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Twisted Faith
by William S. Dean © 2006

You might call the very continuing existence of The City a blasphemy if you’ve got the evangelistic bent.  Los Angeles—even the old name is a holy reference: Our Lady of the Angels in Spanish, of course—sits off a vast chaparral desert atop the San Andreas Fault, a massive plate-shifting crack that will—so they say—open up and pitch the whole mess into The Great Abyss.  The earth moves frequently here.  You get used to it.

We also have our seasonal wet and fiery holocausts, gigantic tongues of flame and mud that course down off the canyon sides, carrying away millions in sprawling architectural monstrosities erected to the ego of man and greed.  When the Apocalypse happens so often, I suppose, the tang of it is blunted severely.  You lose that horrifying panic and, unless you’re directly in the path—and you get mighty deft at side stepping—you face the End of the World with a cynic’s shrug and go on about your business. 

Whatever that may be.

To be a bit romantic, my business is flesh.  And business is good.  The pace becomes abbreviated, like everything else here.  Hardly anyone—just the outsiders—calls this place anything but L.A. or The City.  Love here, too, is a short order, just like the burgers and fries that fill our speeding bellies.  Not very nourishing, but palatable at best.  The comings and goings of the flesh—the good ones, anyway—are sweaty, fervid couplings.  The doings of the heart linger much longer.  They usually last so long and wound so violently that the population talks about them in the same vernacular as they do other catastrophes, like fire and flood, like the earth that quakes beneath your shoes and tumbled down everything seemingly solid around you.  Love and desire, we say, with a shrug, yeah, I know about those.

Because its heart is Hollywood—formerly Holywood, isn’t that a kick?—L.A. is a place where dreams are made reality and then, just as quickly, cashed in, at which point they turn back into vaporous, smoggy dreams again.  When you live in a city that every Bible-quoter is convinced is Babylon and Sodom, you quickly shed romantic notions like “love is for all time” and “never leave me ever.”  Or maybe, I learned that on the sloughy battlefields of yore where bodies lay tossed and gore-thick.  You see, before I came here, I was a priest.  Of a sort.

Like the dit-dat Morse code of the Signal Corps, the Army takes its young acolytes through a brief excursion—called training—at which an instructor muddles your faith into a swift benediction of the dying and a closed-eyes prayer code for the dead.  That’s what the chaplain course is like.  If you’re lucky, you get to chat about horror and washing out blood stains with some of the oldies.  Mostly, they confide about disguising drunkenness on duty or the great time they had in some shaggy nest of sin along with their brother chaplains a hundred years ago when times were good.  Our business was the flesh, not so much salvation as avoiding damnation. 

It’s a practical profession, though it doesn’t prepare you for much outside keeping the cross shiny and the faith reduced to a quick mumble so the enemy can’t draw a fatal bead on your position.

After the tour—that’s what they call time in a war zone, as if you were a mere tourist wading through the death and mutilation and on the lookout for souvenirs—I’d had my fill of the violent ends people come to.  Ironic then, that I found myself standing outside the V.A. building in L.A. with a large check to squander on civilian life and a backload of murder on my conscience.  I’ve never been sure how most people wipe away the shock of witness from their eyes; never quite got the proper casual and careless grin.  I suppose you’d say I had accrued a certain depth to myself that went beyond the average.  With the brass plate insignia of the cross and the rifle off my chest, I, likewise, discarded the backward collar and the severe, other-directed attitude of righteousness.  To be frank, I wanted to wallow in the living flesh and crazy-wild depravity of normality.  I just hadn’t counted on it including love.

L.A.’s always had its dens of iniquity, scabrous pens where the loll of easy skin and the laughter of sex is readily at hand.  I splashed in that cess pool a long time before the shit of it began to cake my spirit enough that I could stand more upright.  The salty-sweat mud slid on me and the coyote-howl fires baked it into a human-like clay around me.  I got so I could pass for a real person amid my fellow Angelinos, who pissed glitter and promised the moon every time they opened their mouths.  I aped the talk and danced the walk.  I even began to pretend that life was good.  Until I met her.

