Enough prelude. Here it is. Be BRUTAL.
Never wavering, the preacher's voice leapt from the speakers and sauntered across the dashboard. Each word wagged its finger in her face, that long finger of shame.
Run, my brothers and sisters, run from the sin of lust, the sin of the flesh.
She reached to change the station, her eyes drifting toward the rear view mirror. Her mother glared at her from the back seat, the look of constant disappointment staining her pinched face. Withdrawing her hand from the radio, she grimaced as a smile of triumph fastened to the corners of her mother's mouth. She quickly averted her eyes from the backseat.
"You can't stop me. You know that don't you? Dr. Perkins told me I don't have to listen to you, that I don't have to worry what you think anymore."
Even without looking, she knew her mother was shaking her head, so she turned the mirror down and focused on the green mile-marker sign ahead.
"Just because you spent forty years being ignored by daddy does not mean that you can guilt me into putting myself through the same. Don't pretend this is a moral issue, Mama. You're just jealous."
Remember, Joseph, church, and forget not his example when the whore wife of Potiphar threw herself at that young man of God. Did he hesitate? No. Did he falter? No. What did he do church? He ran. Say it with me, now. He RAN!
She had been running for years now. It seemed everywhere she went she was running. Running to pick up the kids. Running to get supper on the table. Running to this meeting and that choir practice. But she was mostly running out of excuses for the man she'd called husband for 14 years.
Run, I tell you. Husbands and fathers, run from the smut, from the pornography that fills your minds with evil thoughts. Burn your dirty magazines. Crush your filthy videos. Turn off your computers--no, toss them out with the garbage. And with them, toss out the pollution that is polluting your hearts and homes.
It had been over two years since he'd touched her, with the exception one or two rare occasions when he'd come home drinking after a night out with the guys. At first, she had blamed herself. She had gained quite a few pounds during her pregnancies and had struggled with losing the last twenty. She was convinced that he was just no longer attracted to her, repulsed by her soft body and stretch marks. But after six or seven months, she decided it couldn't be only her fault. It wasn't normal for a man to deprive himself so long, even if he was no longer turned on by his wife. She was a woman, wasn't she, and better than no woman at all?
Run, I say, run from those who tempt you. Men, do not find yourself alone with your young secretary. Women, do not be lured into flirtation with your male coworkers. Pray to God for strength to resist those who would join you in the sin of adultery. Resist them and flee as you flee the Devil. Run. Flee. Run.
She had met Ted eight weeks earlier. He was hired to perform upgrades on the office computers. In those first days, their interactions were innocuous enough: drinking coffee together in the break room, discussing the recent elections or laughing over the previous night's episode of their favorite show. Within two weeks, though, she was meeting him outside of work for coffee, making excuses for working late. Eventually, there were small signs of what her mother would call "wooing"—a brush of the hand on her lower back, her hand resting lightly on his chest as they laughed. Still, she hadn't put much thought into their dalliances. She was married and he was almost ten years her junior.
Run from the lies society and the media will tell you. They would have you believe that you should do what feels good, what makes you happy. Ignore what the Good Book says. Ignore the consequences of your actions. Ignore your neglected children, your shunned wives and husbands. But I'm telling you, church, what you want is sin. What makes you happy is black as your hearts without the blood of the Christ. So run from your soap operas and your romance novels. Run from those who laugh in the face of what God has joined together. Say it church: run!
She readjusted her mirror.
"Hear that Mama? What God joined together. Even you couldn't find God in our marriage."
The familiar green eyes narrowed. She braced herself for a slap that never came. With new determination, she continued. "You know, it'd be different if he were one of those paraplegics or something or if he was suffering with cancer. If he had some reason that he couldn't have… be intimate. A woman needs touching, Mama. He may be just fine touching himself, but that's not enough for me."
She was running, running from a life that she didn't sign up for. And though she knew she'd have to return—though there was no love left for her husband, she could not abandon her two children—she took solace in knowing she could run away for a little while.
When Ted had kissed her the day before, she felt like she was sixteen again. She could still feel his hands on her face and taste him on her lips. Her husband had never kissed her like that, not even on their wedding day. Or wedding night. Up against the wall, pressed against his body, she felt something inside her awaken.
|Illustration by Yury Darash|
They had decided to meet two towns over, at a small, out of the way inn. Ted told her she deserved better than a cheap, by-the-hour motel. She had spent the afternoon in her tiny bathroom, surrounded by old copies of Cosmo, as she paid meticulous, ridiculous attention to each detail of her body. She was scrubbed, shaved, trimmed, lotioned and groomed—her body was different after having the children and she wanted to look her best for Ted.
