Within The Cathedral, An Echo

By Kyle Beachy

The sun blazed upon the man standing among pedestrian traffic, wearing the faded green vest. He established eye contact early and nodded affably, and when a man and woman approached he spoke to them in the language he had practiced, hemmed into meaning by a belief he did not happen to share. Time after time he found faces that were open to him, awash in the day’s light, greeting him with trust abundant and, it felt, precious.

From where he stood he saw the farmers’ market lining the inner strip of boulevard, the fading colors of late-season produce, the dogs investigating snout-to-ass in a way that seemed perfectly thorough. Across the street was a small neighborhood park contained within an oversized traffic roundabout. The trees around its outer rim were sparse with muted oranges and crispy browns, and the grass still green despite a summer of concerts and lawn sport. Toward the park’s far end towered an obelisk monument peaked by a stone eagle, wings halfway open, with a gathering of protestors around its base that seemed larger today, or louder, or perhaps just better documented. He saw pigeons crowded onto the eagle and thought, someone is going to be shit on.

He was still allowed to laugh, after all. And how terrible was it, really, if these market-goers could walk their strollers and dogs beneath an unbridled sun? How condemnable was his crime if the café up the block maintained steady crowds in slick denim and gorgeous leather, swiping fingers across touchscreens while waiting for brunch? Until this week he’d forgotten all about the vest that he’d bought years ago off the back of some undergrad art student stationed between the bank and where he and Schwitters would toddle leisurely to lunch. He remembered uncoiling a single bill that the girl received with a leery reverence, already guilt-struck before it was crumpled and hidden away. Halloween four full years ago, the vest a triumphant gag about volunteerism and the bank’s pay scale for junior execs like himself.

His name was Michael, if anyone asked. He wasn’t young anymore, nearly thirty-six, and pedestrians understood that this meant something. Age and close shave, his professionalism, he knew what worked in his favor. He felt their credence in his bones, like something postural. The neighborhood was one of few in the city where housing values hadn’t plunged quite so deeply. After an hour facing the market he turned toward the patio of the restaurant. A woman approaching with her young daughter seemed eager, so he spoke about carbon emissions and the clearing of vast foreign forests, classic talking points that he kept necessarily vague.

“Peak oil,” he told them in a voice that was not quite his. “Frankenfoods. Do you know what they’re doing? These are seeds that literally commit suicide after a single use.”

In yearbooks Michael was marble-eyed and cautious, a face that came at you like a deer’s did, sinisterly cocked, curious, with nostrils like knuckles. His most recent employee photo showed a facial apparatus with firm percipience, a man difficult to impress but eager to help. Across his desk, hopeful buyers would go googly on him, melting as he nudged them toward commitments they could not possibly uphold. And here now were weekend sidewalkers similarly inclined to that easy fraction of the story’s whole. This woman, for instance, who wanted him to speak skewedly from inside the vest to frighten straight her little girl.

*   *   *

Ten days later Michael sat cramped inside his basement apartment, rereading what Schwitters had admitted, this friend or man he had called bro and debauched alongside. He scrolled to the article’s top. Schwitters who when reached for comment described how they’d “shoveled money” with malefic strategy and impure intent. The listings swam in his head, streets and numbers that sorted into sharp lines and came at him like one of Schwitters’ jokes.

He closed the computer and put his shoes back on and stepped once more into the night, remembering where he’d parked his small BMW. He brushed weeks’ worth of fallen leaves and branches from his windshield and plucked two orange ticket envelopes from beneath the wiper. He blew into ungloved hands as the car warmed, then pulled from his spot and moved along streets toward Western Avenue, where he turned southward.

