It's not that I don't have a sense of humor. I have a sense of humor. When she told me what she was doing, I was repulsed at first; I laughed later, an inevitable concession to the irony of the situation. It was funny—in a way. I understand why she thought so at least.
She must have known, too, that I knew all along. She must be laughing because I walked right into it, in wide-eyed innocence and self-imposed blindness to the truth. How could I forget that ass? How could anyone forget that ass? That's why she's laughing: she knows I knew it was her all along. She knows I walked into it willingly, willfully.
Her ass came ticking in one Sunday morning. The relentless heat that boxed out our small valley in urban smog had finally begun to pack up the hazy horizon and ship it out on the back of the Santa Ana winds; it was the fist clear, cool day of autumn. Her ass switched back and forth like the steady beat of a metronome pendulum when she walked into the cool stone-walled church. She was wearing heels. She never wore heels when I loved her, and they made her ass look great—better, though I never would have believed it possible. I watched her hips twitch from side to side as I followed her into the sanctuary. The rhythmic sway mesmerized me like a tennis match: watching the ball arc from one end of the court to another, the end of each trajectory punctuated by the echoing pop of the ball in the sweet spot of the racket.
Perhaps the hypnotizing swing of her hips induced a momentary stupor in me—unsuspecting as I was—and my awareness of her identity slipped beneath the dark surface of my consciousness. It's surprising what a steady rhythm can trick your mind into accepting, uncritically. It was her: I guess I knew, but it didn't matter...tick tock tick tock. I would have expected the Holy Spirit to protect me at so vulnerable a moment (and so critical a moment at that). Perhaps the Spirit warned me by the unconscious nagging at my conscious, but I didn't notice...or wouldn't notice. Perhaps I willingly followed her down the path to destruction. On the other hand, perhaps she saved me from the death sentence I had imposed on myself in my promise to mortify my own flesh. I'm still not sure which it is.
She was wearing a knee-length kelly green dress with a turned up, stiff collar, that rubbed against her jaw line when she turned her head. The dress was cut low and the swell of her breasts, firm and taut, peeked curiously around the sides of the neckline. She wore a large green stone pendant on a thin leather band that fell over her collar bones and rested between her breasts. Her calves were hard and tan, the muscles pulled tight with every forward propulsion of her step. And her ass—her snappy, tight ass—by god she knew how to carry that thing. Her hair fell to the middle of her back in thick auburn curls and lengths of yellow and green ribbon snaked through a few braids interspersed through her thick, heavy hair. She wore a little hat that looked like a shallow bowl curled about the round part of the top of her head, about the size of a yamacha. Tufts of yellow and green fabric ranging from translucent to sheer spilled from the hat in waves of color and texture down her face. The many layers of semi-transparent fabric colluded to hide her face completely from view.
Startled, I turned to the source of the squeal. It was a girl I had grown up with in the church, Shelly. She stopped me at the back of the sanctuary opening her arms toward me in greeting, obligating me to embrace her, and simultaneously allowing me to watch the veiled figure over her shoulder as she moved deliberately toward the outer edge of the room. I think every other head in the room swiveled curiously to catch a glance as well. She could not have created more of a stir if she came in with a brown paper bag over her head, little circles cut out for eye holes. Her veil offered a challenge, an enigma. Because she advertised her desire to remain unknown, I felt an insistent desire to know her, a desire localized not in my mind, but in my nether regions, a desire to know her in the way that Abraham knew Sarah...but no, no. No. God help me, rid me of this lust. I tried to take my eyes from the alluring curve in the small of her back, but I could not.
"How are you?" Shelly asked me, her voice dropping dramatically at the end of the question, trying to sound intimate. I smiled at her warmly. "Good."
"Good" she retorted, squeezing my arm. She opened her mouth to say something else, but I cut her off gently: "I have to get up to the drum set..."
"Yeah, of course. Um, we're all going out to lunch after the service. You should come."
"Oh, I think we have plans with my sister after church. Thanks though."
She smiled, a fleeting look of disappointment passing over her eyes. "No worries. Next week?"
I nodded at her, smiling. "Sure."
"Great I'll see you around."
I smiled at her again and began to move away.
