Chandelier

Fiction By Ben // 4/8/2001

Five minutes before Mass began, a stranger walked through the side doors of the church. He wore a handsome blue suit jacket, leather shoes, and a green tie. His hair was short and black, as were his eyes. The man had broad muscular shoulders, a Roman nose, and a firm jaw. Something about his figure seemed too big for the church, although the church itself was built in the gothic style with large granite stones and dark pine. The people of St. Gregory turned like ducks in a pond in their pews to look at the stranger. Aware of the sensation he was creating, the stranger, whose surname was Solomon, aimed his steps toward an unoccupied pew at the back of the church. Sitting down close to the wall on his right, and separated by several pews from the nearest person, he heaved an inaudible sigh of relief. No one could stare at him without turning around completely.

On a bright day, stain-glass windows filtered sunlight into colored shafts, providing the only source of natural light in the church. Artificial lighting assisted these colored beams in illuminating the cold interior. However, this day was one of those cold, bleak winter days, with no visible sun. As a result, the gothic church was darker than usual. Therefore, when the stranger, Solomon, had the sensation of being unnaturally warm and incandescent in his seat, he looked up toward the ceiling of the old New England church for the source of light. Directly above him, he saw an old steel lamp or chandelier hanging, seemingly hundreds of feet above his head. Instead of supporting massive wax candles, as it must have done at one point in its existence, the black light fixture now held one modern-day high-intensity spotlight. From this came the hot, luminous feeling. Even though the light particles shooting from the spotlight must have spread millions of times before reaching the pews below, many shafts of light still hit Solomon’s collar. In fact, the light, though dim, did light up the stranger’s figure singularly, as if he were the focus of some opera or drama.

Feeling on display, Solomon glanced around at his closest neighbors. Three rows in front of him he saw a middle-aged, middle class looking man. Solomon fathomed him instantly when he observed the man’s head nodding drowsily. Sitting on the right side of the man, a foolish looking teenage girl held a toddler on her lap. The girl wore too much lipstick, and her pink shirt revealed her figure shamelessly. To the right of the girl, Solomon caught an elegant woman glancing at him through slanted eyes. She looked to be in her mid 40’s, although all aging had been skillfully hidden. When Solomon met her wandering eyes with his own, the woman shifted her posture back toward the altar. Intrigued by this family (he assumed it was a family), Solomon began constructing a picture of the trio. His mind worked quickly, logically, and without mercy.

Posture alone explained the middle-aged man to Solomon. His flabby shoulders hung and curved forward, while his back slanted hesitatingly away from whatever lay in front of him. As a result, the man looked both meek and arrogant at the same time. One gnarled and fleshy hand lay idly over the back of the pew and behind the teenage girl. It annoyed Solomon to think that the hand had never become blistered or hard from manual labor. Solomon looked at the man’s thick red lips and protruding stomach. He pictured the business man taking a lunch break at a Chinese restaurant, piling platefuls of lo mein through the cavern of his oily lips. Probably this man spent his days hunched over a computer keyboard, waiting to go home to watch television. Probably this man spoke little with his wife and cared little for his child. When he was younger the man had “fallen in love” with the woman with the wandering eyes. She had been attractive to his young appetite. He had married her. Several years later, they had decided to have a child. The silly girl sitting between him and his wife was sure testimony of their parenting, or lack of parenting. Over time, this man’s comfort and love of pleasure had dulled his brain and sharpened his senses toward lust. Solomon keenly felt that sin lay hidden under the unobtrusive figure of this normal American. Like everything else in the man’s life, going to church on Sunday had become nothing more than habit. He was living a goldfish existence.

A crumb of white floated down from the church’s ceiling, glowing and flickering like a fiery snowflake as it fell under the spotlight’s rays. It spiraled down toward the top of Solomon’s head, finally landing on one of his pant legs as if it had always intended to rest there. Flicking the particle off his knee, Solomon starred into the white light above him for a moment. He saw the steel chandelier hanging like a crown above his head; he saw a blue wire crawling lazily up a thick metal-looking cord. The cord must hold the lamp up, the blue wire providing electricity to the light bulb. Squinting, Solomon made out a square piece of metal attaching the metal cord to the ceiling. Then, the toddler in front of him began crying and waving her stubby arms in the air, distracting him.

