We are all creatures of mistake. From day to day we manage to create chaos from order; trials from triumphs. Often, we fail to see what is actually in front of our very faces because we assume the worst. We see sadness in life when all we should be seeing is happiness; dark gloomy clouds when if we would but turn around we would see the sun bursting through the grey. Unfortunately, our expectation of the worst is sometimes all we need to make a situation dire.
It was this thought that led me to my most recent piece of creative non-fiction:
How can a writer communicate a familiar event in an unfamiliar way?
The answer: misguide the reader. Lead them down a road only to make them question if the road they took is the one they recognise.
…After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
* * *
Beneath me, my fingers stroke the smooth wooden bench, sticky with varnish and faintly gnarled with age. I am uncomfortable in this place: the flagged stone floor seeps cold into my toes, the dust from its cement folds scratching under my feet when I move. High arches span the ceiling before marrying with strong pillars that clunk to the floor. Set into the aged stone walls are panes of coloured glass, casting a soft pink glow about the place, and picking out the glint of an earring, the proud shine of a ring. An altar is set at the front, adorned with candles and sharp incense that insults my nostrils, but I do not spare it much more than a glance. It is not my table of worship.
To my left is a young girl, pale but smiling, admiring the flowers around the cavernous room and twisting the soft fabric of her dress into a tight knot. The promise of beauty is in her plump cheeks that are dusted with rose; frailty in the paper thin blue of her rounded ears. She has grey eyes that cast their gaze around the room with more Life than one her age should have to shoulder.
However, today is not the day for pondering about the girl to your left. It is not a day for contemplation or reflection. As the chattering guests around me are ardently proving, today is a day for celebration. Dressed in their finest, they swish about the church, the clacking of high heels and the tap of brogues echoing faintly. A breeze of exotic scent washes over me as a group of them walk past, asking the age-old question: ‘On which side should we sit?’ It seems such a trivial matter to me, but is clearly one of utmost importance to the woman debating that very matter with her husband in the broad aisle as she embarks on the difficult task of selecting the preferred bench that must be ‘a polite distance from the front, John.’
There is a final flurry of movement before the thick oak doors are thrust open.
Dust mites hang suspended in the air, frozen as though caught on an intake of breath. Every eye is on those doors, every vein thrumming with energy. The call of a trumpet blasts into being, the sound pressing against us. We don’t notice the final thud of the doors closing in the midst of this music, for down the aisle she comes, two children stepping shyly in front of her. She is in line with the bulbous pulpit now, and the sun streaming through the tinted glass sets her features alight with soft blues and flaming oranges.
Words follow. Reverberating around the cavernous space they hold a majesty that leaves me feeling small, as insubstantial as the motes of dust clogging up my lungs and choking me with tears. Hymns dance from my lips, the tune humming on the air until the last notes of the organ fade away, though the words mean nothing to me.
A sob catches in the silence as the velvet curtain falls into place.