STAINED GLASS WINDOW

by
William John Watkins




     It was about an hour before sun-up, and everything was visible but colorless gray, like the picture tube on an old black & white TV. I always wake up at that time; it gives me a couple extra minutes to get under cover before the dawn patrol goes by. They don't usually stop, but I've seen them go by so slow you could read the little print under the gold cross on the patrol car's door, and they don't miss much.
     But I've gotten pretty good at staying out of sight; you have to be when you're a three-time loser, especially if you've got a conviction in each of the big three-- Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. As soon as a Seraphim sees that in your record, you're going to be prime suspect in everything that's happened in the vicinity for the past six months, and in a neighborhood like this, that could include everything from rape to tape.
     Of course, I already have one tape conviction for "making, or causing to be 
made, reproductions of Satanic music" because they caught me with a videocassette of The Stones' cable concert from back in '81. I thought I was 
pretty safe with that one because I always kept it in the carton of a Reverend Jerry sermon.  But then Rev. Jerry lost the franchise for doing something nasty with the Children's Choir and all his sermons became heresy.
     In fact, the only thing that saved me from a heresy conviction was that when 
they played the tape at my trial to show how thoroughly misguided I was, all that came out was Sympathy for the Devil. It was almost worth two years in the Oral Roberts Stockade to see their faces when that music came blasting out and old Mick himself went hurtling across the stage.  Almost.
     The sex conviction was really a Time Crime, something I did before the 
Government granted amnesty to anyone who would make public confession of the crimes they'd committed back when the world was in sinful hands. All you had to do was write out a list of your crimes, go up on the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and ask for forgiveness on national TV. I couldn't do it, but a lot of people did; so many, in fact, that there was no traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue for a full six months. That little sideshow was so popular, it started to outdraw the Sunday services at the Washington Monument, and they decided to shut it down.  But they agreed to extend God's Mercy one final week and let everybody in the crowd give this little prepared speech all at once, admitting general sinfulness and applying for government-sponsored forgiveness. After that, anybody who hadn't made a public confession and was found guilty of previous crimes was treated as if they were guilty of a fresh offense.
     I thought they'd never catch up with me, but when they took all the old mailing lists from Playboy and High Times and Rolling Stone and The National Geographic, my name kept coming up like a sub-routine. In fact, it came up so 
often, they put me on the Prize List, and somebody turned me in to get off the hook for a prurient interest violation. I was going to fight it on the grounds that all those subscriptions were gifts from misguided friends, but then I saw they had my library record, and I told my Devil's Advocate to plead me guilty and go for mercy. I figured that way the jury wouldn't get to see all those times I took out Mark Twain and Vonnegut when I was in junior high, but the damned Public Inquisitor read the whole list to the jury just before they put on their hoods to pass sentence, and I drew five years at hard restitution. I suppose I was lucky I didn't get life. If I was up on the same charge today, I'd get castration for sure.
     The drug charge I was totally innocent of, but they convicted me anyway -- in 
absentia. I was going by in front of this brownstone when a guy came flying out of a first story window in a shower of shouts and glass and landed on me.  He got up quicker than I did, and by the time the Purification Police came pouring out the front door, I was the only one in the street. I didn't know what the hell was going down until I saw this one big Seraphim coming down the stairs holding a dealer by the back of the neck and carrying a baggie of weak looking grass in his other hand. I froze once I saw it was a drug raid because "presence presumes guilt" in capital cases. That means they can shoot you just for being there.
     The Seraphim shoved the dealer down in the street. She was crying and begging and offering to do anything, if only he'd let her go. You could tell he was 
listening, and everybody seemed to freeze and turn toward them to see what would happen.  The dealer was hanging onto his leg and running her palm up his thigh as high as she could. All the Seraphim wear those glasses so you can't see their eyes, but you could tell he was trying to think of some place dark to take her to and wondering how many of the others were going to look the other way and at what price.
     I think he'd pretty well made up his mind to go for a little pre-Interrogation interrogation when an Archangel came along and saw them standing there like that.  I started to look away right then, but I wasn't quick enough and I saw the angel take the gun out of his holster, jam the barrel in her mouth, and pull the trigger.
     The Seraphim who had hold of me was a rookie, and when he turned aside to throw up, I made a break for it. So they convicted me in absentia and sentenced me to be terminated on sight. I figured it was just as well; you're better off dead than going through Interrogation & Salvation and being shipped off to Camp Morality or some place like that. So, I've been on the run ever since. Until the day I saw The Revolution.
     Actually, it didn't look like The Revolution coming up the street out of the 
early morning grayness; it looked like an old derelict running half a block ahead of Final Judgement. He stopped near the storefront across the street to catch his breath and put his hand on the window to steady himself. The window had a sheet of dew and dirt on it, and when he took his hand away, it left a dark palm print in a froth of white. I believe that was what gave him the idea, but I'll never know what made him make the decision.
     You could hear the organ music going back and forth a couple blocks away, so it certainly wasn't that he'd outdistanced pursuit and could afford to stop. I believe now that he was tired of running and wanted just one revolutionary act before he went under. You could hear organs north, south, and east, so if he would have kept going, he might have made it out before they closed their
square. But instead of running, he started drawing in the dew on the window. At first, I thought he was leaving a message for somebody. But the sun was almost rising, and the dew was beginning to evaporate, and I couldn't see what it was he was putting up on that window. Whatever it was, he worked fast, and he was laughing like he was leaving a statement that would bring the theocracy tumbling down.
     About halfway through, he stopped and listened to the fourth patrolcar setting up its blockade a couple streets to the west. He worked even faster after that, like he knew he had to finish before they caught up with him because it was the last thing he would ever do. He finished just before the first patrolcar turned up the street. I still couldn't see what he'd drawn, but he apparently could, because he stepped back and looked at it for a second, and when he turned, there was a smile on his face like he'd won after all.
