By Thomas Weedman
The last drag. You hold hot smoke in your lungs, flick the cigarette aside. It somersaults into the snowbank, and the butt-end comes up singed yellow, blurred as the sun in the marbled clouds. You exhale, trying for a halo of rings but suck at it. A blue tint turns white like you’ve elected yourself Pope. You pocket rose-wood rosary beads and glance at the icy quad, wishing everything were spring, green, and warm and not winter, white, and cold. Students in overcoats with upturned collars scurry to classes or the cafeteria. Maybe noon Mass for the Eucharist or to light a candle at the grotto. Some could start boozing. You sneak in the side door of the infirmary like the seminary wine cellar – unseen. The offices are in the back. The tiled hall smells of antiseptic. At the desk, you show a student ID.
“The doctor is out today,” the receptionist says. She’s buxom and nice in a Nurse Ratched sort of way without the starched cap. Or the white leather shoes. Or the white uniform that shows legs. The whites of her eyes are hard boiled though, like in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. “One of his graduate students will be filling in.”
It figures, you never see the same person. You kid yourself that the guardian angels are on rotation. Maybe you’ll get an intern, a young Sydney Freedman from M*A*S*H, maybe dressed in fatigues. There are plenty of military students on campus, mostly laics. But you feel fatigued, could go for a lay-down and TV, anything to take you out of your clouded head. So you nod, though a new guy means explaining again, how it porns everything, rewrites what you see and think, a billboard palimpsest on your soul. Maybe you are ready for the loony bin and a padded cell.
The receptionist has good hips hugged in herringbone slacks, her Tuesday attire. But she has a starched walk today. She smells good, smells of soap and rose, and stiffly bowlegs in low heels to an unfamiliar room. Two office chairs face each other, a therapy stand-off. On the wall, a small mirror is shrouded by red velvet, akin to a presentation of a tabernacle.
“Sit tight,” Receptionist says.
You feel compelled to kneel in adoration. You wait, fidget for a smoke, hold off. You don’t flick the lighter in your London Fog, don’t want a fire. You handle beads instead. It doesn’t help; the mother of Jesus is out today. Too many souls in need. As Father George from Big Brothers said a decade back when you tried but failed to confess this mess: you can wait.
Just like you waited for your reprimand in the rector’s office last night after Mass, which you all couldn’t finish. Everyone but the rector kept laughing, the communion hosts chewy as a loaf of bubblegum bread.
“I told you flour and water, only!” the rector said. “Not even salt.” He’s a gangly, Abraham-Lincoln looking priest without the beard but with a long, admonishing index finger that seemed to reach your sternum from behind his desk.
You said you found a recipe in the basement library, dusty as a medieval dungeon. It was even scribed on seminary parchment and letterhead and you copied it. You even sorted through all the ingredients like honey and yeast.
“I don’t care,” he said. “The bread has to be unleavened. When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, they left in such a hurry that they couldn’t wait for the dough to rise. So during Passover, no leavened bread is eaten. The last supper took place at Passover or just before. As commemoration, we Roman Catholics use unleavened bread.”
You recall the Eucharistic prayer at Mass when the rector raised the host and said, “This is my body.”
And one of your seminary housemates said, “Except for the raisins.” That’s when the laughter first started.
The rector made you say a novena on your knees. Then he made you repeat your task of obedience, made you make more communion wafers, the right way. You felt knee-deep while not quite kneading dough. In an old pudding basin (probably from medieval times) you mixed water and flour to the consistency of a thick crepe batter. You hand-cranked a rotary whisk to get the lumps out. Then you table-spooned two dozen dollops over a parchment-lined cookie sheet, baked at 425 degrees for ten minutes. Except, you dozed off like a dumb-ass disciple in the garden and they went for twenty. When you finished at midnight and the hosts cooled like rusks, housemates descended on the warmed kitchen. One had a fresh pack of smokes; another, a bottle of red (you had your eye on) lifted from the cellar. A third – the one who made the raisin comment – asked if there was bread left from the previous day. Then he asked about your raisins.
+ + +
Finally, dozing again from the late night, you quickly sit up straight when a woman comes in. She’s holding a yellow notepad and yellow number-two pencil, ready to record a different kind of recipe. She’s got ten years on you and adorable looks in a ribbed turtleneck – white as a bride’s dress – and a thigh-length pleated skirt. In this weather? You see thick ankle straps and the clunky heels of red Mary Janes. She’s brunette with a pudding-basin haircut and is no Sydney Freeman. You’re thinking hot lips from M*A*S*H but hers are thin and pale as crepes.
You say hello but don’t offer a hand to shake. You avoid eye contact, think hers are hazel. She says her name is Eve. A cross on a chain rests in the crevice of her healthy bosom, the cross Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H wore. Father George, too. You are tempted to joke your name is Adam. You’d have to explain that too.
She says in a clinical, personal way, “Jimmy, is it?”
“Before we begin,” she says, “I need your permission to film the session. She points to the mirror. “There’s a camera on the other side,” she says. “Only the doctor and I will ever see it.”
You think of a peep-show theater but don’t have a nickel, token or buttered popcorn. You feel sticky and feet-stuck living in the past, seeing Coach Earl from Little League holding his stubby cock in your face. It’s always a seedy film in your thoughts and drips of his lumpy man batter on your thighs. You walked as stiffly as the receptionist after Earl sodomized you. And now someone else wants to see it?
You never could say no, so you say, “Okay.”
“I’ve looked at your file and talked to the doctor.” She just stares.
You look down at your snow-wet shoes, another mess you’ve brought into the situation. You try to smell her but feel downwind. And small as an imp.
Then you look up, still avoiding eye contact. Nervous, you say you don’t know where to begin.
“Why is that?” She’s straight-faced, a little cold but seems kind and calm, a real Sydney Freedman.
You say you’ve never had a female therapist. Her knees in pantyhose are distracting. The stretch of sheer on her caps is more transparent that the screen in the confessional.
“Does that matter?”
You say you don’t know. You say you are having trouble sorting.
A life of celibacy – another thing to explain. Are you jumping into this lifestyle too quickly? Will it free you and your soul? Are you doing it for the right reasons or just hiding behind or from Earl? Or running from him like the Israelites from Pharaoh. “I’m in the–”
“I understand.” She pauses. “You want to give yourself to God and serve.”
“Yes,” you say, dodging the sight of knees, breasts, and what’s behind those thighs; the devil could be there, and you’d have to wait in line to get a good look anyway. You try not to see what you shouldn’t. “You don’t understand. They can’t know I’m here.”
“I do,” she says like a marriage vow. “I do understand.” She puts her hand on the cross where you want yours to be. “As a therapist, I’m bound by confidentiality. And, if it would put you at ease, I’m also a nun.”
“Oh,” you say, surprised at her change out of habit. She puts the notepad aside, folds her hands. You copycat and fold your hands, begin your habit. The light goes green in your head, the Celedon green of her eyes glazed over. You feel hot. Your view changes, a camera obscura. Things go upside down. Her cold stare warms, she merrily sheds red Janes. Unhurried, she removes her sweater, revealing the soft and leavened, rising with each breath you take. Then you take in the halo of a white, padded bra, and wonder if the film is rolling.
Category: Short Story