At sunset and sunrise the women of the town meet in the pavilion to exercise. Music accompanies their regime, sometimes harsh, rapping beats too fast for them to keep pace and sometimes a slow, soulful wail. The women step, sway, and stretch, pant, grunt, and sweat, according to the commands of a tight lipped, sinewy instructor. She wears tight grey pants on the podium, chanting incessantly as she demonstrates the next movement. In the center of the pavilion is a marble statue of a naked god. It has small patches of moss on its shoulders, the small of its back, and its broad, muscular chest. The women are pleased when the instructions point them its way, preferring its solidity to the enviable dexterity of the instructor. No one knows the god's name and none of the women know how, why, or when the statue first appeared in the pavilion. The women never touch it and take their positions in a way that gives it plenty of space. As they enter and exit the pavilion they avert their eyes from it, sometimes violently detaining each other in front of its base to prove how completely they can ignore it. Between flexes and jumping jacks the women pass breathy gossip about the only woman who does not join them in the pavilion. She is a circus performer who spends two months in the town every summer. They smirk to each other as the circus performer wanders dazedly past the pavilion, wearing a blue wig and striped red and yellow pants, applying white paint to her face, using the back of a spoon as a mirror. The women smugly say "humpff!" when the circus performer and her lover, a gaunt clown with cavernous cheeks, lope past the pavilion, juggling balls, passing them from her left hand to his right hand and from his right hand to her right hand behind her back. More often than not the women cannot contain their loud peals of laugher at the sight which is so ludicrous in its complexity. The two circus performers, rapt in their concentration, become startled and fumble the balls. They snatch them from the grass, looking up at the women with mute mouths. The white soles of their shoes flash as they run away. The exercise instructor scowls at the women's inattention and shouts her directions louder. One day at sunrise, the women do not speak of the circus performer. They do not speak at all, except in whispers of one or two words. During warm ups, they try to catch each other's eyes and raise their eyebrows knowingly, smiling with complicity. Last night as the circus performer's lover descended from a triangle of men atop a bicycle that rode the tightrope, he fell to a netless ground, accompanied by the long gasp of a shocked crowd. The circus performer stood motionless on the sidelines, her frosty face a tragic mask. Her brothers tugged on her billowing sleeves, attempting in vain to drag her from the sight. The sun sends spikes of light through the columns of the pavilion and music thumps wildly as the instructor bends her left knee, extends her right leg behind her, and stretches her hand toward the horizon. The women turn in tandem and in the distance see a pale figure approaching. Her hair, freed from the wig, flows down her back, and her skin, freed from the striped pants and buttoned shirt, is a golden bronze beneath the powder. The women droop in their stretch, their mouths agape. The instructress turns and stamps her feet with impatience until she hears quick footsteps on the pavilion stairs. The women step away in alarm as the circus performer climbs to the pedestal of the god and embraces it, kissing its hard, icy lips. Her double-jointed limbs wrap those of the god twice and sometimes three times, as supple and strong as the crushing grasp of a snake. As she skips away across the field the women run to the railing of the pavilion and hurl curses of disgust at her madness and dismay at her blasphemy. Behind them the statue crumbles in its place and becomes a pile of shards, no one having noticed its decay.

(Blasphemy first appeared in Edifice Wrecked, August 2006)
by Louise Norlie