The Company of Heaven

Saint Bernadette at Night

from The Company of Heaven: Stories from Haiti

My first recollections of story books come with the scents, sounds, and textures of Caribbean nights and with images of a little girl curled in bed over white sheets covering a small cotton mattress that retained her body shape impressed and deeply molded in it. She holds a thin, glossy, illustrated book about the life of Saint Bernadette. It is past her bedtime. The rest of the house is sunk in a darkness that floats like a diaphanous veil. The family is asleep, what is left of it. She is reading in a light halo coming from a burning candle stub she stole earlier in the kitchen and which she stuck right on her bedside table with three drops of melted wax, next to the old radio her grandmother gave her, all the while fearing she might set the run-down wooden house on fire, but rehearsing in her mind which favorite things of hers she’d quickly wrap in a bundle before rushing outside for safety in case this catastrophe did happen, because catastrophes are meant to happen in one’s lifetime, otherwise why would the word for it exist and what would it mean that werewolves smile in the dark? Most nights in Haiti, the little girl heard sounds of cicadas, calls from frogs by the pool, dogs barking in the hills, and distant drums that did nothing to trouble the dream-filled sleep of the dog stretched at her feet, the black and white she-mutt with hanging tits which one day showed up at the gate and was only allowed to stay because the child pleaded for the dog. Fireflies sometimes illuminated a corner of the pink bedroom whose walls were increasingly marred by tunnels that termites dug beneath their surface. Fireflies were both miniature angels and the glowing eyes of the Virgin Mary on her, this little girl who, at times, temporarily interrupted her pleasure in reading for that of investigating the area where fireflies made luminous designs in the vaporous darkness she loved, to feel the brittle hurt and damage created by rodent-insects to the insides of her bedroom’s walls, discover some new trails by pushing her fingertip in another softened spot of the wood surface, break it open into a fresh ragged gap, and marvel once more at the thousand delicate, minuscule, golden pine-tree granules that poured down at her bare feet like sand of an hourglass that spoke of a different time, a different life, the time when Saints themselves walked the earth, when spirits were visible, when the Virgin appeared to Bernadette and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” and yes, the girl will forever be blessed, she will live in a time when there is still Belief worth striving for, Faith worth dying for, but mostly, Faith worth living for, because God does exist, The Word is among us, does care and watches over us, applauds what use we make of language, is amused by our struggle to express the inexpressible in us for which there are still no words.

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