Sometimes people, Atheists in particular, point to cognitive dissonances between what most scientists believe to be true and the truth I find in the Bible. There are some questions which I have long held in abeyance, and to which I do not expect to have answers until after my death.
Just now, an analogy came to me which explains why am somewhat comfortable with this tension and lack of resolution. Picture your left eye as General Revelation (what can be learned about the world and God from nature alone). Imagine your right eye as Special Revelation (what is learned about God from what He has said in Scripture).
The picture I see with both "eyes" open is blurred in many places. I cannot focus both the left and right eyes to resolve things at a particular point. To get a clear and unambiguous image, you merely have to close either eye. You can ignore everything the Bible says about the world, and then you have nothing to contradict what usually goes by the name of Science. Or, you can close the eye of General Revelation, and believe only what you find in Scripture, neglecting all other data. Both of these approaches simplify things, but at a cost. Both bring clarity, but at the expense of seeing (in however blurry a manner) in stereo. The pattern seems clear, but all depth and dimensionality is gone.
And this is why, even though it gives me a headache at times, I plan to keep both "eyes" open.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Here is a short story I wrote in 1998. It has not been widely distributed. It deals with a certain adventure had by an Episcopal priest, Fr. Victor Woodward, and involves the following themes: Domination/submission, the Eucharist, servanthood, and Calvinism.
It seemed edgy to me (by my own standards) at the time I wrote it, but I suppose that by the standards of The Episcopal Church, it is tame, stodgy, and overly traditional.
It seemed edgy to me (by my own standards) at the time I wrote it, but I suppose that by the standards of The Episcopal Church, it is tame, stodgy, and overly traditional.
Peradventure the Darkness
© 1998 by Paul Erlandson
Father Victor Woodward was driving more slowly than usual. It had always been his contention, in life no less than in driving, that one should first steer in the correct direction before accelerating. At present he was not at all sure that he was heading the right way. In fact, he felt a gnawing chill that seemed to tell him to turn the car around. The chill started from in his belly and worked its way outward in all directions until it reached his skin. He did not like the chill. Though it was a warm spring day, he reached over and slid the heat control on his dash into the red zone. The chills persisted.
He kept driving, though now about five miles per hour below the posted speed limit of forty. His hands shook a bit on the wheel. True, he had never done anything like this before. But he could be confident in the action, if only he could be sure that God would be going with him. He shoved his tape of the Coverdale translation of the Psalms into his cassette player and rotated the knob to set the cassette in motion. With a further twist of the same knob, he modulated the level of the voice. The tape was custom-made. He had tried every Christian bookstore within a fifty mile radius, but all they had in the way of Scripture tapes was the New International Version. He was afraid that the newspapery tone of the NIV would put him to sleep at the wheel. Not a good witness to the lost.
He had resorted to having his choirmaster tape the entire Psalter for him. He had made an archive copy of the whole thing and put it in the steel file cabinet in the basement in his small home. The other copy he kept in the passenger seat of his big Buick. The tape was playing now, the 139th Psalm, a Psalm of David. He was comforted.
If anything other than the Spirit of God and of the Psalms had hold of Father Woodward at this instant, it was a demon called Curiosity. He had faced Curiosity before and sometimes won, sometimes been defeated. This time, if it was the demon, he had already lost, and all that needed to be reckoned was the cost of losing the battle.
On the other hand, what was so wrong with it? He was curious about a particular place of business which he passed on nearly every out-of-town trip. It stood by the highway, and was named Wanda's Playhouse. It had the reputation of housing dominatrixes, to whom men would go and submit. And this was what Father Woodward was curious about.
There were so many questions, really. Why would a man pay good money to be mistreated? Cynically speaking, why not marry and have it for free? What was the relation of female domination to the feminist uprising in his own denomination, with its liturgies to Sophia, and on and on? What did it all mean, the fact that men would go to Wanda's Playhouse at the edge of town, and plunk down hard-earned money to be abused at the hands of women? It was disturbing at least, important perhaps, and he meant to comprehend it.
