Embellishments

I am cold in the cathedral. The cold reminds my bones of all the places they have been broken: the metatarsals, the clavicle and the scapulae. I sit on the worn wooden pew.  The saints glower. There is a fountain of colored light on the marble. Beneath the floor, near the gold-shimmer altar, dead bishops are buried.  A stone will keep a secret. A gray woman prays on her knees. Her head is a pendulum. She confesses daily, an hour each time, telling sins that she could not possibly commit. What was the name of the old priest who gave Last Rites? He took a pill bottle from the nightstand and slipped it with his rosary into a red felt bag.  He left embellishments of forgiveness on the thin skin of my father’s brow.  A priest has the power to forgive as God forgives, with his very own breath. The late day alights on Mary’s flesh and illuminates her blue wimple.

The day my father died, the sitter answered the phone flatly: “He’s dead.” Again, again I imagine his dissipating pulse, his cheek bluing. Here in the cathedral, I utter “father, father” without answer.

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