Archive for September 2015

Love After Heaven, Parts 31 to 35

From the closet in his room, Father Romy took out a scourge made of thick rope knotted at various points. The scourge was more of a symbol than an actual instrument of pain. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, the modern scourge would inflict pain only on the two level at most. In ancient times, priests scourged themselves for self-mortification, as a punishment for their sins, or sometimes merely to remind them that their bodies were weighing down their souls. During the Lenten season in the Philippines, a number of grown men would walk around some coastal towns half-naked, scourging themselves with whips with pieces of broken glass attached, the better to wound their backs and satisfy ugly tourists hungry for proof that Filipinos were mere monkeys with no tails. At the end of such penitence, the men would jump into the sea, which would – many claimed – miraculously heal and remove all signs of bleeding backs.

Privately in the rectory, Father Romy used the scourge as mechanically as stretching his arms when he felt tired after spending most of his time reading or working on his computer. Father Romy knew that he was fooling no one but himself, and certainly not God, but self-mortification was part of being a priest. Being celibate was much more a part of being a priest, and the thought that he was actually physically attracted to a woman bothered him.

There was something about the principal that was familiar. He could not put his finger on it. When she shook his hand, something was triggered in his memory. It seemed like a familiar touch. But how could that be? He had met the woman only in the school during that awkward recollection. And he had listened politely to her educational philosophy. He had engaged in an unnecessary discussion about pronouns, for heaven’s sake. But it was the way she looked. She looked very serious, but there was a playfulness in her eyes, something that he thought did not seem suited to such a conservative, strong-willed principal.

As he did whenever he needed divine enlightenment, Father Romy opened his Bible and started to read at random. He read a verse from Song of Solomon. He preferred to call the book by its old name, Canticles, because it was really part of the Hebrew Bible.

“Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.” Hmm, thought Father Romy, maybe it was Julie’s perfume that seemed so familiar? “Is it perfume from a dress that makes me so digress?” he remembered the lines of T. S. Eliot. He felt, in a strange way, to be J. Alfred Prufrock himself. He did feel “like a patient etherized upon a table.”

He smiled at the fantasy. Could there be such a thing as a love potion, a magic spell, a perfume that would captivate a man and etherize him, make him unable to tell reality from dream, duty from pleasure?

He had read somewhere that jasmine could do that. He reminded himself not to drink jasmine tea. He had also read about vanilla. He reminded himself not to eat any more vanilla ice cream. He remembered someone talking about cinnamon. He reminded himself not to eat any more cinnamon rolls. He had to laugh out loud. These juvenile thoughts, these urban legends, clearly had no place in the life of a celibate like him, pledged to spend his entire life in the service of heaven.

He went to the kitchen to see if there was any papaya he could eat. Instead, he saw the box of jasmine tea on the table top and a box of cinnamon rolls. He could not contain his curiosity. He opened the freezer and, sure enough, there was a quart of vanilla ice cream there.

He fell on his knees, scourged himself, and prayed, “Dear Lord, lead me not into temptation.”

His mobile phone vibrated. He looked at it. There was a message. “Father, can I come see you this afternoon? Julie.”

 

 

It was only a matter of time before Frankie got shot.

After all, he moved in a completely wrong crowd. His friends – if they could be called friends – would all have been shady characters in novels but were highly respectable members of society.

As he was growing up in a squatter community living on the banks of the Pasig River where it skirted the affluent city of Makati, he played pick-up basketball with the rest of the undernourished out-of-school boys. He was gifted with a naturally sculpted body and great eye-hand coordination. He was spotted by a talent scout for movies, but not for professional basketball as he had dreamed about. Of course, he had to satisfy the man’s taste for semen, but he was given, in return for his generosity with his bodily fluids, an occasional role of a body double for movie stars who couldn’t run over rooftops or jump from the sixth floor of buildings.

Eventually, he was cast as a gang rapist in a blue movie. His stamina, both in maintaining an erection as well as staying awake through three straight days of shooting, attracted porn directors. Soon, he would star, so to speak, in videos meant for the thriving Web market.

It was during his long conversations with the real stars of the blue movies that he learned how to satisfy women.

“Do you feel good while we are going it?” he once asked an unjustly-famous lead actress during one of the long intervals between takes.

