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Where the Light Is

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Of course, this bus could not take her to her destination, meaning she would have to take another bus at another station. Of course, the other station was two miles west on a weary, dust-choked road laden with potholes as wide as the Grand Canyon. Of course, she did not know this ahead of time and chose to wear her leather Gucci pumps which took her ten months to save up enough money to purchase. At first, she was worried about the dust and gravel ruining her shoes, but that fear quickly surrendered to the jarring pain the pumps inflicted on her raw Achilles tendon. Walking barefoot down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere would be unseemly, but not a single automobile had passed her since she got off the bus so she peeled off her shoes. The soles of her feet were not keen on the hot, grainy pebbles that sliced through her stockings, but at least the absence of the unforgiving leather mediated the grinding pain on the back of her heels.
As she walked, her thoughts mingled with the incessant hum of the cicadas buried deep inside the foliage lining the road. Seven months ago, she stood in front of the wrought iron gates to Sterling Finishing School for Girls, a suitcase full of clean, ironed clothes poised dutifully by her side. Her teaching career was ephemeral, though, because the school fired her after a group of institution’s most cunning and powerful young ladies carped ceaselessly that the class’s curriculum centered too much on “inappropriate” literature. The students complained Huckleberry Finn was sacrilege, which it most certainly was not. Sterling School claimed to cast the next generation of ideal wives for wealthy aristocrats; what they were really creating, though, were little monsters who pitched a fit when their tea was too hot.
The woman could feel sticky beads of sweat trickling down the ravine of her spine. The sun beamed directly down onto her face, and without a parasol providing protection, it would surely blemish the skin she had worked so hard to keep smooth and pale. The sultry spring air tightened its salty fist around her chest, and she wished desperately that someone might drive by and offer her a ride. Her legs began to ache, which annoyed her because she was young, and her body was supposed to be strong and lissome, not a frail and dainty thing like her mother who spent her hollow days catering to her father’s every need and attending charity banquets where they talked about nothing other than the city’s latest scandal. She feared the type of lifestyle her mother led.
Through the undulating heat waves, the woman spotted a white building squatting in a lush pasture of trembling green grass disrupted by riots of iridescent wildflowers. Judging by the classic architecture, she decided it was a church. She ascended the broad, sagging stairs leading to the cavernous mouth of the crumbling building, careful to avoid the rotting areas of the steps. This church was nothing like the lofty cathedrals found in Europe, with spires so tall, they seemed to puncture the ethereal boundary between Earth and heaven. The woman had never actually been to Europe, just seen pictures, but if she did go, which she would someday, she certainly would not spend her time ogling at the ostentatious architecture of the cathedrals like the rest of those rubber-necking tourists.
Worn pews and unpolished, dust-coated wood floors adorned the interior of the church. Cobwebs embellished the three stagnate fans pinned to the spine of the pitched ceiling. She could feel the dust settling into the crevasses of exposed skin on her neck, and though it was clear worshippers abandoned this holy house many years ago, the scent of cheap candles and cow manure still stained the air.
The woman settled into a stiff pew. By now, she had surely missed her bus, but her mind focused more on the gritty, cold texture of the wood seeping through her thin blouse and into her skin. She noticed a tattered, leather bible sitting beside her as if it had been waiting. Her fingers hovered over the weathered cover for a moment, as if to pick it up, maybe even leaf through the yellow pages of Psalms and stories, but she quickly folded her hand back into her lap. Yearning for a cigarette, an indulgence which Sterling prohibited, claiming that the habit was “unattractive on a woman,” she pawed through her purse and withdrew a glossy, unopened pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. At Sterling, she was too afraid to smoke, even in the shadow of the garden’s luxuriant eves, fearing the termination of her job, which, as it turned out, was inevitable. Looking back, though, she would light up right in front of those spoiled, patrician brats simply to witness the horror on their faces as a thick finger of silver smoke curled towards their powdered noses, threatening to seduce them into a lifestyle of middle class possessions and impurity.
Unfortunately, the woman could not find a match in her bag. She did not put the cigarette back in the box, though, but instead just let it hang limply between her fingers, the craving for the taste of tobacco on her tongue too thick to bear putting it away. The woman glanced around the deserted church again, as if just remembering where she was. She felt a tinge of guilt for seeking refuge in there and not paying a sort of homage to the Almighty for whom this place was built. She bowed her head slightly and folded her hands in front of her face. She opened her mouth to start a prayer, but closed it, wondering if she should kneel. She lowered herself to the floor and tried it again.
“Dear, God – well, let me start out by saying that I have not done this in a while, as You probably know, so I am not quite sure what I should say.” Her voice seemed too loud, reverberating off the dusty rafters, disrupting the lazy hum of the flies intoxicated by the oppressive heat. “Well, maybe I should apologize first? I am sorry.” She bit her lip, remembering the endless days of attending church as a child. She could not recall exactly when she stopped believing in god, but she knew it was not a sudden epiphany ringing through her entire being like a shotgun, but rather, a slow, gradual process like convalescence.
“But I mean, how do I know if You are even listening right now? You probably are not – I certainly would not.” She paused, thinking for a moment. “I know I am supposed to have faith in You, but I cannot find it. I really can’t.”
The woman stood and lifted her head, stray hairs clinging to her damp forehead. She originally intended to conduct more of a prayer rather than a pompous rant, but once she started, she could not stop. The looked at the twiggy white roll still perched between her fingers, and leaned her head back, exasperated and still hungry for a cigarette.
“God, I wish I had a light.”
She must have dozed off. When she awoke, she became immediately aware of a subtle, soothing warmth tingling through her hand and up her arm. She glanced down at her hand where it was splayed across the seat of the pew, and roosting haphazardly between her fingers was a lit cigarette. The woman did not say anything, conscious of how spoken words were capable of ruining the purity of a silent moment. It was a miracle that the neglected flame had not burned the entire church to the ground by now. Or maybe it was just a lucky strike.



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