Salt and Light

Salt and Light by Gabrielle Hovendon

I forget that I’m snooping, that I’m supposed to be listening for Brother Joseph. I forget that the nuns will be returning from vespers soon, that Sister Mary Gloria is gone, that I don’t have questions or answers or even a plan to face this end.

Out the window, light is shivering up from a few miles away. It is not stopping; every day there will be more of it, light terrible and light incandescent, light beading on our eyelashes and dissolving between our teeth, light celestial and sadistic, hilarious, diaphanous, light unencumbered, unrelenting, terrible, radiant, light revenant, light ecstatic, forever and ever, until we all are gone, light without end, amen.

I take nothing with me. I leave while the nuns are still at their prayers, open the gate, and begin walking. Within a minute, St. Lucia’s is lost to sight.

“What are you doing, Nina?” I ask in my best Sister Sylvia voice. “What in the name of God do you think you’re doing?”

But I’m too exhilarated to stop. I tell myself I’ll turn around at the end of this block, at the end of the next block, the next, but I keep walking. I’ve discovered the thrill of forward movement, and my body doesn’t want to give it up.

I keep walking. I pass through neighborhoods once loud with car horns and children, through parks devoid of playgrounds and benches, through the former sites of sports stadiums, through the hollows that used to house malls and roadside attractions. I see only a few other people, one pushing a shopping cart full of belongings and another holding some sort of makeshift spear in his hand, a look of ferocious hunger on his face.

Before long, I don’t recognize where I am. I think I’m somewhere near the interstate, where the billboards have all been picked off like daisies. I wonder if this is the same route Sister Mary Gloria took, if there are landmarks I should be following.

Ahead, there is only emptiness as far as I can see, an open gray expanse punctuated by distant exclamation points of light. Behind me, the water towers are going one at a time, sharp pops of light like firecrackers in a string. And all at once it’s impossible, utterly impossible, to conceive of a future in which my cells become vibrating threads of energy, in which I light a lambent path through the universe without putting up a fight.

My lungs start to burn. The air feels thin, as if the destruction has given our city new altitude. Light grasps at the sky, more of it than there’s ever been, more than I thought possible. I think about what’s left, the oil derricks and brownstones and turbines, all going in icy tessellations; the quarries vanishing in a sharp confetti of light, the crooked made smooth; the convent itself, a halo of brightness.

I imagine the convent miraculously intact, every dull brick of it. On the rooftop, Brother Joseph’s tiny silhouette will stand alone, the last monument to a dying civilization. I see him staring at the sky, his face radiant, the sum of every spent lumen.

“Look,” I can almost hear him say, “look, no clouds.”

And it’s true. The sky is clear and straining with light and the whole world seems incapable of ruin.

Soon I will find Sister Mary Gloria. I can feel it in my bones. I will stand with her in the road; I will put my arms around her and tell her that I understand. This is grace. I will brush cinders of light from her shoulders, and we will be sufficient.

And if anyone is left in the world, if anyone is watching from points undestroyed, they will see the known world crumble and the ecumene incandesce. They will watch it dissolve like the pages of books unwritten and unread, like the gates of lost cities, like birds winging upward through fire. They will see light seeping from our bodies, light spilling from us faster than breath, light lifting to the vast indiscriminate sky where everything waits.

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A graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University, Gabrielle Hovendon has taught in New York, Ohio, and Spain. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Cincinnati Review, Southwest Review, Redivider, Tupelo Quarterly, and Ninth Letter. She lives and teaches in Athens, Georgia.