by Marie C Lecrivain

We step into the cathedral, late afternoon, when it’s almost too quiet, even as a couple of acolytes prepare for an evening mass. The scent of beeswax and frankincense, along with the acoustics, force a veil of deference onto us as we begin to walk with measured steps, glad, for once, to be wearing trainers instead of clunky boots. I, a first time tourist, with my camera in hand, don’t know where to begin.

By unspoken agreement, we separate, and begin to walk opposite sides of the cathedral perimeter; him to the right, me to the left, surrounded by alcoves that showcase centuries of mavericks and misunderstood, their personal histories whitewashed into sainthood. This isn’t unusual; the city’s inhabitants have distilled their love of the macabre into a year-round tourist draw. I snap a few photos for the folks back home, and to ensure my memory of this place remains intact for the next couple of decades, in case I find myself trapped in nostalgia.

When I reach the back of the cathedral, I find what I’ve been looking for: the Mother of Night, high on a pedestal, surrounded by long rows of lit votive candles that throw shadows across her pale face. She looks mildly irritated, and for a moment, I feel a spark of sympathy for her, trapped for centuries, the victim of desperate hopes and prayers piled, nailed, like her son, in place with a moral code that squeezes a few more coins from the faithful.

I’m about ready to move on, when a ray from the setting sun flashes through a stained glass window. The Mother’s gaze, beatific, holds my own, and for a moment, I’m dazzled. Before I know it, I find myself, taper in hand, votive in another, and three euros poorer. I chuckle. The Magic still works. After all this time; I, who wear my excommunication as a badge of honor, have been convinced to contribute, once again, to the scam.

I gently blow out the candle, and when it cools, I stick it in my purse. I’ll keep it on my altar at home, a reminder that I’ll never totally escape the search for a moment of rapture, inspired by a yearning to be part of something larger than myself, the egocentric certainty that I matter, but only to myself. It’s that truth that gives me strength to continue as an outlier in this indifferent universe.