a crisis of faith

A Crisis of Faith

I open the door. I can’t bear the quiet house a second longer, so I drive. I get into my car and take whichever turns lead towards the darkening clouds. I speed through the suburbs and out into the countryside, the engine rushing in response to my need get close to the storm. Under the fringe of the weather my car’s greeted by a few fat drops of rain. Puddles gather and gush as the rhythm of the sky quickens. Hedgerow flashes by, blurred green dividing the greys of the road and sky. I roll open the window, freezing air flows in about me, the drumming on the roof intensifies as flings of wheel-spray splash about the car.

I’m led to a village where the rain is heaviest; I don’t recognise the place. I pull the car over by a small church, its thick stone walls are darker where they’re exposed to the rain, as if a bleak paint job has been abandoned halfway to completion. I cut the engine. The windscreen wipers lurch once then stop; the rain obscures the view. It darts downwards, snaking over the glass, and falls onto my arm and shoulder through the open window. I pull the door handle.


For an hour I sit reading and re-reading your email. Four years of close-knit friendship and intimacy vanishing, as quickly as this letter arrived. I know we’ve been having problems. I know that recently we’ve felt something jar, go against us.

Platonic, we call it, and we celebrate it. Friendship and love finely balanced; our great achievement. Has the balance tipped? The email says it has. We believe in investment, in work. We know it’s not easy to carry this off. Has our friendship really overtaken our love, really made everything awkward? When we’ve made love lately, it’s exactly that: awkward. Like Plato himself is standing at the end of the bed, tut-tutting. We both seem suddenly nervous, or, just not relaxed. How this has happened, I’ve no idea.

We’ve often joked about the fact that neither of us has met the one previously. And drunk to our luck at meeting someone companionable to grow old with, someone sexy, funny, sensitive, someone who understands what life is about, knows how to respond to the other, not instinctually, but informed, with intelligence. Perhaps it’s unconventional, but neither of us wants more than space, freedom and time. There’re so many advantages; neither of us has lost our friends, neither of us has become controlling or paranoid. Neither of us feels envy, insecurity, anxiety. We believe it’s genius, practically avant-garde. Of course, there are doubters, but we ignore them, call them blind, narrow-minded. But now I hear their whispers grow louder. I read the email again.


I love this garden, especially first thing, especially at this time of year, the frosted grass crunching under my slippered foot, the laurel’s green withstanding the temptation to pale, the bare-knuckled sleeping roses, silent. My ritualistic morning cigarette and tea give a larger, more intoxicating awakening. The tea’s steam is doubled in the cold, my warm breath doubles my smoky exhalations so I seem descended from dragons, not a human at all.

Enclosed, still, far from the main road; there’s little not to love about this garden. The sky’s azure, today in all directions but one. To the west a weather front approaches, a wandering shadow of raincloud. It’ll throw sleety, icy rain, driven by a cold, bitter wind. But our garden doesn’t care, the darkening clouds are far off, can’t be heard, and will probably pass us by. Here everything is quiet, and calm, like watching a cellist playing behind thick glass.

My dressing gown swishes as I move from room to room. The computer is firing up in the study, the kettle chugging, boiling water in the kitchen, the bath is running and steaming, the bed unmade. I pull the curtains to spotlight the clothes scattered across the floor. You left in a hurry this morning; so used to being late.

Working from home affords me amazing observations. I used to take advantage of the empty street by playing music at full volume, but these days I choose the serene melody of the house instead. I watch the sun cast away the condensation on the windows, I watch the slow advance of shade. The windows intrigue me, I’ve seen all seasons through these windows.

I know what’s expected of me from work and I’ve developed a system of rush and wait, rush and wait. Hammer out umpteen emails and wait for their replies, sit and watch the weather pass. Sip tea. Think of you. Such a creature of habit, you’d probably chide.

But today the kettle clicks off unheeded. The bedroom remains untidy. The computer, after delivering your email, sits shy. I slip into the tepid bath, the drip, drip, drip of the tap, peer-pressuring my tear-ducts.


I stand for some time next to my car. The rain is heavy, intense, freezing. The driver’s seat is getting wet. Do I really want this, to stand in a storm, to let the rain pelt me, to let it soak me? I’m not dressed for it but I don’t care. After all, what difference does it make?

I unbutton my cardigan, numb fingers struggling, and throw it into my car. I wind up the window and slam the door, then stalk into the churchyard. The gate creaks, the puddles slap, the yew trees sway with reverence in the wind. Grave stones lean, moss-strewn letters eroded by countless days like this one.

