I like how the two chapters fit together, and how they line up a third chapter.
So those of you who are Catholic are probably going to find things wrong here, so point them out if you will. I will be doing research on gothic cathedrals to get the details right, but for now I'm just getting the story down.
Mary lit a candle, asking herself why. Bartholomew was an asshole, living the high life with his baby bride. She’d supported him all the way through law school, and when it was over, he was earning a high income and she was left with pretty much nothing.
Why should she pray for his soul? Why should she even care?
I don’t care, she thought. Yet here I am.
The cathedral was comforting. The gargoyles that decorated its walls didn’t scare her. It was as if it was filled with ghosts of the past, who were watching her. She walked through those tall doors and it was as if she was home. These ghosts were on her side. The first time she had walked by, she’d been drawn in. Later, she’d brought Bartholomew, who was a lapsed Catholic. After that, whenever they had a fight, she would retreat here – until that last time, when he followed her up to the roof.
When he’d struck her, it had felt as if the ghosts of the cathedral had rallied around her in the spectral support, and she had heard herself telling him to leave, “I never want to see you again.”
He’d just grunted, “Gladly,” and left.
She’d sat on the edge of the roof for a long time, crying, and it had felt as if the gargoyles around her had watched her in sympathy.
Why are they on my side? If they only knew what I do at work. Why don’t they haunt me instead?
Because I’m a good person, she answered herself. Because I do my best. Because…
She had to believe that much, at least. She’d lost faith and hope along with everything else, but she had to try to still believe that being a good person was reward enough, if not in this life, then in the next.
You don’t believe there is a next life.
Mary shook her head. She’d given up trying to understand herself, her feelings toward her ex-husband were probably some of the least confusing. She didn’t like him, but she had loved him once and thought there was still a chance he might pull his head out of his ass someday.
By lighting a candle?
She laughed, and it echoed in the nearly empty vastness of the chamber. Lighting a candle to him was really just an excuse to visit the cathedral. An old woman sitting on a bench a few yards away frowned at her, and Mary gave her an embarrassed look.
“Where are you visiting from, Sister?” The question came from behind her, and she rose and faced the young priest smiling down at her.
She realized immediately his mistake. She’d worn old clothes, sensible shoes, no makeup, her hair was under a scarf. But she couldn’t figure out a way to tell him the truth without embarrassing him. Could she pull it off?
“I’m…from here,” she said.
“Funny, I thought I knew everyone in the city.” He spoke with a slight Scottish brogue. He stared at her with the fixed smile, then a red glow began in his cheeks and spread over his round face. He was a little on the heavy side, his hair was a little long, the way it looked when someone neglected his usual haircut. He had stylish sideburns and bright green eyes. “Oh, my gosh. Don’t tell me…you’re not a nun, are you,” he finished his question with a statement.
Something about his innocent embarrassment made her giggle. When was the last time she’d seen a man blush? “Far from it, Father. I’m not even Catholic.”
She could feel him examining her, and she turned away. She always dressed down, though maybe not as much as today. She hid herself in as plain an appearance as possible, because when she dressed up and when she wore makeup she looked like a model. A true blonde, with bright blue eyes, high cheekbones, a long nose to keep her face from looking perfect. Looking like a model caused more complications than it was worth.
“Well, the offer still stands,” the priest said. “I’d be happy to give you a tour of the cathedral, places most people don’t see. I’m Father Caffrey, by the way.”
He laughed. “A good Latin name, at least.”
“Where are you from, Father Caffrey?” she asked, as he motioned her to follow him to one side of the church.
“I came here from Edinburgh when I was a student,” he said, while descending some wide marble stairs. “I never went back. And you, Mary? What do you do for a living?”
She felt a chill go through her. She came here because she wanted to forget what her job was. If she thought too much about that, it would spoil this place.
“I’m a secretary,” was all she said.