The nagging doubt came back over and over again as a single question. What would his parishioners think if they found he had been there? The bishop and his fellow clergy caused him no concern. To them, the sin would be the slight and pardonable one of not hiring the dominatrix on an "outcall" basis, having her come to his home. To them, the deeds (whatever they were!) could not be sin. The only possible sin would be lack of discretion which might, were he found out, be reflected in a downward turn of tithes and offerings in his parish.
He had arrived. He needed to move fast now.
Father Woodward rushed through the doorway of the chartreuse building, looking neither to the left nor to the right. Three and one half steps brought him to the navel-high counter. Behind the counter was a passage about four feet deep, with black velvet curtains closing off the far end. To his right, a bright saffron door with three locks on it.
He concentrated on not thinking any thoughts, as he waited just under two minutes for the attendant to come to the desk. If he had any thought at all it was to the effect of, "must go through with it now."
The attendant emerged from the velvet curtains. She was in her late forties, a smoker judging from the condition of the skin of her face, and had thick smudges of blue eye shadow. She was nominally a blonde, but several shades of brown and orange could be discerned in her mane. She was thin without being lean, he thought. That is, she must live entirely on doughnuts, but only three per day. That was the look she had.
"Well, hello!" she chimed in well-feigned good nature. "Have you been to
"No . . . er, I . . . saw an advert in the paper . . ."
"Come on in," she beamed. "Let me show you around!"
She smiled broadly, and pointed at the garish saffron rectangle that was the door to the interior of Wanda's Playhouse. She pressed under the counter and a loud buzz came that told him to pull the door open. It was heavy, against what eventuality? Police raids? The thing had to be steel-plated, at very least.
Inside, it was quite dark, even compared with the lobby he had just left. Dim red and blue lights shone from upward-pointing sconces in the wall at various asymmetric removes from one another.
By far the most amount of light, however, came from a television set, placed in the middle of what looked through his now widened pupils to be an average, middle-class living room. He had made visits to many of just this sort during his three years of tenure in St. Michael's parish. Had he come through the saffron portal of death merely to find himself transported, Philip-like, into a Thursday night Ministry to Inactive Members visit?
"I'm Candy, and you are . . .?," his hostess said.
"Vic," replied Father Woodward.
When the television snapped from a dim to a bright scene, he was startled to see a rather large, civilized looking man, reclining on a sofa in a dark bathrobe of uncertain hue. The man wore large-framed plastic spectacles, and did not look away from the television at him, which was to his relief. Here he was, and God and all His angels, but did a man have to be here as well? That really was too much to bear. Thankfully, the man did not stir from his position.
"Well, Vic, let's start off with our massage rooms."
Candy whisked him into a room the size of a doctor's examination room, with a tallish bed not unlike a physician's examination table. The bed took up half the floor space. There was a weak fluorescent light, a plastic wastepaper bin, and a shabby imitation Varga-girl print on the wall. That was the entire contents of the room.
"Our basic massage starts at forty-five dollars for a half hour and goes on up to seventy-five dollars for an hour. If you should choose to tip your girl, the amount is strictly between you and her."
Candy sounded like an airline stewardess going through the litany of seatbelt fastening and oxygen mask attachment. As soon as he heard her rehearsed tape begin to play, Father Woodward heard of host of witnesses from his past, chiming in his head together, and saying: "the seat cushion may be used as a flotation device."
When his mind returned to his surroundings, he found himself being led by the hand out of the television room and into what looked like the men's locker room in his gym.
"You might want to take a shower to relax beforehand, or perhaps you'd like to clean up afterwards."
Candy led him over to a metal framed door with a glass-paneled upper half and an opaque lower half. A sign outside named the room "Sauna." He glanced through the glass to see the cedar-paneled walls of the sauna.
"I don't really . . . " he began, meaning to say that he had tried saunas and that nothing about their dry heat appealed to him.
But, before he could say any more, she had led him into the sauna room. What he found inside the door had the effect of a magician's trick on him. The room was about four times larger than the sauna at Gold's Gym. And it had ... equipment ... in it. The wall held a rack on which a dominatrix's subject might be tied. At the far end of the dungeon was a massive oak throne. At least, it looked like a throne. At any rate, it was a very large seat, with black wrought-iron fittings. To the left and right of the throne were low tables with several dozen votive candles on each, unlit.
