Walking back from the dentist she had looked at the trees, just coming out, and wondered how many springs people had been looking at trees come out and suddenly the world seemed extremely young, a fingernail’s edge of growth. Spring was gray and unstable. It was miracles and tragedies – terrible events, anyway, that could never happen in summer and winter.
She left the office at noon. In the streets, along scaffolding around eternal construction, were posters for clubs, perfume, designers. Once, for a moment only, she had seen the world through the eyes of a saint, seen vanity in every single human desire – but only for a moment. No one could think that way all the time. The streets were gray, but there was color in the posters, and in the flame-colored tulips outside the Korean delis.
Church bells were marking noon. Some people climbed the steps; others looked up, caught, remembering the date. Beggars called out good wishes. Brightness in the air, and darkness in the church, and the choir triumphant now after many rehearsals, Latin on one side of the program, English on the other. The priest, high in his pulpit, preaching to strangers. The choir again. Soon the bells for one o’clock. No one would care if she came back late.
Now time was compressed again, and the world newly saved. Bells, and swoops of pigeons, and the entire city waiting for something as each toll rang. No gesture was needed, no words, nothing dramatic to bring out somberness in a civilization built on dazzle – it was already there, in the restless streets and the cries, in the pigeons flying as they might have flown up when the veil of the Temple was torn. The third hour began. People left, others entered. A new priest, coming forward to take up his assigned reading. The choir low and somber now. The last words spoken, the last note released. Left in silence, to go back out into the streets, still gray, still waiting, and the spring, still unsettled, still dangerous.
On the way back to the office she bought the flame-colored tulips.