Fiction

Artifacts From the Cathedral

By Cameron W. Rogers

The prettiest thing I ever saw was a claustrophobic, trash-choked alley wedged between an old glass factory and a garage. I'd pass it every Friday night on the way to Labyrinth. I looked down it as I passed, and fancied I could see huddled ghosts curled in the refuse, memories of memories looking back at me out of the corners of old eyes.

Thick grime, like a dried mix of baby powder and mucus, layered the brickwork - along with an occasional cancerous fleck of faded red: the markings of some forgotten vandal. The stuff on the walls made me think of growth rings in trees, or layers of dirt. Made me think if a sociologist were to slice a layer, she could point to the juicy bits and tell you the story of what had happened there that year: of homeless schizophrenics driven by a wild-eyed intensity most people never reach; of a lost and battered rape victim groping senseless and hysterical for a section of the nightmare that didn't hurt; of a hundred souls that had searched for someplace warm.

To me that little alleyway was a cathedral to what happens when life tosses you off into what lies outside.

I remember looking down it, caught by it, conscious of the fact that anybody in there would see me, if anybody was there at all.

But I kept looking.

I saw wet brick and puddles, sure; and there were the usual crates, and broken glass that probably came from the factory next door. I saw an old blazer, sodden with filthy water, and a dull-looking plastic tiara perched on a dumpster under a dim fluoro. There was a broken old walking stick, and some brown flowers, lying head-first in an oily puddle. I saw somebody's report card.

I wondered if they'd find a piece of me in there one cold morning: a wet silk glove, and an empty box of Serepax. Maybe a stick of Urban Decay Uzi-colored lipstick for good measure.

I saw streetlight reflected dimly off damp brick, and the faded white stencil of a NO PARKING sign that had been painted onto the wall, now covered in the grime that caked every surface of the alley. I saw more patches of color here, faded red, and I wondered if it was blood but knew that it wasn't. I saw the shreds of an old band flyer that had been pasted there God-knew-how-long ago, streaked lightly with more ever present and faded crimson. Then I saw this streak intersect with another, almost invisible, line of faded red.

I saw a letter.

In that moment it all coalesced: patterns formed from the patches and streaks under the grime, gathering, surfacing, revealing themselves to me.

I saw red words, a meter high.

I CAN'T BREATHE

It was like a screaming face, frozen in ice.

© Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 Cameron W. Rogers. All Rights (in all media) Reserved.