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.
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.
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 wont
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
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.
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