Shortly after ten in the morning, sunlight found its way through Andrew’s window. Without thought, he pulled his pillow further down the mattress before hiding himself in the thin blanket allotted to him. It took him nearly ninety seconds to realize that something was wrong. Thin, knotted fingers sent the sheet cascading as he rose, blinking, from the depths of the bed.
The first thing he realized was that the doctors hadn’t come in yet. The boxy green numbers by the window read 10:14am, and normally he was awakened by 6:45. He pondered this, one hand tracing the raw, red skin on his wrist. He concluded that he was dreaming and, determined to make the most of it, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and reached for his glasses.
One step put him at the window, from which he often examined the city. The forest of glass and steel held his interest until he shoved his glasses onto his nose, obscuring his view. Startled, he wrenched the thin, wire frames off his face, and the blurred buildings sharpened into reality once more. He experimented for a minute more, and concluded that the glasses were no longer necessary. He was uncomfortable with the barren feeling, though, and pushed the lenses until they popped out of their frames before settling the metal rounds on his nose once more.
He decided that a walk sounded fun. He began pulling drawers out of the dresser and threw the drab clothes onto an equally drab carpet. He was sick of boring, grey, shapeless clothes. He reached out and dressed in the light blue sweatshirt and lined jeans that were hanging on the knobs of the closet doors. The clock on the wall read 10:46am as the door to the room closed behind Andrew, who had forgotten his shoes.
He started down a silver hall with doors every dozen feet. Some were opened, others were closed, but there were no people to be seen. He nervously proceeded to the door at the end of the hallway, and pushed through the door marked as a stairwell. He put one hand on the rail to his right, and leaned heavily on that arm as he walked down the stairs, gaining speed with every couple steps. He rounded the first landing and started down the second flight before pausing. He turned to regard the corner where he usually saw Jimmie.
The boy had appeared about a week after Andrew, to unusual results. The first day Andrew had seen him, he had stopped to talk. The boy had said his name was Jimmie before the guard escorting Andrew had walked back up the stairs to ask what was taking so long. Andrew had tried to explain about the boy, but the guard, Paul, had said there was nobody there. Later that day, at the psychiatrist’s insistence, Andrew had seen himself on the security tapes, crouched and conversing with an empty corner. For months, the child had been crouched in that corner, shivering in his tattered black shirt. Andrew turned from the empty corner and started back down the stairs.
* * *
Andrew’s feet smacked against the pavement. He paid no mind, too drawn in to the ornate displays in the windows of shops. His fascination at the bizarre garbs the mannequins wore was second only to his joy at being alone in the city. The displays vanished from windows after a while, and the buildings began to grab his attention. How fascinating that the towers of metal and glass didn’t fall under their own weight, let alone topple in the wind that must be blowing up there.
It was a good thing he made no plans about where to go, for he didn’t pay attention to his steps. They carried him up one street and down another, eventually turning abruptly left and stopping, drawing Andrew’s attention to the building in front of him.
It was decidedly smaller than the buildings around it, only two or three stories tall. Its walls, instead of translucent glass, were a rich, rusty stone. Five steps led to the grand wooden door that curved up to a point, seeming to draw the eye to the window above it. What a window it was, a circle of stained glass in all shapes and colors. Green and golden diamonds surrounded by crimson and silver petals culminated in an effect bordering on hypnotic.
Andrew started, jerking away from the window, and decided to see if anybody was inside. He traveled up the steps and knocked on the grand wooden door. It made more of a thud than he’d expected, but he was thrilled when the door swing slowly out to invite him in.
He stuck his head in the open door and, seeing nobody inside, he decided to look around. His feet were glad for the change, as a thick carpet was nicer than the worn steps. He looked around, but hadn’t had time to take in more than the ornately carved coat racks before he noticed someone on the stairs to his right.
“I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to… I was just looking around.” he stammered, as if he hadn’t spoken recently.
“Not a problem dearie, I just wanted to see if you needed something.” She almost whispered. “Are you lost?”
“I don’t think so.” He said, trying not to stare. His head cocked to one side, taking in the deep teal dress that draped around the frail looking woman. Her knobby wrists were arced over her head as brittle looking fingers deftly slid a sapphire-crusted comb into the graying bun at the back of her head.
“You look exhausted, why don’t you come in and sit down?” she asked, freeing her hands and gesturing towards a well-stuffed bench. The thought appealed to him, so he agreed, not having thought he’d get so tired in a dream. He paid no attention to the creaking behind him, but the thud that the outside door made as it closed drew his attention.
