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|Short Fiction author bio | Spanish Translation ||
Juice and Trumpet
|by Briny Folgers|
|I started the whole thing off by e-mail. My old trick
has always been to send the object of my affection a letter, perhaps even--in my youth--a
suggestive poem. But it was always too obvious and childish a gesture; an undeniably
deliberate act. With e-mail it's different, especially if you are a techie and know he is,
too. You can say, "as long as I had to e-mail some stats to my boss, I thought I'd
drop you a note." You could include the latest rumors on the shake-up at Apple. Or
some office humor you'd picked up on the net. That way you've de-centered him. At least in
So I drafted a little note, closing with the deliberately quirky, but hopefully not over the top, "Bye-bye Birdie, bye-bye...Have a great and fruitful day, Lilith". I hit the "Send" button with a quick jump of electricity up my spine. We lived in the same apartment building, had similar jobs, but you never know what response you'll get taking liberties like that. His last name was Nuthatcher. I hoped he'd figure it out.
When he e-mailed me back with a longer and more personal note, I knew it was a go. I began to slip references to succulent fruits in my messages--"I just ate a pear. Messy, from all the juice, but wonderful"--and then immediately switched the subject to keep his mind off of thinking about it. I didn't want him to think I am deliberate.
Other comments in other letters included that my room smelled like melons; that my shampoo smelled of mangoes; that my family had raspberry bushes with fleshy nubs of red which grew like wildfire when I was little; that, in fact, the neighbors showed themselves to be against the natural order of things when they complained that the bushes spread into their lot, creeping forth under the fence, toward their house; and that if I could be any fruit, I'd be a kookamelon (to which he e-mailed that he'd never heard of a kookamelon, but there are kookaburra birds--so I said great, that's what I'd be).
What he perhaps had not realized was that I was very attuned to what was going on in his life, and was making conversation that had a natural affinity to his interests. His interests involved God. He was a Christian, he'd mentioned more than once--and don't Christians seem to have a thing for fruit, apples and all that? He was, in fact, a born-again Christian, and that's why I liked him.
Some people would say I'd been a bad girl most of my life. I'd had a menage-a-trois (once, when the third party didn't know there was a third party); I'd had sex under sunflowers and in a river that ran next to a cemetery; in the public library bathroom; under a bed; while writing a letter and smoking a cigarette (I did so little it was like I wasn't there); while posing as Joan of Arc (again, I didn't do much, as I was tied up); and in strange positions that were uncomfortable yet possible, because of the extreme flexibility I was graced with as a young woman.
At the time I met him I was more neutral. Older. More unimpressed. It was not that I wanted to be good; I don't believe in good or bad. But I wanted to see what it was like to be with someone who was good.
Some time after our email exchanges, our face-to-face conversations moved from casual talk in the lobby to confessionals in his apartment. We'd talk, I would make myself vulnerable with stories of weak moments in my life, and I'd listen to the story of how he came to be "saved" by Christ, all the time swallowing my aversion to Christianity. But even as I was repulsed by Christianity, I was in awe of it, mostly of the power it had to make someone give himself up to it. I wondered what that was like, so devoid as I was of a feeling for it. The only thing I could think was that giving yourself up to God is like being an eternal newlywed.
On one particular evening when I had made myself vulnerable, I cried. He held me, and we ended up naked in his bed, you know how it goes. Mostly, I think the turn came when I seized him at the point he thought I was most vulnerable, seized his face with the red nails he said he liked, and kissed him.
So we ended up in bed, his massive six-foot body so pressing, so real. It was a relief to finally end up there in his bed, where there was no doubt about anything, no questions to ask, nothing to think about, just bodies, heavy, pressing, immersing into one another. And just as he was going to penetrate me, I looked over at the Charles Swindoll book on the endtable, at Charles's blurry and distant face (I didn't have my glasses on), and smiled a wicked little smile. This was my personal triumph; nothing big, nothing epic, just one little triumph over goodness--over conviction in general--over truth, over what, because of the order of things, I would not otherwise be allowed to have.