“No,” she replied.

“Do you, ahh, come?” he asked.

“Never,” she replied.

“Why not?” he asked, a bit offended. “I thrust into you again and again for hours.”

“Because it’s just a hole,” she replied.

He didn’t understand it at first. When he got the same answer from other unjustly-famous lead actresses, he became convinced that vaginal penetration was not the key to happiness for women.

“What, then, would give you pleasure?” he asked several actresses.

He got pretty much the same answer. Love, not sex. Imagination, not crude reality. Touch, not thrust.

Eventually, he gained enough courage to ask one of the actresses to spend a real night with him, not in front of a dozen film crew members, but alone, without having to perform.

The actress was very accommodating. She taught him how to use his fingers and tongue properly, tenderly, lovingly. She taught him where the most stimulating parts of a woman’s body were. Yes, the inside of the vagina was important, but equally important was the skin around it. Even softly playing with pubic hair, if not shaved, could excite a woman.

He was surprised that even licking the back of a woman’s ear could be pleasurable. He had instinctively grabbed the breasts of the actress, because that was what the blue movie directors had told him to do, but she had held his hand and showed him how to touch her breasts so she – and not only he – would get excited.

He learned how to take a woman from head to toe, or better, from toe to head. He learned to kiss, not like he was going to devour a woman’s lips like devouring chicken barbecue, but like enjoying ice cream or a good chocolate bar – slowly, savoring each moment, teasing, exploring, letting tongue touch tongue, lingering.

Soon, he asked other actresses to teach him more lessons. It took a while before an actress actually came while they were alone, but the first time that happened, he felt like a real man. He could make a woman come.

Like everyone else in the blue movie business, he had a very short so-called career, barely lasting six months. It was not his physical attributes that were a problem. It was the Interpol, which was getting better at tracking down sex sites. Once, he was cornered by local cops on the strength of an international warrant, but he was lucky to be brought to the precinct of a captain who, as his street friends would say, was fair game. He only had to enter the captain twice to gain his freedom and, more important, immunity from arrest.

When the wife of the captain saw him and wanted to taste him herself, he realized that there was a fortune lying in wait in the bedrooms of married women.

Frankie was not married. He had never married. He introduced himself to women as married, because he found out that married women wanted married men as lovers. It was simpler. Married men had something to lose if they were imprudent in public. Married men would never talk about them. Or so they thought.

After sleeping with quite a number of married women, Frankie eventually found three women who could maintain him in the lifestyle that he wanted for himself. The first, the wife of a city mayor, taught him how to put up non-government corporations without any capital or even actual office. The wife gave him a commission for every government contract that she herself obtained. The commission was in the hundreds of thousands. Once, it was even three cool millions. That enabled Frankie to buy a car.

The second, the wife of a Filipino engineer who worked in Saudi Arabia and came home only for birthdays and holidays, gave him plane tickets, hotel vouchers, and once, even a cruise ship ticket. That enabled Frankie to learn how to behave like one of the nouveau riche, a little loud, but knowing enough not to order soda in a fine dining place.

The third was Julie, a school principal who was not wealthy by herself, but whose husband was one of the wealthiest CEOs in the business district of Metro Manila. Julie had not given him money or trips, but she loved him, and that was refreshing. None of the unjustly-famous actresses loved him or even had any affection for him; they humored him with their lessons on making love and were in it only for the orgasms that he managed to give them. The other two married women did not love him; they just called for him when their husbands were not around.

Julie loved him. He even entertained thoughts of loving her back, but love was just not in his vocabulary. Of course, he said “I love you” to all the women he fucked. It was one of the pieces of advice he got from the actresses. “Always tell them you love them,” they had all told him, “especially after you have disposed of your load.” But he never meant what he said. In fact, he never meant anything he said. He just pretended that he was still in front of cameras, merely performing.

Killing Julie’s husband was no big deal for him. He had killed a number of other people before. It was one of what he called “odd jobs” that he had to do for the wife of the city mayor. The scam of fake non-governmental organizations was soon uncovered by the press. There were whistle-blowers who wanted to see their names in the papers. They saw their names in the papers, all right, in obituaries, after he waited for them when their police escorts had gone somewhere else.

