Heaven, Well Etched

by Jill Foster

Sister Hildy sat on the visitor’s side of the table with a raised brow, doubting friend and inmate Pete’s chosen tint of blue. He grinned at her unsaid critique but doubled-down on his selected lapis shade, now filling their outlined nooks of Heaven. During the prison’s authorized art sessions, they kept tackling this painting together in arched optimism despite the spotty air conditioning (… or what Pete playfully dubbed a comedy of airy hiccups); despite the cook’s overdependence on wilted lettuce (… what Sister Hildy called creative sauna salad); and despite the warden’s crackdown on their favorite paint brushes (… what they both affirmed as building their artistic grit). They stayed determined to lift each other up and paint together. The crafty Sister even gained approval to use alternate types of paint brushes: broken down sponges clamped by clothespins that they checked in & out directly from the warden himself.

In recent weeks, the prison guards had wondered about Pete’s interests for this particular afternoon: artistry with Sister Hildy over & instead of the more traditional last supper. The guards seemed invested in what his last meal should look like: a buttery caloric swirl of lavish design (with extra salt). Officer Harry, who patrolled the C-block, imposed images on Pete’s mental tastebuds: “What about some lobster stew,” he would toss out. “…with grilled scallops and chilled cranberries and peach-toffee cobbler?”

Pete recognized the officer’s joy for a good menu, in addition to frankly, his patronizing push for it to supplant Pete’s value for a different course altogether. For Sister Hildy, a decade ago, had introduced his heart to a specific type of mealtime: a sacrificial entrée, the holiness of which satiated every part of Pete’s inner craving; and the priest, just that morning, had administered the Eucharist. It’s always liberation when it and the confessional find the C-block. But Pete thought communion delivered freedom in an even greater sense of arrival that day. The good Sister then stayed on after the homily to paint their two-dimensioned Heaven for the rest of daylight. The presence of the Bread of Life and her friendship meant timeless morsels of sustained belonging to Pete’s soul (and not even fresh scallops with cranberries could inspire such fulfillment).

The seconds grew in rarity. The old wall clock advanced with ticking clippity-clops, but that dooming progression is not what consumed this duo. Each fraction of each hour continued to compose life between Pete and the Sister. The hyper-crunched limits of time became their sanctuary, where every sound between them still beautified each second like a pipe organ, still sanctifying Sunday’s receptive hearts in gorgeous but slow, melancholic notes.

Their friendship’s shared musical tones confronted the darkening circumstance in transcendent resolve: like the Sister’s giggle as their painting’s Heaven revealed the “residence of true Blessedness & multitude of living lights” ¹; or Pete’s grateful sighs as his hand finished a vignette of pearly gates in resonant glory; or the Holy Bread’s gnawed redemption that (perfectly heard by God) ricocheted through Pete’s physical & spiritual aortas.

Soon, dusk became their neighbor like the leather straps and voltage awaiting Pete next door. Her breath stifled by systemic betrayals beyond her control, Sister Hildy encouraged Pete’s dignity to stay open-facing. As fake justice hunted closer, you could hear the friends sing in teary whispers: “…and in the night His song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” ²

¹ Sara Salvadori, Hildegard of Bingen: A Journey into the Images, p. 44, Skira editore SPA, Milano, Italy, 2019
²  YouVersion Bible App, Psalms 42:8, NKJV

Jill Foster recently converted to Catholicism and lives in Washington, DC. As a hungry student of sacred presence, she writes short fiction to further engage discipleship (and takes a chance on unlikely or unexplainable roads to get closer to God through writing). She cherishes architecture photography, and self-published a photography-poetry ebook: “Geometry of Emotion: Thoughts & Memories Inspired by the Architecture of Washington, DC.”

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