Devotion

It was an old building. And Edward was used to that. Old. Relics. Sacred Antiquities. The cloying scent…of silence. Labyrinths of settled dust and statues crowded into storage. Each fixed eye holding the chipped, faded Requiem of keening and tears-desperate novenas and hopeful kisses.

He could always feel history. It was more than the grime of pollution on gray stones gone to black, or the feet of Christ rubbed free of paint revealing the plaster bones beneath. He felt too much, so much…that he was numb.

Numb as he looked into the courtyard, his brief, unpacked boxes stacked behind him on the yellowed hardwood floors like all the stories in his chest and stomach, stories he'd had no time or will to process.

A child played along the brick border that framed a courtyard garden. It wasn't beautiful…the garden. No one tended it like a calling. No one loved.

The child was lovely. She sang to herself as she balanced, arms outstretched. Her mother called her from the open window above. Shaniqua!

Edward stepped back from the window. How would it look? The new man…unmarried and well past the age for it, standing near his sunroom window staring at a little girl.

He had learned to see himself as others did. Yes, that had been his focus…until he'd lost himself, until his spirit merged with what was expected and he didn't question it any longer, the 'it' being…everything.

He stood back from the window, hands in his pockets. He wasn't used to this lack of motivation. He'd moved here caught up in this industrious idea he'd survive just fine, but once the boxes were in, and the library table…it felt like more of an ending.

The bright bell of a woman's voice startled him out of the fog of nothing. She was soon in his line of vision, carrying a box of her own. Some kind of greens flopped over the side of the box. She had groceries. She was yelling up to Shaniqua's mother? "They were out," she was saying.

"Bella," Shaniqua's mom whined back. "Did you ask Joe?"

'Bella,' planted her feet, her back toward his windows now as she conversed with the neighbor. "He said Wednesday." She wore a pink dress and the breeze pressed it against her backside. She was round in the way he was always aware of, but never aware of. He'd learned to look past it, to feel for the inside. To be more than the expression of any earthly desire or passion. And the whole time he thought this out he stared right there. She was deliciously curvaceous. She was beautiful.

He wasn't used to it, the relief and terror of who he was now. Free to be this…nothing that was him. To approach a woman…in this foreign state of soul, and to take?

He took another step back, but not in time. Bella turned as if he'd called out to her. She moved her head a little, peering inside. She saw him. They looked at one another. She turned her body toward him. He panicked a little. He pulled his hand free and waved. He heard himself laugh like a goof.

She smiled and laughed in return. "Hey!" she said. He heard her as if the window were open. He broke away first. He stumbled toward the stack of boxes. He opened the first, and there was a cheese grater. What the hell would he ever do with it? He had no interest. None.

He picked it up and looked over his shoulder.

She was gone. He threw the grater back in the box. He wished… No, he didn't. Yes, he did.

There was a knock on his door.