     It was funny, but the smile didn't go away even when he started running, and I don't think he stopped smiling even when they shot him. But they were close up when they did it, and they used a scattergun; so, there wasn't a lot that could tell you what he'd looked like let alone if he was smiling. I scuttled down off the stoop and dropped into the cement dry well in front of the basement windows as soon as I heard the first car coming around the corner, so I didn't see the execution.
     I just heard the shouts and a muffled blast like one of the Seraphim had stuck his gun into a pillow and fired it. It died away into the sound of wet feathers hitting hard stone, and then there was just the quiet babble of the Seraphim taking notes and calling for a clean-up unit.
     A couple more cars came skidding up after it was all over, and it was all Praise-the-Lord's and A-men's for half an hour or more. The sun was up but 
still below the buildings by the time they were gone, and people finally couldn't stay inside any longer without being late for work. Pretty soon, the street got crowded enough for me to stop crouching in that dry well and come up onto the sidewalk.
     I went with the flow, head down like everybody else, until I got to the corner, and then I crossed over and came down along the storefront. But the glaze of dew had dried off, and I couldn't see anything of the message he left.
     I stopped at the doorway edge of the glass and looked for his handprint, but I couldn't find it either. Then I stood a long time looking at the window from where the old guy had stood, but I couldn't see any trace of where he'd cleared the dew away. I thought what a shame it was that his last words had vanished into oblivion like that after what it had cost him to put them there. It made me feel really sad, standing there like that, and for a moment I was afraid, like I wasn't strong enough to stay on the run any more, and they were going to get me just like they got him. I'd been down a lot of times, but I don't remember being that low before, and when the patrolcar came by the end of the block and made its slow shark's turn into the street, I was certain that they were finally going to get me.
     I wanted to run, but I was just too tired, and when the car stopped behind me, I just kept looking into that window, waiting for the heavy hand on my shoulder.  I didn't even care that they were going to check my phoney papers and maybe blow me away like that old man, but it didn't seem fair that I wouldn't at least get to find out what that old guy had given his life to put up on that window.
     I had no idea what was inside the window. I never looked past the glass, and I watched that big, dark shadow loom up from behind my reflection like death. The Seraphim looked over my shoulder at what was on display and then turned his head away and looked up like he was just a passing pedestrian checking the weather and making conversation. " You planning to buy one of them?" he said.
     I had no idea what he was talking about, but I said, " Someday maybe.  When I get the money." He nodded solemnly like he wanted one too and didn't have the money either. That was the first moment I looked at what was on display. There, on the other side of the glass, on a velvet stand in the middle of a starburst of theological tracts and paperback sermons, was a Deluxe white leather Bible.  I looked at that book I'd been driven to hate the way I'd been driven to hate the flag they'd stolen too, and it was all I could do not to stick my fist through that glass and tear it to pieces.
     But I held back, and the Seraphim tapped his own pocket Bible on his palm 
like a ticketbook and turned and walked away. "Don't be here when we come 
around again," he said without looking back, and he didn't need to hear me say I wouldn't be.
     But when I took my first step to go, the sun was coming up over the building behind me, and its light hit the dried streaks on the window like electricity going through a neon tube. Every mark the old guy had put up there was a line of molten gold. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
     Whoever that old man was, he was one hell of an artist, because in that short time, he'd left the portrait of a nude woman so lifelike and so gorgeous it made your heart ache to see it. She had her head up, the way women used to before it became a crime for them to work, or live alone, or go out in public unescorted.  She had that kind of sexy, carefree smile you used to see a hundred times a day back when TV wasn't all choir music and propaganda, and her eyes were full of adventure and laughter. They seemed to look right into your eyes, like she didn't even care that it was a statutory offense not to look down and away.
     She was turned a little, like she was about to walk away toward an old brass bed and wasn't sure whether you were going to follow her or not. Her breasts seemed to swing slightly as she turned, and her nipples were standing up with anticipation.  Her legs were long smooth curves, and the golden tear drop of her navel pointed down to a dazzling tangle of light. She was something nobody'd seen for a dozen years or more, and it made me think of what things were like back in the days when you could read anything you wanted, and the average magazine had more beauty in it than the average lifetime. I thought of everything that had been taken away from us by fanatics that, even at their strongest, had never made up a tenth of the population, and I heard this terrible strangled scream of rage and loss.
     I didn't realize it until I picked up the brick that the scream was mine. The patrol car was creeping down the block only a couple yards away. I looked back at that smiling woman, and I thought how long it had been since I'd seen a woman smile like that, how long it had been since any of us had been free, and I threw the brick with everything I had.
     It didn't do much damage; it just hit the middle of the back window and bounced off. I didn't stay around to see the Seraphim scramble out of the car and start blasting away at the rooftops. I was gone down the long narrow alleyway along side the storefront before the brick hit the ground, and I don't believe they even saw me go.
     I know they didn't see me come back day after day, memorizing that drawing for the few minutes the sun lit it up every day, until I could put it down in pencil or paint or chalk, just the way I first saw it. It took me a long time to get good at it, and I still can't do it as well as the picture that old man drew in sunlight on that window, but I leave the best copy I can on every truck, wall, sidewalk, and window I can get near. I leave it so people will remember what's been taken away from us, and I know it's working because they've made it a capital crime to draw any kind of picture in a public place, and they shoot you on sight if they even suspect you.
     But pictures like it are popping up all over now just the same.  A lot of them are pretty crudely drawn, but they get the message across, and maybe a lot sooner than the theocracy thinks, we're going to rise up and take this country back. I hope I'm there when we do because I want to see that picture re-done in stone, eighty feet high, where the Statue of Liberty used to stand.



 

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