Something haunting and human captured from a church pew when a girl saw too much beauty
|Sunday before Easter Sunday… The church crowded; pews filled with well dressed, clean, chatty Lutherans; the old patrons. The handsome, mild-mannered Pastor, Pastor Moore, takes the podium to welcome us and introduce us to the greatly anticipated Bach Choir- a staple to the church and the community. Perhaps a little sinfully proud of his very own professional choir backlighting the Eucharistic sermon; playfully mentioning that they have arrived back from Leipzig just in time to delight us all with St. Matthews Passion this warm and sunny Sabbath. I hated our crude era when he opened by asking us kindly to all silence our cellular phones. He then asked us to remember to give, to give generously, and to remember why. At this, the somber bells began to toll.
The whole church was suddenly shushed and children in dark navy suits politely poured in in two sloppy single file lines and gathered in rows centered in front of the alter, facing the adult choir and the rigid orchestra. I had not expected this- a boy choir. The orchestra prepared; the strings sending chills to an unsuspecting center. The first evocative piece began to rise from them into the high beams, bouncing from the skeleton of the steeple back into my senses, and immediately to my heart. I was made suddenly aware of what week it was.
My flesh goosed over when the boys began; their soft , innocent voices whispering against the women’s shrilling falsettos, the bellowing bases, the powerful tenors. My eyes filled with tears. I wanted Holy Communion… not realizing until much later, that I was receiving it.
By the time that the boy’s filed out I was wiping black rivers of mascara from my cheeks. I was sitting straight up. I wished a heavy-hearted and delusional wish… I wished that I would have dressed my Rosie up that afternoon; brushed her soft hair and applied a smidge of blush on her warm leathery cheek- some old waxy lipstick on her kiss. I wished I had tried to persuade her over a cup of coffee and too many cigarettes to join me here by telling her how she would love it… “Oh Grams, its Easter for Christssake…” With some ancient pain I close my eyes to see her apparition sitting there beside me. She would have been crying too. Crying because it was so beautiful- for reasons that she alone would know- ones she would never tell me. Her mouth would fall open, the way it did when she would cry. Her head would tilt back, and that would be the way I knew it was going to stop. She would look at me then, and put her claw in my hand, pat twice, and look onward again. I would neglect to catch it; just how significant the moment was that I had let slip away. My imaginary moment.
I searched the big, airy nave for a face like my own; a face fully affected- in love- cheeks flushed from the tears being held back. I found not a one. Just those flipping lazily through their programs; yawning, eyes closed, restless husbands, restless children… The only thing that caught me was one alarmingly beautiful little girl, staring intently at me. Big dark eyes, olive skin, silky raven hair pulled into a loose pony. Her head rested against her mother’s fat arm- just plain staring… I smiled, and she did not. It gave me this unsettled jolt. It unnerved me that she was so blissfully free from obligation, and from courtesy; with only the will to satisfy her own boredom and curiosity. She had tiny diamonds in her ears. Eventually she turned away, putting her chin in her hand and letting go a lazy yawn.
Just then an unfortunate teensy fly buzzed its way down the center of my shirt, entering the narrow space between my cleavage and the soft material of my dress- far too low cut to be wearing to church- even a Lutheran one jammed to the rafters with rich, self-righteous Houston yuppies (the kind I usually took such delight in appalling). He tickled me as I tried inconspicuously to set him free. I was unsuccessful and he died against my heart. I was in the right place to say a prayer.
From the back pew I could just barely see the necks of the cellos dancing. I stretched to a better posture to see a triad of lady flautists, eyes pointing downward, swaying pendulously in their chairs. I could see bows moving slowing and steadily against the strings of the violins. The choir- all ceremoniously stone faced. I thought- “How lovely it would be to see any one of them smile their hymns as they bellowed them up to God in Heaven.
And where, by the by, was he in all of this… All of this music?
I looked for him in the stained glass of the giant circular window with a cross set against its plain, yet beautiful purples and blues- creams and yellows. Not the same romantic glass you would find in a gory catholic church, but pretty in its way. I looked for him in the flickering orange flames dancing atop the thick buttery candlesticks, lining every column- holding up the joint. I looked for him in the face of the tenor who stared at me between his serenading of the congregation with those German words which I could not understand for all the tea in China. I glance back at the cold face of the child, still smashed against her mother… I even looked between my breasts for a trace of him in the insect crushed against my chest.
I would not realize until later that he was all of these places.
But in that moment I became queasy. My head began to throb. I became restless myself. Where had those boys gone? Why hadn’t they continued? Their little voices- most haunting of them all- still did better to but me at ease than any blank faced saint could hope to do. I wanted to brush the hair from their small faces; loved their accidental smiles between song… their rosy cheeks.
I see an unattractive man across the church with a chubby face and he reminds me instantly of every man I have ever hated. In an instant I am aching in a whole new dimension. This is when I begin to pray, half heartedly, but it seems effective. The orchestra became an anxious soundtrack; the choir like ghosts under the soft yellow lights. Each section crying their own terrifying part. The sopranos sudden; the only warning they give is that they draw each breath heavier than the one before.
I imagine myself going mad; letting out my own shrill shriek and running down the isle, through the heavy doors and into the safety of some thick Texas Springtime- some heavy sunbeam. I had visions of their voices chasing me as I ran from the place- of their pace and tone growing wilder and more beautiful the faster I ran…
The visions cooled as the strings took over, almost stirring the calm and sleepy congregation. I focused hard on the massive and intricately decorated organ at the head of the place where some gory, handsome crucifix should have been hanging. I spot my father, the anxious baritone fixated on a sheet of music, snug between two larger men in the middle row. In a moment, I know then that I’m home; unclench my wet fists, and wonder what’s for dinner.