Nowhere else in the world, I suspect, do you continuously meet people on the up-down staircase as in L.A.  Here, the angels and supernovas rocket past you and here, they tumble beside you on their way down.  Sure, other places you might find, say, the former manager of a prominent tire store kicking his scabby heels against the last vestige of humanity in a run-down Old Folks Home, but here—in the City of Angels—you’re as like to find the once-Queen of the World in a shabby motel out by the airport, drowning herself in lotion, memory, and cut-rate Scotch.

The oldies in the Corps used to blather that old saw “Once a chaplain, always a chaplain.”  Meaning once, you’ve last-rited someone, watched their last breath ebb across blubbering lips, you’re always prone to return. 

Maybe, that’s what it was.  Or maybe, it was my final challenge—are you priest or man?

I was out at the airport for a farewell.  Off to try to resurrect some semblance of bonding with the old family—the usual dying parents, arguing siblings, questionable cousins—but the flight went awry, so the airlines popped all us would-be deserters in a local hotel for the night.  I don’t do well in innocuous surroundings anymore, so I went out for a stroll.  It was crossing a street that she bumped against me or stumbled or maybe—I don’t worry about such blasphemies anymore—God shoved her my way.

It was fire with no sirens.  It was a flood of chaotic emotions.  The earth moved and we fell together.  The touch of her was like the touch of fingertips after a violent, rough fuck.  All soothing and tender and healing.  That’s too romantic a notion.  It was like the first, great, unforgettable touch of your lover’s face when you’re in love and so desperately want.  Just want.  Anything.  Everything.

She was drunk as possible and yet, it was as if she’d been that way so long, it had stopped impairing her life.  Her breath was harsh and smoky against my cheek as we fought our way back to pleasant civility.  Her first words—with a sweet slurring that made my shoulders crawl with tingles—were:

“God, you’re a damned good-looking man.”

And there they were, you see.  The two words that cut straight down to my core and made my spine bend in a languid faint.  “God”—the Father, the Creator, the Maker and Great Arranger of All—and “damned” - cursed for all eternity.  I was—in her words—embodied.  And she embodied all that pent-up desire for—frankly, I couldn’t articulate even to myself all that encompassed, but I knew it was there.

“Can I help you get somewhere?”

She looked me over, pausing awhile over my pants.  Then she grinned widely. 

“Honey, you just might at that,” she answered with a slow nod.  She turned her head and looked over her shoulder.  “I was going from there...” Her hand waved toward a liquor store, emblazoned with “Going out of business” banners.  “ there.”  Her hand grazed my shoulder as she pointed across the street to a less-than-optimum motel.  She shook the paper bag nested in the crook of her other arm.  “I got goodies at good prices.”  She leaned her face close to mine and I felt again the warm, almost stinging breath on my skin.  “Why don’t you...” She poked my chest with a rigid forefinger and left it there to make lazy circles.  “ me get my goodies in order, ‘kay?”

“Yes, “ I murmured.  “Why don’t I?”

Up the stairs to her second floor room, a rather stagy and corny fumble for her door key—“You can break the door down if you have to, honey...”—and I found myself in a shrine to the misbegotten.

As she musically rattled the bottles in the bag and drew one out, I slowly spun in the room, drinking in the detritus of her not-so-long-ago previous life.  She watched me out of the corner of her eye as she poured matching tumblers and plonked ice cubes in them.

“Yeah, that was—that IS me.  Fourth lead in The Devil’s Cheerleaders. 

Poster’s worth more than what I got paid.  Second corpse in Biker Bitches from Hell.  Girl # 3 in. . . what the hell was that movie?  You can see I only got the Mexican poster for that one.  Mujeres del Diablo or whatever it was called.  So?  What do you think?”

It was an odd sensation to look at this woman with the tender eyes of a would-be lover after such an introduction.  I managed.