"These sessions run seventy-five for a half hour or a hundred and five for an hour," Candy stated in a business tone.
Then she whisked him out of the sauna, gently guiding him by his right elbow. She said, "Or, if that's not quite your speed, we have another playroom back this way . . ."
She led him back through the living room, but this time the suburbanite in the robe was gone. The TV played to an empty room. A hall led out the back side of the living room and into a room larger than the massage room, but smaller than the sauna. Candy turned a rheostat in the wall and brought a dim light to life in the room. Still, he had trouble seeing anything.
"I can't see what's in here," Father Woodward complained.
In response, Candy rotated the rheostat knob a little bit farther. She was pretty stingy with the light, he thought. He wished she would just crank it all the way over so he could tell what was what.
All he could really make out were a chair, a cabinet on the wall, and a kind of enclosed bed area. Was he supposed to understand what went on in the room from those meager clues? Did the cabinet contain a Violet Ray with which his body would be probed and healed? She was moving him into the hall.
"Well, have you decided what type of session you'd like to have?" Candy inquired cheerfully.
"Good! What type of session can we interest you in?"
"Perhaps one in the . . . sauna room."
"Half hour or an hour?"
"Better be just the half-hour, I guess."
"Okay, that'll be seventy-five; tips are between you and your Mistress."
She brought him up to a counter which fronted on the still-empty living room. When she circled to the far side of the counter and faced him, he glanced past her and saw black velvet curtains slightly parted to reveal a room containing daylight. He now realized that he was looking at the back side of the same curtains through which Candy had first emerged to meet him. He was starting to be able to visualize the layout of Wanda's Playhouse.
He had not yet seen any other employees about the place, he thought. As he thought this, Candy spoke up.
"Will I be okay for your Mistress?" she asked expectantly.
Father Woodward was torn. He had rather hoped for someone more attractive. He wanted to be polite. Though these and two other thoughts were running through his head in parallel, the main processor of Father Woodward's mind, which was situated in what is theologically termed the heart, made a quick decision to err on the side of politeness. Because of this, he was able to issue his response without any awkward delay whatever.
"Yes, that would be great."
The two parallel thoughts now raced to the front of his consciousness. The first to arrive was that perhaps Candy was the only employee here. That cheered him, because of all the prayers and labors he had expended in the past to abolish places such as Wanda's. If she is the only one, perhaps it is because business is very bad. Or perhaps that reversed cause and effect, he thought solemnly, regarding her wrinkled visage.
While still considering the point, the second train of thought arrived in
station. Why was his Dominatrix asking his permission to be such? The whole sham stood exposed. One really can't ask permission of the slave to be his Lord and Master, can one? Or, rather, Lady and Mistress. Same thing. If she needs my permission to dominate me, she is not my Dominatrix. If she does not need it, why does she ask? The fraud was visible and obvious. He wished he had given a defiant "No" to see her reaction. Or rather the reaction of the fraudulent system.
"Whoa!! Earth to Vic!"
It was Candy's voice, bringing him back to the room where he stood.
"Thought we lost you there for a second! Have a nice trip?"
"Er . . . uh, yes, thank you," he managed.
She had her hand out, which he knew was emblematic of something or other. What? Oh, yes, she was waiting for the money. He pulled out his wallet and placed three twenties, a ten and a five on the counter.
"Thanks, Vic," Candy said. "I'll file this away and then I'll be right with you."
She handed a very heavy, Hunter Green robe to him over the counter.
"Go in the locker room there by the showers and change into this. Then come back out and wait on the sofa. You can change the channel if you like."
He did just that, trying not to think of what would be ahead. Of course it was not the fakery of the thing that bothered him. That, in fact, was the only thing that had allowed him to consider coming here, the fact that all parties acknowledged the simulated nature of the events which would transpire.
