Contest #97 winner 🏆

181 comments

Jun 06, 2021

Historical Fiction LGBTQ+

in situ: (adv. or adj.) in the natural or original place


***


He is like the jeweled light that dances on the sacred floors. I have tried to capture it before, the exact shade of his smile, the hue that sparkles in his laughter. I have tried to piece the glass together in a way that recreates the curl of his hair in the rain. 


The most glorious window in the world would not do him justice. But that does not stop me from trying.


I form the feet of the crucifix first, always the feet, pinned to the deep brown shades of the beam, floating above my suggestion of Golgotha with a peculiar anguished grace. I form the feet first because that is where I imagine the color was the deepest, the shadow and the blood.


He does not check on my progress often. I have made a name for myself amongst the stained-glass artists, to be sure, and I usually prefer to be left alone to my work. But the workshop has an empty heat to it without him there, which used to feel like home but now scorches me.


I walk by the cathedral every day to watch as its pieces are maneuvered into place, to watch the vaults of his brilliance take shape. Each day, pale stones, carved and sanded by bloody hands, rise towards the heavens. The mechanics of it all astound me.


He stands and monitors the dance of the beams, or he climbs the scaffold with a muscled ease. He laughs with the masons and the laborers, or he yells that a stone must be shifted before the whole delicate monument comes crashing down around them. 


I watch the empty places for the windows take shape, making note of the way they will catch the light.


He deals in wood and stone, in structures that defy the earth and wind. I deal in color and sunbeams, in the scorch of the furnace that turns sand to glass.


After I form the feet and the top of the hill, I piece together the sky. I am careful to follow the shapes I’ve traced, to mix the dyes into the glass with precision. This sky will be shades of violet and gold, interspersed with squares of deep, longing blue.


Some days it feels as though the cathedral has always been, that its skeleton long predated the clumsy homes around it. He took it over when the first architect died of old age. The first architect was a withered man who thought in squares and triangles and uninspired towers. 


He thinks in arches, in the graceful shape of collarbones and the curvature of long necks bent into kisses.


The day I finish the last of the sky, he comes in and tells me to stop. There is to be another war, he says, and there will not be enough laborers or lumber or stone. 


The cathedral must wait.


We are both too old for war, with gray in our hair and lonely years tucked away in our hearts. We are old, but he is called upon to fight and I am left behind, my bad leg weighing heavily on my conscience, along with memories of the last war.


He told me to stop, but while the world forgets to spin I work on the window and try not to think of his footprints on the bloodstained battlefield. 


After the sky is finished, I take a break from the crucifix and design the smaller windows. In one, I craft a dove with silvery feathers. In another, a vibrant tree. I set each image in the deep blue panes of my sorrow and imagine the end of the war. 


It is a strange thing to be alone in a time such as this. I sometimes wander down the village streets, avoiding the half-formed flesh of the cathedral. I limp past women and children, nod at the other infirm men who stayed behind. The world is dull, cast beneath a dark grey sky. 


We receive little news from the front. We hold our breath, or our families, or our bottles close. 


I do not pray. I see no merit in offering my half-cooled shards of hope to a distant Son. There is no god in war, and no glory.


I return to the crucifix after nearly a year. I dye the glass for the broken body, mixing the shade into one that reminds me of him. The arms and legs fall into place quickly and I try not to think of the soldiers who will come home without them.


The panes of glass I fix in place between thin bands of lead called cames. They hold the pieces together, bind each portion of the image as I go. I wish that I could bind the memory of him to myself, if only to cast a glimmer of brightness into this mere existence.


As abruptly as it began, war is over. This is what the villagers say, a whisper passed from neighbor to neighbor under the shadow of the unfinished cathedral. There are new lines to trace on the maps of the world, lines that will surely change again before our lifetimes are done. 


No one will tempt fate by rejoicing. Not until the soldiers have come home. 


I finally bring myself to visit the cathedral. I begin sweeping leaves and dirt from the scaffolded corners, clearing the way for his return. It feels a meaningless task, but I breathe easier in the ceilingless walls of stone than I do in my workshop. 


The villagers take it as an act of worship. Some join me in clearing debris, others offer pious nods as they pass. 


Perhaps it is an act of worship, though my reverence is for someone else.


In a slow trickle, the first of the soldiers return. He is not among them. Many of the villagers celebrate, others fold themselves into mourning like a tomb. I am patient and hold hope tightly, but each day I visit the cathedral the stones feel colder. A few of the laborers come by, skin and bones and colorless eyes, asking when the work will resume. 


I tell them I do not know.


