pages Ruined for All Other Men

by Jane Eisenhart

Published in Issue No. 161 ~ October, 2010

While she prayed, Christa heard organ music – the sound of a hundred unrelated sounds forcibly familied together.  Behind shut eyelids she registered white blurry hums from the altar candles.  Their flat heat made a weak play for her attention; it took much more to distract a girl like Christa.

The melody she heard wasn’t live but captivated on spools of a hidden machine.  After the song broke to a beatless hush, the machine – which wouldn’t confess its shape or precise whereabouts behind the curtains swooping round back of the altar – immediately coaxed the same hymn to start over.  Machine made this sound between, cough-like.  Christa’s prayer music climbed up again out of the machine up up to the bare-brown rafters, up.

She was here thanks to boys.  She herself found this silly.

She’d just begun dating not long before this.  Her instructions:  Be promiscuous while being platonic.  That she could do.  This was the season for planting seeds who’d never matter with an eye toward teaching the soil about important down-the-line sorts of duties.

She waited to call any of them a “boyfriend” until the one pried open her mouth, her soul, her whole order of things with his sloppy tongue.  Thoughts of infectious disease had buzzed about her mind ever since.  His yellow shirt, her sand-brown shirt.  She imagined dirt leaping from the pores of his shirt into hers and from there into her flesh-pores.

It wasn’t that he’d claimed her – a beanpole incarnation of some brute from a fable – she didn’t think he had cared, in fact.  A weightless thing puppetted around by the wind is what he was turning out to be.  She became his girlfriend because with him she’d committed her error.         Why hadn’t she stepped back, spoken, gnashed down on the tongue that her speared into her mouth with unparalleled ego?  Molding her mouth to its specifications.

The boy had no qualms about it.  For that matter, he’d been stoic as stone outside of appearing dazed as she looked only at the ruddy clasp of her hands and addressed him:  “We’ll go out now, I guess.”  She projected it wouldn’t have occurred to him on his own in the slightest to ask out the girl who had just made a rare exception for him.  His ego.  It bucked her fastidious composition because she hadn’t expect it – and why would she?  She should not – the thought was a fist – have to anticipate the methods some people cruelly used, it was not fair to her.

She would leave him doing whatever he saw fit while she came here to the chapel, where she lit frail cattails of incense.  As she would retract her lighter, she’d think of her brother starting the cigarette of that woman in that blood-red dress looked like paper-mache.  Her nose would catch the incense’s new musk and then Christa would muscle in that scent, this thuggish act of breathing hard not normal for Christa.  Butterfly Christa.  Sometimes she got that way here though – all greedy, grabby for the smells.  Like when a stubby wick would finally go all the way down in the wax and there’d be a different air just barely braided through with smoke.

She’d wonder – Will this sandblast away that ugly fossil, that misstep of mine?  Would the fact that she coupled herself to the boy with a sense of matrimony beyond her years, while not caring a darn about him, compensate for how she hadn’t slapped him when he put his tongue in her mouth?  His tongue like a thumb.  Mealy swelled-up thumb.

She normally sat three rows back on Sundays and would let her portion of the service bread disintegrate against a blood-heavy cheek.  Normally, Christa did not dream of infidelity.  She was so young!  “Exclusive” – if somebody wanted to get theatrical about words – only because she’d erred and needed to prove to God she wasn’t light-handed on herself.

Christa was at the chapel because of boys, because of her eyes.  She felt in her eyes this jumpiness, like she’d had too strong a brew of coffee.  They hadn’t actually started swerving to targets not hers to have and behold, but she’d noticed this before-hand soft sort of inclination, and it had been just enough a wake-up that she realized her eyes could go on tangents if she let them, which she absolutely did not intend to do.

Outside the night rushed by cool rather than warm the way it had been for months.  She’d be an hour yet.  By the time she would emerge, she’d have already missed, for it being lifted in the wind, a flyer left on her car by the sophomore science club.