The Empty Niche


a flash fiction travel tale for lonely hearts with low budgets

The statue had been missing a long time. But I could feel it there, the way the sense of absence of a loved one can feel like presence. The niche was on the outside of the church that I passed every day in Lecce, Italy. Some said the niche was never filled, that the church lost its patron funding back in the late 1500s, and the elegant facade was left incomplete. Others said the statue had been stolen, sometime during the more than three centuries it functioned as a parish church.

Me, I think the statue is there, under an invisibility spell. In fact, I perceive the missing statue to be the being most likely to exist under an invisibility spell, that is, as an old woman. The old woman in the empty niche talks to me sometimes. I have taken to asking her advice as I pass by.

Yesterday I found a quiet corner across the street, where I leaned on a pillar of Lecce’s partially excavated Roman Amphitheatre. I gazed across at the niche and lit a cigarette. Pretending sophistication, I was actually petitioning an invisible statue for assistance. You know how it is when you’re a mess but you don’t even know what your problem is? It was like that, I was too muddled to have a specific prayer request.

But the Lady of the Empty Niche was the kind of listener we all wish for. She inclined her ear with perfect patience, and let me sputter and sigh my way along. By the time I lit up my second cig, I was getting a bit more clear, silently telling her how lonely I felt, how touch-deprived and isolated. Admitting this to an invisible statue was strangely consoling. Especially since, in my Counselor position, I reassured clients every day that we were all connected in the Quantum Field, or Indira’s Net, or in whatever divinity they professed.  Well, reassured everyone but myself, evidently.

The Lady’s compassionate silence was so filled up with attentiveness, that I had to brush away my tears. I stopped my inner stammering and stared with an unfocused vision at the whole niche. Her listening aura gave me a clear sense of her shape. The Lady’s gentleness was in her posture, an ageless and merciful Madonna leaning forward to hear me. To hear. Me!

Brushing away more tears, I apologized to the Lady that I didn’t have any frankincense or myrrh, no sweetgrass or copal, not even sage. I said goodbye until tomorrow, and with an unobtrusive bow of thanks, blew her a perfect smoke ring. The ring of tobacco sailed across the street, and, I swear on my Italian grandmother’s head, ascended in grace all the way up to the Lady’s empty niche. Ah, acknowledgment. Isn’t that all we really want?

©Susa Silvermarie 2021

with thanks to the magic of WriteTogether, the write-to-a-prompt circle that happens every week in my Ajijic yard!

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