HOUSE OF WISDOM: a vignette on COmpassion
by Edison Cummings
Editor's note: the pieces in our COMPASSION series were originally submitted to the Creative Writing competition as part of Interregnum XIV at The King's College. The following piece won first place. It was submitted on behalf of the House of Bonhoeffer.
We have lived in this house, surrounded by fog, for forever past. Every clock has broken. I am thirty-three years old—at least I think I am. And I know that we cannot leave this place. It was built by my forefathers, and I am the perfect product of their toil. This is the house of wisdom.
Every morning, I wake and stand before the cracked mirror in the cold tile bathroom, scrubbing. I find the craters and rough patches. I find them and scratch them until they are gone. I have a bottle for every ailment and flaw. I dress myself: white starch, tight creases, perfect triangle tie.
One day as I descended the stairs, my lovely youngest hailed me, her face porcelain. “How wonderful it is to see you!”
“Indeed, wonderful it is,” I always say. The rose spreads across my cheek in bliss.
Breakfast had been set before the table. We sat and cracked open the eggs with demitasse spoons in silence.
“I think I shall read the Psalms this morning,” the eldest said. As she ate, she nodded her head and moved her mouth in reverent recitation with the poetry she loved.
“Finish your toast first,” my wife said.
“I would like to contemplate the images of the saints,” the middle said. Her fingers, stained with paints from the night before, picked at the peel of her egg.
“After breakfast, you may.”
“Here.” She unfolded a tear-edged square of ecstatic blues. “It's the sky.”
“Oh dearest,” Mother said with deep eye lines. “How can you paint what you’ve never seen?” A shining giggle followed her careless shrug.
Once the meal was finished and the dishes cleaned and dried, we opened up the book of books and read slow.
“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand hold me.”
We nodded our assent and pled that it be so: amen, amen, amen.
Just then there was a wild screaming past the porch. She had emerged from the eternal fog around our home—a crying, pathetic wretch. She scaled the porch and threw herself to the doorframe, pounding.
“OPEN YOUR EYES!” She wailed. "OPEN THEM!”
The loud door rattled the living room. My daughters huddled tight together; Mother stroked their braided hair.
And so the siren’s calling faded and became a sound to which we lived our lives. We slept, ate eggs and toast, read the book of books for two days more. Then my wife interrupted me at my morning ritual, her face translucent.
“Our eldest has gone. She’s speaking with the one outside.” I flew down the stairs and found the door wide open, the daughter and the vagrant standing face to face. Wind slipped through the door in cool swaths.
“It has been so long,” the woman said. “There are more of us beyond the fog.” My eldest’s eyes were wide, her mouth slack.
At this my stomach turned. I slammed the door in disgust.
“She is no longer,” I said to my wife.
“Don’t be stupid. The eldest. She has left our house. Do not speak of her.”
“Wha—how can you shut the door? She’s standing on the porch. She is no threat.”
I spoke again.
“Perhaps I was not clear. She does not live in this house.” I turned the deadbolt.
My wife drew close to me, and I could see her eyes bulge and shine with waiting water. “Do you not know you refer to your own blood? She is the bone of your bone.”
“You question me?” I spoke with a white-hot whisper.
“I do. Let them in and let us continue with our lives! This is no battle to be won. This is a life.”
Her spritely frame took little work to crush. An unfortunate thing, indeed, that she would die in sin and rebellion.
I was pulled from my reverie by the thwack of the back screen door. This was the middle and youngest, also condemned to a life outside the grace.
And so I, the remaining holy one, am alone. I have lived in this house, surrounded by fog, for forever past. Every clock in this house has broken. I am thirty-three years old—at least I think I am. And I know that I cannot leave this place. It was built by my forefathers, and I am the perfect product of their toil. This is the house of wisdom.
Every morning I wake, then stand before the cracked mirror in the cold tile bathroom, scrubbing. I find the craters and rough patches. I find them and scratch them until they are gone, though my skin bleeds red tears in protest.
This is the house of wisdom.
Thumbnail image by Angel Boyd.