Greener Pastures (2)
Part 2 of 52
It was Sam the Magnificent who pointed out how church windows looked like old-time posters. Like posters for some traveling circus or magician. Ringling Brothers. Barnum and Bailey. Big, simple posters, barn-sized, and blazing in bold colors.
She’d gaze up at the saints in those windows. Or the big Jesus window that soared behind the altar: a stained-glass Jesus floating into a blue-glass sky of pink-glass clouds.
Samantha had walked around. “There,” she said and nodded where to look. “St. Clements tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea in 99 AD.” She’d wait for me to follow her gaze. “That could be a poster for Harry Houdini.”
St. Eulalia, in her window of blazing colors, she’s shown being placed inside a barrel filled with knifes and rolled down a hill. “That could be Annie Edson Taylor, a school teacher in 1901,” Samantha had told me, “who was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.”
Each saint held his or her chin high. Their eyes, clear. Their faces not wrinkled by fear or pain.
The saints, as Sam the Magnificent spun it, were the first daredevils.
Their martyrdoms were the first death-defying feats of derring-do.
We’d walked around, staring up at the bright stained-glass scenes. St. Ignatius of Antioch—killed in the coliseum by tigers—was a dead-ringer for Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy.
St. Lawrence—fried alive—could double for Mark “Markini” Nelson, the world’s youngest escape artist, famous for being wrapped in chains charged with high-voltage electrical current.
“Maybe this is the appeal of magicians,” Sam had said under arched eyebrows. Tapping her chin with one finger. Her face as resolute as St. Veronica being decapitated or St. Hadrian getting his hands lopped off.
It had been easy to see. Simon the Zealot in his blazing window of reds and golds, being sawed in half by Roman soldiers . . . he was every vaudeville illusionist getting sawed in half on stage.
St. Lucy held a platter that displayed her gouged-out eyes. She could easily stand in for Dorothy Dietrich, the First Lady of Magic, strapped into a straitjacket and suspended high in the air by a burning rope.
While other girls had wanted to become nuns. Brides of Christ. Samantha had dreamed of becoming a magician, St. Eustace baked inside a bronze bull, or St. Phocas boiled alive. To tackle the worst horror she could imagine, and to still come out alive.
To thunderous applause.
Keep in mind: A magician’s job is to make the fake look true, and the real look phony as hell.
Apologies to Tennessee Williams.
As for me, I want you to think I’m a liar.
Only after I’ve lost all credibility, here, can I risk telling you the whole, terrible truth.
Whether you believe me or not, I don’t care. All that counts is that the story will be off my shoulders.
Then a girl named Anne Lewis-Kennedy died by her own hand. A star pupil at some local charter school, Anne, the goer of the extra mile. Toer of lines. Walker of the straight and narrow, and all-round early birder. A memorizer of the Periodic Table, she’d piled the bathtub full of dry ice and locked the bathroom door and stretched out on the terry cloth bathmat, knowing carbon dioxide is heavier than air. That dry ice is frozen CO2, and as it melts it releases that colorless gas. Almost odorless, a little sour and sharp, it’s the smell of soda pop if you subtract the sugar. This carbon dioxide is what humane slaughterhouses use. Pigs and chickens breathe it, and within twelve seconds they pass out. Within twelve seconds Anne Lewis-Kennedy had felt giddy, a giggling feeling, and most likely she’d seen rainbow visions just before she’d fallen asleep. Within a few minutes, she’d suffocated.
Stay Tuned for Part Three…