The Mass ended. Connor stayed in his seat for some time while others around him rose from their pews and headed for the chapel’s doors. He stared unblinkingly ahead at the simple stained glass image representing a dove with a green leaf in its beak.
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth, Connor recited in his mind. It made him feel a little bit better. Although there were a lot of things dividing him and the other visitors of today’s service, there was also something they had in common. All Christians knew the Bible, after all.
Meanwhile, the last steps had hushed down. The organ, which stopped playing after the last verse of the All Souls’ Day song, suddenly resounded with music. Its tones made Connor snap out of his musings.
His eyes widened slightly in surprise. While with hymnal songs that filled the chapel before he wasn’t even sure that the instrument hiding in the choir loft was a real organ, considering the option that it could be just a reed organ, now his doubts dispelled.
Not only the instrument itself changed, so it now resembled a truly majestic organ with thousands of pipes, which are to be found in the largest cathedrals and couldn’t possibly fit into an ordinary cemetery chapel, but the entire building seemed to have filled with some kind of strange energy. Connor was no music connoisseur, but the composition coming from up above seemed modern, bordering on avant-garde; bold, seemingly incongruous tones created an unexpected harmony that resonated with something inside of him.
Although he didn’t give it the slightest thought while listening to the routine pieces played during the service, now he caught himself imagining the unknown organist. In Connor’s imagination, it was a man few years older than himself, with sharply chiseled features and spellbinding eyes. The man’s dark hair was slightly unkempt, as every now and then he ran his hand through it in a dramatic gesture while he played.
Connor’s gaze inadvertently strayed to the choir loft. From this angle, he couldn’t even see the organ, let alone the player sitting behind it.
He looked around the chapel, to check that there truly was no one else left but him. Then he didn’t think twice and headed to the open door of the choir loft staircase. While he ascended the spiral staircase and the organ music culminated in a grandiose finale, Connor’s imagination was running at full speed to add final touches to the fantasy figure of the unknown musician.
He was slim, skinny even, dressed in a black velvet shirt with a red scarf thrown carelessly over one shoulder. There was something French in his overall appearance, to the point where Connor could easily imagine a beret sitting a bit awry on the mane of raven hair, even though the organist wouldn’t wear his headwear inside of the chapel, of course.
There were only a few steps left. From this close, the music was so loud that it was almost deafening. It sounded like something intended for a much larger space than this modest chapel could offer. Who could possibly play like this in here?
Connor’s overactive imagination, which he had acquired over the years to help him escape the desolate everyday reality of his adolescence, immediately showed him the imaginary organist as someone born in this village who achieved success somewhere in the world (for example in Paris), came to visit his family for All Souls’ Day, and stopped to play at today’s Mass at some acquaintance’s request.
Connor pressed the handle of the door on the top of the staircase and entered the choir loft as quietly as possible. A powerful crescendo had just ended, followed by a much softer postlude.
Not counting the flickering of candles and colorful lanterns on the graves outside the arched windows, the only light up here was provided by a weak lamp directly above the organ, which was turned to only illuminate the keyboard, and the only thing Connor could see from the organist at first was the hands, fluttering over the keys like a pair of doves.
The piece ended. The doves lay on the keys, faint as though they had spent the whole day flying over a flooded land, in a vain search of a dry place to rest. Then one of them shot forth and pressed something on the side of the organ, which caused the entire choir loft to be flooded by a bright light falling from the above.
Connor let out an involuntary hiss; that was because he found out that the hands didn’t belong to the young Parisian bohemian from his fantasy. Their real owner was a tired looking fifty-something man in a denim jacket with bloodshot eyes, disheveled mane of gray hair and equally gray beard. Connor’s hiss didn’t escape his attention.
The bloodshot eyes, which just a moment ago had gazed from underneath the heavy eyelids drowsily like those of an old tired dog, suddenly sharpened and pierced Connor with unexpected acuteness.
“What d’ya want,” a gruff, hoarse voice snapped, and Connor caught a whiff of strong liquor and cheap cigarettes.