I save the face of the crucifix for last. I craft the crown of thorns, offset against a golden aureole and dark hair. The face is the hardest, and I realize as I set the eyes—honeyed brown ovals of the clearest glass I’ve ever made—that they look like his eyes. The crucifix is supposed to seem peaceful, serene in sacrifice. Mine weeps, tears of colorless glass and transparent sorrow. I see myself reflected in those tears, full of doubts. 


On a warm spring day, one month after the end of the war, he appears in the half-complete cathedral doorway. He is scarred and has forgotten what it is to laugh. But he is back, and my innermost heart sings.


He throws himself into the work. The laborers left uninjured by the war join him, hiding from unseen wounds beneath a sheen of sweat and dust. The village begins to find its way into life again, after so long in the half-light.


It takes months to repair the time-worn sections of stone and scaffold and begin new construction, but eventually the spires of the cathedral begin to rise.


I finish the last windows, impossibly tall lancets, frame them in iron, and wait.


We install the windows nearly a year later on a series of clouded days, the sound of distant thunder ringing in our ears. I watch helplessly as they maneuver my delicate glasswork, guiding each window into its place. The crucifix is the last to be installed, set in the largest south-facing window.


When it is done and the sun returns, he and I enter the cathedral alone. The floors are unfinished, the sanctuary unfurnished, yet the space pulls the air from my lungs.


Dazzling hues dance on the stone, illuminating the soaring vaults in ethereal shades. We pause before the crucifix, struck motionless by its glory in the early morning light. I am suddenly aware of his arm, hanging just inches from mine as we gaze at the most stunning window I have ever made.


He is awash in violet and gold, dappled across his face like feathers. I have never seen anything so resplendent as the small smile of awe that pulls at the corner of his mouth.


For a small, holy moment, he reaches out and we stand, hands clasped tightly together as the light stains its color onto our skin.

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181 comments

Mohamed Sarfan
18:54 Jun 16, 2021

Dear Writer, In search of light the sights wander about like a bum. Life is like a pilgrimage that alternately carries the beauty and thorns of a rose. Thoughts never accept the failures of the mind that is deceived by outward appearances. The breeze comes and crashes into my mane like a grave burying me in the darkness listening to the sound of a magical clock. The storyline fascinates me as I travel in search of mysterious treasures on a passport less journey. Write more Congratulations

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Claire Lewis
13:21 Jun 19, 2021

Hi Mohamed, Thank you for such an inspired comment! Your words are so poetic and encouraging. They’re deeply appreciated 😊

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Claire Lewis
22:13 Jun 06, 2021

A little color and vibrancy inspired by the month of June. Happy pride to my LGBTQ+ friends! 🌈

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K. Antonio
01:17 Jun 07, 2021

I wish I could have liked this story more than once!

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H L Mc Quaid
12:32 Jun 07, 2021

There's a strange, almost abstract beauty to this piece. As if we, as readers, are piecing together the story from the fragments of the narrator's memory. The structure of the story echoes how stained glass, as a piece of art, is not one piece, it's little pieces separated yet held together as a whole with heat and gravity. lots of stuff I liked, but this especially: He thinks in arches, in the graceful shape of collarbones and the curvature of long necks bent into kisses. Great stuff.

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Claire Lewis
19:01 Jun 07, 2021

Thanks for the kind comments, Heather!! I love the comparison of the fragmented pieces to stained glass. Looking forward to your most recent submission!

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H L Mc Quaid
14:33 Jun 18, 2021

You won! Hurrah. 🎊🎊💃💕

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Claire Lewis
13:21 Jun 19, 2021

Woohoo! Thanks Heather 😊

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Neomi Shah
05:33 Jun 20, 2021

Sometimes you come across a piece of writing that is so lyrical and beautiful that you are suddenly astounded by the stunning beauty that words can create. This was such a piece. Congratulations!

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Claire Lewis
12:54 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you Neomi!

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Shea West
18:22 Jun 12, 2021

Claire, I had this on my TBR list all week and I'm just now getting to it. I'm kicking myself for having waited so long now. I am often, if not always, mesmerized by your flow and vibrancy of words. I read your stories and think that you can't possibly create anything new or anything more lovely and then you just do. I'm basically Wayne and Garth in the middle of the street pausing my street hockey game to get on my knees and tell you how not worthy I am!

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Claire Lewis
20:20 Jun 12, 2021

You’re much too kind Shea, you’re absolutely worthy hahaha! I’ve just been reading a lot of poetry lately and I tend to write along the lines of what I read I’m always envious of your way with characters and how you craft such realistic people in your stories, so the mesmerization goes both ways!!

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Rachel Smith
09:33 Jun 08, 2021

Another hauntingly beautiful story Claire. Love the way you used the stained glass, weaving it into the narrative. I found it quite poetic. Lovely!

