Sunday, March 8, 2009

First of September

The old woman lay in her small bed, the morning was still dark, but it was time to rise and begin her prayers. Years of discipline, and still she could not induce her muscles into movement. It was the day, the day around which all other days of the year revolved around, like planets around a sun. Typically, she was a calm woman, a cautious yet compassionate person, un-swayed by fads or the changing eras or superstitions. But this day, the first day of September, frightened the old nun. She had lived for sixty three years, and out of all those she could remember, almost every time, on the first of September, a new tragedy bore down on her life. Today, was again, the first of September, and she lay nearly paralyzed in bed. She feared not for herself, but for the people she knew. All those around her were subject to the fury of this day, she knew not where it came from or why it persisted, but it was real, she had the memories to prove it, the tally of Septembers and their consequences. Her heart beat to an unsteady drum, she awaited the days news with a feverish chill. She had failed, she knew this for certain, despite her subtle pleas, she had not been able to convince him to avoid skydiving. The boy was nineteen, a volunteer that sprouted as organically as the fruits and vegetables he had been able to coax from the dry soil.
The abbey had seen better days, its garden walls were beginning to crack, the paint chipped without shame, for years a fog of decay had clung to the edges of the building, a fog that lingered despite her fervent prayers. Their garden had withered, the fruit trees bore only small bitter fruit and the soil dried to a powdered dust. Their two acres had once been a thriving enclosure, a small but lively home for god and a sanctuary within the city. But the steady source of donations had dried up when news of the latest priest sex-scandal had broken ten years prior. To this day, the city had still not forgiven "the church" and the abbey had been caught in the crossfire. The paper had been printed on September 1st. That was the day the abbey began to crumble.
She thought of the boy, planting seeds in his dingy overalls. He had come to them one day, looking for soil in which to work. He had wanted nothing in return, just space on the earth uncovered by cement or decorative stone…space and soil…time to let the elements conspire and breed. It had been April when he knocked on the wooden door that faced the street. She brought him into her office and he outlined his plans with an innocent smile on his red lips. He had been reading books on soil maintenance and organic gardening, he carried a small paperback in the pocket of his overalls, a small, dingy reference manual that he carried with the reverence of a sacred text. The creases of his hands were stained with dirt and his nails were dirty. To her, he looked like a beautiful angel, a youth unscathed by the clutches of a harsh world. She saw in his eyes that he still believed in warmth and tenderness, that he still held a flame in his heart for the seasons and the slow way of process.
After many months she had learned that three local colleges had offered him a place within their lecture halls, but he was headstrong, she could tell that within the first couple of minutes when he had walked though the door. College meant little to him, he said he felt god in the soil. When gently coaxed, he said he saw the divine living within a hibernating seed, a small kernel that could so easily sprout to life with water and sun. Indeed, it was magic, or the divine, or whatever word was able to hold the vast mystery of nature, and she wasn’t really sure there was one.
He had been offered a path to the world, the world of men, the world that had been carved out and demystified within the collegiate halls, and the young man choose to live under the sun, letting the wind rough his cheeks and the soil stain his hands.
In April he had come, and by the first days of fall, the kitchen was again filled with the harvest of late summer. Lettuce and carrots and strawberries and tomatoes. His careful cultivation had stirred the pot, it had infused the world within the walls with a fresh wave of energy. He fed them all with his efforts. She was fed not just in her stomach, although she was grateful for that, but her very core felt renewed, like a soft rain had come and washed away the outline of gray. It was the red-blooded energy she felt stirring within the stone walls of their sanctuary. And this is why she had failed, she had not been stern enough, she had not clearly communicated the wrath of this day. She had let him leave, knowing that perhaps she might not see him again. He had gone, to be close to god he said, to fly for a moment with the birds. She hoped, she prayed, that this day would not be as typical as the rest.

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