He led her through the catacombs below, which were strangely homespun. Rooms were furnished with modern equipment and furniture, and the stone and brick was covered up as much as possible, as if the gothic origins were smothered in a soft blanket.
The second floor naves were ornate and aged, and again the feeling of peace came over her. He watched her. “Are you sure you aren’t Catholic?” he asked.
“Maybe in spirit,” she said.
“Well, that is the point, isn’t it?” he laughed. “Just let me know when you want to convert and I’m your priest.”
He led her to some narrow stairs that wound spiraling toward the ceiling. “I’ve got a real treat for you,” he said. “Something few people have seen.”
He led her out onto the roof. The city spread out below, bustling and noisy. They were high enough and far enough away from the action that they were in an island of peace. Huge gargoyles spotted the edges of the roof, and carvings of other mythical creatures were cared into the stone of the roof itself. It was as if they were greeting her.
“I have a confession to make,” she said. “I’ve been here before. I snuck up here when you were doing repairs.”
“We never stop doing repairs,” he laughed. “Well, since you used the word ‘confession’ I guess I’ll have to absolve you.”
She looked out over the city and a feeling of peace came over her. She must have been Catholic in some past life. Everything about this cathedral felt like home.
“It has a holy spirit, doesn’t it,” Father Caffrey said quietly.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s almost enough to make me a believer.”
He didn’t answer, but stood companionably at her side. Then he touched her lightly on her shoulder.
“I have to get back to work, Mary,” he said. “But the next time you decide to light a candle, come look me up. I always have hot coffee in my office. I think you’re a closet Catholic, and it won’t take much to turn you to our side.”
“If you keep being so nice, I may have to join the church just because I’ll owe you.”
“I can think of worse reasons,” he said. “Besides, I think once you join, you’ll find other reasons.”
He let her go first, and as she descended the stairs, she saw a room to one side that she hadn’t noticed before. A horrible face stared out at her, and gave her a fright.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Father Caffrey almost bumped into her. He looked over, confused, and then smiled. “As I said, this joint is always being repaired. That’s where they put the construction materials.”
She walked down the short passage to the room and went in. Along with blocks of granite and tiles and piles of wood, there were gargoyles laying about in every nook in cranny. They looked neglected, as if they’d been pushed to the side, many of them toppled over, looking forlorn.
“Why are the gargoyles here?”
Father Caffrey grimaced. “They were taken off during repairs. The plan was to clean them up, perhaps even get some replacements, but there are a bunch of members of the parish who would rather they didn’t go back at all.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “You have to put them back. Your cathedral isn’t a cathedral without them.”
“Okay, now I know you’re kidding me. Only a true Catholic would say that.”
“They really shouldn’t be treated that way,” she found herself saying. “It’s very undignified.”
“Well, they’re gargoyles. They don’t care.”
“Are you so sure?” she asked. He looked at her oddly, and she laughed as if she was making a joke.
He led her to the front doors of the church, and she started to wave goodbye. At the last second, she sprinted up the stairs and caught his sleeve.
“Would you mind,” she asked. “If I cleaned up the gargoyles? Made them ready to be put back? I mean, if that’s what you all decide to do?”
He looked at her surprised. “We don’t have much money, Mary. And when we do hire, we tend to hire among the congregants.”
“I don’t want to be paid. I just want to make them look nice.”
He frowned, looking back into the church as if there were answers there. “To tell the truth, none of the nuns want to go near the things. And…I doubt they’ll ever spring for a budget to repair them. So…if you really want to do it, I’ll find a way.”
“Then I’ll see you next week at the same time?” she asked.
“You bet,” he said. “Be prepared to get dirty, Mary Patronis. Those gargoyles have generations of pigeon poop on them.”
She laughed and waved. As she walked down the sidewalk to the parking garage, she felt as if she was being watched. She looked up, and behind an old elm tree she saw a small gargoyle she’d never noticed before. It was almost as if it was looking directly at her.
She nodded to the creature, and turned away.