He preferred knives to guns when it came to killing whistle-blowers. Guns were expensive. They could be traced through ballistic tests. If he had to throw them into Manila Bay, it was like throwing away cold cash. He hated wasting money, since he grew up without it.

Knives were untraceable. He just washed the blood away as soon as he got the chance. Then he threw them away or gave them to the little boys sniffing rugby on the streets.

If he had to kill someone in a mall, he just bought a hunting knife from one of the Big Boys Toys ‘R Us stores, used cash of course, then just dumped the knife into a trash bin after wiping away his fingerprints and the blood.

Killing people was not his main line of work, but he did it to keep the city mayor’s wife happy, not to mention out of jail.

Naturally, it was impossible for the city mayor not to find out about his extracurricular duties in bed. The city mayor was not that dumb. Two men riding tandem on a motorcycle watched him alight from his car in front of a mall. The man riding tandem opened fire. Eight bullets hit Frankie.

The motorcycle sped away. The security guards gave chase, but only half-heartedly. They were not going to risk their lives running after professional assassins. The guards brought him to a nearby hospital. Surprisingly, Frankie was still alive, though barely.

The hospital had a priest going around, consoling the patients. The Emergency Room nurses called the priest. His name was Father Romy.

Frankie could not speak, but his eyes could.

“No, it can’t be!” his eyes said.

He saw, not a priest coming to give him the last rites, but one of the men he had killed. He opened his eyes wide. Yes, the man the nurses called “Father Romy” was the man in the parking garage, the one he had stabbed many times, the man he killed because the wife wanted him killed.

He knew this man quite well because of all the stories about him that the wife would tell him after they had had sex. This man could not satisfy his wife. This man pretended to be interested in his wife’s woes about the school she ran, but he never did anything to help her in the school. This man talked a lot about the Bible, but he seemed never to apply what he had read to how he behaved.

Frankie had, of course, a much more ulterior motive in killing him. This man was keeping the wife from giving him the money that he hoped he would get. This man was keeping the wife from maybe running away with him and sharing all that wealth. This man was the one keeping him from maybe living happily ever after with a sex-starved principal who adored his John Thomas.

Father Romy, of course, had no idea what Frankie was thinking about. He could not know how shocked Frankie was, but Frankie’s eyes were eloquent. They were not the eyes of someone in pain, but in terror. Father Romy did not know anything about Frankie. All he knew was that he had to recite formulas that would help Frankie move to heaven. Father Romy wanted Frankie to go to heaven. Father Romy wanted everyone to go to heaven. Perhaps, Father Romy thought, this man lying almost dead in the Emergency Room had some big sins to confess but couldn’t. Perhaps, Father Romy thought, the man was contrite or was seeing devils or had suddenly realized that he was about to really, really die and wanted to be in good graces with the Creator. Whatever.

Then Frankie did something that the doctors said could not be done, not by someone in his state. He grabbed Father Romy’s arm with his own bloody hand.

Father Romy did not expect that. He recoiled instinctively. Then, he recoiled even more. Suddenly, it was not this man lying almost dead in the Emergency Room that he saw, but himself, lying also in a hospital, covered also with blood, stabbed. The vision made him step back, but the man’s hand would not let go.

The touch of this man made him remember something that could not possibly have happened. He had died before. He was certain of it. How or why or when, he could not tell, but he was sure that he was once also covered with blood, like this man whose name he did not even know.

Then a woman came rushing in. Father Romy was still in a daze because of his vision. The woman seemed strangely familiar. It was the principal!

Julie broke down into tears. When she looked up, she saw Father Romy staring at her.

“Father, I’ll see you later,” she blurted out. Then she rushed out the door.

Father Romy stared at her as she ran out the door. Then he looked back at Frankie. Frankie was dead.

 

 

All hell was breaking loose in heaven.

An angel was flying to and fro, frantically talking to everyone, angel or human being, s/he met.

“It’s that guy Steve Jobs,” s/he said. “Ever since he found the computer room and started fooling around with the programs, we’ve had all sorts of problems. People are here who should not yet be here and there are people still down there on earth who should already be here.”

“Why does God allow him to do that?” asked one recently-arrived computer scientist.

The angel looked at her with compassion, knowing that newcomers did not yet know the ways of heaven.