“Say.  What’s with you?”  She walked closer and held out the drink.  “Honey, I’ve seen star-struck before’re a little bit creepy, looking at me like that.”

“The Devil’s Mistress.”

She glanced behind her at where my eyes were staring.  “Oh, yeah.  My one big lead.”  She struck a pose mimicking the one in the film poster on the wall.  Her eyes slitted and she let her mouth gape seductively.  “The Devil commands...obey me.  Pretty corny, huh?”

I tried to smile.  I tried even more strongly not to fumble backwards into the rickety chair.  I failed.  Something peeled away from my heart like a huge patch of stucco and fell with a thud against my lap.  The unexplainable is just that: unexplainable.  Perhaps the ravages of life had twinned us somehow.  She wasn’t exactly beautiful; neither pedestal material nor gutter trash but a merging blend like the jolt of high octane alcohol and tangy fruit juice.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her mouth as she sipped her drink, licking the rim of the glass.

Maybe a soundless, invisible conversation passed between us, sacred and profane—all the sweet talk of kids on a first date and the guttural groans of long-time intimates—I don’t know.  She turned and put her drink down on the table, then turned back to me.

Her palm came out and slid against my cheek.  “Oh, honey...”  She knelt in front of me and put both hands on my face.  “This is crazy.”

“Crazy,” I agreed.

Shedding our clothes on the floor in tangled wrestlings and the first fevered and raw fuck spun us both off the planet, out of the City of Lost Angels, into a tattered, writhing Eden of our own making.  Hunger knotted and unknotted us in a rug-burn Kama Sutra across the cheap carpet until we’d slithered and bucked against the low-slung bed and up onto it.

I licked salty trails up her bared thighs until the dark curls around her pussy opened out to me the pink folds of the Devil’s Mistress, the satanic cheerleader, the biker bitch and—as my tongue lapped and swirled—so, too, it seemed her crust fell away and she lay revealed as a woman before a long bus ride, a woman still crowned with the sunshine of the Midwest, a woman still perfumed with the honeysuckle scent of first love.  Damn me, if you will, for calling it what it was: miraculous.

Love, so they say, can come at you most unexpected.  Out of a prison, ringing the keys against the cell bars, out of a spiraling crash of a sea storm as you wash against the reef and a mermaid smiles, out of the forgotten holes of motel rooms blasted by the jet thrust overhead.  Like that.

Once shucked, her persona of the Hollywood nearly-was, scrabbled back into the trap of the wall posters and scrapbooks.  Once, burnt away, the debris of my harrowed living, crumpled like old newspaper clippings and official death reports.  Naked, glistening with the on-going love making, it was as though we’d been reborn and matured in each other’s arms.  We feasted in the flesh of ourselves and yet, yet, it was far more than merely the flesh that was entwining.  It felt as though my cock inside her, pumping now franticly, now sinuously as a serpent, was somehow cleansing, too.  Our fucking and sucking transcended—so hideous and crass a term—and felt emotionally holy, if that makes any sense.  Crazily, wildly, incongruously, the word “soul-mate” kept ringing my ears.  We climbed, together, into ecstasies that. . .

But I mustn’t prolong my own agony further with such memories.  Not in the midst, I want to believe, but at the peak of our delirious. . .time together, her heart simply failed to keep going, pumping through the failed, destroyed liver and kidneys, the fogged spongy detritus of a too-well lubricated brain, a too-abused self.  And, once more, as of yore, I found myself beside the dying, soon-to-be dead.  The chaplain over the soldier’s last breath.  I stumbled over the words.  I dredged them up from the flakes of my memory that she—she—had burned off.  “Our Father...” was as far as I got before she died.  I doubt it was much comfort to the Devil’s Mistress, after all.

Here, in the City of Lost Angels, where the earth moves frequently, where the fire and flood come as perennial companions, romance and love are notions to be mocked.  And lamented.  And mourned.  And passed by like the disquieting faces of the homeless and the desperate on our way elsewhere.

© 2006 William S. Dean.  All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Who is William S. Dean? Read his bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.

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