From the moment Solomon sat down, the child – a little girl with
tiny pigtail horns – had been squirming and twisting on the older girl’s lap, stopping to stare up at the ceiling and occasionally to stare at him with unabashed awe. At first the teenager had ignored the toddler, but now she moved into action. Solomon watched the girls. Taking quick measurements with a guilty eye, he decided that the older girl was 17 and just finishing high school, while the toddler – her daughter – was two or three. He wasn’t certain that the girls were mother and daughter at first, until he watched the older force the younger into silence with ill-repressed frustration. Both mother and daughter seemed to know their predicament, and neither liked the feeling. The 17-year-old wore a pouting expression on her face which pulled her chin up, giving her a chipmunk-ish look. Unnaturally blond hair, white makeup, thick eye shadows and artificial cherry colored lipstick only added to the rodent effect. Yet, without the spoilt expression and the mask of makeup, Solomon had to admit that the girl would be quite pretty.

It was this hidden beauty, combined with the girl’s impossible situation, that made Solomon feel something close to pity for her. But, he reminded himself, she had chosen her own downfall. Even if her parents had brought her up as a doll or as an annoyance, she had taken the steps herself. Solomon pictured her drunkenly kissing her boyfriend in the dark of his car. She had flaunted her body as she flaunted it now; she had disobeyed her parents, disobeyed God; she had lowered herself to some eager boy’s desire. And now she was a mother in high school. All too predictably, Solomon observed how her mothering reflected her own immaturity and frustration. Like her father, she cared only for her own comfort. Selfishness, self pity, and immodesty, Solomon decided, were the girl’s chief sins.

Thirty-nine feet above Solomon’s head the light fixture swung imperceptibly to some hidden wind. The metal cord creaked slightly in its place, fused to the square metal piece on the ceiling. Four metal bolts had been drilled through the plaster and into the wood above, holding the square metal piece against the roof of the church and carrying the full weight of the chandelier. Solomon had not noticed this. He had also failed to perceive a patch of damp yellow plaster around the black metal square. It was from this plaster that the “snowflake” had departed.

Turning around in her pew, the woman next to the girl faced Solomon as if about to speak to him. Instead, she looked just behind him at one of the stations of the cross carved into the walls of the church. The eighth station. Solomon got a complete view of her face until she turned around again. Of all his neighbors, he found himself most intrigued and disturbed by her. She struck him as one of those women who does not work or mother full time, but instead seems always busy hosting parties, attending dinners, playing tennis with her lady friends and ordering clothing from catalogues. She seemed like one of those women who leaves notes for her children and husband telling them how to defrost their TV dinners while she attends so-and-so’s little party. Letting his eyes play over her, Solomon had to admit that she was attractive, though he also felt an innate dislike for her. He found everything from her subtly dyed hair to her silver earrings distrustful. He found everything from her flashing eyes to her easy movement distrustful. She reminded him of the cat he had seen just before entering the church. Self-conceited and insidious. Solomon guessed only too easily what governed this woman’s thoughts and passions. He thought it more than just coincidence the number of times she seemed to look at him. Lust howled underneath her skin. Seduction seemed her hidden hobby. Solomon didn’t think he went too far to imagine that he himself was her current object. How many times had this woman gone to play tennis with her lady friends only to watch and play games with the sporting men there? How many times had she looked at her chubby husband with disappointment and regret, comparing him to other men? If she hadn’t been unfaithful to her husband in action, she certainly had forsaken him in thought. And now she vaunted herself in God’s very house.

