The tiled flowers of the church floor are blooming. From my limited viewpoint, they number forty seven in total. Each one is an orange hexagon, with six square white petals extending from the sides. I have always thought of them as flowers, but not with any sense of pleasure. When in one of my darker moods, before I met you, my sandals would crush them as I strode up and down the aisle. The incense from the thurible was a pesticide. When the congregation departed, I would raise my sole, and brush off the remnants of corollas onto the floor, to decay and die. Lying here now, decaying in turn, that enmity is diminishing. I am interested to find out if they have a scent, but my nose no longer works. All my senses have become inert, bar sight, for some reason. My eyes, unmoving, unblinking, continue to see. I do not know how long they will do so.
If only he had shot me from the front. Then the angle of descent would surely have placed me on my back, so that I could take in the sight of the ceiling. The fresco there shows a group of ragged men, reaching out their hands to touch the cosmos. The men represent unenlightened humanity, and the cosmos divine knowledge. Or, at least I think that is what it shows. You were the one who told me about its history, one morning when we walked in the piazza. You laughed at my ignorance regarding my own church. The truth is, I rarely looked up when working here. I was afraid of catching something looking down at me. That fear is also diminishing. If possible, I would turn my head towards that fresco, even if the devil himself were sat upon my back.
I have read somewhere the suggestion that dying does not hurt, that the spirit vacates the body in anticipation of its end. Yet, my spirit, or whatever this is, remains. I have read in more erudite texts the notion that, even in a violent situation, the brain would shut down before any pain reached it. A sort of defence mechanism. I know that now to be incorrect, at least initially. You and I have both remarked in the past that our local practitioner of dentistry must have been a butcher’s apprentice when he was younger. You told me you cursed God more in his hearing than anywhere else, and I knew that to be no idle boast. Well, the shot that felled me felt like our butcher was trying to force a newly removed tooth back into the raw gum it came from. It felt like that for a few, long seconds, and then I stopped feeling. I had fallen onto the tiles by then, the force and pain of the shot spreading me out like a rug. With a view of the floor, these forty seven flowers, and little else.
Here I lie. In the grave before my time, and far from the age of Christ. At least my murderer did not close my eyelids, that final movement of sympathy. I did that for my father, when his breath stopped misting. It was early in January, and a mounted procession was passing under the bedroom window, a lavish enactment of the kings' visit to Herod. The hooves on stone rang out in celebration, but inside there was only the sound of his breathing. Although the Christmas fast was over, he would not eat, and as the sound of the horses drifted away, so did he. There was enough energy left for some final words. The holy trinity hung above the bed while I listened to his wish. I made my promises, then ran my fingers over his blank eyes. I wonder now if I condemned him to darkness by closing them, or, worse, a view of two thin folds of skin. At least my murderer did not close mine.
I wonder if he is still there. It is difficult to know how much time has passed since the shot. Long enough for the tiled flowers to become my friends. With nothing else to do but see and think, I would imagine time passes relatively slowly. I wonder if he remains, looking at me now, feeling anger or remorse. Maybe he has taken a seat to catch his breath, the smoking pistol in his lap. I wonder if he is sitting in the same spot as I did, on my first visit to this cold church. Barely two years ago now. I was angry myself then, realising how much I had sacrificed my desires, thinking that this place would be a stone cell for the rest of my life. I told you about that moment, as we walked among the towers, and you helped me dispel some of its strength. I was angry back then, but not now, not even with my murderer. I find my thinking is becoming cooler. It leaves my head and becomes clear in the winter air. I wonder if he would risk being discovered, just to look at my ruin. He has ample reason. And how large is the risk? The shot was loud, but the walls are thick, and it is night.
I have no doubt it was Epifanio. I was his friend and priest, and betrayed him doubly. That discovery must do something evil to a man’s mind. Perhaps you were racked with guilt, and told him earlier, or his honed senses found a clue somewhere. A hair on a pillow. A hidden letter. We were careful, but not enough to fool an officer of the law. I am trying to imagine the scene. No shouting, the knowledge rendered him speechless, and he was never an emotive man. He took the gun from the bedroom cabinet, stormed out, and then came here. He hoped to find me in the clergy house, to avoid spilling blood on sacred ground. Or perhaps his mind was not working so logically. Unfortunately for him, I decided to spend this night sweeping the church floor of dust and insect carcasses, collecting them in a corner with the petals. The activity sometimes helped to clear my mind before sleep. If only he had discovered us in the height of sin, then he could have ended it without desecration. I am sorry for Epifanio. He was a man of faith.
I do not blame you for telling him, if you did. You were in an impossible situation. I recall one morning playing chess in the courtyard of your home. I had angled the board so that the rising sun caught Epifanio's face and distracted him. The strategy had come from an old Indian text. The game did not proceed well for him that day, and at one point I looked up from my move to catch an expression of childish bewilderment on his face. At that moment, I wanted to confess my guilt to him, to kneel on the stone and take his hand in mine. But I did not. I could say that love played a role in that decision, and cowardice too. The sun was in my eyes.
So I do not blame you for telling him, if you did. I just hope he did not hurt you as well.
I do not blink, so my vision must be affected. The tiled flowers are taking on other shapes. My thinking wanders into the carpel, which has become a hexagonal chamber, and the petals six adjoining rooms. In one is my father, lying on his bed, beckoning me closer. He tells me that God has a plan, and that I must fulfil my part in it, for his sake. The horses are leaving without him, and he is so dreadfully afraid of damnation. In another room, my old teacher, a severe Benedictine, is flogging me with the cane. Instead of reading my bible, I have been studying mathematical writings from Germania. I plead guilty to the misdemeanour, but he only flogs me harder. The third room shows me this church, as I saw it two years ago, empty and cold. I could not bear to see God there. When I pretended to pray, I saw my father’s sleeping face, and then later, yours. I walk into the fourth room, and I am in the confessional box, hearing you speak for the first time. I can still remember the scent of the inappropriate perfume you wore. You tell me of your life. Although your face is broken into squares by the grille between us, your voice carries the powerful and familiar intoxication of sadness. How can I resist? We are destined to be each other’s shepherds.