“I just-“ Connor’s voice got stuck in his throat. He had actually not given any thought to what he’d do when he sees the unknown organist, but if he was ready to talk to someone it was the figment of his imagination, not a real person. And especially not this man, who just rose to his full height before Connor’s eyes, and it turned out that said height reached well over six feet. Moreover, unlike the nonexistent Parisian dandy, he couldn’t be described as slim, much less skinny; it was words like muscular or bulky that came to mind.
If he wanted, he could snap me in half, ran through Connor’s head, and that thought made him feel a strange tingling all over his body, which did little to help him compose a meaningful sentence explaining his presence here.
“Can you tell me the way to the bathroom?” he heard himself babble, to his utter mortification. The organist’s face showed a mix of puzzlement and disbelief. The hulking man opened his mouth to say something, but Connor didn’t stay long enough to hear it. With a mumbled apology, he made a hurried retreat to the staircase.
Only during his humiliating escape down the stairs did he realize that the instrument on the choir loft, which just a moment ago had managed to create an illusion of a Parisian cathedral, was actually a small reed organ.
Connor leaved through the fall issue of the town newsletter, the first one delivered into his mailbox after he had moved here. He read an article about the launch of the construction of the new sewage system with a mild interest, while the success of the local elementary school pupils at a pet and small animal trade show left him unmoved. Then his gaze fell on a rectangle with the following text:
Enjoy singing? Join the Christmas chants!
St. Cecilia‘s Church Choir is looking for new singers to take part in the Christmas Eve vigil.
Anyone interested can come to our choir practices, which are held every Tuesday, 7 PM at the rectory.
All welcome, especially men.
The invitation wasn’t signed, but Connor’s heart still skipped a beat. During the few weeks he had spent in this small town, he learned that the church choir was, together with playing the organ at services, the responsibility of the local organist named Hank Anderson.
Visits to the church were so far the only social activity that Connor engaged in at his new place of residence. In the beginning, he felt like an intruder, like someone with “I don’t belong here” written on his forehead. Curious looks that he naturally couldn’t avoid as a newcomer didn’t really help matters. He was, however, made to feel better by father Markus, who didn’t mind in the slightest when Connor confessed to him that he was not a Roman Catholic.
“Our parish is open to all, as our entire Church should be,” father Markus had said and Connor felt a pang when he remembered how his own community had chased him out.
Apart from father Markus, however, Connor didn’t really speak to anyone in the church, least of all to Mr. Anderson. After every service, he remained sitting in the pew in a hope to witness another magical musical experience like that in the chapel, but that unfortunately didn’t happen. After the last verse of that day’s hymnal song was over, there was always just a conventional postlude, shortly afterwards followed by heavy, sometimes a little unsteady steps signaling that Hank Anderson left the church.
Connor’s eyes were riveted to the line proclaiming that all were welcome, especially men. There was of course absolutely nothing suggestive about this sentence. In the course of his lifetime, Connor had already belonged to three different choirs and in each of them it was women who prevailed, to the dismay of their choirmasters. Yet for some indiscernible reason, that innocent sentence made his cheeks grow hot.
His imagination, which had already led him into a lot of trouble in his life, started working uncontrollably and, without Connor actively wishing for such a thing, showed him a vision in which he rang the rectory bell, Mr. Anderson opened the door and before Connor had the chance to say anything, the older man roughly shoved him to the wall, used those big, talented hands to easily immobilize Connor’s wrists and then proceeded to mercilessly ravish his mouth...
The blood from his cheeks moved to considerably lower parts of his anatomy.
Connor groaned. Before, he had almost decided to go to the choir practice, as singing was his hobby and he also planned to celebrate his first real Christmas with everything it entailed; an active participation in the Christmas Eve Vigil was perfectly in line with his plans. Now, however, he could not imagine looking the choirmaster in the eye. As though the embarrassment in the chapel wasn’t enough.
Every Tuesday, 7 PM, the invitation stated. Coincidentally, today was a Tuesday and the clock above Connor’s kitchen table read 6:47 in the evening. Connor took a deep breath and, hoping that things will sort themselves out somehow, threw on his sweater and jacket and left the apartment.