I continued around the edge of the room, noting involuntarily that she had settled herself markedly close to the drum set. I walked past her, toward the makeshift orchestra pit at the foot of the three steps that mounted up to stage right and settled myself behind the drum set my father used to play. I play the drum set now. I've played this particular drum set every Sunday for just over a year now. He was a good man. He died too young. I wish he could have seen my children.
She had positioned herself just behind the sweep of my peripheral vision so that I couldn't see her unless I turned a little to look over my right shoulder. But that would have been obvious, and I wasn't trying to be obvious, though she obviously was. I got the distinct impression that she was trying to make me uncomfortable and had long known exactly where to place herself in order to do so. I could feel her watching me as the Minister of Music welcomed the congregation and the first chords of the worship music sounded from the piano next to me. It's a good damn thing that every worship song has the same time signature: distraction isn't any danger to my performance to say the least. And to say even less than that: I was distracted. My face felt flushed from the heat of her gaze and I glanced over my shoulder casually to see where he gaze fell: stupid, of course, since I couldn't see her eyes, but the set of her head suggested that she was in fact looking at me. I lost the beat for a moment and had to refocus to find my place in the song. Ruddy goddamned pixie. How's a man supposed to concentrate when he has all that bloody vitality focused on him. I felt uneasy as hell.
The worship set came to an end and I settled myself, not in my usual spot, but a couple of rows back so that I could sit behind her. I had placed myself slightly to her right and I'll be damned if she didn't turn her head to the right and dip her chin into her shoulder trying to flirt with me through her veil by the tilt of her head. As subtle as the motion was, it seemed utterly sacrilegious in the sanctuary and I felt ashamed of the heat and excitement welling up in my stomach and my throat. She turned away only a couple of seconds later and sat serenely through the remainder of the service, her chin lifted slightly as if she looked down her nose at the pastor. When the congregation rose for a closing prayer, she conceded to rise as well, but kept her head lifted haughtily throughout.
Under the compassionate inspiration of the Holy Spirit I was compelled—purely through a holy hospitality, mind you—to go up and speak with her after the sermon. She saw me approaching down the end of her row and when I was still 15 feet off, she lowered herself into a completely archaic half curtsy, turned sharply, exited the row of chairs and wove and squeezed her way through the crowd of fellowshipping brethren. She disappeared out the back door before I even had time to decide whether the curtsy was amusing or arousing. Son of a bitch.
"Who was that?" asked a lusty whisper over my right shoulder. It was Ryan, a small-headed, small-featured, small-minded and I can only guess—judging by the disproportionate size of his ego and list of his conquests—largely endowed twenty-something who had grown up in the church with me.
"I don't know," I lied, almost completely unconscious of the omission.
"Did you see her—"
"ass? Ya, I saw it," I cut him off dismissively and walked toward my mother. "You ready," I asked her quietly.
"I wonder why that girl was wearing a veil?" she mused as we walked across the newly refurbished parking lot toward my truck, my father's truck. "What girl?" I asked with a pretty successful attempt at disinterest. "You didn't notice her? She was wearing a green dress. You followed her right in before the service. She was very pretty."
"How do you know? She was wearing a veil." She swatted my arm: "don't be smart with me. You know what I mean. She was shapely."
"I didn't notice." I said stubbornly. "What are we doing for lunch?"
"Oh your sister invited us for a barbeque."
I started the car and we pulled out the parking lot. After lunch I hitched up my 20 ft. catamaran and made the 30 minute drive to a nearby lake. It was already about four by the time I arrived, but the days were still long and I figured I had another four hours before dark. I backed the trailer down toward the edge of the beach, set up the sails, and then backed her into the water. Within another 30 minutes I was sailing, and the hard knot of pleasure in my stomach could have been the wind and the water, good memories or something like hopeful expectation and the smell of sex. For fuck's sake. I hoped it wasn't the smell of sex. I started to feel guilty at the possibility. I thought of my father's face, and my father's life, of his death mostly, and I felt sick at the desire that pulsed through me when I thought of her. He was a good man.
