Ceremony (Chapter 4)

For the first few years living at home, I learned to sustain the constant demand for ceremonies that appeared to me each night in my dreams. The Cathedral has never left my sleep since I took possession of the blue stone, which I assume to be a talisman of some sort. But it might be that it has not left me because I have not betrayed it; in the weekly or twice-weekly meetings with counselors, I have not spoken of the muttering of the masses, or the various smells of incense, or the mosaics, or, most sacred of all, the book. Everything might come undone if I did—so much have I become aware that the day’s routines, its mechanisms of action and interaction, depend on the ceremonies that occur disguised in plain sight, that even if a streetcar runs five minutes late, I wonder if I am to blame. Or if others are. It did not take me long to suspect, and then to believe in, the existence of people who like me, had access to the Cathedral, and who were entrusted to a role in the intricate design.

Those first years are mostly a blur: errands with my mother in the morning or afternoon, days opened or concluded with time alone, in which I could make my way to whatever space would suffice: public square, garden, park, alley, sidewalk, closet, storefront, café…wherever the ceremony was to take place. Sometimes, I could not break away, and I became agitated, missing a day, two days, even three, before I succeeded in making an excuse for myself, finding time and place for the more strenuous and demanding pages of the book. It seems, looking back, that on occasion my mother noticed my increasing agitation and made excuses for me, suddenly announcing that she had an afternoon appointment, or wanting to visit somewhere in the countryside that she knew I would think dull. I am not sure.

I concluded, however, that even though the dreams occurred each night, though a ceremony had been written for each day of the year, some ceremonies possessed sufficient aura or virtue to nourish the surrounding days; and of course others were taking part, the onus did not fall solely on me. Fortunately, a great many ceremonies could be carried out in the presence of my mother, when we sat at a café, for instance, and I could run my hands along the underside of the table, swirling them palm upwards until they caught a splinter from the wood.

That example is poor: it suggests a compulsion and an impulse for self-harm that were largely absent from the ceremonies. If I were to describe it more properly, I would have said that I was seeking out the right splinter, trusting that my hands would find it, and knowing that it was to be carried in my skin, along with a miniscule portion of my pain.

During the end of the third year at home, or maybe during the fourth year, something changed in the dreams. I became suspicious, as I had not been before, that others were waiting outside the Cathedral door to complete the walk to the altar. One night, I had seen the faces in the gallery above stir, and I had felt, though I knew better than to turn and look, a gust of wind from behind me; the light too had changed, becoming dimmer but also more transparent, as if night had been let in, or a shadow had fallen. Then, a week or two weeks after that, the suspicion had turned to certainty: as I entered the dream, starting my own walk, I saw before me at the altarpiece, another figure, dressed in a cloak, looking down at the book. I could not see her face but from her frame and figure I thought it to be a woman and when she looked up and met my eyes, I was confirmed in my belief. Her eyes met mine, and her face, stout, warped by focusing on the book, suddenly smiled, her mouth opened to speak, and I felt my own voice rising in my throat, but then a hand reached out, taking hold of me from the side, in desperate, sudden warning, and I turned to see, there, in the reverent rows of spectators near the Cathedral’s door, where I had never once thought to look, my mother, terrified, pleading with me without words.

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