06 July 2011


As the plane drifted toward the taxiway, Lonnie Houlihan became aware of two things: he was exhausted and there were voices in his head.  He suspected the voices were the symptom of the exhaustion.  At least, he told himself that was the case.  He wasn't so sure that they weren't always there.  This time, they spoke clearly rather than in the whispers to which he was accustomed.

Lonnie leaned back as far as he could in the seat.  The upright position reminded him of the monstrous ladderback chairs owned by his maternal grandparents, set in the "parlor" as they called it.  To this day the thought of that made Lonnie smile.  It also made him uneasy.  His grandma and grandpa, a pair of devout Catholics, as stiff and rigid in their devotions as the chairs were in their uncomfortable verticality.

That unbending devotion had transferred itself imperfectly to his mother, like a misaligned coin die striking a flawed but beautiful silver dollar.  Lonnie knew that devotion had erratic balance, something his mother had attributed to the death of Lonnie's father, when Lonnie was only six years old.  As a boy and a young man, he had watched his mother struggle with raising him alone and trying to be the good daughter to people who allowed for no imperfection.

He closed his eyes, the plane rocking gently as it trundled over the concrete.  A sigh escaped his lips as he thought of how much he wished to be home.  This trip had dragged on, longer than he expected.  The constant client meetings, sessions with the money men, the designers who constantly changed their minds and expected him to know that without being told.  It was driving him crazy.

In the gaps between the meetings and breakout sessions, he took to walking the city.  He had never been here before, which Lonnie discovered astonished him, considering how much of the world he had flown over or driven on in his life out of a suitcase.  It made him wonder again, seeing things with a fresh, if tired, set of eyes.  Sometimes he remembered to take his camera, reminding him again of a cherished hobby he had all but abandoned in the race up the ladder.

He walked the city.  He breathed in air thick with scents familiar and intriguingly new.  There were languages on the wind that he swore he had never heard before.  During the walks he noticed an abundance of churches, most decades if not hundreds of years old.  He found himself fascinated with them.  He took more and more photos, as many as he could fit on the memory cards.  He found himself thinking more and more of the churches, and less and less about the reasons he was in the city in the first place.

It was during one sun-infused walk past a worn-looking church of indeterminate Christian pedigree, his fourth day on the ground, that he first heard the voices.  They whispered, they laughed.  They asked him if his heart was in the right place.  Lonnie was so startled he nearly dropped his camera.  He felt nauseous.  A passing stranger asked him if he was okay.  A slow nod of the head, a feeble "Yes", and Lonnie staggered off to his next meeting, not sure if he could remember what he was supposed to talk about.

Meetings. Conferences.  Hurried lunches of second-rate catered sandwiches.  Lonnie maintained his facade, but all the while the voices were there.  He began to doubt his confidence.  Half-asleep in his hotel bed, for three nights he dreamed.  He was walking, arguing with himself, calling into question everything he had worked for in life, every path he had taken, and if it was all for the wrong reasons.  His dreams always ended the same way:  he had walked the city until he stood before one of the most breathtaking churches he had ever seen.  Its massive dome towered over the hillside on which it perched, stairways bedecked with pilgrims on their knees on their way up.  He stopped, frozen, as a woman carrying a rosary brushed his elbow.  She was praying in a soft voice.  The contact startled them both, and he gasped as she turned to him with luminous eyes, saying "Father Saint Joseph, pray for us."  She smiled a Mona Lisa smile, turning to go, and Lonnie awoke sweating and gasping in his bed.  The image of the dome burned in the afterglow fading into his retinas.

In his spare time over the next three days, Lonnie frantically searched the city for the church he had seen in his dreams.  In the end it proved fruitless.  He ran out of time, the pressures of the project and investment capital were too much to hold off.  He boarded the plane for home worn out and frustrated that he had been unable to find the church, and ask that woman her name.

The plane lurched, wobbling around a turn in the taxiway.  Lonnie snapped his eyes open, realizing he had dozed off again.  He was glad the adjacent seat was empty, that no one witnessed his look of panic at not knowing where he was at first.  He leaned forward to look out the window, trying to see why the plane had momentarily stopped moving.  He saw that from this vantage point he could see part of the city and the hills that overlooked it.  Through a gap in the airport buildings, shimmering in the heat off the concrete and jet exhaust haze, he spied a rounded building far off in the distance.  With a start, he realized it was a dome.

A dome just like the one in his dream.  Lonnie pressed his forehead against the window.  The hard surface made him wince and sharpened his focus as he strained to see the dome better.  There it was, big as day: the dome he had stood before, watching that woman walk away.  His pulse raced, and he felt faint.  The voices in his head told him to get up, run, get off the plane, but it was too late.  The aircraft began to crawl forward, the voice of the pilot buzzing over the intercom to tell them they were next in line for takeoff.  Lonnie began to weep silently, and slowly, as the dome disappeared from view.

As the plane rumbled into the sky, a hard crystalline sunlight poured through the windows on the opposite side of the cabin.  Lonnie felt the warmth on the backs of his hands, his face buried in them as he choked back sobs.  He knew now, it was a city of conversations, and it had been speaking to him the entire time, if not a lifetime.  The voices had told him of his true heart, and how it was a long way from home.

Lonnie knew this, as the plane rose into the sky.  He was coming back to the city, someday, the one home to his true heart.  He would walk the cracked and profane streets, her voice leading him to the stairs, which he would climb on his knees and offer thanks from a heart full to brimming with knowing now where it lived.


  1. Apparently Lonnie needs viagra. I'm sure such a prescription will cure his lonely heart.

  2. Just so everyone understands, I had to delete about 18 spam comments from a v*ia*gr*a peddler. Grrr.

  3. Um, I'm not going to mention the V word. Just in case. Unless you think it would help Lonnie.


  4. Lonnie Houlihan - a complexed man indeed?
    Brilliant short story Gumbo. Could see so much. Well done mate.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...