Well then, just as he was going to penetrate me, just as I was smiling at Charles Swindoll, he stopped. He withheld. It took me a moment to register what that space was I vaguely felt, that space between his lingering movement towards penetration and my wicked smile, that space that moved in while I wasn't looking. That space was an endless moment when nothing was happening. I turned to him with what must have been a wrinkled face. He sat up and wrapped a blanket around himself quickly.
"I care about you too much to spoil you," he said slowly and carefully, each word marching forth after the last in single file.
"What? Spoil me?"
"It's wrong for me to do this," he continued, "wrong for us."
"Why? We want to do it," I countered.
"We haven't thought this through. It was a moment of weakness."
"But I bet if you did think it through carefully, you would think it's okay."
"God wouldn't approve," he said shortly.
"But why? Why? They're our bodies. Our bodies need this. It's bi-o-log-i-cal," I said, as if drawing out each vowel would trace the natural logic in what I was saying.
We didn't talk any more, or rather, he wouldn't. He wouldn't give me anymore answers, and I resented that. I came to resent it more the more time had passed without any mention of it. Then finally, one day at church, I let slip I wasn't Christian.
I had come to pick him up at his church; he assumed that I went to a different one. Well, I sort of let him believe that I attended service, that I was a Christian at all, and we simply never discussed my beliefs until the day I picked him up.
When I arrived at the First Fundamental Adventist Church of Christ, a crowd was gathered in the parking lot, around an ambulance. Old men and women with sagging jowels and stooped postures, women with citrus perfume and high hair, men with straight-parted hair and combs in their back pockets. The first thing I wondered was how come Christians are such busybodies. Aren't they sort of representatives of God? Aren't they supposed to make a good impression, in appearance and deeds? I concluded that in fact most crowd-formers are Christians. Then I realized it is because they think they are witnesses for God, God's secretaries and treasurers noting good or bad, something like that.
Once I got past that I found him. He was standing at the apex of the crowd, at the ambulance doors. A trumpet lay on the floor inside.
"Hi, what's going on? Did the trumpet blow a gasket?" I chuckled.
He bent over me and whispered, "A man collapsed in church."
"Oh," I said solemnly, "but--is that a trumpet in the ambulance?"
"Where's the man?"
He sighed. "They're bringing him out."
"Why is there a trumpet in the ambulance?"
"Because," he said irritably, "Before he lost consciousness, he asked for his trumpet."
I wondered if this church played trumpet instead of organ. I chuckled again. Well maybe it was closer to a laugh.
"The man's dead."
"But that's not what I'm laughing about."
Once he'd led me away from the crowd by the elbow, he said in a spitting whisper, "What were you thinking?"
"It was just a reflex! It's funny that there's a trumpet in the ambulance. I didn't know the man was dead!"
"A reflex! Maybe you should think more."
"I think more than you think I do. Who are you to say that? Faith is the biggest reflex of all."
"No, that is where you are mistaken. It is not a reflex for me. It is deliberate."
A current seemed to run over the ground under our feet, between me and him.
"Let me ask you," I said excitedly. "The day we almost--you know, you stopped. It wasn't because of me, was it?"
"No. Yes. I don't know, I mean, yes, I didn't want to hurt you, and I couldn't betray God."
"Well, which is it--me or God, or even, was it because you cared about me? Apart from God? Me." I put my hand on my chest and rested it there. "Wait, first--tell me, what made you stop--did you see the book on your endtable?"
He folded his eyelids tight over his eyes. "Book? What book? I heard church bells."
"Yes, from the Catholic church down the street. Didn't you hear them?"
"No. No. I didn't hear them...God! It's like you heard the voice of your mistress."
And he smirked; he didn't even protest. And then I knew he was just like any other guy: always someone else turning their eyes. Even worse was that God had turned his eyes, God who is not even flesh and blood and body like me. But the worst part was I never got my answer. I never knew if he really cared about me. Though I think I know, it's not enough.
So, fine. Only I can't stop pacing, roaming the halls between his floor and mine. I walk in some kind of limbo. I hatch plots I never carry through: e-mail messages with quips like "Everyone needs to be saved from something. Everyone needs an ambulance with a trumpet inside." But I never do anything about it. I just roam, knowing he's somewhere like a planet rolling along, that someday I might see. That someday I might understand.
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