Unceremoniously I plunge my knife into her. The blade moves down, a strap is flayed, a glistening spot of flesh is bared to the moonlight. This sight is a long lost lover. Her nudity is soft and bitter against my tongue. In words only she understands, apologies fall from my lips. She has suffered my neglect for too long. The cooling breeze shivers her leaves and her fruit falls for only me. I pluck her offerings from the ground and place them in my brass collection bowl, their seven reflections gleam with auras of life. With the strap of bark clenched between my teeth I walk from the courtyard and back towards my home, brushing a dangling noose, my failsafe, from in front of me.
With age comes resilience, our bodies learn to fight off the foreign invaders that wish to bring us harm on a cellular level. We adapt to survive. That is until the day that our age belies us and our bodies become too elderly to defend themselves. This is where she comes in. My old friend. My ancient love.
So long it has been since performing this ritual that I’m astonished I can still recall the process. Christ is looking down as I light the candle and place the pot of sanctified water over its flame. I drop the strap of bark inside the pot, where its knowledge will steep. I hiss when my knees meet the wooden rung in front of the altar. This was made for a younger man, I think. A man with more to lose.
With closed eyes and slow fingers I grab an apple from the brass bowl, bringing it to just before my lips and whispering to it. “You are that which all horde. The driving force behind thievery and war. I shall keep you from my brothers lest I starve.” My teeth tear into the flesh of the apple and sweet juice runs my chin. There is no savoring; just devouring. Devouring every bit of it from skin to seeds to stem.
People are reckless. They’ve adopted the mentality that transactions take place only inside the world of commerce. There is little care given to the emotional, spiritual transactions they make everyday. The universe is one of checks and balances. The scale always needs to be zeroed out.
My sticky hand reaches out for another piece of fruit, finding it and bringing it to my lips. “You are that which all desire. The driving force behind adultery and whores. I shall have you.” This one is savored bite by bite. Not a fleck of flesh or drop of juice misses my tongue.
It is the fool who thinks he can get away with anything. Memories have their own tricks at keeping the truth alive. Even if the crime scene is cleansed, you are your own star witness.
To the next one I whisper “You are not as good as those before or after you. The juice inside you is bitter. If I hadn’t picked you I would be all the better.” With this I bite and chew and spit until the whole apple is rendered into a mush in the palm of my left hand that I blindly dump into the top of the kettle. I know I’ve hit my mark when the hot water splashes onto my hand.
I’ve heard the depravity of man and woman alike be recounted with a subdued glee. In the shadows I’ve watched that flick of happiness dart through their eyes, twitch their lips. That upturned lip when they say they cheated on their husband. That hopeful stare when they say they molested their child. That nearly imperceptible happiness at the memory of gangbanging Brenda at the company party in lunch room while their boss recorded.
My vestments are as good a place as any to wipe my hand clean before groping another apple into my grasp. I whisper “You are not worth my effort. You drive nothing. I shall leave you to rot.” With that, I place the apple on my altar, believing it to be below the feet of Christ.
This ritual, like so many others, has been borrowed from Pagans. Those undisciplined heathens left too much room for individual interpretation, scrapbook religion. With us, you just get to sit back, listen, and relax. Let the big man take the wheel. He has all the answers you seek. Call the hotline. Be absolved.
To the next I scream, “You are fire in my palm and brimstone on my tongue! The driving force behind all that is to never be again! I shall devour to defuse you!” This one is consumed in three massive bites, the last of which threatens to choke me. I fight it down, but it leaves me coughing and gasping for air.
Checks and balances. Good and evil. Consent and rape. Truth and lies. Yin and yang.
Antidote and poison. Pleasure and pain. We create the darkness we want to see. There are no demons. There is just intention.
For a moment my hand can’t find the next piece of fruit. My eyes threaten to open, and though I don’t know if that will ruin the ritual, I’m not willing to give up so close to the end. Finally my fingertips graze flesh and I roll it into my grip. “You are the best of the best of the best. The driving force behind emperors and empires. The knowledge contained in a death rattle. I shall prove I’m better.” With my head tilted back and mouth open I hold the apple up and squeeze. Nothing happens. I had worried this would be my hardest challenge, my strength not being what it once was. But I squeeze until my arm shakes, until my fingers burn, until tears roll from the corners of my eyes, until a small stream of juice falls into my throat. When I eat my quarry, I do so delicately, like one eats anything they’ve worked to gain.
Six gone, one remains.
They don’t teach you any of this until you’ve fully committed to your vows. Some say the church’s best kept secret is the truth, if they only knew the half of it. If they only knew how we only serve God in the sense that we serve humanity. We are licensed sin eaters, and every sin eater has to purge them eventually.
I grab the final piece of fruit as if I could sense where it rested. “You, you are more than I need. The driving force behind extinction and famine. I will consume you, not because I must, but because I can.” The noises I make while eating this one sound perverse, pornographic. Even my collar is damp with juice by the time I’ve let the last pulverized seed slip down my throat.
Seven apples for seven sins. The opposite of the holy sacrament. An unholy communion. I breathe deep, knowing that this last step is the largest gamble of them all. If I performed everything up to this point properly the candle beneath the pot will have burned out and the water within will have cooled to a point that will not cause my throat to blister. I can’t think about what exactly will happen if I rushed this, I can’t open my eyes and lose faith in myself. I grab the kettle and put the spout in my mouth, one breath through the nose before I tip it back and chug, chug, chug. The temperature is perfect. The liquid tastes just how it should, disappointing.
My stomach starts to turn. The acid is boiling. The bile is clawing its way up my throat. My knees explode with fresh pain as I move from the altar. Shift by aching shift I crawl my way towards the bathroom, where the tub sits half full of holy water, not blessed by the power of God, but by the good intentions in me. Groping out to find my way, I can taste the darkness on the back of my tongue, feel it pulling at every fiber of my being. I can hear it screaming in my ears. “These fucking people and all of their weaknesses. They come to you so they can sleep better at night. If they know of the visions you have in your sleep, would that make them stop?” Yes. “No!” Yes. This is my lot. This was my choice. Like father, like son. “They think Jesus was real. They don’t realize that people are dying for their sins every goddamn day.” To hell with you.
Only after my hands meet the rolled edge of the tub do my eyes open and pitch black vomit spews from my mouth. The water bubbles. There is smoke. The water bubbles. My chest feels empty. The water toils. My spirit feels light. If the anguished whispered screams are in my mind, I cannot tell. The water clarifies. Slowly, I push myself against the edge of the tub and stand. My joints feel better than they have in months. Carrying around the darkness of others gets exhausting.
This is the reason for my life of celibacy. Negativity has a way of implanting itself in the most innocent minds. There are other ways to cleanse oneself, ways that make newspaper headlines and bring apologetic statements out of the Vatican. Innocent hearts can kill evil as quickly as the holiest of water.
I look at myself in the mirror and forgive myself of the bitterness I directed towards the sinners that place their burdens on me. A bell chimes in my room. I pull free from my dirty vestments. Standing there, in my clean black suit with a slightly yellowed collar, I force a smile into my worn down face. I walk from the mirror and back to my room, past the altar where Christ looks down, past the sloven apple. There is no one in the chapel when I enter, but I hear a muffled cough from across the room. I stroll over to the confessional and open the center door, take my seat inside, and slide the screened partition open.
“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last confession.” She says.
I smile. “Tell me your sins, my child.”
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