If Only I Hadn't Known

She said she could see the church pew sitting in my front doorway before I even told her I had one. Muriel worked at the bookstore three days before she accused me of being a "Bible-Thumper," her face scintillating like a child's, smiling in a nice way that wasn't nice at all. "I hate that word," she churned at me. Muriel knew everything; she knew nothing; she knew that she knew everything and nothing. Her mind made me want to grate my teeth against my finger bones and rub the skinny sheets of flesh along my forehead until her attention fell above my eyes, instead of into them. 

Daniel - the disgustingly perfect dark-haired philosopher-bot who also worked at the bookstore - tried to trap Muriel with his academic watersheds. As if world history could hold her. I hated the Nihilist tip of his damn nose. Muriel never failed to twist him up with his own crap-of-isms, putting him on the dirty patio of her mind, underneath the amusement of her clay flowerpots. But she always shoved me toward the center of her living room, for private conversations. She actually liked my jokes about drones and drills and crack babies. Daniel finally gave up on her when she giggled to me about the Existentialist soles of his feet. She ate my fucking heart when she giggled, with no digestion problems whatsoever. One day, Daniel held up a small scrap of paper in between my gaze and hers, fully expecting some sort of conflagration. That's when I knew a piece of everything too: I loved her.

We strolled the streets of New Orleans arm-in-arm-before the flood - smelling the bold colors of French masquerades and tasting the sounds of almond-jazz architecture. We exhumed our own shades of blues. We traveled to Colorado where she smiled at the Rocky Mountains like they were her own soft, familiar bed-pillows. When I walked out of the bookstore, it always seemed to rain while the sun shined. I took this as omen. Fate. These were my dreams as I stared at the maddening curve of her back while she brooded over whether or not to add "Feminist Spirituality" to the religious section. 

My head found her hands one day, and I fell into her chest - lost. She pried my head away and asked, "Why haven't you introduced me to your wife?" She caught me.  Dead. The fates and omens collected in shadow-puddles at my feet.  I dutifully put them in my sacks of ridicule, the ones I'd been carrying around since I was five-years-old when my dad stuck his finger up his ass and plodded off to Florida with some damn whore. The Most Cowardly Lion, The Daydreaming Ship's Fool, The Mighty Ant of Gibraltar - Bible-Thumping fuck-wad that I was, I couldn't even curse the God who had made me so pathetic, so utterly without balls enough to change anything, anything at all.  And then I thought God has ball sacks too. That's when Muriel said I smelled like a tragedy.  

I remained silent. I didn't have to tell her that I was a coward, a Fence-Straddler with crushed balls. Her bemused, steadfast eyes gave a horrible, lucid flash of that fact, and I swear I shrunk in that flash, slowly down holographic space and time. In all realities, I was still the blubbering bastard; she was still the woman with those flashing eyes. Who needs to believe in a Goddess when malachite eyes like that exist? I watched helpless as she discarded hopes in me, placing me in the corner, underneath her nice ceramic cat. "I could never have a church pew in my home," she finished, burying her face into the sky, her face splotched-red from the metaphors of soul and flesh.
Jennifer Hollie Bowles