He passed bars and historic concert venues, watching as street numbers sank and downtown flashed through gaps in the buildings on his left, the notable towers shining white into hazy nighttime sky. He continued beneath rusted El tracks and alongside condominiums, vacant still and marked for closeout pricing. Many others were stalled mid-construction. The vest was gone now, having been shredded between the razorous teeth of a German Shepherd. Eventually addresses hit zero and began slowly to climb. He was not certain why but he had a sense, at least, where. He drove beneath stoplights and past corner liquor stores, churches with signs written in something not English.

*   *   *

The sun was a blessing and the crowds were everywhere. In the park across the street he saw placard signs and old blankets and felt an implicit unity with those who believed. The vest was faded and did not fit, quite, but was working better than he could have imagined. He held no binder or signup sheets, asked for nothing, and savored the plurality of the first-person pronoun.

“Who else is going to make the change if not us? What’s the song, we won’t get fooled again? I don’t have to remind you the risks of nuclear power, I hope. After what we saw in Japan.”

He spoke with two men in beards and Bears jerseys who stayed for several minutes, chatting amiably against the background of protest chants that were beginning in the park, called through megaphones, echoed by chorus.

“Who are we going to trust?” he asked. “Times like this one, fellas I’m afraid there’s only one answer. I can tell you guys know already. Hell yeah you do.”

Standing at the park’s far end, where the teardrop narrowed, was a reasonable police presence. One or two vans, or four if he counted the two stationed across streets, and no more than a dozen uniformed officers for safety. This too seemed sensible, perfectly thorough.

It was a Sunday nearly three years since losing his job and he was moving among the public, absorbing trust from strangers. He would keep the concept active or metaphorical to avoid thinking of himself in ancient terms. Objects fell. Prices fell. At the most: seasonal. He was a father of one, a boy he was currently allowed to see for an hour each weeknight, two on Tuesdays, but only in the immediate, hawkish presence of the boy’s mother.

Part Two

He drove beneath the flashing blue lights of police cameras mounted high on streetlights, alongside small-change car lots swinging last decade’s luxury. At a stoplight a man stepped from the curb and approached his passenger window, leaning to peer inside, pressing a hand to the glass but saying nothing. At green Michael lurched from the line.

He could hear the voice but couldn’t place it. Each summer the bodies mount, it said. Jittery zeitgeist of American despair, a voice from movie trailers or NFL Films. Jealous rage and medieval honor in Chicago’s Southwest Side. These were criminals officially, the shadowy figures immortalized as vague sketches. Between five foot nine and six foot. Black male. Hispanic. White male wearing a Bulls jacket and skull cap. Goateed Asian or some such male wearing a dark but not too dark shirt. Rough shape of a male or female between two and seven feet tall, dressed in clothing, human being of flesh and bone, according to witnesses.

It was darker down here, for one. The shadows seemed to him blacker and more diverse in shape. He drove past vacant lots fenced and dark, the prison with its guard towers like unsecret villain headquarters. Liquor store and currency exchange and taqueria and laundromat and currency exchange and supermercado.

*   *   *

In the wake of his termination he suffered quiet and long weeks that weighed on him with geologic force. Within a month he had left the apartment downtown, selling off any possessions that shined or glimmered. His instinct was to quantify everything he owned, transfer it to his central account’s singular, pudgy number. He found a garden unit small enough for his purposes, a slight, dank pair of rooms mostly underground. From his mattress he could hear neighbors in the washing room and watch the feet of strangers through three slim windows high on peeling walls.

Now the protest was growing louder, and three additional police vans arrived and unloaded, leaving the back doors open. Their helmets gleamed in the sun. Two girls, roommates, strolled childless in hats, carrying hemp bags full of kale. Nobody would be forced to stop, he pressured no one and they could tell as much, and were grateful.

His own financial descent, calm and regular, provided a schedule by which he could abide. As reliable as German trains, he thought, though he wasn’t sure why. Every month, one-thousand six hundred and fifty-two dollars and nineteen cents were automatically transferred to his ex-wife. Additional deductions for clothing, vaccines and video games. The divorce itself had been brief, efficient, and affordably devastational.

