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Living in Sin

Story by Stephen Ausherman (Read author interview) June 16, 2005

Jake came home early on the afternoon when the sky was low and dull and rippled like corrugated steel. He caught his wife sleeping on her stomach, on the floor, and he stepped on her dress, high between her thighs, the fabric pinning her pelvic bone tight to the linoleum. She called out for Jesus before opening her eyes and regaining her senses to the world, then spent the rest of the day mumbling hymns that made her cry.

She muttered from Psalms: All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face.

He caught her later that night draining good beer into the brush behind the pens. She said it was to protect the garden from snails, but everything in their yard already died some years ago. Lager washed over dried veins on maple leaves. A whisper broke at her lips: …though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble…

Later, in bed, Jake asked her if she’d taken her pill. She nodded. He turned off the light and told her he wanted her, wanted her the way he’d found her that afternoon. She rolled over on her stomach and shut her eyes.

Before he fell asleep, he pressed his hand to the back of her head and told her: Stay.

He found her that way in the morning, as though she hadn’t so much as twitched. But he knew better. He laid his hands on the TV. Still warm. Turned it on and got some church broadcast. Recall button, more of the same, only in Spanish.

And the radio in his truck was not tuned to the station he’d left it on. No jock rock, no morning zoo. Instead he got today’s update on the coming of Armageddon, and a warning of going to Hell as he set off for work.

He prayed for a bigger check in the mail, and got one written from his own account. Written out to a missionary fund that may have saved some third world urchin had the check not bounced. It came with a photo of Paulita in San Salvador, and her chicken-scrawl letter urging him to send more, thanking him in advance for a glass eye neither could afford. A glass eye for an eye lost in a war that had nothing to do with either of them.

He told his wife she couldn’t buy her way into heaven, not on his wages.

Her face cinched up as she retreated to the corner of the room. There she sang softly: Let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause.

His wife, always harping on the Psalms. It upset the dogs, drove them to howl at the floor. And his parakeets molted in clumps.

He asked her if she’d taken her pill.

She nodded.

. . .

Jake came home early on the morning when the sky was hot and white as though it had been erased. He caught his wife with downy feathers stuck in her teeth, itching at locusts under her skin, a crown of staples in her forehead, and the blood in her palms she called stigmata.

She said they’d been married for seventeen months, and still she couldn’t shake the dread that they were living in sin.

He told her, Christ almighty, woman, you got pills for that. A whole jellybean jar full of capsules and tablets to give you a semblance of sanity.

But what bothered him worst of all was not that she wouldn’t take them, not that she would lie about it, but that she kept singing those same old Psalms.

She sang: I have passed out of my mind like one who is dead.

No, worst of all, Jake decided, was that each one came to him like angels whispering in his ears, promises of a rapture he may never come to know.

About the Author

Stephen Ausherman is the author of two award-winning books: Restless Tribes, travel stories, and Typical Pigs, a novel. Visit his site: www.restlesstribes.com.

This story appeared in Issue Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Nine

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