Scattered shafts of light from the chandelier fell on the family, accenting the bright and leaving the hollows of their faces shadowed. But, the dusty light particles seemed to die upon their skin, leaving no trace of color, as though their hides were really white ice. Solomon’s disgust grew as he looked at them. He now knew them – the fish, the chipmunk, and the cat. They posed in their pew, trying to look like normal people. But, the problem was they were normal people, and Solomon saw right through normal people. On the left, the fish sat, one fin extended, contemplating breakfast at Denny’s. Next to the fish, the chipmunk held the toddler between its legs while gloomily grooming itself with its small arms. And, on the right, the cat purred to itself, arching its back and rolling over to receive attention and petting. Solomon’s mouth filled with bittersweet pleasure: he had found them out, he had seen their sin.

If one of the parishioners had been watching Solomon’s face, he or she would have detected no change in his expression all this time. Solomon’s churning conjectures lay hidden underneath his skin. However, had anyone been watching the yellow plaster around the square metal piece on the ceiling of the church, he or she would have noticed an alteration. Small, spidery cracks had begun forming around the metal base. These cracks ran out in all directions, criss-crossing other cracks like a rapidly expanding web. A leak. Wet, decaying wood. And, now, cracking plaster. The internal drama underneath the plaster’s skin was about to break out.

Solomon checked his watch. Mass would begin any minute. Idly opening his missal to the gospel reading for that Sunday, he glanced down and read, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” To his left, a disheveled young man came into view. The young man knelt down at the opposite end of Solomon’s pew. Watching the boy, Solomon observed him rest his head in his hands and lower his shoulders meditatively. In the crack between thumb and pointer, Solomon noticed silently moving lips. Turning back to his missal, Solomon felt disturbed by his neighbor’s ardent piety. He looked intelligent, but his silently moving lips and prayerful position begged for attention. Solomon knew this kind of character only too well. The young man’s real desires hid from sight, unlike the business man’s stomach or the teenager’s tight-fitting shirt. It was sometimes hard to separate such people out, but Solomon’s eyes had been trained to pick out vanity’s only flaw: an embellishment of action combined with a showy humility. These he saw in the boy. This young man’s every thought and action revolved around building himself up. His sins were more disguised than all the others’ sins, and therefore most hideous. Like a cracked bell, he struck hollow and empty. “How pride leads us astray,” Solomon was just thinking to himself when a more pressing impression fell upon him.

One sharp shriek like that of splintering wood smashed through the silence of the church, reverberating through the hollows of the stone. Fish, chipmunk and cat froze in alarm; the toddler covered its ears. Solomon would have covered his ears, too, except that it wouldn’t have helped. For him, the thundering was not only sound, but light also.

Piercing shafts of pure whiteness blazed down from the chandelier above, blinding Solomon for one one-hundredth of a second. Recovering his sight, Solomon looked before him as though in a dream. Frozen in place (for time seemed to have stopped), the animal family had transformed completely. Like torches of human fire, their bodies glowed iridescent yellow-white light. Solomon looked straight through their flesh in places, catching glimpses of their interior organs, just as fire sometimes makes itself transparent in places for a split second before licking itself into a different shape. Solomon starred at the family under the intense light, feelings of calm terror rising in his throat. Pulsing in the cavities of their rib cases, he watched their hearts. Blood pumped
through their veins toward every cell in their bodies.

Around the ruby-red heart of the business man, Solomon saw small, ink-black spiders clutching the man’s arteries. Their legs coated the red flesh like hot tar on a criminal’s back. He watched as each spider punctured the walls of the man’s arteries with its fangs and sucked up the human blood within, its expanding abdomen undulating rhythmically. Each spider looked at Solomon with desire as it ate its gory meal. Unable to stop himself, Solomon looked back.