Had he, wait. When had he ridden German train?

He spoke to another couple and then a single aging woman. Everything came out right. He worried at times the effect his new life would have on the communication skills he’d honed at the bank, speaking as if downhill to those who sat across his desk. With Robyn he was cautious – anything could become evidence to keep him away from the boy.

Last night he’d stood in the doorway of her kitchen. The boy was at the table and she hovered, watching closely. His nightly hour wouldn’t begin until the meal was over.

She said, “I see what you’re doing, Eric, moving it around like that. The point is to consume the food by way of mouth.”

Afterward, he sat with his son on the floor with their backs to the couch, watching as the boy played his game. Robyn had her legs folded beneath her in the spacious living room’s recliner, a magazine on her lap. One advantage of his job’s disappearance was, of course, time. He spent mornings sipping coffee he ground and dripped himself, the standard beverage sans foamy indulgence. Online, these daytimes broadened his scope, a process of accrual. Once in the boy’s presence, he would unload. He told him that 8,000 waves break on any given shore on any given day. He told him that Kobe Bryant — if he’d heard of the basketball player in Los Angeles? — was due the largest contract extension in the history of the game. As Eric’s character regenerated onto the game’s map, he told him that rotting food was frequently deployed as a metaphor for human age and decay. His son stepped into gunfire and regenerated nearby, then was quickly exploded by a grenade.

“I love you, son,” Michael added. Robyn looked up briefly from her magazine and the boy stared fixedly into the gorgeous demolition on screen.

He took comfortable pride in being present whenever he could. This would be the standpoint from which he would describe his side of this story. A good father, overall. The Benadryl smoothies had been his idea, but it was not as if Robyn had opposed.

*   *   *

He felt the pedal give way beneath his foot and saw empty dark lots of gravel piled into mounds, another bridge, La Canasta Mercado, and then he pulled onto a side street and began canvassing the neighborhood, turning at corners, up one then down the next. The streetlights were out and the houses replied in kind. This was bungalow country – long rows of pale-bricked, single-family units with lawns overgrown and metal awnings lopsided above windows. Numbers stood out, certain addresses he knew from loan applications and mortgage statements. He saw signs in yards and lock boxes on screen doors, phone numbers spray-painted onto boards on doors and windows. Bank-owned short-sales, foreclosures, theoretical auctions that would be postponed due to lack of interest. A sign in the window of a home clearly vacant said Never mind the dog, Beware of owner.

Turning a corner, he found himself on the edge of a great, dark, open expanse. He pulled alongside the curb and parked behind an old Buick with a license plate two years expired. He turned off the radio, then his phone, everything within reach. It was another city park, huge. Deep inside he could see a basketball court lit by a glowing aura of flickering yellow. A truck passed blaring the syncopated off-beat of reggaeton, every song of which Michael was sure was the same.

He stepped through grass and felt the wind and sensed something burning in the autumn air, catching bits of a screamed argument. As the court grew clearer he saw that they were playing three-on-three, like at the gym. Sharp laughter, shadows against darkness and someone was singing and then rap music, the aquatic bass rumbling. They shifted, shadows, but this was only wind blowing wrappers and torn bags of convenience-store snacks, empty bottles of juice. People lived here. A woman’s voice screeched from the court, she screamed, and up above it all was another blue light of police camera flashing in silence.

Part Three

In front of him the Sunday foot traffic moved warily along, ignoring him now, concerned by the developing scene in the park. If they thought of him it was only to wonder what he was doing over here, outside the protests. Circumstances were evolving and now the sounds seemed charged, and he thought about how crowd density, like personal tragedy, was able to slow time.

He did not agree with the term “predatory.” They had come to him, after all, in search of a dream that was not his to peddle, nor Schwitters’, nor even the senior executives’. The dream was their own and they arrived unbidden, unlured, fantasy-starved.

