Marcela and Martine Find a Wormhole by Anna Marie Laforest
Sparkling flecks of 5th century gold crowned the blue and white mosaic Virgin at Santa Maria Maggiore; flat gold leaf pressed itself into the domed ceiling, and the robes of the white angel statues in the vestibule gleamed dully with old gold paint. Triple gold, thought Marcela, looking down at the floor of the cathedral for a moment to rest her eyes. A wave of sunlight, coming through the church from one of the high but modest windows that lined the walls of the nave, broke against the triumphal mosaics of the arch and scuttered across the marble floor, shining more gold into her eyes.
Everywhere Marcela looked she saw the words Maria Theotokos, the Mother of God, and the bells in the tower were ranging as if in continuous announcement. She pulled her purse from under her arm and took out a tissue to dab at her eyes; how amazing that she had made it over once again to visit the beautiful art of Rome. She was in her late seventies, and travel was getting difficult. But the railway station was only five blocks away from here, and she had a good walking stick.
Perhaps the gelato place was still down the street. She thought, hungrily, of strawberry ice -- fragola was it called? - and then she would make her way back to the statione termini.
She picked up her walking stick from one of the giant angels in the loggia where she had propped it against his marble thigh. Someone pushed open the heavy door for her, and she made her way out into the piazza.
It had started snowing, there was a carpet of white on the ground, and as Marcela looked back she saw petal-like clusters of white flakes hanging from the church. She wished she had brought her coat with her on this trip. Could it really be winter? But inside the gelato shop the strawberry ice tasted fantastic. Isn’t it funny, she had told her friend Martine, after her last trip, how food tastes so much brighter outside one’s own confines.
She did wonder how she would fare walking to the station without a coat. She ordered a hot coffee to keep her insides warm, at least. “Very caldo, per favore,” she said to the bar man and clutched her arms around herself. He nodded and she watched a very satisfactory steam rise up from the black liquid he poured.
Now she was outside, and of all things, there was her coat, folded in half and cast over the back of a vespa of one of the carabinieri. How could that be? Could she claim it? But the officer was already handing it to her. He shook the snow from it with a quick snapping movement, and put it over her shivering, stooped shoulders, turning with a smart step, the red stripe down his dark uniformed legs making a sharp “V.” Marcela slid her arms through her coat sleeves and retrieved her gloves from the pockets.
But these were not her smart leather gloves; these were her granddaughter’s mittens, the ones she thought she had given her last year - big loopy woolen paw-like mittens in homely tri-color yarn. She certainly could not wear these in Rome, a city second in style only to Milan. She would have to stop at a glove shop before going to the station.
Marcela strapped her small purse around her wrist and held her walking stick under her arm in order to have both hands free to hug her coat tightly around her as she walked. A few streets later she found not a glove shop but the looming Coliseum – that was not right. The ruins were not this close to Maria Maggiore. She turned and walked in the other direction. A few streets more and she was at the foot of St. Peter and the keys, in the Vatican piazza. No, that was not right either. She had not even crossed the Borghese Gardens yet. Oh, there were the gardens, right in front of her. This could not be right. She would have to stop walking and get a taxi. But as she stepped into the street to wave for a ride, she saw only scooters and bikes on the road, no cars, no taxis. Not right at all.
“Oh, I hate that,” said Martine, the next day when she dropped by with a deli lunch for her friend. “I hate when a dream lasts and lasts and you still can’t get where you’re going.”
“Have you ever dreamed of being in a foreign land where you have never actually been before?” asked Marcela.
“No, I’m usually at a store or movie theater and can’t find where I parked my car.”
“That sounds like real life, not a dream,” said Marcela and they laughed.
Martine had brought a chicken salad with bow-tie pasta, cherry tomatoes, and fresh summer peas. Marcela put more ice cubes into their glasses and poured cold-brewed tea.
“What a contrast to the snow and calde caffe in my dream,” she commented. “I can still feel that coffee burning my tongue.”
“Did you “go” to Italy again, dear?” asked Martine.
“Yes, but everything was in the wrong location, every place I’d ever heard of in Rome was crowded into a span of a few blocks. And sometimes I was ‘flying’ on my cane.”
“You have a cane?”
“In these travel dreams I always have a walking stick.”
