I waited anxiously for the days to tick by. Still I had no long term plan. I felt I could think better once I had the brooch and so I put off any serious consideration until I had my bit of Nathaniel back in my possession.
Time slowed, it seemed, almost to a standstill. My days were marked by words and meals, both of which were meager. The stories had stopped coming. There was more, much more, to say but it would not flow out of me onto the paper in any coherent fashion. As for the food, I had no appetite. Why pay for something I could not eat? And so I did not.
Sunday I decided to venture out to church, more out of boredom than piety. The streets were thick with those hurrying to seek their weekly absolution. Children, scrubbed clean, were dragged behind their mothers and fathers dressed in Sunday best. Old women walked more deliberately, likely held back by their rheumatism. Everyone was on their way to pay their respects to the almighty. Or at least they were making sure everyone else saw them doing it.
As I took the great stone steps myself, I realized that my heart felt bruised and tattered and that the holes had been filled by resentment. I was not ready to let go of all of the anger that was holding me together. Somehow, I knew that stepping across the threshold would start to chisel away at it. Once that was gone, what would I have left but grief and despair? Resentment and anger might not be the most pleasant of emotions but it was better than the alternative at this moment.
And what of remorse? I felt none for my love of Nathaniel, for my time with him, naked. Wasn’t remorse required of me prior to crossing this threshold? I searched my soul. No. No regret. I would live those moments over and over a thousand times a day if I could.
I hesitated at the heavy, ornate door, not entering. It must have been a lengthy pause. Someone behind me shifted and then coughed impatiently.
Turning, I found a young married couple waiting expectantly. The woman stared at me, clearly irritated that I was blocking their path. She did not know that I could not be hurt by her. She was too young to have been affected much by life. Soon, that would change, I felt certain. Instead, I pitied her.
“I beg your pardon,” I whispered to them as I passed. The gentleman touched his hat to me, nodding slightly. The woman glared from beneath her green velvet bonnet, her matching green eyes flashing.
Walking back down the steps, I pulled the black cloak tighter around me. Inquisitive looks from other parishioners followed as I retreated. What were they thinking about me, I wondered.
Coward. Sinner. Heathen. Damned.
It was only a few blocks to the hotel and I hurried as quickly as I could, not wanting to be out here in the open where I suddenly felt so vulnerable. Why was everyone looking at me? I touched my veil, the bonnet, smoothed my skirt…making sure nothing was out of place. It must be my imagination. I looked over my shoulder. There! A man in a black frock coat was looking back at me over their shoulder. It was real. But why? I am supposed to be an apparition, dressed in mourning. Does the magic not work on holy days, then?
Back in my rooms I sat holding the Bible I had purchased a few days previously. I did not open it.
All of my life there had been a nagging undercurrent of disbelief, that feeling that what I had been taught about God was not quite real because it did not make sense. Yes, I had read the verses. I had heard the sermons. But there was something missing. They were all leaving out the most important part but I did not know what that part was specifically. All I had was that suspicion, the doubt. It was this doubt that I now grabbed hold of with both hands.