Clear, open-throated voices resonated together in an arc like one huge bell - seeming to stroke his temples and the back of his neck; entering not just through his ears but his nostrils, his mouth, his scalp, his skin. He felt immersed as the gentle yet powerful experience hugged the back of his eyes, his tonsils and his chest so he was almost singing by proxy.
For five seconds he stood on one huge grey slate, not moving in case this was the only part of the building where this magic could be felt.
Sarah touched his arm. “I left a fiver,” she said in a low voice. “I hope it’s enough.”
They trod softly, neither wanting to break the incantation. He wished her shoes didn’t knock so rhythmically. She pointed, he nodded. She read information cards quietly, he ummed quietly and scratched the back of his neck.
Let’s stand still and wait a while longer and become lost again, he wanted to say, but he felt foolish and said nothing.
At the front, they instinctively sat on a pew facing the practising choir. He held her hand but wished he were 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. Stretching his throat and tilting back his head helped abate the urge to weep. He breathed deeply, hearing himself gasp. It would take decades to make such an intricate ceiling. People must have died before they saw this place finished.
He remembered putting up scaffolding to fix the village hall ceiling last year and the three days it took to paint it afterwards with white emulsion. This ceiling was something else.
In his peripheral vision he saw her look up too and then to him. He withdrew his hand, wanting to swear at her, make her look away. She would see that his eyes were shining.
He shuffled out of the pew and strode towards the great doors; voices ringing all around him, following him. Pure, tangible. A whole body experience that had taken him away from the traffic, away from the present, out of the city, out of himself.
Daylight, noise, dust, diesel, the outside air swapped like a spell with the choir, the old wood, the polish and the cold damp stone smells, the stained glass, the wholeness; the oneness whisked away in an instant to be replaced by a noisy engines, road repairs, wind-blown grit and busy footsteps. People dashed by so fast in their detached, intent, intense internal manner that he was shocked into sitting on the stone steps to readjust.
“Andy? You okay?”
“Yup! Couldn’t be better!” He jumped to his feet. “Right.” He brushed the sandy feeling from his hands and clapped. "You forced me into a cathedral so now let’s do what I want. Where’s the nearest pub?”