“Like Charlie Chaplin’s or like Gandolf’s?”
“It’s dark wood with inlaid pearls at the top. Why, does it symbolize something?”
“Maybe you’re going to find one like that. Sounds beautiful.”
“Everything was gorgeous. I saw every detail inside the church of Mary Major as if I’d really been there. Every time I ‘travel’ to Rome it becomes more detailed.”
“Detailed, but wrong?”
“The street locations were wrong, but the church had to be real. I couldn’t have thought up a thing like that, even in my wildest dreams.”
“Well, let’s just see now,” said Martine, rising from her chair. “Where’s your daughter’s computer?”
Marcela called her daughter at work and asked if Martine could use her lap top to look up some facts about Italy, and her daughter gave her the password. In seconds, Martine had it plugged in to the outlet near their lunch and started typing while finishing her plate of pasta.
“How can you read such small print?” said Marcela, placing a bony hand on her friend’s shoulder and peering over.
“Well, now,” said Martine with a giggle. There is a Santa Maria Maggiore church just 5 blocks from the big railway station. Maybe your dream brain cells are not that far off.”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said Marcela, with a little shout. “Mary Major is Maria Maggiore. See if there are any photos of the inside.”
“Should be. Wow, all these travel ads, we should think about really going over there.”
“That would be a dream!”
Martine found a 360-visual of the inside of the church and gave up her seat to Marcela who was stunned to see before her on the screen exactly what she had dreamed - the medieval mosaics, the ornate ceiling, clear windows, angels with the white marble thighs, and gold, gold, gold everywhere.
“The triple gold!” she said out loud.
When she had clicked and spun into each room of the church, she sighed, stood up, and put her hand to her head.
“I still don’t get how I can dream something I’ve never actually seen before.”
She went to the freezer and took out the strawberry ice cream she’d had the grocer deliver to her that morning for their dessert.
Martine re-commandeered the computer and started checking out everything else Marcela had told her from this latest dream. In between bites of ice cream she told her friend that she was right that the coliseum, the Borghese gardens, and the Vatican were not that close together, and that she should have found a glove shop within a block of the church. Therefore, the important thing in the dream must have been the church.
“We knew that already from the detail, right?” said Marcela.
“Well, it says here that the pope celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in that church every year. And it’s sometimes called Our Lady of the Snows because of a local belief that Mary made it snow exactly where she wanted the church. It was a sign.”
“It snowed in my dream, too!”
Martine read out loud that, during the Mass of Our Lady of the Snows, it was customary to drop white rose petals from the dome of the church, but she did not mention this to Marcela. She’d leave it alone and see if her friend might dream them up some time.
“So what do you think it means, that you keep traveling to Rome in your dreams? Besides that we should go there, of course.”
“Ha, ha, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll keep dreaming it until I know all of it, all of the city, and then one of these times I’ll just slip through the membrane and be there.”
“But then you’d be in “your” Rome, not in “real” Rome.”
“I don’t see what difference that makes. Look how I “saw” Maria Maggiore so clearly.”
Over the next few weeks Marcela dreamed she was in Sydney, Baghdad, and Prague. Again she saw details that Martine later corroborated by looking on-line. But in between these locations she always returned to Rome. She started being recognized by some of the Italians. She met the father of the carabiniere who had restored her coat, and he asked her to dine on the west bank of the Tiber in Old Trastevere.
She always began her Roman trips at Maria Maggiore where she dutifully took note of the triple shades of gold, and when she went out into the street a golden glow, noticeable to the locals, accompanied her all day as though to protect her, no matter how far she wandered. And there was now a taxi driver to help her get her bearings when her dream streets started looping into piles of spaghetti.
Martine called, asking if she could bring lunch over.
“Not today, dear one. I’m too tired. I was in Rome three days in a row this time. See you tomorrow?”
“Okay, see you.”
But she did not see her. A few weeks later Marcela’s family held her funeral in a local church to which Martine brought a large vase of white roses. During the service the sun shone brightly from a high window and some rays collected above the roses, like a halo. As Martine watched, all the petals fell from their stems onto the church floor. When a latecomer opened the vestibule door, the petals were upswept to the ceiling and then fluttered slowly down, taking their time. Taking all the time in the world, as they would in a dream.