He’s never going to believe me if I tell him. Rachel sat back in her Naugahyde recliner, cracked from years of cupping her father’s derriere where he sat to watch football week after week. It was a debate that had raged on for several weeks, ever since she had stepped foot in what her family used to describe as the Sunday chore – church.
Rachel didn’t know what possessed her to enter the wooden monstrosity that sat on the corner of the street on which she grew up. It had been a gigantic presence throughout her childhood, full of stories of brimstone and treacle, heaven and hell. Yet here she was, standing on the threshold of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, balancing on the tightrope of wanting to believe yet not fully succumbing to what she describes as a really good story.
It was the day on the mountain, over two months ago. Rachel had gotten separated from her hiking group, their voices growing further and further in the distance. Her own inner monologue rumbled through her brain, like a train that had picked up too much speed too fast, and with a hairpin turn in the sightline. I’m going off the rails, said Rachel. At first, she thought it was the wind, then her friends playing a practical joke, knowing that Rachel could not find her way out of a paper bag without a GPS. The sound came again, a voice. It’s not Brett or Suzanne. But what is it?
The treeline stretched out ahead of her, beckoning to her to climb higher and higher, trampled brush turning to heavy forest, evergreens rising out of the rich soil to touch the clouds and obscure her view of the Indian Summer sky. Some invisible force was powering her legs further, her breath catching in her throat as she ascended.
Then, just as her feet found permanence on the summit, she heard it again. The voice was accompanied by music… Singing. It was melodious and haunting, yet she felt comforted at the same time. Like hands had reached around her, closing her into a hug as the notes danced around. Even the sunlight danced. And with no one in sight to see it. Exhilaration rushed through her veins, the tethers of her psyche stretching out to bring meaning and some sort of reasoning why this entity seemed to be performing just for her.
Slivers of white light lasered through the branches, rendering Rachel motionless, almost blinded by the rays finding their way to her subconscious. Was it so strange to feel this sense of peace when she was alone, seemingly lost on the mountaintop? Would her friends know where to look to find her emaciated corpse? Seconds felt like days and the hour she took to ascend the mountain felt like a lifetime. She was relaxed for the first time in years.
Such solace was a pipe dream after the last couple of years since she left her husband and uprooted her life to come to Colorado. Sure, her new job was gratifying and being closer to her dad became a second chance at reconnecting. But her life had still felt tumultuous, not knowing what was going to happen next – she realized she was always waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next stumble along the path. Yet here she was, separated from her friends, with her head in the trees, listening to a song she recognized from her youth.
Tell it on the mountain. It was a hymn she heard throughout her childhood, almost every Sunday, as Minister Eric expounded on the secrets to a happy life, a spiritual life. Surely, this was not a spirit singing to her now?
Rachel shook her head. No. It isn’t. It can’t be. God didn’t exist. There was no higher power. She’d prayed to that higher power years ago and received no answer. Only silence. And pain. And rejection. But more, she received no answers as to why her little boy was taken from her – at the age of 10 – after a two-year battle with a rare brain tumour. She shouldn’t feel this happiness, on this mountaintop, nor hear the glorious strains of a chorus she now sang with emotion, anger and tears.
Tell it on the mountain. And she did. She cried out, head held back against the crystal blue sky, her mouth forming the words in between sobs – Why God. Why did you take him? Why didn’t you take me? Why did you leave me here all alone? He was my sunshine. My only sunshine.
Tears gave way to shaking, hands over her face as she knelt before the largest tree, standing ram straight, needles reaching towards her, the sun, to the sky. And still the singing continued. Tell it on the mountain. Here, she told her story, of watching her little boy catch his last breath and look into her eyes in confusion of what was happening. All she wanted was to hold him again, to feel his heartbeat, his fingers wrapped in her hair as he invented story after story just so he could postpone bedtime as long as he could without Rachel telling him to snuggle in and close his eyes so the Sandman could take him on his nightly adventure. Rachel didn’t want him to go – adventure or not – she was most content when he was in her arms, his weight giving proof of his existence, his soft breath caressing her cheek as she sang to him.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…
Rachel knew her dad wouldn’t believe her; he’d packed his beliefs away so long ago – beliefs that would see loved ones reunited, troubles brushed off as easily as sand, and here she was, first on a mountaintop surrounded with light and love, and now standing at the large wooden door of the church she’d vowed she would never see again.
Okay, God, she whispered. I’m here. Let me in.