“God wants everyone to be happy,” s/he said. “You can do whatever makes you happy here. This is heaven, after all.”

“Ah,” said the newcomer. “And Steve Jobs is happiest when he upgrades computer programs.”

“But he doesn’t know that we don’t do apples here,” said the angel. “We’re doing pineapples!”

The newcomer did not get the joke. She did not know that angels were happiest when they were making jokes.

The angel went to the angel-on-duty or AOD at the gate.

“AOD,” s/he said, “you’ve got someone named Frankie who’s at the gate. He shouldn’t be here yet.”

The AOD sighed. “It’s been bedlam all eternity,” s/he said. “I’m running out of bodies to reincarnate the ones who shouldn’t be here.”

“What about Frankie?” asked the angel. God had apparently singled out Frankie among the thousands who had arrived that hour.

The AOD sighed again. “I made a terrible mistake. Or the computer made a terrible mistake. Frankie has been reincarnated, but not all of him. Only a part of him.”

“That’s not so bad,” said the angel. “Why do you look so distressed?”

The AOD sighed again. “It’s not that simple. Frankie returned to earth, but he returned not to a separate body but to a body that’s already reincarnated.”

The angel did not understand.

The AOD sighed again. “Frankie, or part of him anyway, is now merged into the body of one of the men he killed.”

“Which part are you talking about?” asked the angel.

The AOD sighed again. “His SQ.”

The angel nodded. S/he knew that, in heaven, SQ meant Sex Quotient. Of course, never having had sex, the angel did not really know what SQ meant.

Before going back to find Steve Jobs to make sure the guy did not cause any more trouble, the angel had to ask. “Whose body is Frankie in now?”

The AOD sighed again. “Father Romy’s.”

Love After Heaven, Parts 26 to 30

In the reception area of the rectory, Father Romy listened very attentively to Julie as she poured out her frustrations with the government. She wanted to run her school the way she thought it should be run, but the government was always interfering. She wanted an old-fashioned school, run exactly the way her own school was run when she was a young girl. She wanted everyone to be disciplined, to grow up knowing and following the rules, to not rock any boats. She wanted the girls to grow up and marry, have kids, take care of the house, live happily ever after. She wanted the boys to grow up and get jobs, provide for their families, become model employees in big corporations, remain faithful to their wives, live happily ever after.

Father Romy did not agree with anything she said, but he was a priest, and he knew that his role was to listen, not to pretend that he knew how to run somebody else’s life. He could only quote from the Bible if he had to give advice, but he had nothing to say if he were to depend only on his own experience. In fact, he thought, he had very little experience to bank on, because he could only remember things he did after that birthday party. Except for those strange memories or visions or whatever they were of him being stabbed.

“What do I do, Father?” asked Julie.

“Jesus said that we must give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

“That’s Mark 12, 17,” said Julie, unable to stop herself from interrupting.

“Yes, and in your case, the government is Caesar. Let the government do what it has to do. That is not God’s territory,” said Father Romy, knowing very well that he was talking nonsense.

“You are talking nonsense,” said Julie, reading his thoughts.

“That is the word of God. She never makes mistakes,” said Father Romy.

There it is again, thought Julie. He’s using the feminine pronoun to refer to God.

“Father,” said Julie, this time more politely. “May I ask why you refer to God as a female?”

Father Romy straightened up. “Because she is female.”

“That’s nonsense!” said Julie. “How can you say that? You’re a priest, for heaven’s sake. You know as well as I do that God is a man, an old man, with a beard!”

Father Romy did not want to laugh. He vaguely remembered meeting an old man with a beard sometime. It must have been one of his parishioners, he thought.

“No,” he said. “The Bible is very clear. Genesis 1, 26, says that God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our own image, in our likeness.’ Mankind is both man and woman, both male and female. Surely you cannot say that women are not made in God’s image.”

This stumped Julie for a few seconds, but not for too long.

“That just means that we look like God, not that God looks like us.”

“An image is an image. If you look in a mirror, you see you, not someone else,” said Father Romy.

Julie was not dense; she caught that. So the good father is telling me that I should look in the mirror and see who I really am, she thought.

“Maybe God is not a female,” Father Romy continued. “But God is certainly not male, or not only male. God made mankind in her own likeness.”