There was a man moving toward him, walking sideways to keep his eyes on the park. He was in sandals and a grey, fairly clean sweatshirt. He leaned familiarly against the same wall of the storefront where Michael stood.

“This, I will tell you, is about to get ugly,” the man said.

“I don’t know,” Michael said. “Let’s hope not.”

The man put a finger to the green vest and said, “I guess you’re as willing as anyone to get violent if you have to.” Michael didn’t understand. “Not like you guys have much choice though, is it? And now look how far we’ve been pushed. Those kids over there deserve our thanks. If you’ve got your camera, get it ready. My guess is five minutes, maybe less.”

“Nobody wants that.”

The man gave him a pitiful sideways look Michael couldn’t quite bear, so he moved to the edge of the street to see what was happening. The air was jingling with assorted energies he recognized from the bank, just before a signing. There was a helicopter now, hovering and thwupping. The man behind him was yelling but Michael ignored it. Time, again. Slowing. And then, almost without meaning to, he was climbing onto the short fence around the café’s patio. From here he had a clear view to the patch of concrete beneath the monument. It was full with the bodies of protestors all facing to the east, where the police were aligned in obvious clamshell strategy. He saw dogs with them, waiting for command with triangular ears perked.

Michael could try as well as anyone else to plaster his life upon a wall and read with a finger. Isolate moral bankruptcies that were Chinese in origin. He would recall the smell of a Beijing back alleyway, the rasp of buzzing engines and a single unavoidable man wearing an orange hat, and chickens hanging in windows, a man by a doorway open to a descending staircase. Telling Michael and the others, Women here, yeah the best. A video arcade that contained a private club with a dozen or so women and only three men visible, but two of them giants, Europeans, and the third the kind of jittery, manic little fighter who could not speak a word or make a face that did not imply an invitation. Go ahead, the little fighter seemed to say, his eyes laughing.

Everyone had an opinion. Enraged citizen journalists likened it to domestic abuse, the banks feigning trust, doling out such resources they knew full well would never come back. The public would have preferred stagecoach robbery, horseback men whooping from beneath bandannas. Old browning posters of sketchbook faces, torn at the edges.

Someone beneath him was saying get off the fence, get down from there. Without turning, Michael lifted a flap of the vest, like a credential. Then it began – they were moving as a single blue unit. How brief a march, he thought. The screams sang out and the people at his feet were confused. It both was and wasn’t happening before them, couldn’t be, so they pulled out their phones to capture video. The police dogs barked and pulled on their leashes and he understood now that the man in the sweatshirt was right – it was everyone’s dream.

He dropped from the fence into the street and made it several steps into the park before he was tackled from behind. As he fought back he realized it was the man in the gray sweatshirt, and that he was holding something in one hand, and then the jolt rang through Michael’s frame, every muscle flexing before going completely useless.

Part Four

There were six of them on the court along with three in the first row of aluminum bleachers, plus two more higher up. Michael, standing just beyond the reach of the lights, made a clean dozen. The three in the front row included the only female, and all were bent over occupied with something on the ground. He heard someone shout the score, four-one. On the court they were elbowing and blocking out, dribbling and setting picks and calling for the ball. They were rolling dice at the bench or sitting cock-angled in the stands, wearing hoodies.

Michael was formulating a new, more evolved understanding. Someone called the score, six-three, and there was laughter in the game and the ball was taken up top.

“Aw hell. Hell no.”

“He says foul it means foul. Simple as that.”

“You’ve been on some bullshit all night.”

“His call, man. Not my call to make. Now come on. Ball here.”

One blew into his hands and the woman’s braids dangled. One set a pick then rolled into the lane, avoiding the desperate outstretched leg of the one he’d picked. His teammate found him with a no-look bounce pass in stride, giftwrapped, which he took to the hoop without a dribble only to encounter the tallest of the men, who had arms long as barstools and whose timing was perfect, insect timing. When the shooter again called foul the disbelief was something Michael could taste.

