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(1) The creation of the world
(2) An old, wizened prophet, standing upright with his hands lifted in supplication to a bright cloud
(3) Five seraphim with their swords drawn facing all five points of the compass
(4) A young man with his head bowed while an older man offered him something to drink
(5) A person kneeling before Atael as He placed a diadem upon their head while another standing to His right looked on with approval
(6) Atael's hand extending out of a cloud planting a tree
(7) Ine and Eya regarding their first child after he was born
(8) Atael giving Ine and Eya instruction
(9) Atael speaking to a child
(10) A blood-red wheel with three spokes
The twelfth window was blank, as was the sacred custom.
The temple religious education instructor had once explained to her that in every temple the twelfth window was always left unfinished to affirm that the story of the people's relationship with Atael-In-Heaven was also unfinished, and that when the prophesied events finally took place the twelfth window in every sanctuary should be completed depicting them as Atael-In-Heaven commanded.
Another half an hour later, the blazing light still shone through the first windowpane and it was then that she figured it out; the sunbeam was shining on the sanctuary. With great curiosity and wonder, Lisa stood and walked to the window to try to discern the source of the light. The closer she came to it, the louder the noise became. The sunbeam told her to look at what it was illuminating and so she turned to her right and noticed an unraveled scroll on the podium. It was her pleasure, she said in her mind, to put it back in its proper place. She proceeded to the podium to take hold of it but the touch of it was an electric shock-the good kind as during a dry winter day, not the bad kind for condemned criminals. Quickly she drew her hand back ... and then tried it again-no shock this time. She took the scroll in her arms and found it nearly impossible to lift. It could easily have weighed forty pounds but the open cabinet beckoned and she strained with all her might to place it in there. With a final huff , she got it set upright in the cabinet and she shut the doors, exhausted from the labor. Now the sunbeam moved directly from the podium to her face and she shielded-
"LISA," her mother raised her voice louder as she opened the last set of curtains in the bedroom, letting in the sunlight. "Time for temple, you're going to make us late, dear! Breakfast is already cooking so hop in the shower and put on the new outfit that we bought yesterday." Lisa would have opened her eyes all the way but the morning rays shone directly in her face and she shielded her face with a sleepy squint. Well, she looked around at the familiar sight of her bedroom-upstairs to the right, second room: wallpaper with pink flowers, furry pink carpet, white wooden bedposts, the desk, diary and chair, the nightstand with a lamp on it, the ceiling light, the vanity dresser and accompanying mirror ... hmm. She threw the covers off , bounded out of bed, and did as her mother told her.
The Chess family piled into the station wagon and was on their way to worship services at the newly dedicated temple. As Lisa's father and mother, James and Elizabeth Chess, discussed his upcoming promotion at the firm, Lisa gazed out of the window at the blurry, passing scenery, the sun blaring through her side of the car. Last night's dream was still vivid to her and she wondered if she should interrupt her parents' conversation to ask about its meaning. When the car pulled into the parking lot and the family walked up the brick walkway to the entrance, Lisa decided to speak up.
"Daddy?" she started.
"Yes, Button?" Mr. Chess answered. He adored his only child, the image of her paternal grandmother in disposition and the likeness of his wife-his college sweetheart-in appearance. Precocious yet sweet, an easy baby to bring up, Lisa had helped make it easy for him to advance at the office; he did not have to take repeated calls from his wife about their daughter being colicky or acting out at school. She always completed her class work with little help. She had taken an IQ test administered in the first grade, earning surpassing scores the same way as her father had when he was six years old. Sure, there were the odd incidents for parents of a child her age-the hilarious quips and the terrible twos, as there are with every child-but James Chess considered himself lucky. Every time that he received a salary increase, this self-made man was reminded of his promise to himself to raise Lisa to appreciate hard work, integrity and learning. It was his wife, Elizabeth, who pressed the issue of religious education. When they were dating at university and during their first several years of marriage, they never set foot inside of temple; their worship was his books and seminars about career advancement, business leadership and acumen, and of new insurance techniques and policies. Yet, when Lisa was born, Mrs. Chess had a sudden spiritual awakening and forthwith made her husband promise to rear their child in the faith. Therefore, it was another weekend day for the Chess family at temple.
"Daddy ... is Atael-In-Heaven in the sun?"
