Avenging Olimpia

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4-23-09 13:37 –– I’ve never actually been inside The Cathedral of St. John the Divine––or St. John the Unfinished if you’re a smart ass uptowner. Not it’s fault, really. A fire ripped through one side of it a few years back and they’ve been cleaning her up ever since.

I’m not one that’s impressed by churches and what have you. Sure, they look fairly intriguing if you don’t think about the bullshit that goes on inside them, but boy, is this one fucking huge. Biggest cathedral in the world, they say. Looking up at its high-Gothic architecture outside the West entrance on Amsterdam I have to agree. I also have to agree that it makes me feel about as significant as an old newspaper. A grown man is no match for any church; it’s something you know in your bones, bullshit theology or not. And one that just killed a couple of kids definitely takes his chances stepping foot in such a place if you’re among the believers, but I can’t deny old Johnny seemed to be calling me. Still, let’s be clear: all I’m doing is showing a little courtesy and picking up. That’s it.

Dark and cool, hundred foot ceilings, nave the length of two football fields at least––yet somehow, I don’t feel alone. Might be the tombs around me, polished to a reverent, marble shine. You could spend weeks inspecting every little corner, seeking deliverance from every, tiny detail in the intricate wrought iron and ornate, decorative carvings, but you wouldn’t find anything. All you’ll find is you: your thoughts, your truths, your own, private hells. No matter how many prayers you shove up Johnny’s gullet he’ll only shit down the same message from the boss above: you’re nothing, nobody, a ghost. The quicker you can accept you’re already dead, the sooner you can get busy living––whatever that means. Maybe I can ask the dead around me. Always liked the dead. Great listeners. At least those I’ve never met. The others never seem to let you finish.

They say you gotta talk over them. Okay, then––

Dear God, you fucking prick. You ostentatious, uncaring, evil eater of souls. What the fuck do you want from me, huh? You got what you wanted, didn’t you? Then why now are you’re dripping me dry, day by day, waiting me out? Is that why you called me in here? To remind me how I only live for the dead? How I should just get it over with and join them? I wish I could, you fat, fucking bastard. Believe me, I tried. But something inside me wasn’t ready. So go ahead, keep sending your angels to do your dirty work, dressed in wife-beaters, guarding scripts and driving cabs. One by one I’ll take them all down until I find out how you did it. Don’t like that? Too fucking bad, it’s not negotiable. And when I do find that angel, I’m bringing it here, so keep the fucking doors open, you hear? Keep them open so I can pry its guts apart with my bare hands and show you the black stuff that lives in there because that’s what’s winning the war down here in your poison garden, mister. It’s a dung heap and a dump, and before you send me to the mines I plan to make more of a mess of it than it already is.

And by the way, fuckface…I don’t believe in you.

A couple of college kids walk behind me and whisper something about the pipe organ. Apparently, it’s works now. Oh, really? How fucking interesting. To my absolute displeasure, they stop directly behind me. I’m staring through a locked gate at an empty chapel devoid of anything interesting whatsoever. What the hell do you punks want?

“You okay, man,” says one of them, and I turn. In front is a tall, broad freshman wearing a faux vintage sweatshirt. It’s a couple of shades of blue and has COLUMBIA across the chest like it was ironed on about thirty years ago. Big fucker is a walking personification of this church: brand new, trying to look old; wise and hip, yet wouldn’t know a life-lesson if it hit him in his stubbly, square jaw.

“Why the hell would you even ask such a stupid question?” I say, genuinely curious. I just killed two people, you moron.

“I don’t know…because you’re talking to yourself? And it looks like you’re crying.”

“The fuck, I am,” I say, and he takes an anxious step back, bumping into a few of his buddies. His nervous energy transfers to the entire group and they shuffle en masse down the nave.

I reach up and, sure enough, the Ivy League bruiser is right. I’m not sure how he could tell, but maybe he’s studying to be a psychologist, or worse, a social worker. Wouldn’t that be a kick? Daddy pays for his big boy to attend Columbia University and finds out he wants to help hopeless scum like yours truly after he graduates. Now that’d be a good one, God, you vindictive, japing, shit-stain.

A sob from somewhere I can’t see launches into the vaulted eaves like a lone, black balloon. Seems I’m not the only pathetic soul being led to the alter today. Misery sensing company––for lack of a better explanation––I decide to investigate. I cross the nave in the direction of one of the enormous, stone columns and my boot heels give me away, flushing a tiny woman from a row of pews near the pipe organ. I watch her walk three sections of pews East, her tight jeans tested by a shapely butt, giant earrings swinging like they’ve just suffered a gymnast’s dismount. She ducks into a new pew three rows back and slides towards its center. Settled, she hangs her head, her dark, shiny hair swinging forward like a confessional curtain. More sobs come. Smaller balloons, this time, or perhaps that’s just the way they look from here.

I walk East, careful not to look in her direction. When I’m even with her, I stop and sneak a glance. She looks up and asks without asking, why? She doesn’t want me to comfort her, she wants to know why I won’t leave her alone.

“Sometimes it helps…sometimes…I could––I mean, if you want––”

She shakes her head, and the earrings slap her face. She’s not up to talking, I get that. But I’m not leaving, and I’m not sure why. Christ, I’m worse than a big, dumb, Ivy League, psychology major.

She leans back, and folds her arms, looking straight at me. Tears send ruined mascara down her heart-shaped face. Flared nostrils sniff in vain. She can’t be more than fifteen, which with the way girls do themselves up these days, probably means she’s twelve. I have to do something, don’t I? Goddamn You, you callous hypocrite, do You ever help anyone?

I sit in the front pew, and lean my arm over the back. I stare at a plastic rosary on the pew behind me that someone has apparently left behind. It’s cheap; from the gift shop, I gather. Probably no prayer juice left in it. But I stare, and I wait.

And I wait.

After a few minutes, I hear her catch her breath and she starts talking. The words fly from her swollen mouth like pigeons from a roof. I try to follow them, but they take off in different directions, come together, and fly apart again. Her thick, Latino accent isn’t helping, either. I peg her as Puerto Rican, although I’ve been wrong before. Olimpia had a little in her, and a little Spanish on her father’s side, but she never talked as fast as this one.  Eventually I calibrate, and from what I can piece together she’s got this boyfriend––novio––and he’s with her brother––hermano. They’re about to do something really bad, I think, and she’s worried they might get hurt.

“Ellos tienen los fusiles,” she says, “ellos tienen los fusiles!”

They have guns, she says.

They have guns.