“Then you should say that God is both male and female, Father. You can’t keep using she and her to refer to God if he is both male and female.”

“Well, yes,” admitted Father Romy. “That’s true. But I like to balance the habit of referring always to God as male. So I refer to him or to her as she.”

“Father,” Julie said, instinctively and unthinkingly taking the priest’s left hand in hers. “I came to ask you to help me think through what I should do with the government directive to change my teaching philosophy. I did not come to talk theology or bible studies or anything like that. You’re the expert in the Bible. I read the Bible, but I am only an amateur. But I am an expert in education and I know that what the government is asking me to do is not good for the children.”

Father Romy could not think. There was something about this woman’s touch that made him lose his train of thought.

Father Romy withdrew his hand. “I am sorry, Miss, but I am not expert in education and I can give you no advice about what to do with your school.”

“Then I have wasted my time and I have wasted yours,” said Julie, standing up abruptly. “Good day, Father. I am sorry to have come.”

Father Romy stood up, too. “No, you did not waste my time, even if I have wasted yours. Please come any time. I am here to help in any way I can.”

He couldn’t help himself. “And I enjoy your company.”

Julie smiled in puzzlement.

“Well, Father,” she said, “I shall be going. Please text me if you need anything.”

She gave him her business card.

Father Romy watched her as she walked down the stairs. He could not help but marvel at how her figure was as lithe as that of an angel.

Being sexually attracted to a woman was an occupational hazard for Catholic priests. A man did not lose his libido when he was ordained. Many are called, but few are chosen, went the rationalization of priests who, in typical religious jargon, “go astray.”

Father Romy vaguely remembered that lesson he must have learned in the seminary about how to counteract “the wiles of the devil.” Or perhaps he just read it in a book. He had to pray before sleeping, so he would not have wet dreams. He had to have a rosary handy when his sexual organ started to react to the physical presence of a woman. Or a man.

Routinely, he had to eat papaya at every meal.

Why papaya? Because it was called “the fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus. Because it was touted as a miracle fruit, able to prevent heart attacks, strokes, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis, and even prostrate cancer. That part about the prostate was important, Father Romy remembered from reading a book about aging males. A celibate did not have the natural immunity against prostate cancer that a sexually active man had. Whether urban legend or medical fact, orgasm was supposed to keep the prostate active, making it able to kill any cancer cells that might be lurking in it. By implication – although Father Romy was intelligent enough to know that the logic was dubious – papaya deadened the sexual urge.

Father Romy went to the kitchen and got himself a papaya. He sliced it, scooped out the seeds, and downed the whole thing in twenty seconds flat. He also silently chanted a prayer, echoing Jesus berating the devil in the desert. “Away from me, Satan!”

If Julie were Satan, however, Father Romy thought, she was about as different from that fire-breathing monster as anyone could be. She smelled like an angel, not a fallen one, but a real angel, perhaps his guardian angel. Of course, Father Romy had to smile at himself. He didn’t really know how an angel smelled.

Or did he? Suddenly, without warning, Father Romy seemed to see before him an angel or what looked like an angel. It was some person in white waving a light at his face. There was a tunnel of some kind, a very dark tunnel. Father Romy shuddered. I must be losing my mind, he whispered.

When he shook his head to get rid of the vision or whatever it was, Father Romy saw that he was alone in the kitchen, with what was left of the papaya still in his hand. He got another papaya and sliced it open, threw the seeds out, and almost choked himself with it.

He saw himself in a mirror in the kitchen, and he had to laugh. His mouth was overflowing with papaya. His face was distorted almost comically. He still had his collar on. He was a priest, a priest forever. Julie or no Julie, he was going to be faithful to his vow of celibacy.

But his sexual organ seemed not to share his resolve. Father Romy decided that, even if he had not given in to temptation, he should avail of the sacrament of reconciliation. He went to the church to line up at the confessional.

Father Romy was glad to see that the light in the confessional box was on. That meant that there was a priest there, waiting for penitents to list all their sins. Although he was a priest or perhaps because he was a priest, Father Romy had to go to confession like any other Catholic. He could not forgive his own sins; another priest had to do that. Catholic doctrine was even more strict than the unwritten code of medical doctors. Medical doctors could self-diagnose and self-medicate, even if they could not listen to their own heartbeats nor think objectively about their symptoms, but a priest had to have another priest to give him absolution.