What events, he wondered. He tried not to think about it, but he was particularly frightened that it would involve something sexual. He did not really want anything of that sort. He was only . . . curious. He moved methodically, undressing down to his shorts, and then donning the robe. It really was a heavy robe, he thought. He felt the weight around his neck and over the trapezius muscles of his upper back. He shoved his keys into the left pocket of the heavy green robe, his wallet and monogrammed pen into the right, and moved barefoot back into the living room.
Football was on television. Father Woodward avoided processing the visual signals with his mind, and instead let them become an abstract but beautiful flow of colors across his retinae. The audio he blocked out entirely. This was the deep red jerseys and gold pants versus the white uniforms with the green numbers. Yes, he knew them well, had seen these teams face off before, though he could not now say for certain the city or name of either team.
"Hi, baby," said a smooth, low female voice, an alto he thought.
"Can I interest you in . . . me?"
But it was too late. Father Woodward was already highly interested in the creature he saw towering above him.
He tried to size up the towering. Okay, he was sitting in the kind of squishy, low sofa. That was one thing. Then, he saw she was standing in tall, spike-heeled shoes of black patent leather. That was a second thing. But, was she herself actually tall, able to tower? He thought perhaps five-feet seven.
"Uh . . . "
"Don't be shy, baby," she intoned soothingly.
"I would be most interested in you, yes, only . . . I have already obligated myself to another lady here, and she . . ."
"That's no problem!" she brightened. "We can fix that."
"Are you sure?" he questioned. Though very hopeful that the switch could be made, he felt contractually bound by his acceptance of Candy's offer.
"Of course, don't be silly, " she assured him. "I'm Splendora."
She held out her right hand, palm down. Was he supposed to kiss it or shake it? He took her finger-tips in his palm for a quick shake, and then got to his feet.
"I'm Vic. Glad to meet you, but I . . . uh"
"Come on, Vic, this way," Splendora said, pulling him by the index finger of his right hand. She was leading him into the massage room, but he stopped short. He felt obligated.
"But, shouldn't I tell them . . . her . . . Candy about the switch?"
"I think she'll figure it out." She looked a little bemused. There was a faint wisp of sarcasm in her voice, but is was attractive, playful sarcasm. He liked it. He liked her.
Better able to judge when standing, he felt right about the five-feet seven estimate. She had long, very dark brown hair, almost black but not quite. She wore a tight red mini-dress and diaphanous black stockings with diamonds up the back. She was very lean and leggy. She had wonderful, intelligent, dark eyes. He wondered if this was the way Dante described in La Vita Nuova as having felt in the presence of Beatrice. He didn't exactly feel like fainting, though. In fact, he felt strong. But also, Dante's feelings supposedly were kindled by his lady's virtue and moral perfection, and that was not likely to be the cause here. On the other hand, how did Dante know from looking at mere external appearances anything about Beatrice's soul? He could sort that out later. Right now, it was important that the session be with Splendora and not with Candy. Of that he was certain, contractual obligation or not.
Candy was speaking. He feared she had caught him trying to change mistresses, but he need not have feared. She was merely correcting Splendora as to the nature of the session purchase by Victor Woodward.
"Not in there, dear," she called, meaning not the massage room.
"In there," she crooked her thumb toward the sauna room to her left. "Half hour fantasy session."
"Oooohhh!" Splendora cooed knowingly. "I didn't realize."
Splendora caught hold of the heavy cloth belt of the green robe. Follow me, Vic. She paraded him off, captive in her train, to the room marked "Sauna." She deposited him inside.
"You wait right there until I return. Don't touch anything. Mistress Splendora will be right back."
She let the aluminum-framed, textured glass door slam behind her. He looked around again at the mock sauna. Why was he here? The choirmaster's voice was replaying Psalm 139 in his head. He tried not to think about it. But the not-thinking was exactly the point of the Psalm, wasn't it?
"Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit? or whither shall I go then from thy presence?"
"If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also."
So his every effort at mental escape only brought Father Woodward crashing against the goad.
He looked at the votive candles. He wondered that there should be votive candles in hell. The brass, crown-shaped holders glistened in the light of a mini-spotlight. He looked up and saw that it was a track lighting setup, with three separate mini-spots. He looked to the wall near the entrance, and saw besides an ordinary toggle switch, three sliding variable resistors to control the spots. Only one spotlight was on. He looked back at the candles. He thought about how he would make it through the half hour.
