A Multiplicity of Whens

by Sandra Arnold

Crackling in the air. A dearth of words.

‘Wens, your perseverance is admirable. But it really is time for you to lie down and die.”

Wens walked towards the cathedral, towards a man sitting by the door gripping a bottle of meths. Something about his face. Something about his bent body. Something about his mottled blue hands.

Wens asked him what he was doing. He said he’d been released from prison and had nowhere to go. Wens helped him up and ushered him inside.

Two women in fake-fur jackets turned from their task of stacking prayer books. They blocked his entrance.

“You can’t come in,” they tsk tsked, their Chanel Number 5 overpowering the man’s stink.

The man’s bottle slid from his hands and dropped to the carpet. His fingers fluttered like frightened birds. His voice a whisper. “How dare you judge me? Only one person can judge me and that person is not you.”

The fake-furs looked at each other. They stared at the ground. Tight- lipped they stepped aside. The man picked up his bottle and clutched it to his chest.

Wens led the man to a pew at the back. His eyes roamed over the jewel- bright stained glass windows, up to the soaring ceiling, and then closed tight. They stayed closed as he whispered his story. He didn’t drink from his meths bottle for that whole hour.

When he fell silent Wens asked him to tell her about a time he was happy.

He took a deep breath in and a slow juddering breath out. “When I worked on a fishing boat. When I heard the cries of whales. When the sea was dark as ink. When an albatross glided over the boat. When I saw the sun rising over the rim of the earth.”