There was nobody else in the church except Father Romy and the priest in the confessional. Father Romy waited for a few minutes, just to be sure that there was no penitent inside the confessional box. He knelt down inside the penitent side of the confessional box. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” he began. “My last confession was a week ago.”

He did not know and he did not care if it was the other priest of the parish on the other side. All priests were bound by the seal of confession, and even if they would talk later on at dinner, his fellow priest would never mention anything said inside the confessional box. Sometimes, priests from outside the parish would come to hear confessions; that would be even less awkward later.

“I had bad thoughts, Father,” Father Romy said. “In my mind, I looked with lust at a woman’s breasts.”

It was quite a struggle for Father Romy to say the word breasts, but he wanted to describe his sin as precisely as he could.

He could see the shadow on the other side nodding. He himself, when he was hearing confessions, often fell asleep. Hearing people being sorry for their sins was the most boring duty of a priest. He could not pay too much attention to the sins, he could never talk about them to anyone anyway, he wasn’t even supposed to remember them after giving absolution to penitents. He remembered vaguely someone confessing to a murder, but he could not remember who it was.

“In my mind, I undressed her, Father,” Father Romy continued. “I imagined myself embracing her, kissing her.” He could feel a hard-on coming, even when he was just trying to repeat what he did in his mind. Or what he thought he did. He could not even remember whether he did fantasize about Miss Julie when she was in the rectory or whether he was fantasizing only now.

“I am also guilty of the sin of pride, Father,” Father Romy said. “I argued for the sake of argument. I did not think of the welfare of others. I did not think of the principal who could maybe even lose her faith. I thought only of myself, of how I was conflicted, of how I wanted to touch that woman.”

Father Romy spoke faster and faster, his voice matching his excitement in remembering or not remembering, in fantasizing then or now. In his mind he held a portrait of Julie with lips parted.

“Please forgive me, Father. I need absolution. I need your blessing.”

“Go and sin no more,” came the hardly audible voice.

Father Romy stood up and left the confessional box. He stayed in a pew just beside it. He said three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.

He glanced at the confessional. The light was still on. There were no other penitents around. He was the only one in the church aside from the priest in the confessional box. Then the light turned off.

Father Romy waited for the priest to come out of the confessional. It took a while. Father Romy became bothered. Maybe something happened to the priest. Maybe he really fell asleep, or maybe he even passed out.

Father Romy went to the confessional box and opened the priest compartment. It was empty.

Had his eyes and ears been playing with him? Father Romy was perplexed. He was sure that there was someone in the confessional box. He was sure that he heard a voice saying that he should go and sin no more. True, the voice did not sound at all like that of the other priest in the parish. Nor did it sound like that of any other priest he knew who would visit the parish to hear confessions.

Father Romy went back to the pew and knelt down. He buried his face in his hands. Was he losing his mind? Was he starting to hear voices? There were those visions that he couldn’t explain, visions of him dying. Snippets of conversations, debates, arguments. Some guy in white. He wondered if he should return to the psychiatrist that his bishop had referred him to. But, no, he had already been pronounced perfectly sane, though suffering from total amnesia. Maybe he did imagine the confessional box to be occupied. Maybe he did imagine the light being on and going off. Maybe he felt so guilty about thinking about a woman that he convinced himself that he was confessing to a confessor.

Father Romy looked up at the statues that adorned the altar. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” He remembered the verse from chapter 20 of Exodus. He knew that, as a Catholic, he was not bound by that commandment. Jesus had said explicitly that the old commandments no longer held, that there were now only two commandments. Love God and love your neighbor. And what was that about love? Could he, a Roman Catholic priest with a vow of celibacy, love a woman? What was he thinking about? He barely knew this principal. He couldn’t possibly already like her. In fact, he positively disliked her, her haughtiness, her self-importance. But there was her sexy body.

Father Romy smiled at what one of the young men in his parish had told him just a few days before, apparently quoting something from social media. “Father,’ the young man had asked, rhetorically, “Is it true that the best way to fight temptation is to give in to it?