Splendora returned, flinging the door wide and making a somewhat overdone entrance in a different outfit. She had high-heeled leather boots that went up past her knees. The tight cotton minidress had given way to black leather one-piece swimsuit with black fishnet stockings. His eyes riveted her.
"Well?" she demanded.
"I'm sorry, excuse me?" Father Woodward blustered.
"It this how you greet your Mistress!"
"I'm sorry, I, uhh . . . how did you wish to be greeted?"
"Don't you know anything, slave? It is customary for a slave such as yourself to greet his Mistress with some flattering words upon her
"Well you see, the fact of the matter is that this is my first . . ."
"Oh, a virgin. Well, little boy, let me explain a few facts of life to you. You will address me as Mistress Splendora, and not by any other form of address."
"And especially not that one! Ma'am sounds like an old lady. Do I seem like an old lady to you? Well?"
Father Woodward was actually quite fond of old ladies, and wished to give them no slight. However, the etiquette of the situation appeared to demand that he acknowledge, without further explanation, that Mistress Splendora did not seem like an old lady to him.
"No," he mumbled.
"Now, then, since it's your first time, I shall go easy on you. One kiss each on my left and right boots."
Father Woodward dropped to his knees and complied, but in his head the Psalter was echoing,
"Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way."
He mind really was wandering. He felt sure that he would only have one such experience in his lifetime, and that he really should pay better attention. From his knees he gazed up at the face of Mistress Splendora. Now he really did feel ready, Dante-like, to faint. What a captivating creature.
"Say, I . . .," he began, but remembering the rules, began again. "Mistress Splendora, do you suppose that we could have just a small chat . . . I . . ."
"Slave, who gave you permission to speak? I will tell you when you may address me. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, Mistress Splendora." He saw that an ordinary conversation was rather out of the question at this point. Once the play was set in motion, it would keep on under the same dispensation until the half hour was spent. He could see that.
"Get up on your feet, slave!" came the order.
With the heels on her boots, she was just his height. She pushed on his chest through the robe, and kept pushing him until his back was against the wall with the x-shaped rack. She reached her long, crimson fingernails under his robe and scratched them slowly down his pectoral muscles.
"I like to think of my slaves as meat, if you know what I mean, Vic."
He knew what she meant. He thought of his hatred for vegetarianism, and was glad Splendora was not one of these New-Age, astral projection, hipper-than-thou, Jane Fonda types of stringy-haired VEGETARIANS. They made him want to vomit. Her hair had body, and she liked meat, liked his pectorals. His mind was a long way away. She was shouting something at him.
"Of all the incompetent, inattentive, good-for-nothing slaves, I have to get stuck with you! You are not off to a good start, Vic. You have upset Mistress Splendora, and I shall now take leave of you for several more minutes. When I return, please be ready with a greeting appropriate to me! Do you think you can manage that, at least?"
"Yes, Mistress Splendora," he muttered in what passed for obsequiousness, but which was due rather to his mind once more wandering off. He was trying to place the tone of voice that she had used, for he had heard it more than once before. But where?
Splendora had extinguished the only active spotlight with a crash of the slider bar upon her exit, so that the only light entering the room was that dim green light that came through the textured glass top pane of the door by way of the shower room. Where had he heard that tone?
In about 15 seconds, he had it. It was the tone of a nagging housewife. Father Woodward was not married, though as an Episcopalian of course he could have been. But he had heard this timbre and pitch of female voice in the embarrassed moments when he stood on the porch steps of a parish family's house where he had arrived five minutes too early for a pastoral visit. It had happened more than once. Perhaps hubby had not taken the garbage out. Or perhaps spent the next six months' hair salon money on dual four-barrel carburetors. He filed the connection away for later. He felt the mystery behind the connection would give way under the force of a few moments' thought.
Right now he had work to do. She had left him a task, but what was it?
