Contest #97 winner 🏆

195 comments

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.

June 06, 2021 20:52

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195 comments

11:06 Jun 19, 2021

This story has such an amazing poetic touch to it. Good job!

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Claire Lindsey
13:44 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Muhammad!

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06:17 Jun 19, 2021

Such a beautiful peace. Thank you. I actually read this forwards and back, backwards two paragraphs at a time, and it works quite well ending with "The most glorious window in the world would not do him justice. But that does not stop me from trying." Once again,beautiful writing.

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Claire Lindsey
13:52 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Panos! And what a fun idea to read the story backwards! I do that sometimes for editing but I’ve never tried it just to read

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Kiera Lawley
02:23 Jun 19, 2021

Congratulations on your well-deserved win. Such beautiful imagery.

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Claire Lindsey
13:52 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Kiera!

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Babika Goel
01:53 Jun 19, 2021

The words have a melody. The story sings and sinks. Lovely piece of work Claire. Congratulations for the win.

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Claire Lindsey
13:53 Jun 19, 2021

Thank for the lovely comment, Babika!

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Babika Goel
16:01 Jun 19, 2021

Keep it coming. Best wishes.

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Carrol Halliwell
00:53 Jun 19, 2021

Wonderful Claire. You are so talented it makes me want to give up writing altogether. Ah, to have such talent. I am in awe.

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Claire Lindsey
13:54 Jun 19, 2021

I’d definitely say it’s more practice and exposure than talent. Keep writing, and read things that inspire you!! 😊

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Amelia Bowen
00:13 Jun 19, 2021

This is absolutely beautiful!

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Claire Lindsey
13:55 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Amelia!

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Lee Kendrick
22:39 Jun 18, 2021

A poetic story,with a clever use of words. I am probably wrong but I feel you have experience in this craft? I can see why you were the chosen winner. Well done! Lee Kendrick Best wishes

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Claire Lindsey
13:57 Jun 19, 2021

Hi Lee, thanks for the encouraging comment! I’ve been writing as a hobby since I was about 9 or 10, but I’ve only found short stories within the last couple years. It’s quickly become my favorite genre!!

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Laura Monaghan
21:46 Jun 18, 2021

This was a wonderfully descriptive story, Claire! I especially loved the line “lonely years tucked away in our hearts.” You definitely deserve your win :)

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Claire Lindsey
13:58 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you so much Laura!

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Jane Andrews
17:04 Jun 18, 2021

Absolutely beautiful - I wished it was ten times longer so I could go in reading it. A truly deserved win.

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Claire Lindsey
13:31 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you Jane!! I’m sorry I’m so behind on your stories—it’s been a rough couple of weeks and I haven’t been on as much. Hoping to catch up soon!

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:36 Jun 18, 2021

Claire, you go girl! This was some breathtaking prose right here—like some lines literally made me go, “man I wish I thought of that.” Love the little interstitials of the stained glass window coming into fruition, which betrays the narrator’s feelings. Congrats! 🥳 (again lol)

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Claire Lindsey
13:36 Jun 19, 2021

Rayhan!! Thank you so much 😊 Those little sections were my favorite to write, I’m so glad you enjoyed them!!

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K. Antonio
14:27 Jun 18, 2021

I KNEW IT! I CALLED IT! CONGRATZ 😂😂😂 First time we've both been mentioned!! WOOHOO

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Claire Lindsey
13:39 Jun 19, 2021

YAY US! Raising a glass (just coffee, it’s still early here) to you sir 😂

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Thom With An H
19:42 Jun 17, 2021

You write with elegance and passion but there is also a quietness to it. It is beyond me to write like this and as such I am always in awe. I love the subtle undertones and the hidden meanings. It is, like the stained glass, a work of art. Bravo!

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Claire Lindsey
13:41 Jun 19, 2021

Thank you so much Thom! Your comments are always jut what I need to hear 😊

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Cathryn V
19:59 Jun 12, 2021

hi Claire, this is so beautiful! i used to design and build stained glass and this story brings that back. i like the war that’s woven in. thank you for another beauty!

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Claire Lindsey
13:23 Jun 19, 2021

Thanks Cathryn! I swear I replied to this comment earlier, but it looks like it didn’t post (sigh). I appreciated it nonetheless 😊

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Shea West
03:37 May 19, 2022

Claire, You are thoroughly missed around here and this story in particular has been talked about quite a bit on a chat we have going. Please write more, we miss your brilliance!!

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Claire Lindsey
00:30 Jun 19, 2022

Hi Shea, I've missed you too! I'm back for a bit (hooray for summer break!) and looking forward to catching up on some of your stories :)

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Thom With An H
15:48 Mar 18, 2022

Claire, I'm not sure if you are still checking in on Reedsy but I finally won. If you do swing by, give my story a read. It's loosely based on my mom and I. This is Thom, by the way. Don't let the pen name fool you. :-)

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Claire Lindsey
00:32 Jun 19, 2022

Hey Thom! I'm back and really looking forward to reading your winner. Congrats!! :)

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20:29 Oct 29, 2021

Any chance you'd like to discuss your work and your writer's journey on a laidback little podcast? https://www.readlotswritelots.com/wp/ lovegren.deidra@gmail.com

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Claire Lindsey
16:52 Jun 20, 2022

Oops I am just seeing this, sorry!! Let me check out the podcast :)

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Ellie Yu
15:04 Jul 05, 2021

Oh my god. This might be the most beautiful story I've read on here. It probably is. After reading this I'm not quite sure how to string words together anymore. The gorgeous prose that makes up the bulk of this story might be tiring to read from someone else, but from you, it flows as naturally as water. It's a really interesting contrast to the almost-scattered narration, like the POV character can't quite remember right. A super cool duality to present here, like the contrast of beautiful colors in stained glass vs the very sharp idea of ...

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Claire Lindsey
13:34 Jul 10, 2021

Hi Ellie!! I’m taking a (hopefully brief) break from Reedsy, but I had to reply to this! Your comments always bring me joy, and it’s especially rewarding to hear how much this story resonated with you. Thank you!! 💜

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Felipe Tazzo
17:48 Jun 25, 2021

Nothing to be discussed. I`m in awe. Beautiful!

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Claire Lindsey
13:48 Jun 28, 2021

Thank you Felipe!

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John Del Rio
16:44 Jun 24, 2021

Wow! So we'll done. No wonder you won this one. The two craftsmen/persons working with the "common" laborers to build something bigger than all of them: inspiring! You bring the medieval village to life. I imagine the war, maybe it was one of the crusades: I look forward to reading more of your tales. Thank you for this.

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Claire Lindsey
13:51 Jun 28, 2021

Thanks John! I’ve always been fascinated by the medieval era. Glad you enjoyed this story :)

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John Del Rio
15:18 Jun 28, 2021

Your tale had a very "Pillars of the Earth" -Ken Follet- vibe. That's a good thing....look forward to more of your stories

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Yvone Mthembu
10:36 Jun 24, 2021

Somebody give Claire a bells One word perfectly-fused Congratulations

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Claire Lindsey
13:51 Jun 28, 2021

Thank you Yvone!

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