Father Romy had taken offense at that remark. Of course, he knew that it was rhetorical, or even a joke. The young man was definitely merely teasing. But he scolded the young man and told him not to quote such nonsense.

Maybe, just maybe, Father Romy said to himself now, the advice is good. The best way to face this temptation is to face it head on, not to give in to it but not to turn away.

He dialed the mobile phone number on the business card that Julie had left with him.

A man answered. “Yes. Who is this?”

Father Romy stuttered in surprise, “May I speak with Julie, please?”

The man said, “Who is this? Why are you calling?”

Father Romy said, “I’m Father Romy. I need to talk to her about her school.”

The voice on the other end said, “Oh, you’re a priest. Okay, Father, you may talk to her. She’s just, well, occupied.” Father Romy heard the man whispering, “It’s a priest.”

Julie got on the phone. “I’m sorry, Father, this is a bad time. Can I call you in a couple of hours?”

“Sure, Miss,” said Father Romy. “Thank you. Goodbye.” He should have said, “God bless,” he told himself after he had hung up.

Julie turned to Frankie. “You shouldn’t have answered my phone.”

“Well, you couldn’t have answered it, since you’re on your knees and I’m standing up and I’m inside your mouth. I’m sorry. I thought you had another lover.”

“What?” said Julie, standing up. “How dare you think I have another lover?”

Frankie grabbed her ass and pulled her towards him. “You’re right. My Thomas is more than enough for your Jane.”

Back in the rectory, Father Romy opened his Bible to the eighth chapter of John and read, “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” He did not want to judge, that he may not be judged, but it still rankled that a man answered Julie’s mobile phone. A mobile phone was as private to a person as the person’s own body.

She had told him that her husband was dead. Who, then, was this man?

Julie was completely conflicted. She did not want to do it with Frankie anymore, no, not anymore, not after she had met this priest who seemed so holy, who seemed to live in another world, a more peaceful world, a higher world, who did not say anything about her sexual desires, because, perhaps, he did not know, perhaps could not imagine, the strength and the urgency of the desire of a woman to have a man inside her. He did not want her, the way Frankie wanted her. He did not want her, not even in the way her late husband wanted her. No, he was not attracted to her. He was not like those principals of other schools who would ask to take selfies with her in their educational conventions, just to be able to post her photo on their social media pages. No, he was not like anyone she had ever met.

She could not get that priest out of her mind. Not even while she was occupied with making Frankie come. Frankie had come to her door, unexpected, unannounced. She did not want to let him in, but she could not stop herself from letting him in. Frankie had pushed her to the floor. She found herself on her knees. She knew what Frankie wanted and she wanted to give it to him. Yes, she wanted him. No, she did not want him. Oh God, she said to herself, what shall she do?

Then, as if on cue, that priest called. Did God plan it so that the priest would call to stop her madness? Was being with Frankie madness? Was she mad, with her husband barely in his grave?

She went through the motions with Frankie. She did not come herself. She couldn’t, not with that priest on her mind, not with the guilt that the phone call had caused. Frankie would not leave her unless she came, so she pretended to come.

Soon after, she was alone again in her bedroom, yes, the very same bedroom where she and her husband would have conversations about her school, about the latest revolt she had put down among the teachers, about his many companies, about the latest products he had manufactured and was now selling, about what it would be like to go on yet another cruise, about whether they should adopt a child. Her husband would kiss her, never passionately, just the required conjugal kiss, then perhaps have quick sex. He would snore and she would stay awake, unsatisfied. Yes, this was that very same bedroom.

She broke down and cried, cried like she never cried before, cried because she missed her husband, yes, missed him, for all his lack of feeling, missed him, even for the little sex that she had with him, missed him, especially for the conversations about the Bible, the passages that they argued about.

The thought of the Bible brought back the image of Father Romy. She smiled at the memory of the priest abandoning his prepared sermon when she interrupted him repeatedly during the recollection of the children. She raised her eyebrows when she remembered how he had held her hand a bit too long for a polite handshake. She frowned when she remembered how they had an argument, well, just the beginning of an argument, about whether to use the male or female personal pronoun to refer to God.

She realized that, yes, perhaps, only perhaps, she was falling for this priest, this unreachable, this untouchable, priest.