Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Three girls walk down a wide sidewalk. The day is fresh and the sun shines calmly through the thin gauzy haze that lingers in the atmosphere and mutes the strength of the rays of light. There are a few single-story houses on their left and across the street on their right, a few small shops sit in the shade of mature maple trees that are just beginning to yellow. There is the invisible bubbling of activity-to-come. The air and pale light seems loaded and ready for a day of commerce and movement, but now, the street lays still and fresh. The air is moist as the wet and recently cleaned sidewalks begin the process of evaporation. The girls walk down the sidewalk in a horizontal line, taking up the walkway completely, but there is no competition for space. The world is theirs. They share the sun with the trees and birds and the evaporating dew. The girls have on a similar dress style and pattern, just the color of the floral cotton is varied. The dresses are slightly outdated, designed with a mixed inspiration from Little House on the Prairie and the simple cotton dresses of the late sixties. The skirts reach to the girl’s calves. Their arms are covered with thin cotton sleeves. The neckline reaches high above their collarbones and is ruffled, which adds just a little more fabric to cover their pale flesh. Each dress has a simple floral pattern on it made of very small bouquets of purple and yellow flowers.
The blond girl walks closest to the green lawns of the houses beside them. Her hair is pulled back in a loose bun and it matches the pale yellow cotton of her dress. She is the most confident of the three in their task and she walks with her eyes decidedly placed ahead of her. In front of them is a large cathedral. It is made of gray stones and has three peaks that each have a circular stained glass piece embedded in the stone peak. The blond girl walks just a fraction of a second faster than her two friends. In the center of the group is the girl with brown hair. Her cotton dress is white, but still matches her friend’s dress in style and pattern. The brunette has a long pale face and a long nose which reveals her Semitic ancestry. On her right is another friend, the girl with cropped black hair. The girls walk calmly and silently, but with slight smiles on their faces. Their silence is not rooted in fear, but in comfort. The massive stone cathedral stands before them, the sidewalk ends at the church’s wooden door and the three girls enter. The church seems to open into a large dark space before them and the Semitic girl wonders what is ahead. It is pitch black and blocked slightly by a few gauzy pieces of furniture. The three turn and walk to the right, to a yellow lit square area. It is not quite a separate room, because there is no wall to separate it from the main entryway of the cathedral, but the light and the space feels very distinct, like a gift shop. The Semitic girl has never been to mass before and she follows her blond friend’s lead. The black haired girl follows them.
The room is set up the same way that amusement parks use to contain the people waiting in line for rides, but instead of metal poles and ropes, the space is sectioned off using long rectangular tables. Although they have just begun the maze-like walk to the front, the brunette can see that at the end is the priest and six other high officials within the church. They sit behind a four-foot wall that has been created by removing the top park of the wall. The priest is in the center, with three officials on either side of him. The brunette puts her attention on the walk and on the blond friend in front of her that she is supposed to imitate. The tables used to cut the space are all covered in glittering jewelry. Not an inch of the tabletops can be seen below pearls and faux silver and gold. The gemstones are fake and give off exaggerated color and sparkle, as though trying to compensate for their falseness with their appearance. The brunette looks at them mildly as they walk through the mazelike formation of tables. A neon green gemstone necklace catches her eye as she turns to the left and around the table’s corner. On the periphery of the tables are a dozen women standing next to their strollers and attending to the children inside. The sound of unhappy babies coats the space in a slightly frantic energy. The three girls walk through the maze, turning left, then right, then left again. Finally they reach the front. Behind the hip-high wall, a priest in a white robe sits on a chair. He is old, everything about him is white. His skin, hair, robe and hat. The other officials beside him are all men. A few of them are wearing red robes, a few others are in black, two of them are in white.
The Semitic girl is immediately nervous, she is sure the priest will be able to tell that she is from a different heritage, that she has no business in this church. But as her friend steps out of the walkway of tables and into the open space before the officials, she does too. The brunette walks calmly, sandwiched between her two friends. The blond girl moves slowly, she knows her Semitic friend is watching and following her lead, just a split second behind. Sitting on a table is a long rectangular tray that has dozens of incense sticks on it. The smoke coming from the powdered sticks twists and curls as it makes its journey up into the higher levels of the room. The blond girl puts her hands into the movement of smoke, she turns them around and around, as though she was washing her hands with the water of a faucet. The Semitic girl does the same, letting the smoke bathe her skin in scent. Then the blond girl stands directly in front of the men, bending her knees and dropping to the floor in a show of devotion. The brunette does the same, just slightly out of unison. She bends her knees and kneels on the floor, then she folds her torso over her thighs and brings her face to the red carpet. Her black haired friend does the same beside her. In this position of obedience to authority, the girls are hidden from the priest by the short wooden wall that separates them. The blond begins to rise, as do the other two. The blond girl turns towards the door and before she leaves, she grabs a small cookie that sits in a multi-leveled altar space. The brunette sees the cookies and the adorned bookcase which holds them, but she does not grab one. She knows she should, that it is part of the ritual, but something does not connect her mind to her body and she exits the cathedral without accepting the body of Christ into her.
The blond and brunette stand close to each other on the sidewalk just outside of the church in the shadow of the massive peaked roof. The day is still bright and new. The black haired girl approaches them, “Here, you forgot this, I brought you one.” Her hand extends with a small chocolate chip cookie. The Semitic girl smiles and puts it into her mouth.