I had work to do. I had the memory of a good man to live up to, and I didn't want to gamble the honor on some crazy broad who went around buried in heaps of fabric. What kind of person does that? Maybe she is ashamed of something, embarrassed. Perhaps her face burned off or she is disfigured, painfully ugly. But she doesn't walk like she's ashamed of a damn thing. She walks like she's hiding some witchery, like she waits for the hypnotic effect of her swaying hips to take effect, so that she can overcome you and sacrifice you to the devil, I'm quite sure. Sordid sorceress. Bloody she-devil all decked out in spring colors and clean smells. She's so damned alluring I want to grab her around her ribs, just under her breasts, bend her backwards lick her chest and suck on that cool, smooth rock hanging between her lovely fucking tits. Goddamned temptress. I want to fuck her with that green skirt bunched around her waist and hear her moaning softly under the fabric hanging over her face. I want to fuck that damn veil silly and then leave her, shrouded like the dead. Goddamn it! These are so disturbingly far from clean thoughts I don't know how to begin to find my way back. God help me. Please, please deliver me from this lust.
The sun began to sink more quickly toward the western hills behind me, so I turned back toward the beach. After I got in the truck, and no longer needed to concentrate on the task of pulling the boat out of the water, the purgative guilt began to settle into my stomach. Why do I think like that? Why do these impure thoughts force their way into my consciousness, slipping through every defense I set up against them. How do they slip past the fear of God himself. Past my ardent desire for cleanliness. Past my fear of damnation, past the fear that I felt when I watched my father loose his pale, clammy grip on life. I watched him die, and felt comfort only at the fact that his soul would survive, would pass onto a better place. And I need that comfort for myself. I need to be sure. And I feel like I have grown, like my convictions are stronger, like my morals have set more clear lines for my behavior. I'm a youth pastor now. Alumni of Bible College and an active student in a conservative Christian university. I want to go to Seminary. Are all these desires nothing more than a paper machete effigies, blown to insubstantial pieces at the sight of one well-developed well-conducted backside? Because right now I feel like I would throw away my entire future, my entire past, the honor of my family's name, perhaps eternity itself, just to have the chance to watch her head tip backwards and her mouth fall open in pleasure, to see her neck, the bottom of her chin, to hear her breath heaving, to watch the fabric flutter under her heaving breath. To lift the veil...good God, to see behind that veil. To enter into her holiest of holies. Damn it all straight to hell. Blasphemy.
The next day I made the half hour drive from my mother's house to my school. It was a Christian University that had a curriculum based on the beliefs of the Southern Baptist Evangelical Christian Church. I slid into a desk in the back of the class, next to my sometimes girlfriend Lane. The class was on Biblical interpretation. The professor was speaking in his usual tone of sugar-coated contempt. "This example," he was saying, "is another case of a dominant theme in this class. Here again we see that the seeming deviation or contradiction in the Biblical account of the creation can be completely rectified with the proper translation. This, brothers and sisters, is not an ancient collection of myths, this is a factual account of a historical occurrence, as you can clearly see when your read the text, rather than reading your own prejudiced opinion into the text, as do the opponents of the fact that the Bible is inspired of God and thus true and factual—in the most stringent sense." He seemed very earnest, as he paused after this last assertion to measure the response of the class. He must have been waiting for some expression of relief, some consensus that his inspiring words had somehow increased the strength of our conviction, because he smiled warmly at the two or three heads nodding in the slowly dawning clarity of their own rectitude. My feeling of rectitude in my beliefs was rather secure now after a lifetime in the church and two years of education at this Christian University. I had questioned the validity of my beliefs once, had struggled with some of the scriptures while I struggled with a grey, damp fear that it was all just a load of shit—all of the pretty things I had been taught to believe about relentless grace and the rewards of a life dedicated to God. But it really had just been her. She would asked me—and everyone else for that matter—all the questions for which there were no satisfactory answers. It was her curiosity that made me question, and her body that made me stumble. Because I really thought I loved her. But I hadn't loved her. I had only misinterpreted my lust. The distance, the time between now and her mouth had allowed me to realize that it wasn't love; it was sin, it was a lust of the flesh and nothing more. I only loved her in the backseat of my car. I realize that, now. Now, I know the truth she blinded me from. I had told her that on the phone one night. She had called me drunk with despair and red wine. I told her: "I never really loved you, I only thought I did."
"Fuck you," she had whispered into the phone. "You fucking liar. I know you loved me, you dirty fucking liar, I know you did."
