Author: Timothy Connolly
Illustration: Mark Smith
He left the apartment with sweat dripping down his back.
Christ, that had never happened before. A woman offering that. Christ, that. Jesus, he hadn’t known what to do. The only thing he could think of, besides that, was to get the hell out of there.
He didn’t even get the money. The snow touched his blush as he remembered what happened. She probably thinks he was an idiot. ‘Don’t worry, I can find out what’s wrong with your machine.’
She was probably mocking him. The mucky plumber man. His Kinga would know what to do. His wife, well, his ex‐wife, would know what to make of a woman like that. Whether she was a strumpet, a seductress or the Virgin Mary herself.
He sighed as he stepped between a shadow reaching for the stars. He needed vodka. Like a baby needed milk. Like he needed his wife. But, unfortunately, she had left him. His mind turned black.
Focused on the metal in his pocket. What could have marked it like that? A bit of machinery caught? But it’s so goddamn unusual? Perhaps he should find out and show that lady he was no fool.
Marcin went home and opened the door. He looked at the mess. His mother had cleaned, and then his wife had cleaned, and, when they were all gone, he had been unable to. Clothes lay on the floor. A nude woman looked at him from the wall. The picture of the pope squinted through months of dust. Marcin felt a moment of absurd guilt. He really should clean, but Christ, the pope himself is hardly going to visit.
He turned the television on low. Just to hear another human being. The news played a scene of starvation and disease.
The pierogi flavoured the air like burning wax. His fingers pressed on smooth metal as he popped open the can. Ancient paint flaked off his skin. He could feel the silence in his apartment. As if the ceiling reached to infinity. The dust in his fingers. The grain of the wood. This feeling of weight…
The piece of metal lay before him on the table. What could make that mark? It was not accidental, of that he was suddenly sure. No other metal was ruined. No parts were bent. Nothing was amiss except for this single hunk of icy steel. He remembered the woman’s black eyes glinting from the sun. He wondered what had happened to those immigrants…
His doorbell rang. And, still thinking of that piece of metal, he got up and opened it.
‘Marcin,’ the voice spoke with the scent of smoke and old leather. He blinked. The man before him had silver at the side of his hair. Lines ran along his face, his eyes were pale and the pink of his lips flaked. White blazed from his collar like a dying sun.
‘Yes… how can I help you, Father?’
‘My sister sent me. You may have met her today while you carted off that damned contraption?’
He blushed when he remembered.
‘Eh, we may have said hello.’
‘I’m sure you did,’ he looked at him as if Marcin had forgot his schoolwork, ‘May I come in? The night is cold, and these bones are so old.’
‘Of course… Of course, Father.’
He let him in. The light grew bright. Showing the magazines, the dirt, the lack of a woman, and ending with the dusty picture of the pope. Marcin covered the magazines with a rag, and dusted the neglected Pope. Smiling, he looked at the priest. The priest stared at him.
‘Eh, so Father, what can I do for you?’
‘It’s what I can do for you.’
He stopped himself from scratching his head. The priests used to frown at that when he was a schoolboy.
‘Sure, sure. Sit down please,’ he fiddled with his thumbs. ‘So, how can I… No, how can you, help me?’
‘My sister was telling me about the man she had met. An unfortunate meeting as our brother should have arrived. My sister should never have called you. I have to ask… have you met him yet?’
‘No… Should I have?’
‘Good. It’s best that you don’t, lest he leave a stain. Let us two men, old men, wise men, talk this out amongst ourselves. Leave the women, leave the children, leave that man who you will not meet, it is just us. Two men all alone in a too young world. In a place where evil is rife and redemption infinite.’
‘I’m sorry, but…’
‘Go on my son.’
‘I completely lost you.’
‘Few people can follow,’ the atrocities of the television lit his eyes and formed a lullaby beneath his words. ‘But I hope you will. What do you see when you look out that window?’
He looked out the window. Streetlights spread like stars in the sky and, if it were not for this man, he would have felt like the last person on earth.
‘… the sky?’
‘Exactly. Light and dark. Two opposing forces that we must contend with. We all go from the light, every night, into the dark, and hope we are not spirited away. We fear the footsteps, as we should, in case we cannot find our way. We fear the strangers, as if they may take our soul. We fear ourselves, as if we will be swayed from this mortal realm. It is a terrifying place. This land of light and night. A place to tempt you, to corrupt you, to end you. But we all walk out again. We all remain pure. Uncorrupted and back in this heavenly realm. Where we belong. Don’t you agree?’
‘I have no idea…’
‘If somebody passes into the darkness, should you stop them from coming back to the light?’
‘Just think, my child. The son of God. A man of free will, passed from father to child.’
He looked at the piece of machinery, and it blazed with its own scalpel glow.
He looked at the priest and his voice hardened, ‘Father.’
‘I’m saying all that can be said. I’m saying nothing. I’m saying what needs to be said.’
It was the priest’s turn to blink, ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Get out. You are not welcome.’
His mother would have scolded him if she had heard him. Christ, he would have had some slap.
But, in that moment, he did not care. The priest stood up and left.
But his presence did not leave. Marcin could taste it on his tongue. It smelt of hot air, undulating candle flames and shadowed alcoves. It smelt of heaven, hell, and every dark crevice in between. He looked at the metal. He held it in his hands. He touched the scratches on its surfaces and wondered: Could this have kept the gas flowing?