“I’m sure it’s just the wind, nothing to worry about.” She said, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder and sitting down on one side of the bench she had indicated. He looked around the room nervously, taking in the arched ceilings and pointed stone windows before sitting next to her.
“I’m Audrey, hon. What do you want me to call you?” she asked, leaning with an elbow on her knee to look at Andrew, who pulled his eyes from the windows to look at her.
“I’m Andrew,” he stammered, following it with a quick, “What is this place? I don’t think I’ve seen it before.” Before going back to examining the walls, paintings and all.
“It’s whatever it needs to be. It’s a place to celebrate at times.” She put a hand on his knee to draw his attention from the well-concealed coat rack that occupied an alcove on the other side of the room before continuing. “It’s also a place to mourn or to simply be alone. I can’t count the number of people who’ve come in simply needing someone to talk to. Everyone who comes here needs something”
“So, what do I need?” he asked, focusing on her for once.
“I don’t know, dear. I can’t tell what you need; I’m just here to help however I can.” She explained, folding her bony hands over her teal-clad knees.
“Can I have some time alone? To figure it out?”
“Of course dear; the sanctuary should be empty.” She gestured towards a smaller door across from the bench. He rose unsteadily and walked over to the door. His hand rested on the door, and he hesitated, turning back to her with a quizzical expression. “It’s fine, Andrew. It’s set up for a funeral later, but none of the guests have arrived yet. I’ll be here if you want to talk.” He pushed the door, and was awed at the room on the other side.
It seemed a little old-fashioned to him, but he didn’t know much. The ceiling was tall and arched with windows every few feet, pointed versions of the magnificent round glass out front. At the front of the room, the round window’s twin sat in a wall of sand-colored stone, flanked by two smaller windows like those lining the top of the room. The rough wall connected with the floor at the back of a raised platform that showcased the same thick, maroon carpets as the rest of the building.
The carpet reached around a polished oaken podium and down the step on the front of the platform, where it rushed up the rest of the floor and under the rows of pews. The pews looked comfortable, with seat and back cushions that matched the carpet on the wooden frames that matched the podium. On the floor in front of the platform was a table, covered in an ornate black and blue cloth with more varieties of flowers than Andrew remembered seeing before. On the table was a long, dark wooden box with one half of the lid standing up.
He hesitated, not wanting to intrude, but Audrey had said it was fine. He found himself wondering if he knew the person in the casket, stepping down the aisle with morbid curiosity. He had passed two thirds of the rows when he saw that the pews weren’t all empty.
In the front pew, right next to the aisle, sat a dress. The dark floral patterns reminded him of a dress his mother had once owned. One sleeve was crossed in front of the body, and the other seemed to reach up to the neck of the dress. Next to the dress appeared a suit in dark grey with one sleeve reaching around the back of the dress. The clothes were transparent enough that he could see the dark blue pattern of crosses on the tie that hung down the front of the suit, although there was nobody inside it. He remembered buying a tie similar to that for his Father’s birthday present. The suit’s other sleeve reached up, as if an invisible hand rested on the nearer shoulder of the dress.
Andrew had an unpleasant pause, thinking that he was interrupting, although neither of the sets of clothes had acted like they noticed him. A motion by the table caught his attention, distracting him from the invisible couple.
“Hey, Jimmie.” Andrew said to the small figure that was running up the aisle towards him. Jimmie didn’t talk much, so Andrew wasn’t surprised when the boy just hugged his waist by way of greeting. Today his eyes were a pale blue, reminding Andrew of the thin sheet of ice that forms over new-fallen snow. They looked jarring, framed by the boy’s short black hair. Jimmie grabbed Andrew’s hand and started backing towards the front of the cathedral, dragging Andrew along. When they reached the front of the aisle, the two sets of clothes still hadn’t moved, setting Andrew a little more at ease. Jimmie looked at Andrew and pointed at the casket, sliding his black and red sleeves down his arm.
“Sure, I’ll lift you.” Andrew told his hallucination, before dropping his voice and confiding “I want to see who it is, too.” With that, he strolled the rest of the way to the boy with a straight face and eyes that never stayed one color for long. He knelt down and put one hand in each armpit, hoisting the boy up enough to see who was being mourned today. Jimmie gasped, and Andrew looked around the boy’s back to see why.
The face in the casket had a hollow look, with unkempt shoulder-length hair. The sandy color faded into a light grey suit that had never been worn before. The arms were crossed over the chest, and the sleeves didn’t quite hide the irritated edges of jagged slices that almost circled each wrist. Even though the eyes were closed behind a pair of thick glasses, Andrew knew that they were the same light-brown eyes that he had seen reflected in the shop windows earlier that day.