This is not your first time in St. Stanislaus’s Cathedral.
The January evening after shoplifting the pregnancy test for Miriam, you were grateful to duck in the side door under the frieze when the policja unexpectedly gave chase. Months later, the wet afternoon of her funeral—a complication, “unforeseeable,” they said—you sweat in the pew near the font between her weeping college friends arm to arm in their heavy, wool coats and her scowling relations with hands folded like napkins. You rolled your eyes as her Uncle Karel—blind with Serbian plum brandy—hugged the pulpit, mumbling about the lord forgiving all manner of sin. Through the swirl of incense, you felt your kneecaps burn, considered the seamless ocean, the way back home. You weighed the operatic spangling of love against your present inability to draw a breath, against the surety that in shuffling from the ICU to the sad, sleek lobby of Jawna Paula II—flat whine of the monitor in your ears—you had been broken irrecoverably. Eyes locked on the empty cathedra, you knew the only way to survive this pageant was to shake it off like water. But now you’re back, counting your breaths in a polished pew. The early afternoon light in the nave is soft, diffused, you imagine, by the leaded clerestory windows. The priests, in all likelihood, are still deeply conservative, full of quiet condemnation. But this is not your country. What do you know, really? In twenty-four months at sea, you have understood nothing. Considered little beyond the ticking need to return to this last place to hold station under the enormous golden chandelier, stare into the blank eyes of the marble statuary lining the transepts, recall the blue metallic shimmer of the casket, and the cloying of lilies.
Damian Dressick’s stories and essays have appeared in more than fifty literary journals and anthologies, including W.W. Norton’s New Micro, failbetter.com, Hippocampus, Smokelong Quarterly, and New World Writing. Damian holds a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.