Canterbury Cathedral by Alex Grasseschi

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looking up to cathedral roof lots of stained glass


They awaken her—




Her eyes flicker open in the quiet. She tries to count the chimes, and an irrational panic surges for a moment as they clang far past nine – but they overtake twelve, twenty, and continuous on, and she rests her head again. A quick glance at the tangible and more accurate clock – 8:24 a.m.

She heaves herself out of bed at long last, and every ounce of her body is stiff and groaning and blistered from yesterday’s seven-hour pilgrimage. She throws back three Advil without a second thought before hobbling off to breakfast.

At noon, they meander with the guide for about an hour inside the cathedral. He keeps tut-tutting and blink-smiling and hurrying them along with frequent frantic wristwatch-checking. Touring this cathedral feels much like the others, to her – she is constantly awestruck and unworthy. The saints look down on them severely with carved solemn brows, grand in their glorious lofty seats. She tries to make only the lightest of footfalls – every careless voice, every unholy laugh seems to flap frantically up to the ceilings, seeking impossible release, trapped and frustrated like Noah’s bird.

She can only see it in parts, she realizes – the scrollwork, the pillars, each frame of every colored window, but never can she take it all in at once. As a whole it is too much for her. After all, it was built to contain God—

He keeps escaping. She can hear it in the bells far across the town while she eats her lunch.

When she returns that night for Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a perfume-soaked conglomeration of elderly people fill most of the seats, watching her pass with mild-mannered stares or smiles. Her ticket claims an unreserved seat only and she hesitantly takes the best one she can find, only a sliver of choir and orchestra visible through the great columns. She sighs and lets her head drift slowly back, eyes flickering up to the ceilings. She knows already – she will see; her ears see best anyway.

Since midsummer she hasn’t touched her cello. She imagines it, sitting alone in its case in the yellow corner, acquiring dust and warped wood and sad sliding pegs, untouched. When the audience quiets and the next three hours begin, she lets herself follow those low strings in her mind, as naturally as if they were her own voice. She missed them, missed this – more than she thought – and the thrum of goosebumps shivering up her spine matches exactly the rumble of horsehair against vibrating string, the freshly-rosined quiverings, the sharp sweet scent of pine against polish.

Only then can she see it – all of it, and beyond, as the cathedral breathes and bends with the sheer subsistence of sound. She follows the music up to the ceilings, twirls around the stained glass, blends through the walls and up into the crisp night air and never even leaves her seat. The building in all its grandiosity has become a mere instrument of the people within – thrumming with praise and worthy of respect, but scarcely holding a candle to the greatness of the music it respires. It is the only language she thinks worth listening to, really, music – the only language that cannot condemn, cannot bully, cannot sin.

She presses two fingers against the crook of her jaw, listening. For a few glorious seconds her pulse matches Mendelssohn’s fervent tempo.

They lull her to sleep that night—




ever, enduring, maybe everlasting.


Alex Grasseschi holding catAlex Grasseschi was born in San Luis Obispo, California, and is currently achieving her degree in English literature with a minor in music performance at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She has published her poetry in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, as well as several creative nonfiction pieces in her college’s literary and arts magazine, The Phoenix. When she’s not writing, Alex enjoys playing video games, obsessing over Lord of the Rings, fighting for social justice, and petting other people’s dogs. Feel free to email her at


STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/fourthandfifteen

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