This was life balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff. He looked again to the dice rollers, the many potential bulges in their clothing, baggy to conceal anything. He was not afraid to be a person whose thoughts adhered to cinema.

*   *   *

In the cell the protestors spoke in whispers and refused to meet his eyes, like he might have been a cop. Robyn arrived the next morning to pay his fine. She wore an outfit he didn’t recognize and once outside in the cool and cloudy afternoon, she walked determinedly away without comment.

From his mattress he watched the daylight turn and spooned soup with his off-hand, his right arm bandaged and sore. Occasionally he found himself wondering what Schwitters was doing at that very instant. He figured: Probably skiing. Schwitters with his second home in Aspen with chandeliers assembled from the horns of elk. There was an airport in Aspen, smaller than Denver’s, into which he’d fly direct.

“I swear to you, Mikey. It is like lowering your chin to angel pussy.”

He remembered how the women at the bank were less likely to laugh as to declare when things were funny. Oh my gosh, that is hilarious, they said.

It had been four days in the apartment so far and supplies were already wearing thin. His arrest meant he wouldn’t see his growing boy for at least two months. His vest had been lost in the melee. It was a new level of exile, but he still had his computer, and so was reading all that he could manage.

One post began: Look around. It’s funny out there, isn’t it? But then it’s not funny, exactly. It’s sad, terribly so. Or is it both? Can it be both? It was promotional copy for shampoo and Michael thought about it briefly, then read about plans for a new fiscal union in Brussels. The finance ministers had approved a $12.4 billion loan to Greece, another installment of the much larger, $185 billion thus far. Greece had been fucked, he thought. They’d traveled there years ago, he and Robyn, a cruise among the islands before the wedding. He wanted to shake his head and say to Schwitters, we’ve fucked Greece in her beautiful ass.

This is how it was — by turns funny then terrifying then too sad for anyone with skin. It took an hour of each session online before he discovered what felt like a subterranean rhythm to the content. He read guides for Eric’s video games and previews for new ones coming soon. He went from the real-time update site to the erudite writing site to one of the writer’s micro-update feeds and then to the writer’s personal updating site. Hours died this way. It was like running laps.

Michael checked his account balance then allowed himself to sleep. He awoke stiffly and spent the next day reading until his eyes erupted in flame.

*   *   *

Michael heard everything: Hey. Hey foul. Someone said nigg∂, nigg∂ please, and then a dice roller bellowed in victory and the woman’s voice was shrill.

“Nine four.”

“Nigg∂ I know the score. Candy nick-nack bullshit.”

All shapes moving and the wind blowing, lines shifting, rules and infractions. The score was nine-six and he noticed one of the hoodied figures in the stands make a gesture to one of the dice rollers on his bench. The ballplayers were moving hard then slowing to half speed between points, leaning to rest. The cliff’s edge was loose dirt and beyond the lip was a gorge too large to comprehend, a depth practically infinite. Soon there would be a new medium, Michael knew. Not banks, not real estate, not the market, but something else. It had to begin somewhere. If he squinted hard enough, everyone he saw could be reduced. He saw a skeleton’s hand shaking dice with his skull angled up to those seated in the bleachers, the skulls’ bony jaws pumping in speech. He knew that whatever reckoning there was between the dice roller and the hoodied character sitting in the bleachers, it was financial in scope. Michael squinted beneath a gust of wind.

*   *   *

In his apartment he cooked tomato soup and remembered how he used to live. How funny everything was. He slept fitfully and dreamed for three consecutive nights of a pure convex blackness that curved away from where he stood. He dreamed of occasional sparks inside the darkness that were rendered tiny by his lens. And voices inside, muted by distance.

