“All Grimm’s fairy tales start and end the same way,” she said.
She took a deep breath and began.
“Once there lived …” She paused and let the knife of grief stab her stomach again. She took the pain, breathed through it and let it out. “Once there lived … a priest.”
SHE WAS EITHER DYING OR HAVING AN ORGASM. ELLE couldn’t quite tell which.
“Something funny, Miss Schreiber?” her teacher demanded.
Elle glanced up and stared at Sister Margaret’s forehead. Safer than looking her in the eyes.
“Nope. I … That’s a great sculpture,” Elle said, pointing at the image on the projector screen at the front of her Catholic studies class. “Is she getting, you know, murdered there? Or … something else?”
“Not murdered,” Sister Margaret said with a smile. “Although I can understand why you might think that she was dying.”
Sister Margaret turned back to the image of St. Teresa of Avila she’d projected onto the screen. Every Friday was Know Your Saints day at St. Xavier High School.
“This famous sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is called the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Teresa of Avila was a mystic. Can anyone tell me what a mystic is? Mr. Keyes?”
She pointed to Jacob Keyes in the front row.
“Um …” he said. “People who had mystical experiences?”
Elle rolled her eyes. Didn’t he know you weren’t supposed to define a word with that same word?
“Close,” Sister Margaret said. “Throughout our Catholic tradition, our clergy has acted as the intermediary between the faithful and God. Mystics are those rare souls who connect with God in a profound way without an intermediary. In the case of St. Teresa, an angel of the Lord came to her. Let’s read her own words about it. Page three hundred seventy.”
They all turned to the page and at the top in a box Elle read:
I saw an angel near me, on the left side in bodily form. In this vision it pleased the Lord that I should see it thus. He was not tall, but short, marvelously beautiful with a face which shone as though he were one of the highest of angels…. One of the highest of angels who seemed to be all of fire. I saw in his hands a long golden spear, and at the point of the iron there seemed to be a little fire. This I thought that he thrust several times into my heart, and that it penetrated to my entrails.
“As you can see,” Sister Margaret said, “the sculptor was attempting to show the profound and sudden closeness to God St. Teresa experienced when the angel came to her and struck her with the arrow, and, Miss Schreiber, you seem to be laughing again. Would you care to share with the class exactly what you find so funny?”
Elle sensed all eyes in the class on her. She really wished Sister Margaret would stop calling on her. Maybe if she told her the truth, Sister Margaret might learn her lesson.
“Nothing,” Eleanor said. “Except St. Teresa’s having an orgasm.”
“Excuse me?” Sister Margaret sounded scandalized.
“Oh, come on. She’s got her head back and her eyes are closed and her mouth’s all open. And the angel is thrusting the arrow into her and she’s all on fire. Seriously, penetrated to the entrails? Sign me up for that. I wanna be a saint if I can get some of that action.”
The entire class burst into uproarious laughter. Only Sister Margaret didn’t seem amused.
“Eleanor,” Sister Margaret said and nothing more.
“I know. I know.” Elle gathered up her books and headed to the vice principal’s office.
Luckily V.P. Wells didn’t have time for a theological argument today. He told her to stop talking about orgasms in her Catholic studies class and she promised to keep her commentary to herself from now on. He only threatened her life once before sending her out. After gathering her books from her locker, Elle left school and headed home.
As she turned a corner at Elm Street, Elle sensed something behind her. She glanced back and saw a car in her peripheral vision. Ignoring it, she started walking again. The car followed, going slow enough to stay behind her.
Finally the driver pulled up next to her and rolled down the window.
“I lost my new puppy,” the man in the car said. “Will you come help me find him?”
“Oh, hell, no,” she said, glaring into the car at the almost-handsome man sitting behind the wheel. “I saw that very special episode of Diff’rent Strokes.”
“Then will you come help me drive this Porsche into the ground?”
“Oh, hell, yes!”
Elle raced around to the passenger side, threw herself in the car and launched herself into the driver’s arms.