The Old Priest

The old priest received many letters begging him to come and visit. The wires were cold and the streets were broken, but it was safe to travel. It had been for years. One day, he received yet another letter. Grabbing his beads, little book and smokes, the old priest set out into the shadow of crumbling buildings and rusting girders, passing grand trees and piles of rubble. Some spring flowers had broken through the uneven pavement. A white cat followed him, desperately trying to get his attention. Halfway to the main courtyard of the town, the priest thought about returning. It would end the same way it always did. The letters meant nothing. As he thought these things, he passed into the great plaza, crossed the diagonal shadow of its tall clocktower on the warm cobblestones, and headed for the heavy door of an old building with cracks and burns. There were no chalk marks on the door. The priest checked the envelope of the most recent letter with the numbers on the sign above the door and then knocked. The sound of furniture struck out through the walls and there were footsteps on the stairs. Then a voice greeted him. The priest mentioned the letter, the beauty of the day, and the tin of coffee he had brought. The voice begged him to leave and not return. The priest wondered why this moment always came as a surprise. Slowly, he fumbled with some chalk in his pocket, and then marked the door. For a moment he stared at the brass numbers on the sign. I can hear you breathing, the voice suddenly said from beyond the door. Please stop.