None of them from the bank had been prosecuted. He did a load of laundry and showered and shaved and tried to remember how to speak to his son. It would not be the end of the world, he thought, if he went over there during his normal hour. During that afternoon’s closed-loop he came upon an article about the crisis. The topic was his bank specifically, and the regional vice president’s name was one he recognized. The story centered on a former insider’s explanation of the recent protests, and the author had painted the insider, who happened to be Schwitters, as full with “regret.” It was all there, or the meaty parts anyway, laid out in language plain and implicating. It revealed that commissions for subprime loans were up to seven times higher than for prime rates. The way they were trained, unofficially, to look for what Schwitters called “less savvy” applicants with fewer education and experience quotients. Schwitters admitted: “It was helpful when they weren’t fluent in English.” Michael closed his eyes and saw sparks.

*   *   *

Sound of the ball bouncing and shoes squeaked on concrete, then voices crossing and folding upon each other like hotel hand towels.

Above the court the blue light flashed, attached to a white box with a police logo painted onto its side. Michael had read about the technology of these cameras, how they panned and zoomed according to a recent software update. He’d read of the mayor chiding a left-leaning reporter: You ever been to London? This is about one thing only, and that is safety. The camera tracked distances between bodies and knew even the line between violence and sport. The Mayor said: How about raise your hand if you don’t have a camera on your phone. At headquarters, the system’s software processed the raw feed, triangulating distances during this shift in the court’s dynamic. The ballgame was either over or paused. Dice game likewise. The microphones detected raised voices. The camera panned and refocused. The action was between the primary dice roller and one of the two men in the stands. They were pointing at each other, and then they were pointing and standing. As the other bodies responded the camera charted the distances, and the software drew yellow lines between forms. Several of the ballplayers’ arms were raised, pointing. One of the figures from the stands, his face concealed, pointed at the dice roller. Lines, forms, all bodies pointing. Then a spark from the bleachers and a sudden shift in relations. The former dice roller fell and the other bodies scattered. The figures leapt from the top of the stands and disappear into the grass. The ballplayers reached for keys and phones and scattered. The woman sank to the inert body’s side and her friend, who was also the victim’s friend, was pacing and yelling, his fists balled tight. She put a hand on the body’s neck, pressing hard. Blocks away, patrol cars were alerted by dispatch and officers inside switched on blue lights. The body was lying curled on its side as if protecting something it held dear. Blood flowed, blossoming from beneath the body’s midsection and moving away from the woman’s shoes and gathering into a shape that the camera overhead very briefly matched to a database, the software churning away.

Part Five

He opened his eyes and removed the bandage from his arm and left his apartment, walking to his neighborhood’s newest restaurant, a proud place catering small, impeccable plates. He took an open seat between a man reading and a woman who was drinking white wine. The television mounted above the liquor showed the Bulls game. The man was reading in the performative way people will in public. He explained to Michael without prompt that his corporation had bought a copy of the book for every employee.

“It’s about changing the world by changing the way you view it. Believing in becoming the change you believe in.” He had a tattoo bracelet on the wrist closer to Michael, a chain of swallows. The man closed the book and ordered another drink. “How about let me quiz you. Alright?”

They were sitting at a long marble bar before a single tasteful screen. Kobe Bryant was making that face of entitled disgust, objecting once more: Really, world?

“Name the three Chicago streets that rhyme with Vagina.”

Michael believed he knew the city well enough to ace this quiz.

“Paulina,” he answered.

“Paulina’s the easy one. Then there’s Regina, right?”

The man was smiling vacantly. It was at this point that Michael realized that they’d entered into the transaction of yet another joke. Kobe Bryant was called for a foul and sulked down court, hiding his face in his jersey. The shine off the court’s surface looked unreal, like one of his son’s games.

“And then there’s Lunt.”

In the bathroom Michael stood at the urinal next to a person roughly his size and age, wearing flannel unbuttoned to reveal thick chest hair within.

“Here comes the kraken,” he said into the wall. “Rawr.”

