Naked and Fallen
The Seventeen Seconds of Odette
Hidden in Sight
Resentment as a Kind of Relief
Over the Kanawha
Culled from the Flock
The Beauty in Fracturing
From Pillars to Dust
Before the echoes were audible, dawn broke the quiet. It rose over the road in the east and chased away the shadows that had emerged in the night. Everything was as it had been the day before. In the interim, there was only darkness: stone grew colder, was covered with small flakes that formed teardrops in the light. She stood there watching all of it. She had always known Saint Peter’s to be a sacred place, but it now felt like a ruin rediscovered after centuries of being lost in our sight. She stared at the arms of the Vatican as the dawn entered and looked to the obelisk when the gray light arrived. The monuments were where they had always been. Not everything is eroded by time.
The square had forgotten the voice of the crowd, but she remembered every breath. She remembered the way it had bent to will, falling away until there was only empty space. The vast expanse, surrounded by pillars, no longer thundered with the sound of ten thousand voices. The quiet that she had longed for the previous day was now as suffocating as the crowd’s prayers had been. In the absence of screaming masses, there were only a few pigeons hobbling across the icy cobblestones, while the faces of marbled saints stared down at the square impassively. She watched from afar, wondering whether they had anything left to give, or if their eyes held only contempt and condemnation. She shivered and was reminded that she stood in the shadow of the Basilica. This was not a house of God, and their stone faces knew it; it was instead a shrine built to honor those men who had, long ago, slipped from this life and into the next. Their presence was not comforting, as many had claimed. Rather, it was a dangerous pull toward cupidity that felt unsettling in the presence of saints and their God.
It had only been a day since she had felt the force of the masses outweigh the strain of history. The crowd had gathered to await the arrival of a man cloaked in white robes: the Servant of the Servants of God. Each of them had hoped to witness a rebirth, whether they knew it or not. They wanted to see something new rise from the pyre that they themselves had built. From her vantage point, situated between a wooden barricade and the broad shoulders of a larger man, she could see nothing. But ripples of excitement shot through the crowd, and she could feel their screams before she heard them: “There he is!”
She must have heard it in a dozen languages.
A man appeared, raising his hand to greet the thousands of followers spread out in the square. Upon seeing him, the crowd surged toward the wooden barricade with one mighty push. He advanced toward them, and, as he did, they grew increasingly frantic, until at last he was within their reach. It was some sight: thousands of people screaming for a man who looked so plain. As he moved past different sections of the crowd, they extended their hands to touch him, as if seized by a sudden madness. Men and women broke into tears at his proximity, as if merely brushing against the fabric of his clothing would redeem their sins. It had been done before. But amidst the frenzy, the man appeared incapable of constituting change: he was merely one among many. The woman, overwhelmed by their demonstrations, shivered and stepped down into the crowd again. She was seized by despair, struck by the thought that, within decades, the stone relic of Saint Peter’s would be all that was left of the Church. She filtered into the masses. All that was visible between the myriad of bodies was a glimpse of the sky being swallowed by darkness.
As dawn chased the shadows of the night before, she was the only figure that remained: the single mourner of a departed institution. She grieved not only sins but also its loss of greatness. Power that had been grasped so tightly for so long had slipped—the hands that held it could no longer maintain their control. Staring up at the Basilica, she doubts that the new church they had been promised would be any different from the cold stone that stands before her. She looks up at the saints who bear witness to all of this from above, as if to make certain that they had not taken flight. She turns her head back to the entryway and slips out without a sound. The stone saints cast their eyes upon the square. Every tragedy needs a witness.
About The Author
Madeleine Richey is a senior at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she studies history. She currently works with the marketing communications team at Fort Wayne Metals, and she spent this past year writing her senior thesis on the Rwandan Genocide. Her free time consists of either writing or planning for her next adventure abroad. Her goal is to eventually return to Africa so that she can one day share the untold stories of her friends in Uganda and the people of Rwanda.