There is a cathedral in the void, between spaces, nested in the primordial ether that is massless and firm. Belethor walks the cobblestone paths between the hedgerows sweeping the fragments of space time off the walkway. The stone he walks upon is not actual stone. It’s a representation of stone, the essence of stone, something that is firm and hard, which has purpose for enduring the weight of creation. Moss grows on the stone. But it is not living. It is like the stone, bearing characteristics of moss, green and moist with the dew, bathed in endless twilight. None of it is real, save Belethor. He walks, sweeps, walks, sweeps, walks…
Belethor does not know how he arrived at the cathedral. For billions of years he has swept and walked the paths, explored the cardinal points, perceiving the cathedral to be practically endless. Every stone, every leaf, every blade of grass Belethor has named. An open courtyard in the center of the abbey yard, accented with rose bushes with pink and white pedals, remains the only permanent place, with a fountain at the center, bubbling with what could be water, but isn’t.
In the beginning, Belethor saw the earliest lifeforms in the gallery. He discovered it early on, exploring the damp and musty interior of the cathedral. A long corridor of mirrors and paintings, lifeless and immobile, separated by geometric tapestries, was situated above the nave where the side aisle met the narthex. Spatial anomalies, the viewings of other dimensions, broadcasting across the reaches of space, the portals conveyed to him the habits of lifeforms. Many of them he first perceived from below, spectating from the reflection in a pool of water, or in the sheen of icy caverns. And though time did not proceed with him, it did in the portals. Life changed, grew complex. They began to speak, to utter sounds, then words, then sentences, asserting their existence boldly to any who would listen. Belethor would stop his work and sit, to listen. It was the conversations he enjoyed most. Those came later, much later.
Seated on the cold stone Belethor sat, his legs crossed with the broom straddling his thighs. He was smiling, watching Will, Colt, Jessica, and Marcos, talking about the other night. They were his favorite. He had watched Jessica grow up, from birth to adulthood. He knew her well, and regarded her as a sister, at least what he understood a sister to be. Her friends were charming and witty. He watched them travel and grow with her, true companions in a companionless world.
“How did your interview go?” Marcos asked, leaning back into his hard plastic seat in the diner. It was candy apple red, cracked and cracked at the corners from decades of customers.
Jessica pursed her lips, indecisive, a corner forming on the side of her mouth. “Eh, okay, I guess.”
Colt, glanced at Marcos sidelong and took a sip of his soda. “They didn’t like your presentation? That was a part of the interview right?”
Jessica disagreed, shaking her head.
“Nope. That was the accounting firm.” She replied.
“They did like the presentation,” Belethor whispered, his face pressed against the mirror. “You prepared all night. Don’t say that…”
Will had been silent for most of the breakfast. His mother had died in a car accident earlier that month. The funeral was lovely. They had all been there sharing in his grief, a community shell-shocked by loss. He busied himself with cutting a piece of beef hash and stabbed it with a fork lazily.
“Something will happen,” Marcos said, winking at Jessica. “You’ve got great references and experience.”
“Yeah,” Jessica replied absently.
“You had that job as the executive assistant,” Belethor chimed in emphatically. “That was so hard on you. But you grew!”
As if Jessica had heard Belethor through the ether, she nodded, agreeing with herself. Hugging the portal, Belethor sighed in relief.
Time slowed to a crawl as Belethor experienced their world. Their lives, fraught with complexity, joy, and sadness, he yearned to understand them. He yearned to be understood by them. A week later, he celebrated with them, dancing in the cold corridor in silence as Jessica and her friends visited a night club in Santa Monica. Jessica had gotten a job as an office assistant at a real estate company. Even Will was able to forget a little about the death of his mother, and the legal battle over her estate. They got drunk together. Jessica slept with Colt, and their friendship ended soon after, stymied by the unforgiving closeness they experienced.
Though Belethor had lived interminably, he accepted for the first time in his life the feeling of loneliness and despair. He would go everywhere with them. Live with them. Talk to them. And with glazed indifference they would talk over him. One night, Belethor, with tears in his eyes, pounded against the mirror glass, crying out into the cavernous air, “Know me, please!” But they would carry on without him, as if he was never there.
