Was it the working of the Sweetest Virgin that caused the door behind the side altar of a small church nestled in the Polish countryside to emerge before the eyes of believers? That we don’t know. We do know for sure though that whenever somebody walked through that door, their life completely changed. But let’s take it from the beginning...
It’ll be about 10 years since Hela Majchrzak discovered the door behind the side altar, and that’s how it all started. It was her turn on Thursday, so off she went to clean the church. She picked some flowers in the meadow along the way to reward the Sweetest Virgin for having to stand there out of sight like that, even though her dress was painted brand new in gold, done in the spring, just like the pastor wanted it. A special committee looked after the dress, because the church was old and everything was under special supervision. Why it happened, nobody knows to this day. Maybe they were right to believe that the Sweetest Virgin fell off her pedestal because she was all angry. After all, two times she showed up in people’s dreams and two times she said that she didn’t want no gold on her dress. The pastor didn’t listen, the statue broke into tiny pieces and the door appeared from behind the plaster. Things went mighty quick from there.
Hela raised a ruckus, people came running, and together they opened the door. Common sense would tell you that the door didn’t lead to nowhere, but it did. It wasn’t the first time that a person’s mind couldn’t completely grasp the truth. Behind the wall was the church garden, complete with a row of old magnolias, but all you saw behind that door was a kind of dust cloud that just kept on twirling and never stopped. Right away somebody started whispering that there was something mighty impure about all of this and nobody wanted to go in first. Finally, Majchrzak shrugged his shoulders, said he wasn’t bothered none, and laughing off all the superstitious jabbering, took a step inside and disappeared. He was gone for three days. He finally came back out on the fourth day, all quiet, calm and at peace with life – not like him at all.
“Go,” he said. “Go in there. Go and see for yourselves.”
One after the other, people started walking through the door. As soon as they crossed the threshold, they encountered all of their regrets, all the long-lost moments. They got a chance at life all over again; the chance to choose a better path.
You did something wrong? You could give it another shot. You made a wrong turn? You could go in the other direction. Or if you wasted a chance, you could try again and then, at peace with yourself, go back to your life. Or maybe you didn’t see anything at all in the dust cloud. Well, then you’d be sure that you were doing the right thing with your life here and now.
For half a year, the town was totally deserted. Even had a schedule written out, because one day the post office was closed, another day the bakery was abandoned, and even the town hall went empty. Everybody wanted to meet their past, look it straight in the eye and see if there wasn’t something they could’ve done better for themselves. So far, the pastor had turned a blind eye to all the fuss. An unwritten law we got here says that the divine doesn’t mess too much with people’s doings, and it goes the other way round too. But it was the very last straw when the entire crew from the dairy farm came back through the door right in the middle of mass. The pastor locked the door up tight and only tolerated those who were returning from the other side. Nobody knows where he hid the key. He made threats, telling people that anybody who tried again won’t get absolution from their sins and without absolution they won’t get to Heaven through that door. They have their ways to check that up there in Heaven, he’d say. He never even so much as peeked through that door himself, but it bothered him nonetheless. After thinking about it for a while, he decided to turn to science for help.
Science didn’t help much, or maybe it didn’t wanna help? Of the 10 scientists that put their mind to it, three just plain disappeared. That’s when we all realized for the first time that if you go through the door, you might never ever come back.
The day eventually came when everybody had already faced up to their dreams and didn’t need to go to the other side no more. Some people were even a bit bent out of shape, because there were no more unknowns in their personal lives. Not being able to regret anything means living a life that’s only half-full – even if it’s fulfilled, it’s somehow incomplete. People started talking that it was high time to seal off the door and return the Virgin Mary to her old spot. Nobody protested and nobody noticed that the pastor slipped quietly away when they started the voting. It was already dark when a bright light glowing over the town lit up a path to Heaven. Whoever was able ran over to help fight the fire, but the flame, cleverly kindled from the inside, was quicker than any of them. Only then did people start asking where the pastor was, because he had gone missing, plain disappeared. The firefighters didn’t find nothing and nobody tried to escape from inside the closed church, they said. Looks like the dream of a better life can be stronger than anything else.
They built a new church in a year, but people still remembered the old one. Sometimes they say it was all a dream. Maybe it was. But then again, you ever heard of a dream that everybody had at the same time?
The story takes place in a small Polish town in a rural area; the people there are very honest, straightforward, perhaps simple-minded and superstitious, while religion plays an important role in their life. In the original Polish story, the language they use reflects all that accordingly. I explored the possible ways to express the same feel in English. The image of a small town somewhere in the American South provides just that type of wholesome small-town ‘vibe’, thus I have used Southern regionalisms in my translation.
Translated by Mark Ordon
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