These must be the flashes of the past we see before death. I read about it in a book somewhere. But the memories linger, like a taste upon the tongue. I have all the time in the world, or none. As if on cue, a black dot appears at the edge of my vision. I wonder if this is the final darkness, then gradually it resolves into an antenna, and then mandibles. A cockroach has come to bear witness. The feelers are so close I can see them click together, but in a terrible slow motion, and realisation clicks into place with them. Time has actually slowed down. I do not know how long I will lie here, trapped behind my eyes. The uncertainty should be maddening, but I accept it quickly enough. In fact, it is strange how my situation has impacted so little upon my mind. I find I care little about the future of my consciousness, whether I shall discover the reality of hell, or a supremely forgiving heaven. I am more concerned about this cockroach entering the gape of my mouth. It senses the lingering heat there. Where once it would have seen the crushing descent of my sandal, now it sees only a meal. It will enter and feast upon my thoughts. It will chew on my tongue. Oh God, how powerless I am! But what can be done for defence? I remember stories where ghosts made themselves known to the waking world. I must manifest myself, and scare off this devil. But the knowledge of how to do so was never elaborated on in the books that I read. The only thing I can do is focus my will upon it, and urge it to move elsewhere. Three tiles over, there are what appears to be the remains of a communion wafer. There will be more sustenance to be gained from that than inside my head. The beast will see sense. Surely. Please.
Its head wavers. It may be just the effect of this abnormal time. No, its direction is changing. Slowly, it moves away. A small miracle. I am calmed again.
Perhaps I can achieve other things with a similar force of will. I could manipulate my hand into writing Epifanio’s name into the dust. But it seems petty to use the last of my strength to condemn a man. I could write you a parting poem, but I am not sure I remember very clearly anymore how things rhyme. Besides, it would only further desecrate these sacred tiles. I could turn my head to heaven, as I previously wished, but my enthusiasm for the sight of the fresco is slipping away. You never liked it anyway, its patriarchal vision. I do not know if I could do any of these things in reality. The cockroach may have changed course of its own volition. I can only hope. If I truly have any control over my body left, then I think I would like to look behind me.
He is not a bad man. You do not love him, but that is more a reflection on your father than him. It would be difficult for anyone to make a truly happy home out of a forced union. Epifanio has his good attributes, like all of us. I remember, upon first meeting him, being impressed by the scope of his reading. In such a small town, it is unusual to happen upon an officer of the law with such an extensive library. When he learned that I was also a bibliophile, in desperate need, he did not hesitate to show it to me. There was pride in that, but also kindness. He allowed me to borrow what books I wished, even though they were precious to him. He would run his finger down the spine of one as he discussed it. You told me he loved that library more than you. I do not think so now. But he did love it. I treated his books well, and returned them promptly, not wishing to feel the wrath of his justice. His abilities as a strict enforcer of the law were much talked about in the town. That is also an admirable thing, to be good at your job. I returned his books, and borrowed more and more, and returned them quicker. Epifanio saw it as an admirable hunger for knowledge. But he did not see the look exchanged during that first visit, you in the kitchen preparing the primo, and me in the library preparing my compliments. A gaze can hold so much.
I imagine him sitting on a pew. The pistol has fallen onto the floor. The barrel, still hot, lies in perfect alignment with the wall of the square tile. He looks towards the altar, one blink flashing defiance, the other seeking absolution. He does not look at my body. He does not want to see my lying face. That is why he shot me from behind. His hands shake with adrenalin. He will wait to be discovered, because that is the right thing to do. He cannot move his legs. They are empty skins. I imagine this, because it is the way I felt when I heard you in the confessional box, and I saw the body of my past laid out before me.
I loved you. Why do I say loved? The fervour drains with my blood. There is some of it now, the edge of a red sea, beginning to flow over my chambers and rooms. The colour of your dress at sunrise. You said that no plan was flawless, even God's. Especially his. I nodded, thinking on my own history. My father, the Church, Epifanio. I sacrificed them for you, with no regrets. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted. And you felt the same way. I am sure.
A thought occurs. Is it you sitting in the pew behind me now? I wish I could say that frightened, or comforted, or did something to me. I have read somewhere that no two snowflakes are alike. Surely we had more in common than most. Our fathers forced us into loveless situations. It was only natural that we sought each other out. We were a perfect intersection of sadness, two patterns identically arranged and melded together, no gaps or overlaps. But perhaps you saw a flaw in this design. Perhaps the flame of your faith reignited, and your guilt burned too strongly. Perhaps you took Epifanio’s gun from the bedroom cabinet drawer, walked the familiar route to the church, and shot me in the back. Did he force you to do it? Did you just want rid of me? Why will you not answer?
No. It does not fit. We were the shepherds, not the wolves. The tiles speak the truth. If a man could create a perfect floor such as this, then a perfect love should also be attainable. I am sure.
I ask forgiveness, and recognise there is nothing to forgive. Or rather, forgiveness is irrelevant. All there is for me, now and forever, are forty seven flowers. One is red, another black, and the rest have aged to grey. They stretch out before my eyes in perfect rows. I know all of them intimately, their repeating vertices. There is a larger pattern to the floor, but I am too close to see it.
I hope you are asleep. I am fine
updated by @americymru: 11/24/16 05:01:29PM