Ah, yes, to arrive at a suitable greeting. His mind first fell to Dante, but all he could think of was
"Ladies who know by insight what love is,"
and it seemed somehow less than appropriate in this case, and he was not at all sure that he could have pulled it off without a smile. This last thought led him, chuckling to himself, down another mental detour.
What if I just greeted her with a hearty, "Now look here, my dear lady, I've paid good money for this session, and I have not been treated to the kind of domination one is led to expect! What have you got to say for yourself?"
To bring the proscenium arch back into view. To expose the sham. To at least for a moment unveil the absurdity at the heart of any system in which one chooses one's own Lord or Mistress. But, no, that would rather defeat the whole purpose in coming here, and the thing might have to be done again.
Had he really thought, "purpose?" What was his purpose? Oh, bother the purpose, he needed some lines with which to address his lady. He pondered Donne, and thought he could at least use him for a springboard. There was the rather naughty bit in Elegy 19 about the difference between women and demons:
" . . . and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright."
Well, the last part was true, he could feel. But the comparison on the whole was less than complementary. And besides, how far back to begin? It was a stroke of luck (providence?) that she was taking so long. Okay, just use the last bit and fashion a sort of preamble to that. Flesh and spirit made a good match. He thought also of her name, Splendora. And of Dante fainting in Beatrice's presence. And he thought he was getting close, when she walked solemnly through the door, carrying a lighted, four-foot brass candle-lighter. He had no choice but to begin, and see if he could bring the whole thing to a grammatically proper, if not poetical, conclusion.
He began haltingly, but picked up steam as he went, and finished with a flourish that carried over into a bow of his body towards her. He said,
"Mistress Splendora. The merest mention of thy name
Causeth me to faint. And the sweetness of thy spirit
Maketh my flesh to stand upright."
"Gooood!" she enthused. "That's the best one I ever heard."
She had a changed demeanor and almost seemed gay as she processed over to the far end of the sauna and lit three votive candles on each side of the throne. His eyes felt drawn to the beauty of her flesh, but equally to the candles being lit. She snuffed the flame of the candle-lighter and set it on hooks on the wall. She mounted three small steps to the throne, turned towards him and sat down. She had a kind of small whip in her right hand and was playing with the business end of it in her left.
"That was very nice, slave. I was going to spank you, but I think I shall withhold that punishment for the time being. On your knees."
Father Woodward fell to his knees. Again his mind wandered. He had been at that other business too long to be any good at this. His eyes traced her incomparable lines and sweet, intelligent face, but his knees remembered the posture, and a bolt went from each kneecap to the opposite hemisphere of his brain, so that his only thought was,
"Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Though he realized the absurdity of praying that way in such a place as this, the funny thing he noticed was that he really meant the "Amen." Even more so than in recent Eucharists, he calculated.
"Slave!!! Are you deaf, or defiant?" Splendora was roaring.
"Mistress Splendora, speak. Your servant awaits your command."
The angry lines in her face seemed to ease away into an ironic smile, and she gave her command.
"Turn around and crawl to the other end of the room. You will find a white bag. Put it in your teeth like a good little doggie, and crawl back here with it."
That seemed pretty easy. He began crawling. He still had the robe on, which was a relief to him. He had been somewhat worried that the session might escalate into something of a more sexual nature, and he hadn't wanted that. Or rather, he had not allowed himself to want it. He had wanted it and then wanted not to want it, after which he had commanded himself not to want it. On the way back to the foot of the throne, with the bag in his teeth, he wondered if "self-control", beside being a fruit of the Spirit, was an oxymoron.
"You may stand, slave!" rendered Mistress Splendora in a tone which led Father Woodward to believe that it was not truly an option.
He stood to his feet, the bag still in his mouth.
"Set the bag down. Do I have to tell you everything?"
"Yes, Mistress Splendora." He set the bag down.
"Now, reach in the bag and you will find fortune cookies. Remove one and crack it open. The cookie is mine; the fortune is yours and mine together."
He followed these instructions. Being dominated, he was beginning to feel, was not so bad as he thought. He pulled out the printed fortune paper.
"Read it aloud," snapped Splendora.
"The gods have given us one face, but we have made for ourselves another."
"Very nice. Now, the cookie."
