Morning and Evening, Pt. IX
The ninth installment in an ongoing narrative, told week by week
Edited by David Swanson
Step by step Yossel rose up the column of cold stone; he felt Pawel move in his arms, lifting his fair head to gaze on the broad dark arched wood doors. On his shoulders hung a heavy mantle of cloud, he felt Pawel’s heartbeat close up against his own, both racing. Pawel lay again against his shoulder and his small mouth was beside Yossel’s collar, he rose, his arms ached, warm blood coursed through them, he braced himself, he breathed, he willed himself not to tumble down the stair with his burden, he rose, Pawel’s eyes closed against his neck, blond lashes, blue lids, he rose, closer came the dark arched doors with their worked moldings and the heavy iron lock that shone in the cold air, taking the white light in, giving it back blue to Yossel’s eyes, which turned up, up, towards the slope of the dome that soared into the cloudswept night.
The warm ring of Pawel’s lips, swollen open, pressed against his breast as they reached the landing; carved into the door, the suffering face of the Christian God, affixed to his cross, gazed at him with round empty mahogany eyes. Cyrillic letters were bored into the stone above the archway, carved flames licked at the lintel, and the black forms of ghastly faces leered among them, their grins lit cold and blue by the emergent moon. Yossel knelt, his arms hot with pain, and placed Pawel gently on the stone before him. Pawel’s eyes remained closed, he lay draped on the stone like a length of moss, his face was a clenched mask of pain. But then his white hands rose and fumbled at his belly, where the yellow down grew along its taut curve, and he removed a worn brown pouch, cracked and tattered with use. He placed the pouch in Yossel’s palm; it was still warm from his skin and its contents were heavy. Yossel pulled at the drawstring and removed a black key, made of the same iron as the church lock, with a cloverleaf head the size of his palm and enormous teeth. He rose from his knees, and raised his hands high to where the lock dangled on its heavy iron chain. He placed the key in the lock; his hands strained against the black metal, his body pressed against the curlicues and crosses adorning the church doors.
He pushed open the doors with trembling hands, and they gave reluctantly at his touch. Then he turned and gathered Pawel again in his arms. Pawel was so limp to his touch he thought at first he might have fainted, but then a thin arm snaked around his neck, a hand touched his cheek, and he moved forward into the dark and cavernous nave of the church.