"A Soft Morning" by Murray Pura
I walk where the Atlantic breaks in half, there in the north, on an island, where one road begins at the sea and ends there too, where the sky is rain, and the land cloud, there where the rocks keen like witches and the Devil himself will come to crouch and brood, the waves a scar at his feet. There in the wind you will find me, the pipe cold and damp in my hand, all that I have seen and done under heaven wheeling round and round behind my eyes, and I still seeking to understand, alone there where the earth comes to its end and God and the soul have their beginnings.
I cannot forget Micah. He was a tall man born in the high north country. For a few years he felt he had a calling, and he was a man of God behind a wooden pulpit, talking of the soul and of the spirit, crying out to the men of the long fields of wheat to believe, to kneel, to put off their hard ways with the filthy overalls they hung on the wooden pegs. He held out the cup of Christ. But they would not hear the words. So, Micah grew tired, he let the bright sword fall from his hand. He cleaned his face under a chrome tap in Vancouver, buttoned a Harris Tweed vest, and he was done with them, done with the brown faces and the large square faces stained nicotine with soil. He became a professor of theology.
An enormous amount he talked, did Micah, all fine words, full of silver, like feathers dropping through a shaft of strong light. But there was no longer any of the greater God to him, no longer any of the heaven and the hell, no hint of a world of angels and demons and spirits behind the poor fabric of this one.
It was a woman said to him during his lecture one afternoon: “I do not understand what it is you mean when you use the word God.”
And it was a man of fifty took Micah out for a beer at the end of the course. “You don’t believe in evil then, Micah?” the man asked.
“No,” Micah replied, taking a loud pull from his stout mug. “It’s just that man is crippled.”
On he stayed at the university for years. He found the time to enjoy the land, the mountains that marched away from the sea, those guardians of what was not human. He liked to stand in the wind, in the rain like pins, the stab and cut. It was the power he liked to feel. It was the god in him he liked to thrust against the cloud and the storm.
Scathach. From the east and from the sea she comes, comes the length of the country and it’s in the wind he meets her, the autumn wind thorny with leaf. He marries her and she a great beauty of golden hair and green eyes.
But how long is it? November’s measured in brittle steps, twice, three times. She sags like grey winter. He walks through a marriage, a February landscape, a tired country. She cries constantly.
“What is it” he demands.
“I don’t know,” she groans. “I feel like nothing, like mud, like shit. It hurts so much in here,” and she digs her nails into a breast.
Micah tries talking. Talking, it’s very good coming out of him. He can talk the precise beauty of a candle flame, the rose liquer of the fire at the hour of the hearth. It makes no difference. If her spirit lifts, it’s only for an hour. Then the depression comes over her features again like a hood. There is nothing to be seen in the eye or lip or brow. And in the bed, at dark, he hears the cries beside him, desperate cries into the blankets, the pillow.
Up until this, Micah has handled anything that’s come his way. Somehow or other he’s dealt with everything and come up with something. Now he can do nothing. One day he is in the kitchen staring out at the garden in the backyard and he hears her weeping through the bedroom door. He trembles all over.
“Just give me something I can hold onto, something I can take into my hands,” he says out loud.