Ironwood (V)

The woman opens her eyes.

He smiles down at her, and the small wrinkles in her face squeeze together as her smile unfolds itself. Her brown hair is matted to the pillow, her soft breasts hang docile, her full figure titlting down as she lays sideways; they themselves lie face to face. She is so refreshingly human, full of all the vulnerabilities and sensibilities that come with that classification. He understands now why they fall in love. To see beauty in the flaws is the true road to salvation.

“Penny for your thoughts.” So cliche, yet so sweet, an inquiry that makes him fall a little more in love with her.

“I was just thinking about the relationship between being in love and being close to God.”

“Oh, God.” She covers her mouth with her hand, instinctively. “Sorry.”

He smiles. “I am not one who is so interested in the small sins of everyday life.”

“You’re so….” she searches for a politer word,“…interesting. I’ve never…”

She laughs. “I’ve never slept with a guy from the seminary before. But I guess that doesn’t really happen that often, huh?” A frown flashes across, her eyes grow worried, concerned. “Are you, like, leaving? I mean, are you doubting your faith or going through some crisis or….”

His index finger on her lip. “Never,” he says. “In fact, my superiors know all abou this.”

Now she is frightened. “They….what?!” She lurches up, eyes traveling wildly across the room, expecting to see cameras watching her.

“Peace,” he says, pushing her back down gently. “Peace. What I meant to say is, they have given me permission to experience the world outside the seminary. To experience pleasures of the flesh.”

“Oh.” Confused. “So, like, one last hurrah before graduation. Before you become a priest? Like what the Amish do? The whatchamacallit?”

“Yes, exactly.”

Now she pushes him down gently, hand on his chest, stroking the small hairs that have roots there, pushing until he lies backside and throws one plump leg over him, straddling him.

“Well, then, let’s make it one last hurrah to remember, eh?”

They kiss. The feel one another. They relish in the imperfection. Salvation.

After, they lie side by side again. He hears the rustle of paper and turns his head to see her reading a newspaper, brow furrowed.

“Penny for your thoughts,” he says gently.

She sighs, throws the paper on the floor with little ceremony, stares at the ceiling. “The military is fucking us up. The university, the university used to be a place of refuge, you know? Where people could think and speak and act freely and learn, you know?”

“We’ve been duped. First they were protecting us from the enemy. So they fought the enemy. They fought the terrorists and hostiles. Then the enemy was home, among us. So they fought the delinquents and rebels, the people threatening public peace. So they fought them in the streets. Then they were gone. And now the enemy is within us. Unpatriotic thoughts, they say. Beware.”

She comes to him, they kiss, and she whispers that there is no good or evil anymore, only the military.

“May God weep.”

Does she hear his prayer? Does she understand? Inside her heart, does a shadow pass? He will never know. While she showers, he leaves. Outside, the world is different but the same. No. He is different. The universe is the only constant.

Two men stare at a painting. One says that it is an abstract, a painting of a vase of purple flowers. The other says it is a piece of paper died with various colors derived from certain plants and dyes. Two doctors stare at a leg, one specializes in broken bones and the other in skin maladies. The first notices a bone spur, the second sees a scar. Two old women, sitting on a bench, watching a young girl flirt with an older man. The one thinks society is collapsing, the other says, “That’s my granddaughter.”

Man use to think that light came from the eye and illuminated the world. Then one day he looked at the sun and felt pain. Now man casts out his mind and reasons the world away, the painting, the foot, the girl. The sun looks down, ignored.

That evening, the priest returns to the seminary. He gives his name to the Lord.

That day in the desert, the woman asks, “What do you desire, Father?” The priest replies, “I desire nothing.”

A wind, from nowhere, sweeps the mirages away, the woman with them. She was never anything but a mirage as they were. The priest awakes and realizes that it is evening, the sun is setting, and the cold is coming. He stands up and walks on. He does not desire to do so. He must.

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