He started to aim half the cookie toward her hand, but she frowned at him and opened her mouth to receive it instead. He deftly guided half the fortune cookie to her mouth. When it was nearly there, she stuck out her tongue and snatched it in. She munched. She did not speak to him until she had swallowed it.
"Other half," she demanded.
Father Woodward gave a sidelong look at the candles at one side, and fed her the other half of the cookie. She crunched it down. Again she did not speak until she had swallowed.
"Very good . . . are you sure you haven't done this before?"
"I, uh . . ."
"Never mind that. In the bag, Vic, there is also a half-pint of milk. Open the spout like a good little schoolboy, and I think you know what to do after that."
He hoped he did. He managed the spout easily enough. The rest would be guesswork. He planted his right foot on the first step beneath the throne and brought his left knee to the floor. He held the red and white carton of milk at arms length toward the face of his Mistress, and she leaned forward, tongue extended. She curved her tongue gracefully around the waxed cardboard spout of the milk container and he tipped.
Not a drop spilled, though she consumed half the carton.
"You lied to me, Vic." Her voice was teasing now, not angry.
"You have definitely been somebody's servant before."
She took the little whip that lay at her right hand on the table of candles, and spoke more firmly.
"I don't like my slaves lying to me. That makes me very angry. Take your robe off and turn around."
Father Woodward complied, getting down on all fours. The first time he only heard the whip crack, felt nothing. After ten or twelve lashes, he felt only a moderately unpleasant stinging. This was really not too bad, he thought, certainly no worse than he deserved. Mistress Splendora seemed to be picking up momentum and lashing at him faster and harder, when suddenly a persistent beeping began, and the whipping came to an abrupt halt.
"Sorry, Vic, that's your half-hour." It was the Timex Lady Triathlon watch around the wrist of Splendora's perfect arm. She pressed a button to make it stop.
"Go ahead and shower and get dressed. But stop by the desk on your way out. There's something I have to ask you."
She left in a hurry. The white bag was still at the foot of the throne. The carton of milk was there, half left. He muttered a confession to God for being in Wanda's Playhouse, crossed himself, and emptied the carton down his throat. He reached for a fortune cookie out of the bag. The end of the fortune paper was showing, and it gave him an idea. He reached into his right pocket for his pen. It had a comforting, familiar feel to it. Its center of percussion and radius of gyration were perfectly matched to his hand's geometry; in short, it fit him. He picked up from the floor the fortune he had read aloud, and prepared to write on the back, using the empty half pint container as backing. He wanted to write:
"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and
drink his blood, you have no life in you. John 6."
But he could see it was no good. There was no way he could fit all that on the tiny paper. So, he wrote in as neat a hand as he could muster:
He folded the fortune once, along a line parallel its short edge, and slipped it into the pocket of the robe. Moments later, he was dripping from the shower, water vapor rising from his taut skin. He dried himself vigorously and began to dress. He transferred the contents of the robe -- keys, pen and wallet, into the pockets of his trousers. The fortune he tucked in the chest pocket of his shirt. He absent-mindedly looked about him for his cologne bottle before realizing that, of course, it would not be there.
He combed his hair according to his reflection in the unsteamed upper portion of the mirror above twin sinks. When he was ready to go, he hesitated. Would he never see Splendora again? That thought nagged at him. It was not for him to say. His service was elsewhere.
Candy was at the inside counter to buzz him through to the lobby.
He stepped through and spun to his right to see Splendora, back in her original red mini-dress, her chin resting on her hands, her elbows on the counter. She flashed her eyes and spoke first.
"You won't be back, will you, Vic?"
"I ... I'm afraid not, Mistress Splendora."
"You're going back to her?"
"Yes," he spoke, only dimly understanding what he meant.
"She trains her servants well."
"I'll admit to being just a bit jealous. She has you for now ... but if I ever wanted to see you?"
"Oh, I might as well admit it. If I ever wanted to see her? Maybe take a little instruction?"
He reached into his shirt pocket and threw the folded fortune paper onto the counter.
"Her number," he smiled, and strode out the door towards his waiting Buick.