What he estimated to be months later, Jessica and Colt aired their grievances and began seeing each other. Marcos came out as a proud gay man, and Will received a weighty sum from his mother’s inheritance, who had been a television actress when she was younger. Belethor watched all of them take their places in the diner, surrounded by kitchy bobs and trinkets: farm houses made from chicken wire and sculptures of tiny dogs wearing red bandannas. Belethor sat close to the mirror, watching them sift through the menus tentatively.
“So,” Jessica said. “What’re we having?”
“I’ve got this covered guys,” Will interjected. “It’s on me.” He patted his chest agreeably.
Marcos brimmed. “Aww, thanks Willy!”
“Yeah,” Colt spoke up, still looking at the menu. “Thanks.”
Colt sat up and pointed at the center of the laminated paper and nodded. “Burger. Stick with what you know.”
“They do have good burgers here…” Jessica mused.
Belethor agreed. “Like that one you got up in San Francisco when Colt asked you on your first date,” Belethor murmured nostalgically. He realized he had never had a burger before in his existence.
“Can you believe what he said this week?” Marcos said, irritated. “He’s such a pompous asshole. Our president should be shot…”
“Hey!” Will said nervously in a hushed voice. “You can’t say that. Doesn’t the secret service have the right to detain people that say things like that?”
“I’m not on the news honey,” Marcos replied. “I swear, every time I go online I just see his face. Ugh! So annoying.”
Belethor nodded. He had learned much about American democracy over the centuries. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You have no idea how fast 4 years fly by.”
As the four placed their menus at the corner of the table, a flighty waitress emerged into the frame and took their order. Jessica ordered the green chili egg whites omelet. Colt, at the last minute vacillated between ordering his burger or a corned beef hash, but ultimately settled on a barbecue bacon cheese burger. Marcos ordered chilaquiles and chorizo. Will decided on two eggs, sunny-side-up, and two strips of bacon with a side of hash browns.
Many lifeforms expressed their cuisine in different ways. Belethor marveled at the modular quality of human food, the culinary theories of flavor, the difference between sweet and savory. He longed to taste their food, but there was nothing to eat on the cathedral grounds, nor any reason to for that matter.
“All this talk about surveillance has got me thinking,” Jessica mused. This peaked Belethor’s interest. He leaned in closer, the daylight of the portal illuminating his face like an enraptured human child.
“They say that hackers can use the microphone in your phone to listen in on conversations,” Jessica said.
“Yeah, that was in the news, wasn’t it?” Colt said, glancing at Jessica.
“It’s old news you know,” Marcos interjected dismissively. “Don’t you watch spy movies? Hollywood is the way the government lets us know what they can do.”
“Okay, conspiracy nut,” Will said looking up from his phone. “I think you need to lay off the mescaline.”
Belethor watched his friends longingly and sighed. He closed his eyes, weary and frustrated. He pounded the mirror with one fist and cried out. “Why can’t I know you?” Belethor stood up and paced in front of the mirror. Adjacent to the mirror, in a gouache painting, a lively boy from Sierra Leone was balancing a football on his head. The boy’s name was Unisa. From the corner of Belethor’s eyes, he saw the waitress bring plates of food. He turned and saw them hold hands and bless the meal, out of respect for Marcos, who was catholic. Belethor, with his fists clenched, so lonesome, he cried out again.
“It’s not fair! Why can’t you see me? You know me!”
And Belethor charged the mirror.
On the other side, Belethor was blinded by the daylight, stronger than any light he had seen. He was covered in food, which smelled unlike anything he had even smelled before, overwhelming him with pleasure. Speechless, Will, Marcos, Colt, and Jessica gasped in horror, seeing Belethor’s disintegrating body, unable to maintain its corporal form in the physical world. They screamed loudly, backing away. Belethor turned his head and looked into Jessica’s eyes kindly and smiled, and for a moment Jessica desperately attempted to grasp what had happened.
Marcos cried out, “Es el Diablo!” And crossed himself.
Only slightly aware of his fading consciousness, Belethor began to laugh dryly, and passed on in bliss.