Ceremony (Chapter 5)

Nothing in her greeting the morning following suggested that she knew what I had dreamt, and I did not dare to broach the subject. But later in the day, when she went out for errands and left me to begin preparations for dinner, I went into her room and opened first the chest at the foot of the bed, and then, when that revealed only piles of scarves and mittens and winter hats, started pulling baskets and books off the shelves, looking for anything that could testify to her having been in the Cathedral during a procession.

A photo fell from the pages of her copy of a collection of saints’ lives. I am not sure whose page it marked, but its significance did not seem to be attached to the book, but to the face I saw on it, smiling with a mouth open, eyebrows lifted in happiness, captured in her laughter, and captivating in the warmth that even the grays and blacks and bright mistiness of the edges could borrow from the subject, that girl, nearly my age at the time I first saw the book, but much older than me now, if she was even still alive.

I was so absorbed that I had not noticed my mother’s return; she had opened the door with exceeding care, as if protecting me from her presence. And at the moment when I heard her gentle breath in the doorway behind me, I recognized also the face that I was staring at: the women from the Cathedral, whose eyes had met mine, though she was older then, around my age. I was frightened to turn, knowing what I found find, and then finding it. My mother, reaching a hand out, pleading with me, but without words, as if we were in the Cathedral again and she wanted for me to understand, but I could not, and I could do nothing but run and lock the door of my room and climb into my bed and close my eyes and wait to sleep, thinking that being back in the Cathedral would clarify or eclipse the confusion, it didn’t matter which.

I slept but did not return. I slept only in darkness and silence and terror, knowing even while I slept that I would wake up again and find my mother there.

In that I was wrong. When I woke it was dark, already past dinner. The apartment was still, one low light in the corner of the kitchen showing only that objects were missing. At first, I did not know which, but as I remembered, a pepper-grinder shaped as a column laced with ivy, a ceramic dish where we had stored matches, a statue of an owl, unusually heavy, and unusually persistent in my memories of the apartment, I realized that none of them had any special significance. I went back to her room, which was dark, and where the bed was made, and the shelves had been restocked. She was gone; she had taken the objects with her. I turned the light on, went to the shelf and looked to see if the photo was there, if she had left it out. Of course, she had not, and so I looked next for the book, doubting however that she would have hidden it in the same place. I did not feel especially drawn to it, did not know why I was looking for it, but it held that moment in place, and made it what it was, and that moment contained a truth of my mother and myself that I had not seen, and a truth too about the ceremonies and the Cathedral. The book was missing. The hiding place had not been random.

At a loss, I walked to the kitchen, paced back and forth before an open cupboard, unsure what I could do other than eat, but unsure also whether I was hungry, and unsure finally what I would eat. I settled on soup, crackers; the food of an invalid, which I felt had become, in the sense that my health had been good only for dreams that I could not control, for ceremonies of which I was a part, in which I believed, but which now felt like parts of a disease—not symptoms, but the infection itself, working its way through hours and days.  I felt guilty, hating my role in the procession, in the rituals, in the ceremonies, and all because my mother was trying, it was clear to me then, how terrible the sacrifice would have to be, and how worthless, how detrimental to the life of the world that sacrifice would prove.  She had made some sacrifice herself, obviously; so had that girl, that woman, that striking figure whose laughter might have been panic, whose photograph, set in the lives of the saints, might have captured the pained release from life of a martyr sent up in flames.

Nauseous, exhausted by the coil of thought around my spine bringing me to a fever, I fell asleep.

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