Dorsett walked with Sam, holding her hand as they strolled along the pavement homeward bound. They moved past the church and hardly gave it a glance, so familiar was it on a journey taken so many times before. But the sudden appearance of an elderly couple leaving from its main entrance turned Dorsett’s head. He saw them dip their fingers in the small holy water pools sculpted back into walls either side of the entrance and bless themselves in silence before moving on. Dorsett stood still for a moment and gently pulled Sam back.
‘Let’s go inside.’ he said, but his hand was released.
‘Are you serious? What for?’
‘No reason. We pass this church all the time and it never occurs to me to enter it. What harm will it do?’
‘Dorsett, you know I’m an atheist.’
‘So then what are you afraid of? If you’re an atheist, then it’s only a building with four walls and a roof. We’ll sit inside and rest for a while. There’s no service on.’
He walked towards the door without looking back and she followed him through.
Inside away from the noise of the traffic, the silence was suffocating. Footsteps echoed loud on the tiles, betraying them like trespassers as they reached the central aisle and looked about them to see if anyone else was in. Dorsett walked over to the nearest pew and sat down, edging himself along the seat to allow Sam room to sit beside him. They turned their heads about them at the walls and high ceiling.
Sunlight came in through the rose windows onto the polished wood of the benches around them, hovering dust particles in their beams. Coloured glass sparkled kaleidoscopic images onto the floor. Every window and supporting stone buttress was disciplined to order and perfectly symmetrical. So much to look at and yet the silence kept them at a distance that reminded of death. Noise was forbidden, with only the sound of their breathing heard. All saintly figures, in glass and stone, eyed them suspiciously.
Crucifixes were high on the walls, on the ceiling, on the pews, some with Jesus nailed upon them. There were stories in the windows, starting near the entrance and sequencing all the way down behind the altar and continuing around to the other side.
It was the story of a man in a beard, healthy and smiling, whose fortune became worse as his life developed. His existence ended in death, feet, and hands impaled to wood. He looked skywards, pleading. His mother, blue-robed, was isolated from him on one side of the long altar, staring down at the penny candle stall, blessing anyone who might approach at her feet. His father was nowhere to be seen. Sam seemed to stoop in her seat.
‘Why did you want to come in here?’
‘Why are you whispering?’ Dorsett asked.
She had to think.
‘I don’t want anyone to hear us.’ she said.
‘Is that the real reason?’
‘Dorsett, I’ve told you. I don’t believe in this stuff.’
He looked about the walls.
‘You have to admit though, it’s impressive. You can definitely feel something can’t you?’
She looked at him in disbelief and he shook his head.
‘I’m not talking about a God. But it makes you wonder. You’re looking at thousands of years of history here.’
‘Yes,’ replied Sam, ‘and thousands of years of intolerance. Millions of people killed for this.’
But Dorsett wasn’t listening.
‘I like the silence of it.’ he confessed. ‘It’s almost like a library but with no books, just symbols and artifacts.’
‘It’s more like a museum.’ he retaliated.
‘Look at that window.’ he said, and nodded towards the portrayal of a saint designed in the glass. He was blessing the both of them, his eyes in the customary expression of faithful stupor. Dorsett stared into them to search for any evidence of being and voiced what Mr Jameson had said about missed alternatives.
‘Imagine all these windows with images of the universe.’ he told her. ‘The first representing the singularity, the second its expansion, the third the stardust, the fourth, the glint of stars. Then small planets beginning to form, their moons encircling them, then our own earth, a big blue orb with white clouds casting shadows on continents. A fish, a lizard, a lemur, an ape. Then the pinnacle of creation, mankind. Think how much sense that would make, how easily that would rest with us. Instead, all this goes directly against science. It doesn’t stand a chance, does it? Adam and Eve, the parting of the Red Sea. And look over there, that’s supposed to be Noah’s Ark. It’s ridiculous. A great potential for a union that somehow changed to fact versus faith. Facts might be decisive but faith can’t be touched, that’s the problem. You can talk most people to sense with facts but you can’t turn someone away from religious ideology. Like God, it’s intangible.’
He reached across the pew in front of him and picked up a book. He flicked through the first few pages and stopped.
‘Listen to this. ’In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.’ Doesn’t that sound to you like the beginning of the universe? Heaven before the earth, heaven being the universe, and the formation of the earth following it? He could have said earth and then heaven, but he didn’t. And he mentions darkness upon the face of the deep. The deep could be another description of the universe. But after this, the whole thing turns into fiction.’
