ONCE UPON A BELL TOWER THERE WAS A SKY
Chloe Yelena Miller
Once upon a time a man lived near a bell tower.
Once upon a time I was the girl he drove past that bell tower in his shiny car from and to my apartment. We were on a regular loop. Car, bell tower, bedroom, car, bell tower, locked door.
When we kissed in his bedroom, he stopped talking; I could pretend he was a gentler man. Maybe he was simply a bad man, but could it be that simple?
It could take years to build a bell tower, even though they mostly resemble each other.
The man wasn’t wearing my grandmother’s dress, nor was his bedroom in the woods. Good signs, no? I was practically wearing a bonnet and carrying a basket of muffins. I packed the muffins, my glasses, and contact case in his car trunk.
(I am the narrator, so you know I never had any perspective.)
His ex-wife had full custody of his kids, but he was allowed to let them visit sometimes. He exclaimed, “my ex-wife has the face of a mother” and “mothering is too important to her!” He kept a mostly empty bedroom with bunkbeds for the two children. Cleaning up one day (remember I was wearing girl clothes and he was wearing man clothes, so I did the cleaning up), I found grownup declarations of love on unlined paper in a drawer. They were next to a hammer and some other things he had stashed in the unused room’s drawer. I needed a dictionary to translate some of the words. And that girly handwriting!
None of it matters now. We aren’t even connected on social media. What I want to tell you about is his bell tower. I think of it as “his.” Clearly it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been mine, either. Bell towers aren’t usually things that individuals own, especially atheists. I forget if there was a church next to the bell tower, but there must have been, right? It was, after all, a bell tower.
I remember the sky through the top arches. I never heard the bells between the arches ring when we drove by. The tower walls were unpainted and unadorned. That is to say, the bell tower’s bones were obvious to anyone driving by.
Forget the bad man, even if I only met the bell tower because of him. What I want to tell you is that the sky looked her best framed by those arches. The square of sky I could see through his bedroom window from the mattress on his floor never, ever looked as good as the sky between the arches.
It has been years since I last saw that bell tower, but yet I miss it.
Once upon a time a girl made bad choices. She wasn’t yet a woman, regardless of her age. If she had been a grown woman, would she have made such bad choices?
At the time, she was leaving the man’s country after the end of a job. She loved that country like a bell tower and needed to tether herself to the country and its tower. The man offered a leash.
Eventually, through her email – words without handwriting and easy to access online dictionaries! – he let go of his end of the leash. She crashed into her country as if she had been pushed.
That man had given her a regular glimpse of framed sky. Hope? A portal into the sky all around.
Once upon a time that girl wrote something to thank the bad man for the bell tower and the framed sky. She doesn’t want to remember the rest. In fact, this woman doesn’t want to tell him any of this.
She wants a bit of sky.
She wants to offer it to herself, handwritten.
Chloe Yelena Miller teaches writing at Politics & Prose bookstore, online at University of Maryland University College, as well as privately. She also blogs about writing here. In addition, she has had work published or forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Narrative, Alimentum, and Lumina, among others. Her poetry was a finalist for Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Prize (2009) and the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry (2005). She attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and A Room of Her Own Retreat and has been a resident at Vermont Studio Center. As an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, she worked on Lumina and later on The Literary Review, Portal del Sol and Toadlily Press.