He regarded the sky with his hand shielding his eyes as Mrs. Chess looked on with a thoughtful expression. Like father, like daughter: Lisa often looked to the sky while deep in thought. On clear nights, she was positive that she could hear the stars singing. Sometimes, the high, wiry tones of the music would be so unbearably lovely that her heart would swell and tears would come to her eyes. "Well, the sun gives energy and life to the earth, just like Atael-In-Heaven does. But who do you think gives energy and life to the sun?" he proposed.
"... Atael-In-Heaven?" she responded.
"That's right. So, Atael-In-Heaven is in the sun," he reasoned. Hmm, Atael-In-Heaven was at least as far away from the world as the sun. That was a satisfying answer for Lisa until she entered the building and the strains of music from the organ bouncing off the stone interior hit her ears, combined with the sight of the beautiful stained-glass windows casting rainbow designs on the dark brown pews and the altar ... this music was closer to Lisa than her own breath. It was in that moment that she decided privately that Atael-In-Heaven must be in the song, the song gave life to the sun, and the sun gave life to the world.
"Hey, Lisa!" called a familiar voice. She turned towards the raised voice and it was her new best friend, Kimberly Eugenia Joelson. Kimberly's parents, embarrassed at the rowdiness of their child in a place of worship, shook their heads and went to greet the Chess couple while Lisa and Kim caught up from their conversation yesterday afternoon.
"So did you ask them?" Kim probed.
"What did they say?"
"They said yes!" Lisa scream-whispered while breaking into a huge grin.
"How cool! We can have mom order dinner and watch TV all night; this is going to be so great!"
"I know!" the girls hugged. Kim became Lisa's best friend during math class earlier that year. Normally, their paths would never have crossed except during math. Lisa was actually rather afraid of Kim at the start of the school year. Kim had a strong personality and spoke her mind, even to the teachers. Lisa was the same, too, except she only spoke her mind loudly in her thoughts. By the middle of the year, they were instant sisters the second that Kim quipped about something smart about the teacher, Mr. Linn, and Lisa exploded with laughter, she had never laughed that hard in her life! From that day on, the two girls shared everything: secrets about what boys they liked, ways to handle the weird things parents do, and laugh after bellyaching laugh ... The latest of Kim's shenanigans was when she had revealed stolen transparencies inside of her spiral notebook, informing Lisa that she was going to throw them out of the window on the last day of 7th grade in front of the whole class. Next weekend would be their sleepover party when they would have endless time to talk about boys-Monty Ray for Lisa and Enrique Andrade for Kim-and trade music tapes. "Mommy, can we sit together?" pleaded Lisa. The four adults exchanged glances and agreed.
"C'mon," said Kim, grabbing Lisa's hand and leading the way to an empty space in the pew to the middle left while the Chess and Joelson couples sat in the pew behind the girls. A few minutes later, the congregation settled in and the service began.
Since the temple building was brand new, money had to be raised to help pay for its construction and upkeep, so as the people milled out of the place, fliers advertising retreats, bake sales, car washes, rummage sales, movie nights and bingo tickets were distributed to the congregants by all the ushers as they exited. Such fliers were almost always handed exclusively to the grownups but Kim grabbed one to see for herself what the notice was, walking ahead of her parents with Lisa, whose parents were already close to the car. She furrowed her brows as she read the information about a retreat.
"I bet my folks are going to send me to this retreat," said Kim.
"They have that here now, too?"
"Psh! Yeah. I was so looking forward to going," Kim mused with sarcasm.
"Caroline Lim said they're pretty cool but sometimes it gets kind of weird," Lisa said, trying to extract more of Kim's thoughts on the matter.
"I know," replied Kim without emotion.
"Oh well. I hafta go; I'll see you tomorrow at school!"
"OK!" The friends parted ways. Kim had a unique way of bringing Lisa back down to "the real world." Then the whiff of the wind, a full parking lot of automobile engines idling and the increasing, dull ache in Lisa's ankle caused by her brand new shoes brought her mind back to routine, and by the time she was in the car, she was not thinking about the dream, her question or the music in the light.