"No, I really didn't. I thought I loved you, but it was just lust, or pity maybe." I had retorted, almost gaily. "I'm not saying this to hurt you." I added. I was just trying to be honest.
"Fuck you." She whispered again. "Fuck you."
I hung up on her.
The professor voice brought me out of my reveries for a moment. "What is important in Biblical interpretation is your motivation. What do you want to read into the text? What are you trying to extract from the text? It is important to be honest with ourselves about these questions." The professor smiled as if to assure of his own pure, irreproachable intentions. "We have to be ready to find the truth, even if it is difficult or disagreeable to our tastes. The Bible will not be approached with a prejudice. It is true, complete, and divinely inspired. One will only mar and confuse the truth illuminated in the text if one attempts to find corroboration for one's own sinfully selfish, prideful opinions."
His voice irritated me
She smoked weed. She had sex with one of my friends from high school. And those are only the rumors I heard about when she was in town on school breaks. Who knows what she was up to at what was reputably the biggest party school in California. Dirty whore. And I know that's why she turned her back on God. To luxuriate in the filthy lusts of her flesh. It was disgusting. The only explanation was that she had never really been saved at all—though she certainly convinced a number of people otherwise. She certainly had that whole wide-eyed innocence down to a damned tee. Her feigned devotion was nearly irreproachable, her gentleness, her willingness to sacrifice, her generous spirit, the way she just spilled over with the most endearing kindness--genuine, loving kindness, not sugary mess that calls itself love sometimes. And she had left me in the name of God, crying frantically, whimpering, speaking—in between her jagged, staccato like inhalations—of the sinfulness of her love for me. Mourning the fact that she loved me more than her own life, more than God, more than any promise of heaven. Sobbing that she would never want to leave this world if the joy she knew with me was impossible in the next.
"I have to go. I have to. It's wrong how much I love you. It's blasphemy." she finally managed to choke out. "I don't want to. I don't want to leave you."
I held her hand and looked her level in the face: "I love you. I am going to do everything in my power to keep you from going back on your word."
God, I thought she was going to die right there when I said that. She looked down. "Jayce, you have to go before I change my mind..." I shut the car door on her as I stepped out of the car and she was gone before I reached the front door of my house.
I glanced at my watch: the lecture would run for fifteen more minutes. Why was I thinking about her now? She hadn't broken through into my conscious thoughts for years. I dreamt about her occasionally, dreamt about her face drowned in her long blonde hair, blowing and whipping around in some blue wind, and her long thin body in a flowing gown the color of spring. She wouldn't speak to me she would just look at me and then laugh at the horror in my face as she changed form and her youthful beauty wrinkled and dried into the lifeless body of an old hag, draped in black and surrounded by purple and grey clouds. The old hag would speak with her living voice: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted..."and then her voice would catch in the old throat, her ugly face contorting as she swallowed to lubricate her dry throat. "...if they shall fall away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." Then she would reappear, young and beautiful, dancing and singing: "If they shall fall away, if they shall fall away, they shall fall away, shall fall away, fall away." And she was dancing on the corpse of the old hag, laughing. Laughing at the blood, laughing at the approaching storm that moved at her faster than a plane flies, laughing and spreading her arms out wide to catch the lightning bolt that flashed down from heaven and found it's antipode in her chest.
And then I would wake up, not afraid for her, because I didn't love her I suppose, but disturbed. Very disturbed and nauseous and more than a little afraid for myself.
Just before I woke the following Sunday morning, when dreams are most lucid and reasonable, I dreamt that I was in a huge cavernous building, like a warehouse, perhaps. There were layers and layers of drapery hanging from the ceiling to the floor. Through the first layer I found a large group of people, familiar faces, faces I have known and forgotten throughout my life. Through the second layer I found a smaller group of acquaintances. Through the third, a group of my close friend, my sister, my father, my mom. The last curtain looked just like the veil she had worn into the church on Sunday. When I pulled it aside I saw her standing there in that green dress, but her head was cast in a deep shadow so I couldn't see her face. The line of demarcation between dark and light shone straight across her neck; the notch between her collarbones looked like a pool of light. Her arms were stretched out toward me, palms up, fingers outstretched.