If you’d like to join me in the “process over product” writing prompt game I’ve undertaken in order to write more fiction in 2017, today’s writing prompt from my Writing Prompts app came from a suggested setting: “Cathedral.” And attitude: “Cynical.” I hope you’ll join me in playing your writing in 2017!
Maggie could tell by the way Abby kept raising her eyebrows and grinning that she was supposed to feel impressed by the splendor, the grandeur of the Cathedral with its pointy ornate parts and spirals and architectural conceits that likely all probably had fancy names for things like wall and joint and screw. But all she felt was cold. Why did she always forget to bring a sweater to San Francisco, which had its own climate, a little fog-belt of misery? Maggie felt a little jangled by the way people’s voices ricocheted off of all that emptiness, fritzing in her brain. She often didn’t know she needed silence until it was too late, and the world was screeching and buzzing around her.
“Don’t you just feel the sacredness instantly?” Abby was bouncing, actually bouncing, like a child and not like the twenty-six year old woman she actually was. Though, at a glance, with her youthfully high cheekbones and full lips, hair that was usually a color not found in nature—today, maraschino cherry red—people did often mistake Abby for a teenager. They passed the pews and headed toward the “piece de la resistance,” as Abby had called it, at the Cathedral’s center.
Maggie forced a smile. She didn’t want to let Abby down. Abby needed this. She needed a win, to feel like there was good and hope in the world. “It’s nice,” Maggie forced out.
Abby wheeled, hands on hips, one eyebrow carving a disapproving line through her pale forehead. “Nice?” Her tone was schoolmistress sharp. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
Maggie opened her mouth in protest. Nothing was wrong. She was fine. Fine, really. Sure, she might be working as a retail sales clerk for her father for the foreseeable future. Sure, her mother might actually be dying this time. Sure, her boyfriend-if-that’s-what-he-was liked to disappear without notice and would not tell her anything about his dark and twisted past. But she was fine.
“Maaaags. You better tell me.”
Maggie shook her head. “Nothing I can’t handle.” She felt better, at least, when she gazed at the figure of Jesus outlined in stained glass, hung upon the cross for all of humanity’s sins, or whatever the fuck it was. Now that she thought of it, was it sacrilegious to stand in a house of worship if you didn’t believe? Did it somehow contaminate the holiness of the site? It wasn’t the religiosity of Jesus that appealed to her, anyway, but the gruesomeness of his death—she couldn’t help but scour the image looking for blood at the site of the nails in his hands. Dirt caked upon his tired toes. Bruising beneath his eyes. There was none of that, of course. Just beatific, shiny vaguely Aryan Jesus with that bemused smile that was entirely inappropriate, as though death was a day at the spa. Of course, this was stained glass, just how much detail did she expect?
But she followed Abby obediently because if Abby could find something sacred in this place, Abby who had known so little love and comfort in her life, then Maggie sure as hell could suck it up and try.
Abby made an audible gasp at the center of the room that made several others look at her. Maggie had to breathe deeply through her nose to keep from making “What the fuck are you looking at glares” at these strangers. I don’t care if she spontaneously bursts into flames, Maggie thought at the strangers. You keep your nosy gazes to yourselves. Perhaps her glower was better than she thought—they went back to their business and Maggie stepped foot on the white spirals of the labyrinth feeling protective of her friend. Here to help her friend have a spiritual epiphany or mystical moment.
“Monks and nuns over the centuries have used labyrinths as meditations. You start at the beginning with a problem in your mind and you let God or whatever help you figure it out as you walk. When you reach the center, you should get an answer.”
Maggie looked down at her formerly red, now mostly muddy brown Converse framed against the pale white tiles at the tip of the labyrinth. What question did she have for the divine, for forces bigger than herself? Where to start? She felt twinges of guilt for the questions she did not want to ask. Not about her mother’s fate, nor even her own. What she wanted to know, more than anything else, the thing that kept her up at night and had since she was eleven and had first seen Jake Green’s missing posters, more than 15 years before he would fall into her life was this: What really happened to Jake, and how could she get him to tell her?