By: Brianna Barden
“So, Beth, are you ready to talk about it?”
Beth stared blankly back at Dr. Baron. The clock on the wall ticked steadily, and the silence stretched with each passing second. Dr. Baron sighed and scribbled something down on the legal pad in her hand that Beth couldn’t read and didn’t care to read.
“This is the third session you’ve sat through without saying a word. Let’s try something, okay? Maybe if you aren’t comfortable talking to me about your… situation, yet, your thoughts can lend me a hand.” Dr. Baron opened the drawer of her light, bamboo wood desk and pulled out a small red notebook. Dr. Baron’s desk wasn’t cluttered, but held a couple of books, a picture of her family, and a few small knick-knacks. She was a very structured woman, and was no doubt annoyed by Beth’s resistance. Reaching across the desk, she gestured for Beth to take the notebook. “This is a dream journal. We can understand more about how you’re feeling- why you’re feeling that way- by looking into your subconscious. So, keep this journal for me this week, and we’ll examine it when you return next Thursday.”
Dr. Baron smiled encouragingly as Beth thanked her for her time, stood, and left just as silently as she’d come. Everything about Beth felt tired and empty, and she was dying to go home.
Outside of Dr. Baron’s private practice, the afternoon sun was sinking into the sky, and the late summer heat was slightly offset by a cool breeze. Beth’s head pounded. The bun her hair was carefully wrapped into was too tight, and the heavy sweater she wore weighed on her tired shoulders. Underneath, her skin crawled uncomfortably.
That night as Beth prepared for bed, she brushed out her long, blonde hair, staring at herself in the mirror. Her face was terribly pale, and she longed to see herself blush again. Grabbing a small orange bottle of pills off the bathroom counter, she dumped two into her shaking hand, took a swig of water, and tossed them back together. She then walked to her bed and crawled under her comforter, closing her eyes. She didn’t feel like thinking tonight. She willed sleep to come quickly, and for once it did.
Somewhere in the distance came the chime of a clock, a loud one at that. The sound reverberated in Beth’s ears as her eyes shot open. She was standing on the steps of a large, stone cathedral. She breathed in and out evenly, not moving, not panicking, just seeing. Somewhere in her mind’s eye, a much smaller clock ticked. Tick, tock, tick, tock. So, Beth, are you ready to talk about it?
Beth took in the monumental building before her. The cathedral towered high into the dark clouds above, the steeple disappearing entirely. The building itself was not dark but was a simple light grey stone. The stone looked smooth, but thick, engineered to protect its sacred contents. Its giant wooden doors looked so, so heavy. Beth didn’t know that she had the energy to push them open, but something inside of her wanted so badly to open them and see what was inside.
Beth walked up the steps just as calmly as her breath, as the clock. She placed a hand on the rough wood of the one of the doors and felt a pull from inside the cathedral. Her breath wavered for only a moment before she summoned all of her strength to shove open the door. The clunk of her foot against stone transitioned into a tapping on smooth tile. Once it did, her breath caught in her throat, stopping entirely. She’d gotten the door open.
The smell of musty air welcomed her at the door like an indifferent host. Bringing her other foot across the threshold, Beth allowed the wooden door to swing closed behind her. She had done it; she was in. Just as she had before, Beth heard the ticking- tick, tock, tick, tock- and her breaths, coming in and out at their own leisure. It was simple, easy. Even so, Beth felt a familiar weight sitting on her shoulders. She was not entirely at ease. She listened to the tapping of her feet echo through the drafty room as she walked further into the cathedral, taking in the sights around her. The room was barely longer than it was wide, stocked with rows and rows of wooden pews with red cushioned seats. The walls on either side of her were lined with panels of stained-glass windows in brilliant reds, blues and yellows; some in bleak grays and blacks. Each told their own story. Beth observed them as she walked: one showed a woman standing tall, clothed in a long white gown- much like the one she was wearing herself. Perched on her head was a flat crown. The woman held her chin high, and a yellow light glowed behind her. The next showed the woman, all the same, facing a man. He was taller than her, and looked down on her soothingly, cupping her porcelain face in his hand as she laid hers against his bare chest. The third window sent a shiver down Beth’s spine. It was the same woman, alone again, on her knees holding the crown in her hand. The yellow light was gone, and her head hung low. She almost looked… ashamed. Beth looked away from the windows immediately.
She turned her attention forward again as she continued down the hallowed hall, devoid of anybody but her. For a moment, she embraced the feeling of being so alone. She noticed the grey and black tile of the floors, each with tiny intricate patterns, then looked up to the ceiling. It was incredibly high, and yet she still felt a bit suffocated. At last, she approached the altar. She rested the palms of her hands on the white cloth that laid over the long table and lifted her eyes to the enormous wooden cross that stood behind it, tucked into the very place where the room came to a peak. She silently observed it, just as she had everything else.
A soft, singular tear slipped from her eye as she stared at the cross. Not because she found it to be particularly profound, no, it was the effigy which hung from it. The figure of a woman, her hands nailed to the wood and body clad in a white linen gown hung seemingly limp on the cross. The woman’s yellow hair draped over her shoulders and trickled down to her waist, each strand perfectly carved.
The ticking in Beth’s head and the breathing in her chest was soon interrupted by the tapping of footsteps behind her. She didn’t move but kept her wet eyes forward. A large hand rested on her shoulder, and she resisted the urge to cringe away from it.
Hesitantly, Beth turned to the presence next to her. It was a rather tall man dressed in the long black gown of a priest. His eyes were gray like his hair, but soft, welcoming. Keeping a hand on her shoulder, he grabbed one of her hands and silently led her over to a wooden structure at the far right of the room. Beth recognized this structure: a confessional booth. The priest turned to Beth again, grabbing both of her hands this time and looking into her eyes.
“So, Beth, are you ready to talk about it?” More tears slid down Beth’s cheeks like raindrops hitting glass, and after a long pause, she nodded her head.
“I- I’m ready,” She choked out, pushing past the lump in her throat. The priest nodded in return, and they entered their separate chambers of the confession booth.
Beth knelt, and for the first time since she’d entered the cathedral her hands shook. She made the sign of the cross over her chest and proceeded, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” She opened her mouth to continue, but something wouldn’t let her. It was as if her throat had swollen, keeping her from liberating herself.
“And what is that sin?” His voice floated out as if a spirit were talking to her instead of a man. Beth clenched her eyes shut and felt a wave of anxiety and guilt crash over her. The calm that she had felt entering the cathedral washed away.
Beth’s eyes snapped open and she shot straight up in bed, her white nightgown drenched in salty sweat. She hunched over, trying to catch her breath. Tears blended with the sweat on her face as she crawled out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. Grabbing the scissors off her sink counter, she took one last look at the silky golden hair that spilled over her shoulders. Her lips trembled as she lifted the blades, grabbed a strand of hair just below her ear, and began to cut.