I know that some of you do not struggle with this temptation like some of your brothers and sisters. I know that there are some of you right now who feel I am wasting precious pulpit time with this sermon I have been given. But I also know that some of you are struggling with temptation. Pray, my children, pray for God to remove this temptation. Pray that He give you feet to run away from those who would lead you astray. Pray for your Nikes to be blessed by the Holy Ghost and that they will carry you in the right direction.
When she pulled into the parking lot of the Magnolia Inn, she scanned the parking lot for Ted's car. Pulling into a spot at the far end of the row, she adjusted her mirror to check her makeup. Fire burned in the green eyes over her shoulder as she reapplied her Truly Toffee lipstick.
"Mama, you are not going inside with me, understand? I'm a grown woman and I can make my own decisions. No, I will make my own decisions." Her mother opened her mouth to speak just as she capped her lipstick and bent the mirror toward the passenger seat.
And if you find yourself mired too deeply in the black sticky tar of your sin, then pray for your fellow sinner to run from you. Pray that the opportunity to fornicate, to defile your temple, to sin against your God, will escape from you. Pray that the harlot will flee, that the lecher will take flight. If you aren't strong enough to run, pray that you will be run from! God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear! In the first chapter of…
Turning the radio off, she pulled the keys from the ignition and tossed them into her handbag. The gravel in the parking lot crunched and shifted under her heels and she walked toward the lobby. She still didn't see Ted's car, but she assured herself that he was just running late. The bells tinkled as she opened the door to the lobby, the air conditioning raising chill bumps on her bare legs. A man in a yellow shirt sat behind the counter, absorbed in the newest John Grisham novel. He put his hand up to motion he needed another moment, then finished the chapter and placed the book face down on the counter.
"Yes, ma'am, may I help you?"
"I'm meeting… we…well, I'm not sure what to tell you."
"Do you have reservations?"
"I believe so. Do you have a room for Ted Wyatt?"
The man wrinkled his brow, shaking his head.
"Um, what about under Ma—"
"Wait, what was his name? Tom?"
"Yes, Ted. I believe he was in here earlier. Left this."
He handed her an envelope with her name scrawled across the front.
"What is it?"
"I don't rightly know. He just asked me to give it to you if you showed up."
She sat down in a high-backed chair and opened the envelope. She read the enclosed letter—the very brief letter—three times before standing up, smoothing her skirt and walking toward the door.
"Ma'am, will you be needing a room?"
Her composure began to crumble. Without turning to face him, she shook her head, unable to speak. He made a soft clicking sound in his throat.
"Don't worry, hon. You aren't the first."
As soon as she crossed the threshold of the lobby door, she felt the tears burning her eyes. She kicked off her shoes and snatched them up as she broke into a dead run toward her car. The gravel dug into her pedicured feet but she didn't stop. She didn't stop running until she opened the door of her blue sedan, threw her shoes in the passenger-side floorboard and slid behind the wheel. The same gravel that had torn her feet now sprayed from beneath her rear tires. She was back on the highway in less than a minute; it was then she heard a low snicker from the backseat.
"Do not start, Mama."
But the laughter continued, escalating from a snicker to a chuckle.
"Don't you dare laugh at me you mean old crow. So help me, God—"
The chuckle subsided, replaced by a full-blown cackle. She could picture her mother's face, the lines around her mouth grotesque, her eyes open so that she could see the affect of her vicious mirth. Her mother had always looked her most malevolent when laughing, since she only did so when it came at the expense of others.
She fumbled for the radio, pushing the knob several times before she realized it was on. The sermon was over and a choir solemnly warbled out the words to a hymn she remembered from her childhood.
"Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home…"
Though it seemed her mother was lost in the throes of glee, she had obviously been restraining herself in some way. By the time the choir reached "softy and tenderly," the laughter grew louder and shriller, punctuated with gasps for air.
Desperately, she took both hands from the wheel. She fumbled for the button that would change the station while simultaneously turning the volume up until her ears pulsated. The voice was distorted by the strained speakers, a voice she immediately recognized. A voice that she had received a whipping for as a teenager when her mother had snatched earphones from her head to find out what type of filth she was filling her mind with.
The laughter from the backseat began to subside.
"Yeah, Mama, it's your favorite. Remember? I sure do. You took a belt to me over this."
She felt her shoulders begin to relax, her grip on the steering wheel loosen.
"I'm sure you're as pleased as punch about this, but it's not over. Ted said I make him feel electric. Electric, Mama. You'll see. This isn't over."
The backseat was silent again, save for the music being pushed from the speakers. She forced herself to smile and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. It was a lie. Deep down she knew it was over. It had taken fourteen years for her to work up the courage—and swallow the shame—to open herself up to another man. And she knew she would never forgive him for making a fool of her.
She had lied to her mother but it tasted good in her mouth.
She pushed her hand through her hair as the familiar voice sang her home.
"Everybody needs somebody, you're not the only one."