Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Mid-Day in Matanzas

Suzanne Aubin


The massive colonial church squats at the center of a hot, dusty Cuban town. I enter quietly, my voice tuned to a whisper. My feet follow the dips of the stone floor and my eyes strain in the copper light. I hesitate behind the sexton. He moves aside to let me walk through the dancing motes, a deep hush suddenly upon me, engulfed by this cavernous space, where voices still ring from generations of marriages, funerals and processions since the days of the Spaniards. I shrink at the sight of wooden doors tall enough to admit a caravel and dip my fingers in the cracked bowl of the holy water. “In the early days” he tells me, “this altar was so laden with gold that the sight of it was painful to the eyes.”

I kneel in the well-rounded cups of the pew while the noon-hour sun beats outside and even the cashew vendors rest in the shade. Within, I rejoin thousands of brides walking down the aisle to men they had not chosen, mothers offering bundles of whimpering linens to the waters, young girls in white lace and tight shoes squirming during Sunday mass.

At the church of my childhood, I follow my father in the Stations of the Cross, rolling forward on the balls of his feet as he mumbles the prayers. I squirm at the paintings, distressed, but he won’t let me break the silence. During Sunday mass my sister and I play foot games under the bench and giggle at the hats in front of us. My mother digs a finger into a thigh and stops us in our tracks. We knew when to stand, kneel and sit while the voice drones in the pulpit, thinking at once of loaves appearing in the desert, the bleeding heart of Christ, and new white lace socks. Every Sunday morning, with freshly ironed clothes and polished shoes we file in from the front of the church to our family pew, children first, father last. There we learn the pride of First Communion and the gripping sadness of the coffins, up front, under a velvet cloak. They were my friends, lost to a head-on collision on the way back from summer camp. In nice weather, processions form outside the church and amble up the streets, rows upon rows of golden banners flapping in the wind. My brother, along with other choir boys, hold high a heavy relic, taken out of the church with elaborate rites and brought to the town people in thick veils of incense. Over time, with men aging and devotion failing, the processions stay closer to the church and finally never go out at all.

My daughters know this only through storytelling. They grew up in a wide world where homes and schools were there in passing. In our travels, all paths took us to a church. There they hushed their tone, walked between the altars and chose the saint that appealed to them. We then knelt together, the peach fragrance of their hair mingling with that of melting wax. I watched their stubby fingers hold the long match and, eyes intent, light candles that they thought would burn forever. Now, continents separate us.

The sexton is at my side. He points to a stone slab with an iron ring handle, carved with boxy letters in Castilian. In the musky cave underneath, lie the remains of a man who brought his bride to this resplendent altar. Against the towering wooden doors, in front of St. Lazarus’ statue, author of many miracles, I drop a coin in the offering box and light a candle for my daughters. At this point on the map of the world, both of them are exactly equidistant from me. The clay-coloured wax of the taper pools on the tile and stiffens, starting a siege on their absence.

***

Native of Québec City, Suzanne Aubin lived around the world before settling in British Columbia, where she teaches languages, does translations, and writes in her spare time. She has run a monthly column in a national aviation newspaper and published freelance articles in Okanagan Life, a B.C. magazine. She is inspired by the striking moments and adventures of our everyday life and hopes to turn them into short fiction pieces that will engage the reader. Her latest publications include BluePrint Review (October '06), Salomé Magazine (November 16), Flash Flood Fiction (October ’06), Flash Flooding (January ’07), Flash in the Pan (April ’07), La Fenêtre (Spring and Fall '07). She also received an Honourable Mention in the Mirrors and Masks Mindprints Fiction Contest.


© Suzanne Aubin

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012