>MATTERS OF PERCEPTION

>The Virgin Mary, as it goes, appeared first in a piece of Scandinavian graffiti, hidden among a scratchy collection of black and pink streaks, but still visible. An older gentleman walking his dog was the first to see her. At first, from the corner of his eye, and then, when he turned to face the wall, she was there, almost magically. The gentleman—a newly retired semi-famous physicist, and therefore not someone who made a habit of acknowledging yet alone scrutinising graffiti—took a moment to stop and move closer to the wall—which formed the back of a factory that produced sculpted cornices, gargoyles and the like for new buildings that wished to appear old—and made sure that this vision of Mary was not just a trick of the light. The gentleman had always had a problem with his vision, even from an early age, and what with the unseasonable fog lifting off the Saimaa he really had to concentrate.

But, no, it really was there, and it really was Her. The gentleman, who had been known to refer to himself as a “prolapsed Catholic”, observed within himself some very strange feelings. Firstly: was this important? Secondly: who, if anyone, could he tell? The gentleman’s dog, a well-aged beagle called Elias, seemed little interested in the gentleman’s discovery; he was already pulling away at his leash to get home and be fed. The gentleman rubbed at his beard, still surprised to find it there. He had grown it in retirement (an experience, in truth, only three weeks old) as a sign, perhaps, that he was relaxing, but it still felt like a foreign body attached to the old him.

He reached out an index finger to touch the Virgin Mary, to test, perhaps, if the paint was fresh. He couldn’t be sure, but her image felt warm, or at least warmer than the wall around it. He thought of his old colleagues back at Turku, wondering at their faces if they could see the semi-famous professor now, entertaining thoughts of magical appearances. The gentleman chuckled, and then laughed. Elias, who had given up and rolled over onto the cool concrete, raised a wrinkled eyebrow to his master. The gentleman met the beagle’s eye.

“Perhaps,” said the gentleman. “Perhaps this is just for us.” He clicked his tongue, and Elias got up.

They walked home, the two of them, the fog enveloping their steps like time closing, becoming history.

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