Gilded: Two Stories

by The Cowl Editor on April 19, 2018


Lit candle
Photo courtesy of

by Jonathon Coppe ’18



Noah Donahue looked at an icon.

The church he had entered was kept quite dim. It lit up and down by alcoves of warm candlelight illuminating the side chapels of icons and statuettes, so that the nave—with its vast greenish-grey vaulted ceiling—held only a bare and fragile light. The effect was haunting. As one looked up at that high ceiling, its pale shadowiness, carrying flickers of light like waves on an ocean, seemed almost delicate, like paper—or unreal, even.

But somehow it seemed more real than the icon. When Noah looked in front of him at the Virgin Mary after staring for a long time at the ceiling, he felt a familiar tension. He strove in vain to find something in its face: compassion, drive, knowledge, determination, courage, tenderness, rapture… He could find nothing, and its eyes fixed forward, toward nothing, for no reason, with no reaction.

Could a human face feel like less alive than a dark stone ceiling?

Noah’s heart folded in on itself that night as he answered that: yes, yes it could.

He rose from his prie-dieu with a sigh and started toward the exit. Before he left, he looked once more at the ceiling, and, as the distant light of the candle flames danced in waves upon it, he smiled to see that it was alive. He cried for just a moment, and left.



Nyle Osmund woke up to terrible light.

He coughed and tried to swallow but his mouth was sandpaper. No use.

He had been dreaming that he was at a party in the daytime, outdoors with beer and smiles and a big barbecue buffet. But someone whose face didn’t quite exist had been following him at every moment. He always felt this faceless figure watching him but whenever he turned he was nowhere to be seen. When he finally turned and caught him, he saw his face and discovered that he had woken up into the terrible, terrible light of the 10 a.m. sunshine.

He coughed again and found that he was naked in a hotel room and that he was not naked alone. A smooth, tan female back with a river of straight brunette hair lay next to him, face and breasts down on the mattress. He ran a hand through his own curly, dirty-blonde hair (he spent probably too much money on realistic blonde highlights). He sat up.

God, look at her breathing.

He watched her shapely and tender back go up and down, up and down, up and down. He began to breathe more calmly himself. His nightmare disappeared. He would not recall it again.

He could remember only the vaguest things about her. There had been something—someplace with colorful lights—blues and purples. Her eyes were blackish brown, she wore a black leather jacket.

There was no doubt it had been a wild night, but now she was asleep, and her back heaved up and down with her breath. Even the terrible light that woke him up had softened into peace and even love.

He thought for a moment about staying.

But if I don’t remember, who’s to say she will?

And he realized it was probably better that he go. If she didn’t remember and she didn’t want him (“I’m not really a big charmer. I have to get pretty drunk before….”), well… No, it was better to go.

He leaned over to the bedside stand and scrawled out his phone number. “Call me.” He sketched a winking smile beside it. He knew it wouldn’t be answered. He was leaving her, after all.

He crept carefully out of bed without waking her. “Thank God.” (He lamented in his heart that he hadn’t woken her.) He found his clothes and put them on. Reaching the door, he looked back at her beautiful frame. Still her shoulders moved up and down, up and down. He smiled to see that she, at least, was alive. He cried for just a moment, and left.