the kneelers with a whimper, or to scatter chirruping towards the candles – the door was locked. And her other, bigger cities, with their arching doorways, porches and concierges, scuttering nuns, back-to-back services, rose windows, abandoned side chapels and ever-open doors where the semi-demi-faithless, uneasy but ready for enchantment, could slip in sideways, all crowded onto the doorstep with her.
Everyone was where they should be with everything they should have and the youngest deposited in a place with high windows, light, and ladies with bright voices who said ‘we wouldn’t like that would we?’ and there were two hours. And she could cry and she was not. What could you squeeze of life into two hours. Who could you be in two hours. She decided to check out opening times for the closed doors. There might be an emergency – life might parcel up a neat hard pebble to be deposited in front of a safe statue, like the ones in busy Italian churches where heaps of notes piled up in front of St Anthony and you’d lean over,
trying to read the secret sorrows, more curious than moved. Love and sickness mostly. Or some bigger disaster, mauling snapping jaws calling for serious sanctuary beyond voices of reason and helplines when the usual range of compresses and panaceas swimming through the bloodstream just wouldn’t cut it. Yes, emergencies only, at the edge of the desert, where images and symbols caught on glass and stone would be more than dumb hieroglyphs, and the art of being bilingual, bi-ritual, would leave their feet still able unobtrusively to shift and step to a tune to which their grown-up minds were disinclined.
The first place had fitted carpets which meant you could take off your coat and smile at each other. All the echoes and swoops of sound, scrapes, clinks and knocks, rustles and sobs, a slam or a whisper, shivers and draughts, all sunk and smothered in a purple pile. Did they burst free at night and rage and rage at the tall windows? The muffled air leaned in towards her heart, preparing to cut
off the crusts and arrange it into neat triangles.
The next one had potential. It was unkempt because big, because old, because Irish, because dwindling numbers because they did their best but the vegetation outside was too exuberant and the plaster inside was always a step ahead, shedding itself gaily at the slightest slackening of vigilance. Not a carpet, not a cushion, you were free to huddle unsmiling inside your coat or ease down the heavy hinged kneeler, sending its firm bass thump up high to the rafters to mix excitedly with the other sounds. And the pews were long and there were extra bits around pillars, so no one could quite find you for the sign of peace, except the determined ones who would march right over on their mission to wring your hand which her grandmother had always bridled at because in her country the cardinal who had been a political prisoner had said the church was not a salon and a nod of the head was more than enough.