The following short story is one of the writer responses Insights received in response to the Easter theme for our latest issue.
“And everyone is hidden, and everyone is cruel And there’s no shortage of tyrants, and no shortage of fools And the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall Is just a wish that time can’t dissolve at all” Nick Cave – Bright Horses
It had been ten years since Celeste had stepped through the doorway that brought her home, and fourteen years since she had been dragged across the space that separates one reality from the multitudes around it.
For the most part, the world just carried on as it always had: political feuds played out as if nothing had changed, geopolitical tensions waxed and waned, the economy kept moving with its ebbs and flows, and people kept being… people.
There was an awareness about what had transpired, and a hesitation about what its implications were, but most people pushed it to the back of their minds because events outside the normal realm of experience are too hard to deal with.
Sitting at a table outside her usual café haunt, listening to the footsteps and half-conversations of people walking past, Celeste flicked through the notes for the second book she was about to finish about her adventures across the void. “Adventures?” she thought, looking at her mug of coffee as though it had been the one to suggest such an insensitive, nearly offensive word, for what had happened. “Adventures is all wrong. It just doesn’t fit” her voice carrying her thoughts away from her as a mumble before a sigh, followed by a sip of her coffee. Across the table a young woman in her late teens pulled out a chair, sat herself down, and started looking over the menu.
Celeste, caught up in the growing whirlpool of her own thoughts, hadn’t even noticed Genevieve’s arrival; she just sat, and thought. Genevieve, knowing how much her “found family” aunt hated small talk and would much rather people just got to the point of the conversation, asked from behind the menu… “What was the point of it all?” “Huh? Oh, hi Gen” Celeste said, lazily. “All of this happened. You saw all of it. There were other people who saw it as well; not just here, but over there”.
She’d been thinking about this since the last time they’d spoken nearly a month ago. “Well, why don’t we look at it from a different perspective. What do you think the point of it is?”. “I think the point is that you went through this incredible ordeal, you did what anyone should have done and told your story…” by now her hands were swinging with gestures that punctuated her words.
Genevieve continued, “people should have shared in this thing that changed your life. You’re a different person now because of it all”. Celeste took a sip of her coffee and let the taste linger over her tongue before she swallowed. It was such a simple ritual, but one that has kept her grounded in the years since she made it back home. “Maybe?” she said uncertainly. “There are days I don’t even believe it myself, so I understand why others keep it at arm’s length. And it’s not like we haven’t seen similar play out here”.
Celeste gestured to a battered copy of the Gospel of Mark that sat amongst half a dozen other books in her backpack. “Two thousand years ago a revolutionary was executed for standing up to the powers of empire and oppression. People are told weekly that He died for their sins and all they have to do is make a decision to follow His way of life and the world would be better for it”. “… and?” Genevieve asked. “And what?” Celeste shrugged; “Good people are still crushed by laws and structures bigger than they could ever take on by themselves, innocent people die every day, evil men still get away with…” “What if I ask you a question?” the younger voice interrupted. Genevieve continued, not giving Celeste a chance to answer the request, let alone decide if she was okay with it, “what does it mean to you?”
Celeste shifted her hips in her seat, and pulled her ankles tightly together under the chair. She was uncomfortable, as anyone who has been through something traumatic would be when asked to give an answer any more than superficial about things they’d been through. “It means I’m broken,” she sighed.
“It means that it was never about righting things once and for all, it was about drawing a line in the sand and saying we could be better. We learned that it’s not only in this world that good people are sacrificed but others as well. It means we learned how to destroy angels”.
It was all she could do to stop herself from bursting into tears. She wrapped her hands around her mug of coffee, noticing that all too familiar ache in her throat that held back the flood of grief that threatened to shatter her into a thousand pieces.
She took a sip of her coffee and again took a moment to meditate on the sensation of the milky fluid moving through her mouth, the bitter taste of coffee muted by the milk and sweetened with a bit of brown sugar.
The feel of the ceramic beneath her fingertips, in parts still warm from the liquid held in the cup, and others cool from the air that had moved around it in the time she let it sit atop the table. It caught her. It calmed her.
Something so simple.
Genevieve had finally got her to hint at the things she’d left out of her writing. She knew it was there, it was in the things Celeste had left out, and she knew it was about the woman she loved. There was a hole in the story, omitted in order to protect herself, but it was keeping those things out that hurt her the most. “Do you think it’s time to tell her story?” Genevieve asked, being as gentle as she possibly could, knowing that there was a trauma surrounding her memories of Anier, and how any relationship between them was now impossible.
Celeste looked up from her coffee and glanced around, reassured that everything was still there as it was before her attention shifted… Almost.
“Be her witness. Let her inspire others the way she inspired you”. Genevieve’s words filled her ears, but as she looked up she was already walking away. A familiar flickering of light reflected from the window across the street, a flickering that had no source, it was the same flickering of white unsettling light that she’d seen in the days before she wound up across the void.
Sarah Alice Allcroft