowfall of broke glass.
Above the altar, in the place where Christ had once hung and looked to his father for mercy, a giant sign had been made of red paint on dirty white cloth. It reads, “Jesus don’t live here no more”.

“Have I ever told you about St Peter’s Basilica,” Harry says, his tone light and almost cheery. “It really is the most amazing place.”
“No,” she says, surprised by the change of mood. “I don’t think you have.”
“Well it really is the most amazing place.”
Harry walks to the centre of the church, his boots crunching on slivers of shattered glass. He looks up, shielding his eyes as the last of the mid-March sun pours through the empty space where stained glass once had lived.
“It was once the greatest church in all of Christendom. It was beautiful, fair but not fierce. They built it not to overawe those who entered, but to comfort them. To ease the pilgrims into its grandeur. To make them part of the building and then, when they were fully comfortable, to reveal to them the sheer scale and majesty of St Peter’s chapel.”
His eyes move quickly, darting thoughtfully, as if in sudden recollection of a long forgotten secret. He turns to face the altar. He sighs.
All the oxygen leaves his body.
She wants to go to him. To stand beside him. To take him in her arms and comfort him. This is the most he has spoken in years. But she knows she mustn’t.
She is a guest here – an imposter in his world. She knows that much.

“There is a stained glass dove in St Peter’s,” Harry continues, talking softly now, as if only to himself. “A lone white dove, emerging from a bed of golden rays. When you enter, the dove seems no more than a trifle, a tiny detail no bigger than the nail of your thumb.
“But when you walk the church – when you finally come to kneel at the great altar – only then do you realise the sheer size of where you are and what you have become. That tiny dove, that insignificant speck of glass and metal, has a wingspan of more than 13 metres.
“Imagine that,” he says, shaking his head, “a wingspan of 13 metres.”
Harry is silent.

She walks to the centre of the chapel. Edging closer, but not too close, to Harry.
The church is different from what she had expected. It is smaller somehow, less formidable.
In the silence her eyes search the room, looking for a sign, a signal of what Harry might have been in the years before she knew him. But the room is silent. All its secrets have already been told.

Harry falls to his knees, his hands searching frantically in the scatter of the broken glass.
“Don’t,” she shouts, rushing towards him, but he isn’t listening. Before she can reach him, he picks up a fist-sized piece of stained white glass and runs to the altar.
Without stopping to genuflect or even bless himself he races to the pulpit and places the piece of jagged glass on the filthy plinth before him. He holds out his hands, blood has started to collect in the gaps between his fingers. His eyes move slowly from left to right – waiting for the room to become quiet, waiting for a time to begin.

She is silent – her eyes, her face, every aspect of her being transfixed by the scene before her. She has felt like this before but she can’t remember when. A spasm of cold runs through her, scorching the tendons of her back, making her whole body twitch and shimmer.
She is still.
It is time.

“One day I came upon a bird. It was the most beautiful creature that I had seen in all my days, and I wanted it,” he says, his voice loud and commanding.
“So I took that bird for myself – and I placed it in a high place, and every day I came to look upon it. Each day I looked up and I prayed, for the bird made me strong. It made me sure. I looked up, and I was happy.
“But what had I to be happy for? What had I to be sure about?”
“Was I happy just to look upon this thing of delicate beauty? Was I happy because it gave me joy to behold the sheer splendor of this creation, and to know that this splendor came directly from the very hand of God? Or was I happy because this bird was great – and in its presence, I too became great?”

He stops – his eyes moving from the shard of broken glass to his imagined audience. She is frozen, waiting, her breath trapped within her chest. Suddenly, through her eyes, his whole presence seems to shrink and flatten. He begins to splutter, weak with the futile anger of the defeated.
“I’ve spent my whole life looking up. I’ve strained until my eyes burned, until my whole body was aching and broken. And I’ve never seen anything that really matters.”
He lifts his head, revealing streams of tears. He looks at her, now seeing her and her alone.
“I’ve never seen anything that really matters.”

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