The sound came from above and from the sides in an arc.
The clear, pure, open-throated sounds of voices resonated together like one huge bell and seemed to stroke his temples and the back of his neck, entering not just through his ears but his nostrils, his mouth, his scalp and his skin. He felt immersed in a gentle, powerful experience of something seemingly hugging the back of his eyes, his tonsils and his chest, as if he was singing too.
For five seconds he stood on the same huge grey slate, not moving, in case this was the only part of the building where this magic could be felt.
Then Sarah came and touched his arm.
“I left a fiver,” she said in a low respectful voice. “I hope it’s enough.”
They walked slowly, neither one wanting to break the spell over themselves or in the building by brisk movements or audible footfalls. He found himself wishing her shoes didn’t knock so rhythmically. It would be good to stand still and wait a while longer and become lost again, he wanted to say, but he felt foolish and said nothing.
She pointed, he nodded. She read information cards quietly, he ummed quietly and scratched the back of his neck.
They arrived at the front. He sat on a pew facing the practising choir and she joined him. He held her hand but wished he was alone so that the tears could fall and he could be rid of them. She would ask him why he was crying, if he was all right, try to comfort him, worst still – pity him. He didn’t want that.
He looked up at the ceiling. The physical stretching of his throat and the backward tilt of his head seemed to abate the overwhelming urge to weep. He took a deep breath and heard himself gasp. It would take decades to make a ceiling as intricate as that. People must have died before they saw this place finished.
He remembered putting up scaffolding to fix the ceiling in the village hall last year and the three days it took to paint it afterwards with white emulsion. This ceiling was something else.
From the corner of his eye he saw her looking up too and then looking at him. He withdrew his hand, wanting to swear at her, make her look away. She would see that his eyes were shining with unreleased tears.
He stood up and shuffled out of the pew and strode towards the great doors with the sound ringing all around him, following him. Clear and loud and intense. A whole body experience that had taken him away from the traffic, away from the present, out of the city and out of himself temporarily.
The light, the noise, the dust, the diesel, the outside air swapped places like a spell with the choir, the old wood, the polish and the cold damp stone smells, the red velvet, the tapestries, the stained glass, the wholeness, the oneness whisked away in an instant to be replaced by a noisy bus engine, a distant road repair, wind and busy footsteps. People dashed by so fast in their focussed intent, intense internal manner that he was shocked into sitting on the stone steps to take a moment.
“Andy? Are you okay?”
“Yup! Couldn’t be better.” He answered brightly, jumping to his feet. “Right.” He brushed the sandy feeling from his hands briskly and clapped. “You’ve forced me against my will into a cathedral so now let’s do what I want to do. Where’s the nearest pub?”