He wasn’t a religious man; but, still, the sound of the bells from the monastery on the hill held special meaning for Daniel. There was beauty. There was ritual. While he didn’t necessarily believe in God, Daniel believed in the need for beauty, the need for ritual, the attention to moments, the notion of grace.
It was an afternoon, and Daniel walked up the hill to his flat. Pine trees rowed the red brick of the monastery. The green needles shading the fired clay and mortar. A breeze pushed up from the main street below, the main street that intersected the one on which Daniel lived, and the monastery resided. Daniel felt his hair against his neck and the change of temperature along his shirt cuffs. He listened as the bells began to chime. The sound was peace. The sound was a calling to God and to worship. Daniel’s thoughts turned to God, and unbidden, prayer murmured into Daniel’s thoughts. He chided himself, his steps scuffing along the sidewalk, upset. The bells echoed, and Daniel pushed them out of his mind, looked through the shop windows: flowers arranged in cellophane, the boy-like angles of mannequins, words, painted in block letters arching over their bargains. It was then the bells stopped. Abruptly, with a dull, dampening noise, like a hand placed over piano strings, the clanging chimes ceased.
Daniel stopped. He tilted his head, as if the breeze might blow something his way, and strained to hear more. Cars motored at the base of the hill. Birds filled the silence. There was a chime; but, it was the ding from a door opening in a store. The sudden silence, the awful silence filled Daniel with despair. His vision of ritual, and of men with more faith than he, tore, as if hands ripped the image in his mind. A different anger filled him, and Daniel shook his head, muttered, and as he now saw the bells, he saw a mechanical hinge, a timer, some second-hand computer filling the roles that belonged to men far more than a spot on an assembly line stamping steel. No wonder God’s left us, he thought, we’ve given this away. Let it go. And, he felt there was something wrong, something no one else could see. It was as though Daniel were cheated, and the smallness of this offense left him uncertain.
He wondered what it meant, and quickly, as if smoothing the wrinkles out on a newly made bed, pulled his thoughts taut, and arranged them in neat, logical order, then continued up the street, past the pines, outside the red brick walls.
* * *
The following morning, while drinking coffee diluted with milk, Daniel sat on his balcony and scanned the day’s newspaper. The usual stories filled the pages, as economies of scale scaled back, budgets were cut, and people bled. Tucked near the classifieds, close to the obituaries, but a story in its own right, was a modest headline. Daniel read; his fingers were damp, ink stained his skin. The priest, the monk, the man, Daniel wasn’t sure what to call him, had a stroke. He was recovering in St. Stephens. For forty years the monk had rung the daytime bells. Another betrayal, Daniel thought, the coffee tasting cold in his mouth. His thoughts turned to moments of disappointment, not for the first time, but, perhaps with the most clarity. The morning was still cool, and Daniel watched from above as people left their doorways, their keys turning in locks. He was embarrassed, even though no one knew of his betrayal save himself. Daniel traced his fingertip around the gray tone photo of the monk. He could visit the hospital. He could sit with the man. There could be silence. There could be sound. In the morning, in the sun, the reflections from windows around him, Daniel could picture the possibilities and hear the subtle tremble, as if a bell resonated, and the curved waves entered his body, unseen.