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The Church of Roberts murdered Elise Torres, my wife; they beheaded her. Decapitation is more suitable for females, because it is faster, and onlookers only see the neck. A lottery of the church Deacons selects the witnesses. Women are not allowed to attend. The men consider it a high honor, and a make a video report to Father Roberts. He never attends.
Elise’s sin was sedition. Her discussion with a close friend in the women’s auxiliary–feminist liberation, equality, and birth control–set a debate in motion all over the city. Do woman have a more important role? In these times, women are too important to survival to worry about anything other than children. Father Roberts said that she betrayed him.
He said, that a woman not having children is a dubious sin against the church and the Father or his agents will and must inseminate all viable wombs with the Holy Spirit. But, spreading seditious lies amongst the congregation, the body of God, is a cancer on the spirit, a blasphemy, and heresy. The only penance is death.
Agents of the Church burn the bodies in silence south of the city. The church allows one family member to attend, and for six weeks after, Agents grieve with the survivors. Guests in their home, the Agents minister to anger and loss. They watch for any hint of suppressed emotion or talk of retribution and revenge.
“The body must be purged of all cancer or it will die,” says Farther Roberts.
I was not allowed to attend the trial or execution. I was held in protective custody long after the cremation. No family attended; Elise was alone.
“Ambrose Torres, do you confess your sins against God. Do you seek forgiveness in his eyes?” The preacher says.
I look to his face. I am still.
“Ambro,” he puts his hand on my shoulder, “come on, you know me. Don’t make me do this.” He whispers next to my ear. “We’ve known each other a long time. I can save you.”
I lower my head, but remain silent.
“Remember Jasmine at Vita’s? She asks about you all the time. Or, Lindsey, Amber, or Rebecca? None are in union. I could get them all joined to you.”
“Elise?” I say.
“Forget her Ambrose; she’s gone. Forget the past friend; save yourself. I can help you.”
“I can’t, I won’t forget what you and your god have done.” My neck stiffens and the anger wells up.
“Don’t make me do this. We need you,” Benzamin pleads.
“Forget me.” I clinch my jaw and growl through my teeth, “do your damned duty.”
“This won’t bring her back,” He says.
“No, but we’ll be together. Maybe not in your heaven but we’ll be together forever in a place of love.”
Benzamin shakes his head and looks down at my untied shoes. He bends down, removes his sunglasses and lays them on the ground. Benzie ties my shoes, and looks up. Tears well up in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t want you to enter eternity shoeless,” he says as the tears roll off his chin on to the top of my shoes. He picks up his sunglasses, stands, and backs away.
“Ambrose Torres, do you confess?”
I don’t answer, and two agents push me to the precipice. They tie concrete to my legs, tight, and Shaun offers me a hood. I turn my head away, and start to tremble. It starts deep in my core and moves outward to my arms and legs. It is flood, a fear rush. The concrete is heavy and I start to sway, my head swims as my cheeks go pale.
“Steady, breath, breath deep and slow,” One of the Agents says. The two balance me and keep me erect. When I calm down, they knell on either side, and bow their heads.
“Ambrose Torres,” his sunglasses are back on his face as if I am only an abstraction, a character or zombie, just ones and zeros in a game. ”I ask you one last time, do you repent? Confess and join in the bosom of the Lord Roberts.”
I tremble, and try to breath slow, “I love you Benzie. I forgive you,” then I shout, “I forgive all of you lost fools.”
I lean to one side too much and fall off the ramp onto my side. The concrete falls off of my legs, which are no longer shackled; a bribe Benzie? Before the agents gain their legs, I am off and running fast to the north end of the bridge. I might be able to get to the viewing platform on the other side and into the rubble that use to be Sausalito.
I’m wearing the most comfortable running shoes I’ve found in my 20-year addiction to endorphins from the hamster-wheel. They are in tatters around seems, brown faded shoelaces, and an almost holes above my right small toe. It is a clear blue day in North Texas, and it has been several years since I ran this asphalt route. It is difficult on an early summer morning; the air is a thick warm yellow-brown cloud. I will climb the seven hills of west Benbrook multiple times before I return home.
It’s over a year since I visited mom. I salivate over thoughts of the big breakfast she will have waiting when I finish, three pieces of bacon, two pieces of toast, 2 eggs, scrambled, jam, ketchup, and coffee. Or if I am lucky, perhaps fresh flour tortillas and chiliques; they are pan-fried corn tortilla triangles mixed with scrambled eggs in soupy salsa.
I run a loop from my house up the street to the middle school, turn right on the main neighborhood road past the historic 30 by 30 foot graveyard, climb to the elementary school, down to a creek crossing, and then climb to the high school where I loop around the main entrance and head back in the opposite direction. At the elementary school, I run the high school loop two more times, and finally, back towards home. It’s 6:00 A.M. 85 degrees, and traffic is light; any later, and the morning commute accumulates as black tar in the back of the throat.
Jogging is active meditation, stress relief, and a depression buster. I can commune with all living things; when my pace becomes involuntary, my body is occupied and my mind drifts. I think about the day ahead or about my last meal. I work on a problem at work or plan a household repair or vacation. I fantasize about a raise or new car, a new way of life or active retirement, sex or death, or the after life. When the endorphins amass on my consciousness, I vanish completely.
In the moment, I am an individual and the whole; I am absolute and indeterminable, one and zero, black and white, good and evil, or both sides of a same random coin flip. I understand all, not in a rational way; but reason, emotion, and spirit in equilibrium. Delusion? It is addictive.
I take off my jersey, and wipe the sweat off my face, the salt out my eyes. I walk slowly up and down the street, cooling down. I will stretch in ten minutes or after my breath is normal, and then breakfast or a shower.
“Good morning mom.” I say as I look over her shoulder at the electric frying pan she cooks in too often; its battered legs, brown burnt stained element, and gouges in the surface are a testament to her devotion. She doesn’t say anything. She turns her head and smiles. Her eyes light up.
“It smells good.” I say.
She jumbles the scrambled eggs in salsa. She flips a tortilla as it bubbles on the comal; it is a ancient black burnt, cast iron stove lid, a family relic. The smell drapes my skin in chills and warm memories.
“I don’t know if these are good.” She says.
She always says it. She never measures the ingredients, flour, lard, salt and water. It’s her mother’s recipe and Mom instinctually mixes perfect dough, breaks it apart into balls, rolls each one out, and throwing it from hand to hand, she forms circular sheets. One at a time, Mom slaps it onto the comal. Once, my sisters and wife followed her around the kitchen and measured everything, but the tortillas never turn out as well.
“Do I have time for a shower?”
“Yes. Is Elise coming down?” She asks.
Elise is staying with her mom. We like to separate when we return home, so we can spend the sublime moments with our mothers. Elise’s mom lives down the street.
“Yes. Should I ask her mom to join us?”
“Si, we have plenty.” Mom says.
“She loves your chiliques. She still talks about the enchiladas at our rehearsal dinner.” I say, “I’ll call.”
Mom looks back to the skillet as I leave, but out of the corner of my eye, I can see a big, big smile on her face.
To Be Continued [Part 4]