I stand for a moment a few strides back from the church door, watching its cobwebbed porch being assailed by the rain. Why am I here? I wanted rain, storm, recklessness. If I drive farther along the road, the skies will brighten. Here the rain is heaviest, here the distance has been crossed, the horizon met. The church stands as an image I’ve never felt attached to. It’s always been normal, mainstream, conformist, whereas I’ve built a world of forerunning, of freedom. The rain doesn’t ease, slanting quickly across the day. The church stands in front of me, I in front of it.


I read your email again. It’s short and frank, leaving no room for argument. How can I reply to this, should I even bother? Isn’t it better to wait, to talk it out tonight? Assuming you’re coming home tonight, if at all. It says you’ve seen a decline, but a sudden end in response to a slow decline just doesn’t make sense. Is there someone else, then? Has everything you’ve said you believe in, about the nonexistence of the one, your rejection and dismissal of fate and its fixed choices, has it all melted away before the flawless face of some new lover? Has it all been worthless? Have you strung me along, taken what you needed from me, and now intend to move on? I stare at your words. I hate them. My head’s full of questions, each as ground-shattering as the last.


Wiping my eyes, I tear my gaze to the window. I see that the rainclouds which seemed so distant this morning now occupy more and more of the pale morning sky; turbulent, wintry and dark, cold as my thoughts. I’m as close to them as ever, but I need to be nearer. I want to be in that storm, I want it to blow my anger away, want the wind stabbing straight through me. I need to be on the move, to feel like you feel. I snatch up my car keys.


Inside the dry church, my world of rain is feels foreign, distant. Dripping wet, I can hear the faint descent of water from my jeans onto the flagstones. All my clothes are soaked, heavy against my skin.

I step forwards past the aisles. A draught pulls at my senses, cooling me further, attempting to bring my blood in line with the cold nature of the heavens. All is still in the church, dim and immemorial. Images of a desert come into my mind, of sand at the base of a coarse cross, of heat, thirst, blood; but it’s all so far removed from here. My pain, my shock, is closer, more real. My anger keeps the cold at bay, but I’m beginning to calm. The unfamiliar surroundings of the village church help me focus and force all of my questions into order, and I prepare to feed them answers, standing here under the rafters.

This old building, it occurs to me, holds within it the same quiet as I so enjoy in our home, but with more shadow, more space. Now I experience the unpleasant sensation of being watched. Turning carefully around, a full circle, reveals no one. The altar, a golden cross, candlesticks, stained glass windows, varnished, smooth wooden pews, carpeted prayer mats, bibles, musty hymnbooks, gravestones in the walls. I picture skeletons under the floor, owls hidden in corners. The space, cold and dusty, has me. Or I have it.

Why now? Am I more in love than you, have I let my love show too much? I don’t think so. I’ve loved you carefully, as you have loved me. I’ve walked the wire, balancing between love and friendship. That’s our quest, both of us, to avoid betrayal and heartbreak, to build trust. Maybe we’ve besmirched love so much its role has become languid and the balance has tipped. Perhaps we’ve been fooling ourselves, wrong all this time, our unconsciousness storing every sigh, hope and fear, remembering them against our will. Has it all suddenly come to the surface? Our enlightened post-modern relationship: was it always going to be one day crushed by our human nature, our simple desire to be loved?

Should I have told you I love you, do I want to hear you say it?

I shiver and hug myself for warmth. Do I have the strength to start again?

The tingling of stress lightens my lungs. I resent myself, standing in a church asking questions that should never be asked. Again, with no comfort, I consider the similarities between this church and our house. This place doesn't feel empty, it does feel like a home; a ghostly home. This brings me to a stop and I hold my breath. Nothing moves but the uncontrollable beating of my heart. I hear no wind; I hear no rain. The storm has passed.


In dry clothes, I sip hot tea and light a cigarette. I haven’t smoked inside for years. Outside of the window the afternoon sun sparkles across the garden. It’s been raining here, too. The house is warm, and the neighbourhood quiet, everybody still at work. You’re still at work, I suppose. Sometimes, whilst sat, waiting for tasks to present themselves to me, I write and tell you about my day. About things contemplated or observed. I load up your email once more and, without any right answers, begin to respond.


The roads are empty. The car’s heaters smell of burning dust. Making mechanical transitions, I look for signs towards home, the wipers pushing drizzle from the windscreen. Bringing you into my mind I try to put myself in your shoes. How much of this has been about ideology, how desperate have we been to go against the grain? I’ve always hoped that ultimately, love and friendship are really one and the same. When we first met there was a spark, some chemistry, something natural blossoming. Trying to cheat that moment, to govern and control those emotions, to liberate ourselves from control itself, from hurt and disappointment, was, perhaps, a mistake. The conversations, discussions, plans we’ve made, beliefs we share; all we’ve worked for has clouded and relinquished the oneness of us.

I pull into our street, park and walk up to our quiet house; our home. I open the door.

Originally published by The Puffin Review, 2013 – journal no longer online

©James Bruce May 2013

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