He paid in cash and returned home. It was still early. At the computer he read of a young woman who’d decapitated her grandmother with a samurai sword she bought from eBay. He watched several seconds of the embedded newscast then searched for video of the three German shepherds, mother with pups, standing with their paws patronly upon a pub’s wooden bar. Interview footage of the pub’s owner. Dog eyes fierce with discrimination. The Englishman holding an old-style canister of seltzer water, a clown’s prop, speaking clipped words of Japanese as he squeezed blasts of seltzer that the dogs snapped at, their massive pointed heads jutting to the stream before resetting. It reminded him of something. The studio audience laughed. He found a map of the city and tracked the street names he remembered most vividly. The way the dogs lunged, teeth bared, and the tongue and the drip. He read about a man with a goatee who decapitated his seven-year-old, developmentally disabled child then continued chopping until the kid’s bones fit into a plastic grocery bag he then returned to his supermarket’s recycling bin. A comedian dressed as Jack from Jack n The Box and filmed himself inside one of the restaurant’s franchises, crying over an order of two-for-three-dollar tacos.

They had, according to Schwitters, “shoveled money” at borrowers obviously incapable of paying that money back. Funny Schwitters said, “You could have given us a shopping cart lady with a decent credit score and we’d have handed her a loan. No job, no income, no assets.”

Laws had different tiers that issued varying demands of compliance. He stepped once more into the night, brushed fallen leaves and branches from his windshield and plucked two orange ticket envelopes from beneath the wiper.

*   *   *

Against the bleachers’ far end, beyond the scope of the cameras, Michael was thinking again about Brussels. The bullet had rung out with plunky subtlety he knew to expect but found disappointing, still. He remembered a cathedral there and the sound he had heard inside of it. This was years ago. The sound he recalled was a cane that he’d heard falling onto the cathedral’s marble floor. The way sound survives inside a cathedral. He remembered looking across the aisle to a hairless woman with earrings dangling halfway down her neck. In the darkness of Chicago, the boy’s body called to him for a closer look, he still had his phone after all, a camera. He could hear the sirens approaching.

He saw again the face of the old man who was sitting with the hairless woman, the one who would soon drop his cane once he and the woman finally stood. He and Robyn in their hotel lobby holding a literal book open between them, a brickish, thick-spined local’s account of little-known bed and breakfasts and quaint guest houses. The boy napping in his travel stroller, a rental from the hotel. Off of the beaten path, the book said, was an organ recital inside a Fourteenth Century cathedral, every Thursday at 4:30. This was years ago, when people still believed in private knowledge. He’d traveled with Robyn and the kid after his third consecutive record-breaking year, and the annual bonus that caught him totally off guard, a multiplication of the previous year’s by an insane factor of five. He remembered them laughing together at the fountain that was a statue of a fat little boy pissing. Brussels. The interior of the cathedral was clear — he saw stained glass and buttresses and felt the spatial enormity sitting in his narrow wooden chair, padless, listening alone. The boy and Robyn were moving slowly beneath the stained-glass windows, looking for crypts and any carved figures holding swords. The boy was two. The old man’s bottom hand faced upward and the bald woman’s downward, hers woven on top of his, and the man’s second atop them both and holding everything in place, like a too-heavy blanket.

At the court he reached the edge of the body’s bloody puddle and dropped to a single knee. He would take a picture for Eric. The woman had fallen into a fit of wailing that reminded him of something else, and the one man who’d stayed behind with her was talking to himself, back on the bleacher’s first row, idly rolling die.

And though the organist would not perform with exceptional skill – even Michael’s untrained ear heard miscues, dead notes, threads of melodies frayed – there would nevertheless arrive a moment at the recital’s end when he released a stampede of noise terrible for its concurrence of plummeting depth and soaring height, in which moment a human being could trust and believe in much that he might otherwise be inclined to not. Though recalling this moment now, even with such rich and vibrant personal detail, would not substantially alter Michael’s future enterprises, either.