Power of Prayer, Chapter One: The Old Woman
The aged Step creaked under the weight of the booted foot, as it had done uncountable times for nearly forty years. The boot wasn't heavy and neither was the body wearing the boot, but the Step was tired. It's essence was subject to the inevitable slow decay of all formerly living things. Before the booted foot had become the primary occupant of the house in which the Step slowly faded away, a full fifty years of other feet had crossed it's surface. Small rubber shoes and sticky bare toes; soft pink slippers. One incredibly well padded rump had slid down the Step multiple times a day for several months before disappearing, which is when a small pair of soft-soled leather moccasins arrived.
The Step didn't mind the booted foot. After forty years experiencing only this booted foot, the Step had come to know the weight of it, the feel of it, and how long the pressure would last before the booted foot moved on to other steps and other rooms. Over the years, the foot had gone through several boots, one pair just a newer version of the old pair, only identifiable new by the stiffness of the sole and the thickness of the treads. There was no harshness in the boot or in the foot, no slamming things on the Step or stomping down in rage, just a steady, sturdy, patient step and up or step and down. Predictable and easy.
The walls and doors agreed with the Step. Only the one person lived in the house now, no visitors ever crossing the threshold. Occasionally the doorbell rang, but it was packages or meals or small green-vested girls with brightly colored boxes. No one came in, and the woman of the house rarely left. It was a quiet existence because the woman was quiet, she harvested stillness and draped it around her, tucking it into corners and hanging it on the walls. The house was filled with silence. As the walls and wood and floor slowly faded back to the dust from whence it came, they did so with peace and harmony, not among the discord that so many other houses conjure.
The old woman continued up the staircase, one wrinkled hand on the rail, the other lifting her long skirt up to avoid stepping on the hem. Her pace was slow and steady, her heart and pulse slow. She'd spent her day pickling cucumbers and canning tomatoes for the winter. Convenience had a price, and in canned good the price of convenience was flavor. She'd never met a canned tomato that was worth even the ninety-nine cents it cost to buy. Arriving at the top of the staircase she dropped the hem of her skirt. Her hips were tired from standing over the hot stove and her hands ached from screwing down lids, chopping and mincing, and the unavoidable cleaning after. Idly rubbing her hands together she walked along the dark hallway, past the yellow strip of light emanating from her bedroom doorway. The golden flood of light beckoned her to rest, but her time to rest was not yet come. She walked through the streak of light, through the following shadow, to a dark door at the end of the hall.
Beside the door on a sagging wooden peg hung a knitted vestment. The pale purple and silver yarn smelled of cloves and tobacco and freshly cut hay. The old woman lifted the shroud from the peg and swung it around her shoulders, pulling the soft mantle against her neck and over her low-slung breasts. With that simple swish of shawl the woman's bearing shifted from a wearied woman just come from the kitchen to an unassailable shaman, radiating power. She twisted open the brass door handle and stepped into a room lit only by moonlight pouring through an unadorned window.
The room was small, in truth it was little more than a glorified closet, but it served her purpose. The walls were bone white, luminous in the stark moon glow. She walked over to the small table and lifted the thin black book, bringing it to her chest with a familiar smile. She carried the relic to the chair in the corner which faced the window, easing herself down. She sat for a moment letting her bones settle into place, her muscles relax, and set the book on her lap, her hands folded over the top. With a low hum she began to rock slowly in the chair, forward and back, her eyes closed. Within her mind she saw only blackness. She hummed, parting her lips to breathe into the room and dark. A small light flickered in her mind's eye and her spirit raced toward the light, watching as the light grew near, feeling the heat of it within her.
Her mouth began to mumble incoherent words, words that were some ancient language long ago forgotten and no longer spoken. Her pulse quickened as she issued the archaic verse, her body continuing the rhythmic rocking. She became more than herself, outside of herself, ethereal. A strange incandescence filled the room as her voice rose in ululating pleas and then dropped to a susurrus as her spirit danced and whirled within her mind. Her body began to glow a pale blue, the light pulsing with her heartbeat, spreading out, filling the room, lighting the window and pouring through the panes out into the cool night air. The quiet street on which she lived contained row on row of houses. Tucked into beds and snoring on couches, the stereotypical middle-class Americans slept on in peaceful unawareness. The shaman's spirit drifted out on the pulsing blue light, leaving the woman rocking and singing her numinous melody.