Leslie wandered through the City, letting the wind blow her where it would. Spring was here, and the new sundress and sandals were out for their first walk. Not that she was a showoff. It was just the first warm day of the year, and through an unconscious mass agreement, everyone wore their Yuletide gifts for all to see.
Leslie turned down a side street to explore a new neighborhood, and took in the unfamiliar shops and cafes. She almost missed the store, as its narrow front was wedged in between a larger laundromat and second hand clothing store. It was probably the name that did it, “Cosmetic Furniture,” one she was sure she misread at first glance.
She entered to the ringing of a bell, which summoned a distinguished gentleman out from behind his desk.
“Welcome miss. You are the day’s first customer,” he said.
“Well, I am sorry to disappoint you. I just had to see …”
“Was it the sign?” he smiled.
“Yes,” Leslie admitted.
“It’s ok. We are a specialty merchandiser,” he said, laying emphasis on the word “specialty.”
He studied her for a moment. “I am not busy right now. Please take a look at our showrooms and tell me what you think of our stock.” And he gestured to rooms to his left and right.
Leslie stepped over to the opening on the left, and looked in. The vast room beyond was full of vanities in all shapes, sizes and colors. She even saw one that looked a lot like hers. She turned and walked over to the entrance to the other showroom. Looking in, she could see it was far smaller, with only a single piece.
“What is that?” Leslie asked
“Let’s take a closer look,” he said.
Leslie walked up to the piece, which, superficially, looked a lot like her vanity.
“Why is there only one piece in this room, but so many in the other?”
“This is just a floor model, and we only deal at wholesale with this product. The form is less important than the substance. The vanity room is our retail department. For those buyers, form is almost everything.”
She stared at it. “Oh, this was one of those confessional things, right?”
“Yes. I like to say that with the other product line, we put our makeup on. At this one, we take it off,” the man chuckled.
“So, it’s just for women?” she laughed.
“No, men powder up too, and some lay it on thicker than women. They are so skilled that you just don’t see it.”
“Let me try this out,” and she arranged herself on the kneeler.
The man sat in a chair behind the screen. “What do you think of it?”
Leslie folded her hands in front. “Do you do this?”
“You may, but it is not required,” His voice softer now.
“I don’t really believe in this sort of thing.”
“Are you in college, by chance?”
“Do you know what a dissertation defense is?
“I do. I am working towards a doctorate by the way.”
“Very good. Then perhaps this analogy may help. Every human life is a dissertation, and eventually everyone has to justify theirs. The catch is … you cannot. The sooner one realizes this, the easier it is to acknowledge this to the examiner.”
“God, you mean?” Leslie asked.
“Actually, we all judge ourselves in the end, with our conscience, though someone else will be there to hold up a perfect mirror to our vanity.”
“So, we are doomed to fail?”
“You aren’t failed. The same someone else will mend and help you finish your dissertation. If you let him.”
“So why bother with confessing now, what difference does it make?”
“Practice makes perfect is the saying. But here practice helps you understand you will never be perfect. These dialogues are preparation for the last confession every human being has to make, whether they want to or not. It may be unpleasant if you are not prepared.”
“The flames of hell, or purgatory? I read Dante one semester.”
“Many writers have described the soul as passing through flames in the afterlife, flames that purify. Some, like Dante, depicted this very poetically, if in a frightening way. But what if there are no sheets of flame, and this is a metaphor for something entirely different.”
And he recited: “Is not my word like fire? And like a hammer which shatters a rock? “
And then: “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”
“The Word is fire, and through a fiery discourse, it may perform a life saving operation on us. Isn’t it better to soften up that rock first, and not wait till the end? If you don’t get a head start, you may be unwilling to take part in the discourse, finding it too painful. Some choose never to open up, of which it is said ‘I never knew them.'”
“So its better to start the conversation now, to sort of get acquainted?”
“It is. Don’t you hate getting cold calls? Did you ever have to make one? You see my point. And remember, the lowest circle in Dante’s hell was ice, not fire.”