Hello, Friend. My story has changed significantly over the last six months. One major shift is my hero’s POV. He’s now written in first person. Here’s a little taste, somewhere around chapter 6 of The Dimming. Enjoy!
The streetcar moaned down to slow shag in front of the colleges, across from Audubon Park. Daggers on the cathedral spires pierced the arbor blanket and disappeared. I hopped off the car. Churches, in the old century, gave people hope. I needed more than hope. I needed a friendly face. I did not have the courage to call Olivia. Not yet.
Under foot, the marble steps leading up to The Holy Name of Jesus felt solid, unwavering on the muddy foundation. I pulled on the thick doors and let the scent of old wood and sweat wash over me. I dipped in the holy water.
My sneakers’ rubber soles squeaked as I snuck in, amplified by the cavernous shape of the building. The pews stretched out in aggravating symmetry, perfect with even wear where centuries of foolish-faithful backsides had left their marks. Stained glass drew blobs on the tile. Father Labone presided over a congregation of four, now five, from the altar. His face lit as he saw me. I sat and waited.
Father Labone’s droning Latin cuddled me back to my days in school. Andy and I used to sit in the pews just behind the confessional and listen to all the sins of our friends. All the lies. All the bullshit. It’s funny how, when confronted with the opportunity of complete absolution, we still lie. In the sixth grade, a boy we grammared with named Kyle used to finger-bang the hell out of Anna-Maria Knox after school. As two consenting children, it was not a big deal. Not until his mom found out. She made him promise to confess. Kyle agreed. Yet in the confessional, all he gave up was that the used to kick the neighbor’s cat when no one was around. Anna Maria didn’t believe in confessions. Kyle died trying to scale the Hanja wall a year later.
Labone. He would have the answer. He would understand.
After the worshippers filed out the side door, the good vicar motioned for me to join him. He disappeared into the sacristy. Whirring from the organ compressor vibrated the floor and the player warmed the pipes with chords in D minor. The guts of a Catholic church are most beautiful when empty. I walked up the steps, preforming the requisite genuflection as I crossed paths with the cold stare of the wooden man on the wooden cross. I ducked through curtains of thick velvet. Cool piles brushed my skin.
“Back here,” A muffled Labone replied.
Labone disrobed while I waited, revealing his obligatory uniform of a priest’s collar and faded jeans. He was never a proponent of rules. In school, he taught us that bad words were just words like any other. I thought he was so crisp back then, so cool and even. A man of the cloth needs his vices like any other man. Be it profanity or flesh or mind altering substances, we all need a thing that we do in private, just to feel like something, anything, is our own.
He pulled me in for a firm hug.
“What brings you into the church today, Ethan? How’s your father?”
My face must have answered his questions as I retreated from his embrace. His expression changed before I could even muster a word. “He’s gone,” I added to the thick buzz of the organ. Lacrimosa flowed from the pipes.
“I’m sorry for your dad. I was half-expecting him to pass on his last rights, anyway. He was an obstinate fucker,” Labone chuckled, “I trust it was quick?” he trailed off.
Quick. Was it? Or did I push him out with pain and dread? I added that to my list of unanswered questions.
“Fancy a smoke?” Labone walked down three stairs at the end of the room and unlatched the heavy door, pushing in outward. It creaked and dragged the ground, adding to the arc in the marble.
A smoke sounded nice. I hadn’t been out of my mind in a long while. I followed him through the door and up the musty stairwell three stories, winding to his chambers. As an altar boy, I had wondered what was behind the big brown door, where Father Labone disappeared after Mass. Now I knew.
His one room cell was small and simple. Bed, sink, toilet. The single window in the south tower overlooked the brittle crust of The City. He pulled up two chairs in the center and we sat. He packed a bowl of hash. I studied the grain in the wood underfoot.
“It’s older than the trees on St. Charles,” he said, clinking his lighter against the dove-shaped glass pipe.
“This church, and everything in it,” he lit, “A survivor,” he said with strained breath as he pulled in a chestfull of grass. He coughed and continued, “It’s nice to have someone to smoke with. I mean, being a clergyman exempts me from those little microscopic mechanical nightmares you have swimming in your blood and allows me to enjoy things such as this without repercussions. But with whom? Who the fuck wants to smoke-out with another priest? And Sister Cecilia is such a Goddamn prude, I can’t even get her to play mahjong, much less get high. It’s just me and the floorboards around here. Quite lonely.”
He passed me the bong and I hit it.
Sorrow for my fellow citizens oozed out in the release. For most, this act initiated immediate vomiting, ringing in the ears, piercing headache. Even though I had deselected the consequence boxes in my firmware, the first pull always made me pucker. I held it in, letting my lungs absorb, pushing back the urge to cough. A cough forces the chemicals, skipping the best part of the high – the gradual fade into depollution. I blew a column out and up. I shut my eyes as Labone took the pipe and resumed his THC-induced soliloquy.
“I’ve started to wonder, you know, why – why I ever got into this business. Back in the day, before the walls and the one-in-one-out populous act, I felt I was doing my part to keep us all honest. The idea of a loving, but firm God used to be enough. Like a stern parent. He loves you, but he will beat your ass till it bleeds if you step out of line. But he still cares. I’m beginning to question, you know, to ask myself, in quiet, if he is even listening. Much less if he cares.”
I opened my eyes a pinch and watched him load another bowl. He leaned in.
“You okay, Hammond?”
“I’m good. Just taking in the thrill.” In fact, it felt like I was meeting my hero for the first time, only not in the traditional sense. More like I had walked in on him taking a dump.
Labone turned up the volume on his words, “everyone knows God is an astronaut, man. He’s out there floating around in some sort of a prehistoric space-suit, wishing he could do something about this petri dish of horror shows and unthinkables. But he’s stuck like you and me. You and me and all of us. He’s not coming to help us and, I think, the people are starting to figure that out. You saw my congregation today. Empty faces, the few that came in. Same ones every day. This place is one missed payment away from becoming a museum of what we used to believe. That would get people in the door. But only to laugh at point at the fools we all once were.”
Labone took another rip on the shimmering dove of happiness. I’d never smoked with him and the results startled me. No longer did he stand with confidence and answers. He slouched in his chair, spilling his guts about his doubts, about everything. The only way we can know if our heroes are fit to be heroes is to see them from the inside and look out through their eyes. Labone had given me a glimpse of life through his lens. Scared, unsure, and alone. He was like me. He was me. Can you be your own hero?