* * *
"Fasten your coat all the way, dear," said Mrs. Chess with some worry in her voice. Lisa lifted up her chin so that she could finish buttoning the heavy coat around her tightly wound scarf. Her duffle bag sat by the front door, packed full for the weekend retreat. Mr. Chess was outside de-icing the windshield while the engine ran to get the heater going. "Now, remember what we told you," she admonished with pursed lips. Mrs. Chess seemed afraid that the family would be thrown out of the temple by the way she had reacted when the religious instructor recounted Lisa's question to both of her parents.
"OK, Mom," Lisa took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I won't forget."
"Good. Your father has already cleared things up with the counselors and we don't want to rock the boat any further." If Lisa was not raised so well she would have rolled her eyes; instead, she nodded, lifted the duffle bag and went outside to get in the car. As they backed out of the driveway, Lisa remembered her diary that was still sitting on her dresser.
"Dad, I forgot something, can I go and get it?" He stopped the car.
"Go ahead." Lisa dashed out of the car, into the house, and up the stairs to her room. She snatched her diary and left twice as fast as she had departed the first time.
When they arrived at the hotel, Kim was already waiting for Lisa in the line for the entrance to the ballroom. Nearly twenty minutes later it was the girls' turn to go inside together.
"So what did your folks say about last weekend?" Kim asked as they both stepped inside.
"They said not to ask questions like that anymore."
"Well, it's a free country, and they do keep telling us to ask questions."
"I guess not questions like that."
"Whatever. The temple got their money and that should be the end of it."
"I know but it just doesn't seem like Atael-In-Heaven would demand something like that."
"It doesn't matter either way to me, but I think you really pissed off Miss Novachek because of the way you said it."
"Does any of it make sense to you?"
"It doesn't matter because I don't believe any of it."
"So why do you keep going?"
"To keep my folks from bugging me about it."
Lisa felt that such a point of view was like turning down a cute guy that had just asked you to dance. She never shared certain things with Kim because of Kim's atheism, such as her ideas about what the twelfth window would contain someday, or that she wrote little notes to Him in her diary, or how she could hear the stars, or her terrifying, recurring dream about being in a car accident. She made that mistake once and Kim had pointed out that none of the windows in temple even remotely resembled the designs that were in Lisa's dream. An intelligent Power would have shown her the real windows, all twelve of them completed. To Kim, "prophecy" and "fallacy" were two words that meant the same thing and both ended in "cy."
"I'm glad we're sharing rooms, though," Lisa said above the din, changing the subject before Kim became too irritated. They walked into the main ballroom, which was filled with kids from nearby temples. They made several rounds, finding two seats together in the rear. A few minutes later, they were handed questionnaires to fill out. Lisa and Kim filled out their forms-Kim constantly clucked her tongue at the questions-including answers to the following:
1. Full name
2. Religious name
3. Years of religious education completed
4. Favorite religious story
5. Registration fee paid in part/full (circle one)
6. Name of current school
7. Room buddy
8. Favorite school subject
The girls completed them and passed them to the front. Kim pointed out question number five to emphasize her point that this was all really about money. The lighting dimmed as a film, "The Journey of Faith" began, and it was all Kim could do to keep from laughing aloud at the narrator of the film. He was in his twenties, had tousled brown hair, horn-rimmed glasses and the least perfect set of teeth. This man had never, ever been cool. Lisa was embarrassed for him-and just about for religion in general-as the narrator held out both arms in an inviting gesture to follow him to a shining, glassy, green palace in the far background. Lisa giggled as well and shook her head. She listened closely to the narration, but when the film ended and the lights came back on, she had hundreds more questions of faith on her mind than she had when she arrived.
The head counselor stepped up to the podium, and, adjusting the microphone, set down instructions, outlined the weekend's activities and had everyone bow their heads to follow her in the opening prayer, which ended with O Atael, Giver of Life, bless our journey; O Atael, Giver of Life, bless our families; O Atael, Giver of Life, watch over us. Kim smirked but obeyed. Lisa shut her eyes tight to avoid seeing any angels and mouthed a silent, private supplication to Atael-In-Heaven to forgive her for asking that question, to help her make it through this long weekend, and to fix it so that she could no longer hear the stars singing because she was beginning to feel like something was wrong with her.
Excerpted from The Twelfth Window by J.M. Norwood Copyright © 2007 by J.M. Norwood . Excerpted by permission.
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