It was the noise at her back that confused her. Not the heat. For some reason, she had expected heat. But not sound. She listened more closely. It reminded her of the market, if the market had been full of grief – if all the goats and chickens and sheep had known their fate and had cried out unto the Lord.
Her husband's back was rosy and he wore an old garment. She wished briefly that he had worn his newer one, and then shook herself. They were fleeing, after all. Her two daughters carried the oil and a few pots, led the goats. Such good girls. She wondered that their fiancés hadn't come along, but young men had lives of their own, and girls didn't count for much. She sighed. Her husband hadn’t told her why they were fleeing. Of course, her family was hated there. Men came pounding on the door in the middle of the night. Maybe after this flight, they would find neighbours like themselves.
She had never seen such strange light - it might be sheets of falling stars that made the animals prance and shake. The cries simmered behind her, and she turned slightly to listen as her shadow ran forward. Underneath she could hear a deep rolling note like a distant sea. She must be wrong; grief did not sound like that. Maybe angels were singing in the city. Something great and entrancing that they were leaving behind.
She imagined behind her, in the light, the beauty of wings and singing, and her hated family cast out, never to see the glory. It was a trick of the Lord. They would always be despised. Flight would change nothing - every day she would milk the goats and try to make her husband happy; the girls would never find husbands and would be barren unto the earth. Behind her the angels flew and sang. Radiant, feathered. She could hear them and feel the heat from their wings. Gloria, gloria!
Suddenly, she turned. Fire, brimstone. She had time to weep one salt tear. Her family hurried on.
She spoke no French but heard the people of Paris pushing through the streets singing an excited, urgent song. No need to understand. She had come only to frequent the sainted chapel.
Its beauty was legendary. The walls, if walls they were, lifted coloured glass entire. Burnished red, deep sleepy green, blue the colour of the sky behind a rising moon, joyous gold. Brilliant colours set in black, forming pictures of ancient holy stories, of long-dead nobles and their wives, of kneeling animals. She visited daily, pondering the lives of the men who now lived only in glass. She understood the artists’ visions as gifts to the Lord.
Every day it rained.
On the last day, the chapel was empty. Yearning to see colour riding on streams of sun down through the nave, she sat on the stone floor and steadfastly prayed for light. So deep was her meditation, she heard nothing: the horns and planes, the frantic cries in the street, the sirens were dead to her. She felt no panic. She simply stared into the ancient space. Finally, an absolute light and for an infinitesimal moment she saw the tremendous gathering of splendour, the brilliance of all the old stories, the hope and the faith of the men who had created this masterwork. Glory. Glory! Then everything and everyone was gone. Exploded and shattered and lost.
Terri Lewis: I studied writing at the University of Denver and the Writers Center in Maryland. Two of my short stories received awards from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, I was the winner of a Bethesda Literary Festival Writer's contest and was recently chosen to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore workshop at George Washington University. I have completed a novel and am looking for an agent.
The Ekphrastic Review
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