What he saw confirmed all his suspicions about the man in front of him. Reflected in the millions of insect eyes turned upon him, he saw the man eating like a pig, ignoring his wife. He saw him slouched in a chair watching the television and neglecting his daughter. The spider eyes communicated every selfish lust the man had committed. Turning his eyes away quickly, Solomon found his gaze resting on the teenager. Younger, thinner spiders preyed upon the young mother’s heart. (Solomon knew she was a mother now through her predators’ many eyes.) Self pity and immodesty sucked blood from her living body, crusting her veins with coarseness. Solomon saw all her little sins leading toward her large sins of fornication; he saw her lack of love toward her child. Eyes now eager only to be blind seemed forced to fall upon the woman next. Adultery reflected in her spiders’ mirrored eyes, and Solomon shuddered at the images that floated before him. But most ghastly of all, Solomon realized, was her lack of blood. Sin had drained her of life. Solomon’s head seared with pity at what he saw. He felt no pleasure at all in being right about the sinful natures of these people; instead, he wished he had been wrong.

Abruptly, yet also painstakingly, the heads of each family member began turning. In slow unison, each fiery head swiveled up toward the chandelier and then around to face Solomon. Fear paralyzed the stranger. Intensifying light fell upon his sweaty forehead, making him feel hot and dizzy. Bracing himself against the pew, he forced himself to look into their faces. To Solomon’s surprise, he found only a look of horror stamped on each contorted countenance. But, their eyes!

Solomon looked at the woman first. Her eyes were pools of blue light. With one glance, Solomon had fallen into the pools, sinking down through memory. He heard a little girl’s feet pattering on a wood floor and saw her sobbing on her mommy’s lap. “I did it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. It’s all my fault!” she cried. Solomon smelled perfume and saw a young lady looking at children playing. He listened to her thoughts, “I wish I could be innocent again… may I learn to be innocent.” Righteous anger surged in Solomon and in the young woman’s voice as she told her boyfriend to back off. Warm tears fell from the her eyes – “I will never think those thoughts again!” Smiles of pain and joy shadowed her pale face as she held a newborn daughter against her skin and learned to be innocent again – to love. Mothering instincts rose with every breath. Patience formed around her quivering lips as meals made with her own hands were swallowed like unaccepted gifts by her husband. “He’s just tired today.” Finally, just before pulling himself out of the woman’s eyes, Solomon felt the pain in her side that kept her up the night before. She knew as well as he did that shame and remorse filled her side with pain.

Dolls and yellow socks swam in the teenager’s eyes. A girl with a pig-tail and pink ribbons sat alone in her room, acting out and reliving various situations with her dolls. Solomon felt the tears smoldering in her eyes when she went down to sit at the kitchen table and eat dinner alone. “I’ll bring Daddy his slippers!” Warmth flooded his senses as he found himself between the girl and her grandma’s embrace. The very young had learned to love the very wrinkled and had found companionship in her. Death seemed to loom lonely and large in the dark as Solomon and the little girl clutched a crucifix with both hands. He heard the girl praying with quivering breath about “not dying ever.” Next, a young teenager’s thoughts filled Solomon’s thoughts – “that party was empty and disgusting; I’m never going to lower myself like that again.” In class the teenager pretended to listen, but Solomon heard the girl’s introspection. “Why didn’t I sit next to that girl who looked so lonely? It’s because I’m proud….” Real love pulsated through Solomon as he looked with the girl at a really nice boy; real desire to be loved made him feel willing to do anything for it. Guilt nauseated him after he and the girl did give everything for it and found that love was lost instead. Earnest prayers sent quivers up his neck. “If I am pregnant, please, please don’t let me go crazy.” Penitence and a desire to be a good parent filled Solomon as it had filled the girl the night before.

One giant oak tree lay rooted in the business man’s eyes. A wood swing floated back and forth below the branches, carrying a small boy in ecstasies of flight. Solomon felt the air flying through his hair with the boy, and he heard the boy singing to himself of space travel and airplanes. He watched as the little guy ran indoors, complaining all the way, to set the dinner table for his mother. Bitter taste filled Solomon’s mouth as he and the boy courageously chewed a soapy-tasting birthday cake until the mother tasted some of it herself and realized she had put soap in it instead of oil. “Why didn’t you tell me, you rascal!” Hilarious laughter. Secret tears dropped on Solomon’s face when the boy gave his favorite racing car to a younger brother as a gift. “I love you, mom and dad. Help me make sure I don’t do it again,” floated through the air. A solitary figure kneeling in an empty church, praying for a good wife. Fatherly pride. Moments of inexpressible love for his little family; moments of inexpressible frustration and longing to be free from responsibility. Walking under the stars two nights ago. Cold in mind and spirit. Wondering where life had gone. Wishing he could be something better. “My God, my God – I need help!”

