Okay, here’s the finished version of the story. Damn, this was hard to write. This is basically the raw, first draft so there’s probably lots of typos. I’ll be editing this thing in the next few days. There’s a Christian website I’m thinking about submitting this to, so want to make sure the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. It’s a pretty edgy story compared to what normally gets posted on the website so not sure if they’ll go for it or not.
Anyway, it’s pretty long so grab yourself a cup of coffee before diving in. Hope you like it.
Oh, and don’t forget, you can find this and my other stories on my storyblog site: LoneTomato Sauce.
(tell your friends)
Done with his morning routine (shower, shave, brush, floss) difficult with unfamiliar, borrowed tools, but they got the job done. She, the nurse with the early shift, had gone hours ago leaving him towels and toiletries, travel size and spare. He holds them, used and bundled together in the damp towel, unsure what to do with them. He looks at the tangle of folds on her bed, flinches and looks away. He turns and surveys the rest of the room. He checks his watch and sees that there’s time enough to make it to work.
They first met at church, of all places – an old, conservative, starchy ordeal. He started going there his senior year in high school and stayed through most of college. She started attending a few years after he started, but then he left there to attend a newer, more contemporary service – one that he thought better suited his younger, more agile faith. He went to this church for five years but hip fades as does the multi-media dazzle. He didn’t know if something in this new church had changed or if something inside himself had changed, but it didn’t matter because the nexus of spirit and truth that first drew him to this new style of worship wasn’t there anymore. And so after he realized that he hadn’t had a single experience he would call spiritual in over six months, he returned to the conservative, starchy 11:00 service. He didn’t know where else to go, so he went back to the old, the familiar, the comfortable.
And that’s where he saw her. Again. And the five years between them had been more than kind to her, they had refined what was fair into something more striking and profound. And most miraculous of all, he could tell by that gleam in her eye that she was more than just happy to see him again. In the time before he switched churches, they would flirt and laugh and tease. But his faith was stronger then and it was this faith that helped him see that his attraction to her was purely physical – that he did not love her beyond what she did to his hormones. And so spiritual mind enforced itself over sinful matter and all was innocent and well.
His faith then was so simple, so sure. God was a rock, a lion, a lamb. Jesus loved him, a thing he could know because the Bible told him so. He looked out at the world and wondered how unbelievers could be so damned evil. But complications arise, the messiness of the world finds its way into cracks, fracture points, fissures of the surest belief systems. And when push came to shove, he found his Sunday School lessons woefully inadequate to tackle the hard truths of the world.
That was no matter though. He understood that the world was larger than he was and that God was there watching over him. So long as he felt the presence of God and sensed his direction, he was assured and blissfully content. And then silence fell. The presence and the guidance faded away, dispersed into thin air like the fog at dawn. No matter what he tried, no matter how much he made himself pray and read and sing and fast, nothing tasted anything like the sweet luxurious comfort of the Holy Spirit. And really, what can one do to penetrate the ironclad silence of God?
Back now at his old, familiar church with a more fractured, fragile faith, things were different between the two of them. He sensed it the moment they met again after his years away. It was in the way she hugged a bit too hard, looked his way a bit too long, touched a few too many times. Just as time had distilled her features to the essence of what he had found beautiful about her, so it focused and honed their formerly innocent flirtations into something more serious and intentional.
In part, he had returned for just such affections. He didn’t reason it this way at the time but he was seeking from her what he had lost from God. And isn’t this what’s been done throughout time? God goes up the mountain and his followers down below mold themselves a golden calf to commune with – something tactile, solid, and predictable. Something there. For them a calf, for him a woman after his heart.
He gave himself to her. It was far easier than he could have imagined. Effortless and effervescent, lunch gave way to a walk in the park that wound up in a movie theater which led to dinner and rather than waste their money on dessert, they went to her apartment to finish off the slice of cheesecake in the freezer – the slice she (“oops, I forgot”) finished off the week before. But better than that was the Amaretto in the cabinet – a sip on the sofa, a sip on the bed, a sip spilled between the sheets.
Sin is a strange thing. Truth be told, this is exactly where he wanted to be but sin knows he would not have naively followed the steps that led to her door and so sin spun it around, told him he was going back to his old church to find God and perhaps to see her again. Bait and switch executed to perfection. Innocent compromises, little white lies exchanged between want and reason. Justifications, one after another, each more outrageous than the one before. Had he started the day in her bedroom, it would have been a simple thing to forego temptation and to walk away, but their affections had been building since noon, and the law of inertia is inflexible.
And now he looks at the tangle of folds on her bed, flinches and looks away. He turns and surveys the rest of the room. He checks his watch and sees that there’s time enough to make it to work. But he can’t. He flips open his cell phone and calls in sick. And for good reason. He feels nauseous, violently ill, deathly. Up until yesterday, he had been faithful to the Lord. He was saving himself for marriage, for one woman forever. He had been steadfast, hard headed, adamant, even arrogant – holding himself above friends with less fortitude than he. But no more.
He drops the towel in the middle of the bathroom floor, turns the lights off, locks the door and rushes out to his car, parked in the street. He fumbles for his keys, drops them, curses. He finds the car key but somehow inserts it awkward and the bundle falls to the ground again. At last in the car he guns the engine and speeds away, barely missing the car parked parallel in front of him.
On the freeway, caught in traffic, he feels something new. Behind the guilt and shame, behind the anger at his careless self, behind the soft, lustful memories of skin, sensation, and the fiery, concussive consummation, there is something else. It’s been so long that it takes him a while to recognize it but when he does, he hurls it away, tries to block it out of his mind but as absent as it’s been these last few months, it’s here now and he knows that God’s not going anywhere. And what can one do to avoid the ironclad presence of God?
He surrenders and begs for unholy forgiveness. In this moment he understands what motivates the ascetic, flailing his body, ripping skin from flesh to show the Lord you’re sorry because praying it just doesn’t seem anywhere near enough. But he has no whips with which to render himself. All he has is prayer and these salty, slimy tears.
Past the traffic, through the streets, up the stairs, he’s back home, finally. He’s had his time with God and though a part o
f him wants to still feel guilty, to still feel sorry, the greater part of him knows that what’s done is done and that God is still full of that amazing grace made manifest most clearly in his forgiveness. And so he simply gives thanks and praise and wonder and awe. He basks in the favor of God, lost in ineffable bliss until the buzz of his cellphone brings him back. He pulls it out of his pocket and sees her name on the caller ID display. And it’s clear to him now, more than ever before, that while forgiveness is free and forever, consequences remain.