This is a Story Art story developed from a writing exercise to incorporate 3 prompts:
“the last pagan in Rome”, “thick”, and “glider”
And the Last Shall Be First
She meant no disrespect. Of course not. But that’s not how he saw it. Of course not. He saw it as an intrusion, an interference with his peaceful morning, and her questions were bothering him.
“But sir,” Johanna said, “I’m certain you want to know the truth. Don’t you?” She stared intently at his face, not into his eyes because he was avoiding such connection, and saw the first glimmers of tears begin to form.
“Ridiculous,” he mumbled, and buried himself behind his news magazine again. She waited a minute, gave a gentle sigh, and left a small multi-colored card on the outdoor cafe table before standing up to leave.
“Please just take a look,” she said, knowing full well he would not. They never did. But they would. Eventually, they would. And they would come to her; seek her out, searching for the truth they needed to fill the void of meaning within their soul.
It had not been so difficult, years ago, when her parents were still alive. They took her to shrine weekly, where they made the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate times. A dove at equinox, a hare in spring, the thimble full of deep maroon dripped gracefully from the tips of all their fingers, shared with the temple goddess and passed around to each of them. The smell was of copper, of life, and the taste was bitter, but it was right. It created connection between them. She was the life in them – they were the life in her.
“Johanna,” the temple goddess had said a year ago, her long brown hair stringy and thin with the woman’s age, her fingers wrinkled and spotted, her voice weak and weary from so many offerings over so long, “You may very well be the last Pagan in Rome soon. What do you intend to do about that?”
The question caught Johanna by surprise. She had never thought about it before; the assumption was the goddess would always be there, as well her parents. To be told that was false was intimidating. And yet, the idea that she might be alone in her truth, with so many millions around dying in their unbelief, also inspired her. She stroked a hand along the thick column supporting the four thousand year old stone roof, a whisper echoing along the wide place. The goddess was gliding from station to station, making the prayers and sacrifices quietly, efficiently. Peacefully.
She wanted that. She wanted that truth and assurance. She wanted purpose, and authority, and connection to The Other. She wanted to be one of many, not one of one.
The goddess would pass soon, she realized. That’s why she was asking these questions. And her parents, loving, devoted man and woman that they were, would not be able to last much longer, for they, too, were tired of this mortal world and yearned for the immortal. She, though, saw it differently. She saw a purpose in her life. There was opportunity to save souls that would perish without her. They needed her, they needed Paganism, they needed truth and righteousness. They just did not know it yet.
“I will become a Witness,” Johanna said, and the goddess smiled approval. She lit incense to begin the dedication ceremony. The smell rose to the ceiling and filled the hall. Johanna knew that The Other was pleased.