The first thing I learned here was not to look too long.
It seems impossible, when your train first pulls in on a September afternoon and it’s right there: two stone crowns, its stained glass eye. The whole town stuck in orbit. Inescapable. But you learn to ignore it. You have to. Let its sharp edges tap your window all year. Read your papers, write your essays, and pretend you don’t see it.
And then one evening last summer, I looked up from the page and found that I was 22 and standing in front of it for the first time. Alone, and dwarfed by its sandy walls. Shivering inside the sound of bells. Funny what happens to time in a place like this. All at once that vague impression I’d carried for so long sank into the background and the real details leapt out at last. Hanging stone faces that had wept until their face lost its form. Hidden generators. Fire escapes. Striking blackness, most of all. Great patches of it, like damp, cut away at crisp joins where bright new stone had been stuck. Things that never come out in photographs…
Have you been here before?, the woman at the entrance asks. No, I tell her, and so she goes on to tell me the place was built a thousand years ago (how well it’s done to make it this far). After talking a few more minutes, she points me down past the aisles past where a few are sitting in silence, reading hymn books. I look back to her, and when she nods I turn the corner. Frosterley marble, she had said. Not true marble, rather a limestone. Full of fossils, much much older than this place. Put your hand around the back of the pillars, you’ll feel them. I reach behind; ribs of grey stone in the smooth blackness. Imagine the pressure it took to make something like that.
You’ll want to go to the top, she had said. If you’re quick you’ll make it. On every step up, my boots clack and rub against my heel. The laces frayed, sole splitting on each foot. I should have worn something else, I think. Something more comfortable. But what can I do now? I look down from the top of the tower and see a couple taking pictures on the way to their summer ball. They hold smiles, his arm outstretched and her head pushed onto his shoulder, and then I watch as they take turns striking poses in their black formal robes. Their shadows stretch out under the red sky.
…of course, it’s a star. How could you forget about something like that?
Above them, in the centre of it all, I felt no pull. No force. For the first time, I was standing inside of the sun, looking out; and only from there was I able to see what I had done with home.