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All the Bright Places (Page 71)

All the Bright Places(71)
Author: Jennifer Niven

When I’m done, I stand back. His words are neater than mine, but they look good together. There we are, I think. This is our project. We started it together, and we end it together. And then I take another picture just in case they ever tear it down.

Munster is almost as far north and west as you can get and still be in Indiana. It’s called a bedroom community of Chicago because it’s only thirty miles outside the city. The town is bordered by rivers, something Finch would have liked. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Monastery sits on a large, shaded property. It looks like a regular church in the middle of some pretty woods.

I roam around the grounds until a balding man in a brown robe appears. “May I help you, young lady?”

I tell him I’m there for a school project, but I’m not sure exactly where I’m supposed to go. He nods like he understands this and leads me away from the church and toward what he calls “the shrines.” As we walk, we pass sculpted tributes of wood and copper to a priest from Auschwitz, and also St. Therese of Lisieux, who was known as “The Little Flower of Jesus.”

The friar tells me how the church and the tributes and the grounds we are walking on were designed and built by former chaplains from the Polish army, who came to the States after World War II and fulfilled their dream of creating a monastery in Indiana. I wish Finch were here so we could say, Who dreams of building a monastery in Indiana?

But then I remember him standing next to me at Hoosier Hill, smiling out at the ugly trees and the ugly farmland and the ugly kids as if he could see Oz. Believe it or not, it’s actually beautiful to some people.…

So I decide to see it through his eyes.

The shrines are actually a series of grottoes built out of sponge rock and crystals so that the exterior walls sparkle in the light. The sponge rock gives the place a kind of oyster-shell, cave quality that makes it seem ancient and folk-arty at the same time. The friar and I walk through an arched doorway, a crown and stars painted across the top of the face, and then he leaves me on my own.

Inside, I find myself in a series of underground hallways, cobbled in the same sponge rock and crystals and lit up by hundreds of candles. The walls are decorated with marble sculptures, stained-glass windows, and quartz and fluorites that capture the light and hold it. The effect is beautiful and eerie, and the place seems to glow.

I come out into the cool air again and go down into another grotto, another series of tunnels, this one with similar stained-glass windows and crystals built into the rock walls, and angel statues, heads bowed, hands folded in prayer.

I pass through a room arranged like a church, rows of seats facing the altar, where a marble Jesus lies on his deathbed above a base of glittering crystals. I pass another marble Jesus, this one tied to a pillar. And then I step into a room that glows from floor to ceiling.

The archangel Gabriel and Jesus are raising the dead. It’s hard to describe—hands reach upward and dozens of yellow crosses race across the ceiling like stars or airplanes. The black-light walls are lined with plaques paid for by families of the dead who are asking the angels to bring their loved ones back to life and give them a happy eternity.

In the outstretched palm of Jesus, I see it—a plain, non-glittering rock. It’s the one thing that looks out of place, and so I pick it up and exchange it for the offering I’ve brought—a butterfly ring that once belonged to Eleanor. I stay awhile longer and then go blinking into the daylight. In front of me are two sets of stairs, side by side, and a sign: PLEASE BE REVERENT. DO NOT WALK ON THE HOLY STAIRS! YOU MAY ASCEND ON YOUR KNEES. THANK YOU!

I count twenty-eight steps. No one is around. I could probably walk right up them, but I think of Finch being here before me and know he wouldn’t have cheated. So I drop to my knees and go up.

At the top, the friar appears and helps me to my feet. “Did you enjoy the shrines?”

“They’re beautiful. Especially the black-light room.”

He nods. “The Ultraviolet Apocalypse. People travel hundreds of miles to see it.”

The Ultraviolet Apocalypse. I thank him, and on my way to the car, I remember the rock, which I’m still holding. I open my palm and there it is, the one he first gave to me, and later I gave to him, and now he has given me back: Your turn.

* * *

That night, Brenda and Charlie and I meet at the base of the Purina Tower. I’ve invited Ryan and Amanda to join us, and after we’ve climbed to the top, the five of us sit in a circle, holding candles. Brenda lights them, one by one, and as she lights them, we each say something about Finch.

When it’s Bren’s turn, she closes her eyes and says, “ ‘Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee!’ ” She opens her eyes again and grins. “Herman Melville.” Then she hits something on her phone, and the night is filled with music. It’s a greatest hits of Finch—Split Enz, the Clash, Johnny Cash, and on and on.

Brenda jumps up and starts to dance. She waves her arms and kicks out her legs. She jumps higher and then up and down, up and down, both feet at a time like a kid having a tantrum. She doesn’t know it, but she’s flip-flapping like Finch and I once did in the children’s section of Bookmarks.

Bren shouts along to the music, and all of us are laughing, and I have to lie back and hold my sides because the laughter has taken me by surprise. It’s the first time I remember laughing like this in a long, long time.

Charlie pulls me to my feet, and now he is jumping and Amanda is jumping, and Ryan is doing this weird step-hop, step-hop, and shake-shake-shake, and then I join in, leaping and flip-flapping and burning across the roof.

When I get home, I’m still wide-awake, and so I spread out the map and study it. One more place left to wander. I want to save this wandering and hang on to it, because once I go there, the project is over, which means there’s nothing left to find from Finch, and I still haven’t found anything except evidence that he saw these places without me.

The location is Farmersburg, which is just fifteen miles away from Prairieton and the Blue Hole. I try to remember what we planned to see there. The text from him that should correspond—if it lines up the way the others have—is the last one I received: A lake. A prayer. It’s so lovely to be lovely in Private.

I decide to look up Farmersburg, but I can’t find any sites of interest. The population is barely one thousand, and the most remarkable thing about it seems to be that it’s known for its large number of TV and radio transmitter towers.

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