The woman who had lost her way placed the jar on the table. The lid was sealed with green wax. A lightning bolt was painted on the jar. She cut the seal and pried open the lid. Wind rushed through the house. Thunder rumbled in the cellar.
Someone uncorked a bottle in the kitchen down the hall. Oil sizzled in a skillet, and the smoke of onions and sweetmeats filled the air. The woman grew drowsy, overcome with dread. She closed the jar and the thunder faded.
On the road that wound past the house, cattle were bellowing, jostling, on their way to slaughter. Whips cracked over their backs. The lights in the house went out. The woman put on her coat. She wanted to leave, but she was afraid, and she curled up on the floor, covering her ears.
Out in the world, across oceans and deserts, a cry went up. Cities caught fire. Rivers rose. Entire populations embraced sleep, knowing they would not awaken. The tongues of rulers and beggars alike fell silent, and the prophets became as children, busying themselves in corners, hearing nothing, saying nothing, their toys clinking in the darkness.
An acrobat tiptoed along the horizon as if it were a tightrope. Emblems from the tarot were sewn on his shirt: crossed swords, a cup brimming with fire, a noose. He clutched the map of a mountainous island covered by dense forests. His shadow was composed of thousands of black moths, hovering in formation, inches off the ground. The shadow held his shape and never wavered.
The acrobat’s heart floated in a cloud of vapor. He heard it murmuring, the valves opening and closing, behind the harder music of his bones. At times he felt a part of himself – an ear, a leg, his temple – erased. When the part reappeared, it would be cold at first and colorless. He could not talk about this with anyone, even the woman who awaited him at the end of his journey.
Her dress was embroidered with shells. They tinkled like bells when she extended her arms to him, her hair blowing out green and blue. They were on a long beach, and as he approached her, she began to disappear, one limb, one feature, at a time.
Finally she was gone, and in her place a hangman materialized with a drawn sword. Beside him, fire leapt from a pit in the sand. A noose swung from a tree coated with salt.
To escape the hangman, the acrobat’s shadow rose into the air, maintaining its shape for an instant before the moths dispersed and swarmed the hangman. He fell backwards, as if he had been drawn into a deep hole, for when the moths flew away, he was gone.
Naked, alone, the acrobat dropped his map into the fire and watched at the forests began to burn.
The contralto in the back row sprouted wings through he burgundy robe. She was an orphan. A silver barrette shone in her hair.
She scanned the statues of angels that lined the mezzanine. Their marble robes were translucent, thin as silk. Their haloes were silver.
Mist hung in the rafters. Snowflakes stuck to the windows. A fat man in the first row mopped his brow. A woman in green taffeta crumpled her program.
The concluding chorus was sung allegro spiritoso. The audience shivered as the second violins veered off on their own, the oboes followed, then the cembalo, played with flying fingers by a red-haired boy.
When the final note sounded, the contralto extended her wings. All eyes turned upward as she flew through the skylight, into the clouds, emanating brilliant rays. Only when the cathedral had emptied did she return and take her place in the mezzanine, her barrette a halo now and a smile on her lips.
Nicholas Christopher is the author of seventeen books: nine books of poetry, including Crossing the Equator: New & Selected Poems and On Jupiter Place, which will be published in April, 2016; six novels, including Veronica, A Trip to the Stars, and most recently, Tiger Rag; a book about film noir and the American city, Somewhere in the Night; a full-length novel for children (& adults), The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen, published by Knopf last year and forthcoming from them in paperback in October, 2015. He also edited two poetry anthologies, Under 35 and Walk On the Wild Side. He lives in New York City.
“Three Stories The Blind Man Told” was first published in the Northwest Review, Volume 47, Number 2 in 2009.