’What are you talking about, ‘He’?’ said Sam. ‘The bible wasn’t written by God. It was written by scholars and prophets over centuries. It’s been changed and rewritten countless times.’
’When I said ‘he’, I meant his word, whoever or how many claimed to have written it. What I’m getting at is that it would have fitted better with skeptics if those first few words were coded as the big bang.’
‘How on earth could anyone know of singularities or cosmic explosions if there was no understanding of science, Dorsett? They ridiculed Copernicus for even suggesting that the Sun and not the earth was the centre of the universe. How would you expect any authors of the bible to suppose that all things came from one giant explosion billions of years ago? The number billion as far as I’m aware isn’t even mentioned in the bible. The earth was made in seven days it claims, or had you forgotten?’
Dorsett closed the book and placed it back.
‘I think it was six, actually. He rested on the seventh. The point I’m making is that there’s a missing connection.’
Sam looked bemused.
‘You used to be an atheist. You told me you didn’t believe in God, remember? Now you sound like an agnostic.’
‘An agnostic? Remind me.’
‘Someone who isn’t sure if there is a God or not.’
‘I’ll settle for that.’ he told her. ‘I always thought it strange that you refused to believe in God outright. No one can be that certain.’
‘I made a decision, that’s all.’ said Sam.
‘And I’m sitting on the fence, is that it?’
‘Or hedging your bets. Mr Jameson told me of the meeting you two had. He thinks you were trying to convert him.’
‘I was not.’ he snapped. ‘I was trying to be rid of any confusion, that’s all.’
‘And now we’re sitting in a church. A place where neither you nor I have ever been before. What’s happened to you? Are you looking for justification?’
‘For what?’ he demanded.
‘For those written inclusions of yours. First it was Mason, then Steve. Is it God now?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. I only walked in here to see if there was anything real about it. To see if a spark could be felt.’
He saw her head lower towards him and look directly at him.
‘And is there?’
He thought it best to pause for reflection.
‘I don’t think so. I’m impressed by the history of it, the artifacts and statues. But there are no stars or galaxies in evidence, so no.’
‘Good. So let’s go home.’
He turned to her irritably.
‘Tell me something, Sam. If all this is nonsense to you, why are you so impatient to get out?’
‘Why are you so eager to stay, Dorsett?’
‘Because I’m curious. It doesn’t scare or worry me. I don’t live my life by the rules it preaches. The truth is, I’d probably get bored if I stayed long enough. But your behaviour is something else. You claim not to believe in any of this and yet it seems to frighten you.’
‘I’m not frightened. It just goes against everything I stand for.’
‘If I entered a place that didn’t matter to me, I’d be indifferent to it. Yet you seem agitated. It’s as if you’re afraid to believe in it.’
She gave him a look that was hostile.
‘I thought you were getting better, Dorsett.’
‘I am getting better.’
He corrected himself.
’I mean I am better.’
She stood up and left the aisle.
‘I’m going home. You can stay if you want to.’
Sam got up and walked to the exit. Before she reached it he followed after her even though he had an urge to remain a little longer.
Dorsett would never see the sun in the same way again.
As forceful as it was, darting its beams through any unclosed gap in the curtains, he needed it blocked to be able to write properly. Yet still, the room was brightly lit, even behind the blue shade of the drapes. Starlight was what he would call it from now on. The earth’s atmosphere scattered starlight which made the sky blue. The day is commonly known as fine or sunny. Not starry. Starry refers to night time, the twinkling of stars. This star, the one spotlighting this room would be twinkling to any other inhabited world light-years into the distant space, but with it being this close, Goldilocks close, it illuminated life bright and visible, and yet he was perfectly safe.
He noticed a scrap of paper on the desk with some hastily written lines he’d copied from Mr Jameson’s notes: The earth is rotating at one thousand miles per hour. The earth is travelling through space at sixty-six thousand miles per hour within a galaxy travelling at over five hundred thousand miles per hour.
He peeked through the curtain and saw the warm day empty of people or traffic. A tree’s leaves were un-blown, a cat was coiled asleep in its shadow and he found it difficult to convince himself that he was moving at any speed in any direction.
His hand moved below him on the paper, the pen scratching along. The earth spins, the star spins, the Milky Way spins. We live on a giant merry-go-round around a merry-go-round around a merry-go-round. I should be reeling as a consequence of such dizzying whirlpools, he thought to himself, and yet I could fall asleep from the tranquillity surrounding me. Science, for all its truths, seemed as demanding as religion when it came to belief.