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
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
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.