The cathedral at Morrema had the dead face of San Gilberto. Each pilgrim took a time-stamped card at the entrance to the reliquary and carried it with them to get checked at the end. The cathedral charged pilgrims €2.50 a minute to see a dozen relics — though the most appealing was, of course, San Gilberto’s apple-skin face.
Angeline and I stood beside the case in reverent darkness. Next to us, a man and his young son stared. Into the eye and mouth slits, cut through that face before birth, and so close, now, to closing again, though they never would. The father looked down at his child, leaned over and whispered something. The child nodded and held out his hand. The father handed him two time-stamped cards and a handful of euro coins. The boy ducked back through the wall of warm bodies. Angeline broke off as well, muttered “gross” as she pressed sideways out of the chamber of gazers. I looked back at the father. He stared at the brown flap, hands folded.
The boy waited outside the reliquary, in the huge holy air of the church. He waited alone while his father enjoyed unlimited time with the saintly layer of skin. He sat in a pew, kicking the bench in front of him. Angeline, who hadn’t stopped for me, sat in the row behind, down the smooth wooden seat. I slid over to her. We watched the boy for an hour while saints stared up into the frescoed vaults. Stared up and discretely away.
Graham Henderson is the author of one story collection, Hendrix the Worm and Other Stories, has work published in Right Hand Pointing, Smartish Pace, Water Soup, and elsewhere, and tweets @gw_henderson.