“Did you pray on it?”
“Yes. Lord, did I ever. I felt myself sorted south of sin, truth be told.”
This was Lenora’s first deliberate attempt to shock someone in her adult life. It didn’t really
work. Her admission was cryptic and weightless. Besides, they knew each other too well.
“Does this mean I have to start worrying about you too, Ms. Lenora?” Pastor Solino asked,
leaning into his question.
An old-timer’s approach, meant to curb impending rebellion. She was a good one. She would
listen. She diverted.
“You said salvation fills our sails with wind. Like, every other Sunday during your Family Mass homily. I thought I knew what that meant, and now I’m not really so sure. Nor do I care to
know.” She began to doubt her point, speaking so far from her self. “I’m anxious, father.”
This did the trick, keeping them puzzled and dreadfully focused on the aftermath of her words.
The tension of disarmament swelled in the pastor’s office. What was said next could lack the
default geniality of conversation, and may very well be honest.
“How you helm your vessel will determine your voyage — look within.”
No dice. Just traditional bodies conventionally placed in a mahogany room.
A wooden Virgin Mary was affixed to the wall behind Pastor Solino’s desk. Her eyes were
closed in mourning, but her mouth slightly curled into a smile. Lenora sat opposite the priest
across his desk and mulled over the preponderance of awkward religious art deemed socially
acceptable by the faithful. One would think they’d know the tonality of their sacred ones well
enough from the source material, but she chalked the misfires up to talent scarcity and reading
comprehension issues. Lenora liked how this Mary’s mischievous smirk worked against her
infamous heartbreak, almost as if the original embodied the figure to delicately warp its features,
revising its humanity. Perhaps she was watching their conversation through her effigy’s eyelids.
Lenora’s sights then caught her pastor’s. She immediately felt judged and fidgeted with the lapis
beads around her wrist.
Solino was balding, the combed-over strands across his scalp ghostly and tenuous, but well-groomed nonetheless. His tall, accusatory nose that hooked over the pulpit on Sundays and whose shadow, as she thought in that moment, surely dwarfed her infant body during her baptism — there must be pictures to prove it — seemed to have grown larger and blunted with
age. He grew kinder, too, which she found exceptional in her parish.
“Your vessel and its course, as I know you know from your days as a girl at St. Athanasius, are
not of this world alone,” he said. “Where the ship goes, the soul goes. The soul speaks its needs
to the body, and what it needs is direction towards its eternal reward. Your accordance to this
truth will determine the quality of your course. Ask yourself: how much wind am I catching if I
live this way?”
The prospect of an eternal reward brought Lenora anxiety, like something you would arrange a
policy over. The phrase was a reminder of a type of death that left little choice in living, which pressed her further. Lenora thought such agency was extinct anyway, even beyond her faith. How could it be operable in a world that insidiously cried for her attention, compelling her energy in frivolous, expensive directions. Maybe she would think differently if she could afford to.
Pauses, once returned from, change perspective on what was left behind. Latent patterns become clear; the tolerated becomes strange and ill-fitting. Life was fine until Lenora watched television last night for the first time in a year. Despite living online instead, profiled and peddled to by the internet’s phantom powers, it was in the old, oblivious screen that she saw her hunger mirrored. And everyone was hungry for her. Each commercial was a cortege, one flashing requests for her pores, another her thighs and ankles, all eulogizing what she could have been with more time and care. The world begged to make a project of her. Projects offer plans, which you needn’t consider but only follow. Saying no to plans had consequences and she had reached that botched adjustment phase of young adulthood where help denied was incalculable opportunity lost.
And this was to say nothing of her self-assessment. She had a liberal education. She read Baudrillard while a crucifix hung from her neck. She knew she’s been, in some unseen but nervously felt way, bought and sold ad nauseam since the day she was born. She just couldn’t understand why that struck her so raw and nervously now, why she felt so handled and heavied by the world. She saw a mirror and hunger changed her face, the sinister variables of a screen that morphed its icons of desire as it did the shape of the empty spaces inside her. She’d shudder to think what it would feel like once the chemistry stabilized, shaping its image and her into a perfect fit.
“There’s no need for confession,” said Pastor Solino. “Penance isn’t helpful here, and I won’t
ask you what you want because that’s of little interest to God.” He gave a weathered smile. “But
I will ask you what you believe you need.” He lowered his voice here, stretching sincerity over
every hushed syllable. The parochial lullaby of priestly admonishment.
Lenora thought there was something spiritual, perhaps ascetic to the way she behaved in the
world. Those that followed plastic plans, she realized, and failed, won at least a sliver of
experience only they knew in living. Could she ask for that alternative?
“It’s just that I feel as though I’ve learned all I can from altar service, from lecturing, from
eucharistic ministry. Even from summer missions. I feel as though others have not traveled their
course as well as I have and yet here I am —”
“It is not your place to judge, Lenora--” said the pastor.
“Is there some benefit they’re allowed, and I’m not?,” she interrupted. “At least give me a habit
so I can make sense of myself. ”
Solino cocked an eyebrow toward his combover. “You’re good, Ms. Lenora, but I’m not sure if
you’re cut for the nunnery.”
“Why is that?”
“You talk too much.”
“Nuns wear habits, not bridles, father.”
She was mortified and covered her face, beginning to giggle. At least she got a decent bon mot in that wasn’t preceded by a sequence of stuttering half-thoughts. After her joke, angels descended from behind wooden Mary’s frozen cloak and kissed Lenora’s forehead, and chuckled in relief. She felt in turn, and didn’t care to stop speaking now. “God conspires not to bridle us,” she concluded, smiling and soul-drunk. Solino was tired, but agreed. He’d make a call to the