Mt. Adams, approximately 11:47 PM
Dolly was silent and thoughtful for the remainder of the trip to Mt. Adams where the Church of La Immaculata stood on a height overlooking the River. Drummond found a parking space on St. Gregory Street–no mean feat, considering how much of the on-street parking had been eliminated by development on The Hill over the years. They walked the last couple of blocks arm-in-arm, Drummond slowing his steps for her sake, she stretching her strides to the limit for his.
They came to the corner of St. Gregory and Pavilion, and Dolly stopped him when he would have gone on across the street. Foot traffic was heavy, all heading toward the church. She pulled him out of the flow with a tug on his hand and backed him up against the wooden fence that surrounded a beer garden. In his day, the place had been called Yesterdays. It had a different name, now.
“I’m sorry, Babe,” she said. When he began to protest, she held up a hand to forestall him. “I’m not saying you’re right, but you do want the best for me, and I should remember that. If you say you think I should do something, then… I probably should. At least–” she grinned at him. “You’ve never steered me wrong, yet.”
He gazed at her with tears in his eyes that threatened to freeze in the cold air. “I love you, Gabrielle Dolly.”
“And I love you, Mitchell Cary Drummond.”
“Come on, or we’ll end up in the first pew.”
“And the downside of this is…?”
“Yeah, well,” he gave a rueful grin. “People don’t like to sit down front in church for some reason. I guess they feel guilty so close to the preacher.”
She got the joke immediately and chuckled, a rich, throaty sound that made his heart skip a beat. “I guess that’s an acknowledgment of the truth, then, when those Baptists say that we’re all sinners. People know it and don’t want to be reminded of it.”
“And the little lady is right in one!”
Dolly dropped his hand and did a Gene Kelly number around the street sign at Pavilion and Belvedere. The effect of the mantilla, the diamonds, and the glitter on her golden-red hair in the glow of the gas-burning street lights was nothing short of numinous.
They crossed Pavilion Street in the middle of the block between St. Gregory and Guido, past Pia’s Sandwich Shoppe opposite the end of Fuller and the short row of private houses, then into Guido Street, the narrow cul de sac that led to the church.
One side of Immaculata’s sanctuary faced Guido Street, and the lights from inside backlit the stained glass windows. The sound of the high, piping voices of a boys’ choir and a stirring organ reverberated through the old stone wall, setting up a rumbling sympathetic vibration in Dolly’s chest. An excitement began to build in her that she could neither define nor determine its cause, although she was sure it had something to do with the music.
They reached the turnaround at the end of Guido and, when she would have gone straight to the church door, he pulled her aside to the top of a set of steps. There was a waist-high steel railing around the landing and down either side of the steps, which stretched away out of sight down the hillside.
Drummond struggled to say something. Dolly had the sense to simply wait.
“What there is. No.” He sighed, impatient with his inarticulateness. “What you are about to experience is something numinous. Do you know what numinous is?”
“Sure. Carl Sagan said it was like, what you feel when you contemplate the universe in all its grandeur.”
“Right. Except that that’s not what he meant. He borrowed the term from religion. Numinous is what you feel when you contemplate God.”
“Why are you doing this? You know better. You’ve talked with Jesus–excuse me–Eliahu. You of all people…”
“Two reasons. First, my lack of faith is no reason to denigrate the faith of others. Second, even absent the faith, the contemplation is still numinous. Just because we know that Jehovah is a hairy thunderer whose worshippers had delusions of grandeur, just because we know the man called Hephaestus or Vulcan and his wife Aphrodite, a.k.a. Venus on a personal basis, does not give us the right to diminish or talk down the faiths of people who don’t have our special advantages. It is, I think, in the manner of a sin. A very big sin.”
“But aren’t Christians supposed to prospect–er–what’s that word?”
“Right. Them. Isn’t that a way of talking down somebody’s religion? I mean, if you think they’d should convert to yours…?”
“Yes. You’re right. I said it was my belief, not theirs. I figure, so long as they don’t use force, then they can try to convert the heathens all they want. And they know that forced conversions are meaningless.
“But you’ve gotten me off-track again. You’re good at doing that, you know?” He smiled gently at her.
He noticed that she was beginning to vibrate. And for once, he welcomed it. For the first time in over half a year, he didn’t shiver with fear for her when she started dancing in place, jogging one knee, making subtle little shifts in her stance, tiny swaying movements of her hips, dancer-like postures of her hands, the expressions on her face like poses. It was palpably obvious that she was happy, whereas before, it had always manifested fear or anger or frustration or rage. He stretched out an arm across her shoulders and pulled her to him.
“Settle down, little one. The service will take over an hour. Pace yourself or you’ll wear out.”
“OK.” With a conscious effort of will, she damped her oscillations until she was almost still. “Numinous.”
“Right. Numinous. You understand the word or the concept within your own frame of reference. What I want you to try to do tonight is try to see this ceremony from the frame of reference of the celebrants in the congregation.”
“Wow! All these new words.”
“I know. And I won’t be able to explain them to you as we go. You’re going to have to trust me on some stuff, but remember your questions for afterward. OK?”
“OK,” she said. If it had been anyone other than Dolly, he would have sworn she said it shyly. But Dolly was never shy.
To be continued…