Drenched in sweat, Solomon felt the light now like a burning torch breathing down his neck. “All is now; to God, all is now,” he muttered under his breath. He realized perfectly well how mistaken he had been in his estimations of the people around him, and he felt shame. Like a fool, he had taken the sin for the sinner. He had been blind to the art in his eagerness to find the blemish. In a sense, Solomon felt he could look no further than himself, and so found only himself in others. Finally, he wondered why the people looked at him with horror on their faces. Could it be they saw in him a monster? He felt himself a monster.

Hot air, as from an open stove, whistled down past Solomon’s ears. He could barely see now, the light had grown so intense. Yet, feeling that this dream or vision would end soon, Solomon forced his
burning eyes wide open. Looking at the fish in rapture, he thought what a beautiful fish the man made. Gazing on the chipmunk, he saw her motherly elegance. And, gaping at the cat, Solomon found dignity and kindness blooming like an infant flower. Sweet people! Silly, misguided humanity! Love pulsed out of the hearts of each, filling the stranger with desire to see the primal source of love.

For the first time in his life, Solomon scanned those around him looking only for the love reflected in them. Instinctively, he turned to look on the young man at the other end of the pew. Solomon had forgotten him until now. But, to Solomon’s amazement, he was gone. Baffled for only a moment, Solomon felt his eyes fall upon the little girl, the toddler. She stood on her mother’s lap, frozen like the others. But on her face she wore a silly smile of excitement and pleasure. The child was laughing at him, finding him a joke! One of the toddler’s stubby arms was raised straight up, reaching just above her head. One stubby finger pointed straight up toward heaven like a signpost of divine folly. Following the upward direction with his eyes, Solomon tilted his head back and squinted straight up, as if looking into the sun. A blaze of light hurtled down, down towards Solomon’s head like a shooting star, setting his upraised face ablaze with angelic light for one split second, and then fell thundering on top of his smiling countenance with world-shattering force.

* * *

The steel chandelier stood upright in front of the screaming people, its metal cord and electrical wire twisting along the floor like the stingers of a massive jellyfish. Plaster and rotting wood flecked the marble tiles and showered the people from a gaping hole in the ceiling. Solomon’s mangled corpse lay, crushed underneath the light fixture, torn by shattered glass and splintered wood from his pew, pressed up against the cold marble. Black and solemn, the chandelier rested on his body like the monument of some triumphant warrior of ages long gone. Mass was a solemn affair that Sunday at St. Gregory’s parish.

----

Dear Homeschooling Friends,

I wrote this story for my Creative Writing class here at the University of Dallas. It's still in the revising stage. I hope you like it!

Comments

Good story

Nice plot, a bit too long though.

-Neil

Anonymous | Sun, 04/29/2007

WOW!

I can't believe I hadn't read that before. I find it to be very powerful and extremely well written. I- I'm just in awe. Very, very, good.

-Matthew

Matthew | Mon, 04/30/2007

-The Werewolf Prince.

That was....

That was CRAZY good!!!!

Hannah | Sat, 08/16/2008

That was amazing. The

That was amazing. The descriptions were really vivid, and the way he saw the people for what they were at the end was cool.

"It is man's inherent nature to scare himself silly for no good reason." - Calvin and Hobbes

Bridget | Sat, 06/20/2009

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

long but vivid

you did pretty well with descriptions.

unpredictable..;)

Invictus | Wed, 02/17/2010

 I highly enjoyed that! The

 I highly enjoyed that! The descriptions of the family were extremely inventive.

Sarah | Tue, 11/29/2011

"Sometimes even to live is courage."
-Seneca

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