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Claire Lewis
12:35 Jun 08, 2021

Thank you Rachel! Hope you’re doing well😊

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Rachel Smith
22:27 Jun 08, 2021

I'm alright, thank you for asking. My toddler is full power now so I'm struggling to get anything done 😂😂

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Claire Lewis
00:44 Jun 09, 2021

Oh boy haha… best of luck with the toddler-wrangling! Hopefully you can pass the kiddo off once in a while and take a break 😊

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Rachel Smith
15:47 Jun 18, 2021

Congratulations!

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Claire Lewis
13:22 Jun 19, 2021

Thanks Rachel!

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Nina Chyll
14:38 Jun 18, 2021

Beautiful and almost melodic. Congratulations, Claire!

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Claire Lewis
13:21 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Nina!

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Ash Jarvis
23:07 Jun 08, 2021

This is such a beautiful musing on the different types of love and worship. All of the language in this, every single word, is gorgeous, and I especially loved how the building was is sometimes described in human terms, as in “the half-formed flesh of the cathedral”.

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Claire Lewis
00:45 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you so much Ash!

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Christina Marie
18:31 Jun 08, 2021

Wow again Claire! Sombre and vibrant at the same time. What incredible writing. Love love love it!

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Claire Lewis
00:42 Jun 09, 2021

Thanks Christina!! I had a lot of fun with this one 😊

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Christina Marie
16:39 Jun 18, 2021

Congratulations!!! 👏👏

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Claire Lewis
13:22 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you!!

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Beth Connor
21:38 Jun 07, 2021

This is beautiful. The way you capture how the artist sees his world. No words. I have chills.

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Claire Lewis
22:12 Jun 07, 2021

Thank you so much Beth!

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K. Antonio
01:12 Jun 07, 2021

CLAIRE! Man, this is gorgeous! Thank you for putting up such a colorful piece. I swear I wanted to do a piece with stained glass, but I knew I wouldn't be the one to write it. I was waiting for something like this to pop up! That first paragraph, the feet UGH (So much religious and sentimental value starting at the feet). To talk about religion and LGBTQA+ themes can be so difficult and very rarely does it have positive vibes. This was very beautiful! Funny enough we took religious inspired routes this week. I'm rooting for this!

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Claire Lewis
02:23 Jun 07, 2021

You’re an absolute angel, K! I always enjoy your kind words 😊 I was a bit hesitant to try to combine these themes but it came much more easily once I decided to focus on the beauty in them both. Looking forward to yours!

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Hoor Amin
04:12 Jun 20, 2021

This. Is. So. Beautiful.

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Claire Lewis
12:54 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you!

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Hoor Amin
15:02 Jun 20, 2021

You're welcome! I REALLY liked it!!

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Valerie Shook
22:27 Jun 19, 2021

Wow Claire I can see the light dazzling through the painted glass thank you for that Holy image.

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Claire Lewis
12:55 Jun 20, 2021

Thanks for the kind comment Valerie!

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J B
21:49 Jun 19, 2021

Wow, Claire! You won again! I am much delighted! I haven't read this story as I've got no time. I checked out the prompts again for this week and saw your name in the winner list so I'm dropping by to leave you a note. But despite not having read this story yet, I know your writing style that's why I know I'll love this one too. I'll find time and read it. You'll know 'cause I'll write you another note. Congratulations!!!

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Claire Lewis
12:56 Jun 20, 2021

You’re so sweet, thanks for the note Jessica 😊

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Carla Ward
21:19 Jun 19, 2021

I love the use of color and light in this story.

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Claire Lewis
12:55 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you Carla!

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Micki Findlay
18:39 Jun 19, 2021

Wow. A brilliant piece of writing. Exquisite Claire.

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Claire Lewis
12:56 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you Micki!

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T.H. Sherlock
16:49 Jun 19, 2021

Oh my! I think this is a story which ought to be read slowly and carefully to savour all the exquisite lines contained herein. This feels like a leisurely stroll in the park instead of a frantic race to the end. Beautifully written - as always.

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Claire Lewis
12:57 Jun 20, 2021

Thank you for the lovely comment 😊

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Corey Melin
15:42 Jun 19, 2021

Congrats on another win. I felt like I was floating along on a lazy river as the story smoothly moved along with emotions showing during dark times. Well done

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Claire Lewis
16:10 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Corey!

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Hans B
14:19 Jun 19, 2021

Vibrantly beautiful. The art of a vision coming to life. So subtle and delicate are the pieces that created such power and glory. The bond between the two main characters was also just as beautiful. Loved this combination. Very well done.

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Claire Lewis
15:22 Jun 19, 2021

What a lovely and thoughtful comment! Thank you, Hans 😊

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Noradin Vayga
13:16 Jun 19, 2021

Wow

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Claire Lewis
13:44 Jun 19, 2021

Haha, glad you enjoyed Noradin!

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