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Father Ruiz sat at his desk, staring at the empty sheet of paper in front of him. It would be difficult to write, he thought. Should he try to explain anything? Or should he simply let the bishop know that he was leaving the priesthood, effective immediately, with no reason given?

The sound of the workmen next door distracted him. Having the old church in the middle of such huge renovations did not make it easier. He was the only priest on permanent assignment to the small Texas parish. What would happen to the work? The church was being gutted – virtually rebuilt from top to bottom. Who would take over? Father Ruiz did not know the answers to those questions. He knew the answers to so few questions these days. All he knew was that he had made up his mind to leave this place and start a new life as something different. He could be a Catholic priest no more. Not with the feelings he was feeling.

“Angelina is here to see you, Father.” Maria the housekeeper stuck her head in the door.

“Thank you, Maria. Please show her in.”

The fat housekeeper waddled off down the hallway. Angelina, the priest thought. Why was she coming? He had forgotten. It seemed fitting though. As he was trying to write his letter of resignation, a symbol of why he was leaving should be present. Angelina, with her young body and long black hair. The perfect symbol of the lures of the flesh that had finally pulled the priest away from his faith. He could resist no longer, he thought. He had to take his place out in the world and taste the pleasures of the body. He has prayed for guidance, but no guidance had been sent to him. So he had given up. His faith in himself and his faith in his faith had eroded. He felt he had nothing left – nothing but desire.

He remembered the blonde woman, the guest in the resort hotel where he had worked as a teenager. One day, she was having breakfast alone – her husband was nowhere to be seen. She was a beautiful woman, he recalled. Always so well-dressed, her straight blonde hair in a perfect pageboy bob that fell just to her chin. Juan had been pressed into service as a waiter that day – a promotion from his usual duties as busboy. The woman flirted with him, made him laugh, teased him. After she had finished her breakfast, she asked the young and innocent Juan back to her room, to help her with her bags, she said. He had been so naive back then. So he followed.

“Here, Juan. Some sit by me on the bed,” she had said. And the obedient boy had sat. After that, he remembered only the sweet scent of her perfumed neck and the feel of her soft hands undressing him and pressing him close to her body. Until he heard the key turning in the lock.

“Quick. Into the closet. My husband,” the woman whispered.

Juan leapt out of the bed and ran into the closet, peering from a crack into the room. After a strangely long time, the door opened, and the woman’s husband entered.

“OK bitch, where is he? Where’s the little fuckboy you’ve got?” The man walked to the bed and grabbed the woman by the hair.

“Where, bitch?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the woman answered.

The husband grabbed a chair. “OK. Let’s jog your memory. Sit.”

The woman stood up, her white blouse open to the waist and her bra unlatched. The man ripped the blouse and bra off her and then pulled down her white tennis shorts and panties. “Sit,” he said.

Juan watched, holding his breath. When would the man come for him? What should he do? He was frozen in fear, crouched in the closet. He could see only a little of the room through the small opening he had left himself. He could see only the now-naked woman sitting in the upright chair facing him. He heard the man fumbling about in the room.

“Hands behind,” Juan heard him say. The woman put her hands behind her back, and the man seemed to be tying them to the chair somehow.

“OK woman. Maybe this will help you think.”

The man stood in front of the woman and showed her something. Juan couldn’t see what. Then he heard a buzzing noise and the woman saying “No please.”

The man stepped behind the woman, and Juan could see the barber clippers in his hand. The woman tried to shake her head, but she didn’t scream or cry out. Juan thought that was strange. The man pressed the clippers against the side of his wife’s head, and a sheaf of hair dropped to her shoulder and then to the floor. Then again, and most of the right side of the well-tailored pageboy had been shorn down almost to the skin. “How’s this, bitch. Helping your memory any?”

Behind the woman now, the man continued to work. Juan couldn’t see much except the woman, holding still with her head down, the man’s hand pressing her head into her chest. Most of her hairdo still looked the same – until the man ran the clippers up the back and over the top of her head. A curtain of blonde hair fell across the woman’s face and onto her bare thighs. Then again and the top of the woman’s head was almost naked, clipped down to a boot-camp crewcut. Over to the left side and a few more passes of the razor, and the man was done. The hum of the clippers stopped.

“How’s that, bitch? Gonna be inviting any more fuckboys back here soon?”

The woman shook her buzzed head. A few stray locks slipped off and floated down as she shook. But she didn’t cry or even look angry. And why had the man not yet found Juan or even looked for him?

The man grabbed the woman and threw her on the bed. Juan couldn’t see what was happening, but he heard the moans of the man and the woman and the creaking of the bed. The sounds went on for a few minutes and then he heard louder moans coming to a crescendo. Then the man’s voice: “Into the bathroom bitch. Time for a shave.” Then Juan heard footsteps toward the bathroom and the sound of water running. He realized he might be able to slip out the door. Slowly, he pushed the closet door farther open and looked around. No one. Only the chair surrounded by piles of fine straight blonde hair on the floor, and the sound of water running in the next room. Juan grabbed a lock of hair from the floor and ran out the door into the hall and kept running.

The next day, he saw the man and the woman at their breakfast table, laughing and smiling at each other. The woman was wearing a wig that looked exactly like her old hairstyle. Perhaps Juan was the only person – aside from the woman and her husband – who knew that it was a wig at all. And they sat there, kissing and whispering to each other like honeymooners. Only years later did Juan question whether what he had seen was real or only a charade in which he was a foolish dupe. Even now he wasn’t sure. The man had seemed so angry. The woman had seemed so sincere. They left the resort a few days later. Neither ever said another word to Juan. But the woman saw Juan as she was leaving and stealthily lifted the wig to show him – and only him – the closely-buzzed nape beneath. Since the woman’s head had not been shaved, Juan had wondered what the husband had shaved in the bathroom.

Father Juan opened the drawer of his desk and took out an envelope. In it, a 6-inch lock of fine blonde hair, tied with a red ribbon. His souvenir of the flesh – the closest that he had ever come to being with a woman. He touched the lock of hair and wondered what it would feel like to touch a woman. To touch the hair of a woman. Maybe someday to cut the hair of a woman down to a fine crewcut, like the blonde woman had been given. That was what he wondered. The image of the blonde woman with her close-sheared head had haunted Father Juan for years. Finally, it was time to surrender, he thought, and find out more of the mysteries of the flesh – simple mysteries that other men knew but that were denied to him.

“Father?” Angelina stood in the doorway, watching the priest. He hastily put the lock of hair back in the envelope and stowed it away in the drawer again.

“Come in Angelina. What can I do for you today?”

Angelina had appeared in the small border town se
veral months before. Her father had sent her up from Mexico, she said. To make money in the States. She was a skilled cook and worked in the one good restaurant in town. So she was able to send cash back to her family and still live fairly well on her own. She was in her twenties and had always seemed responsible. And Father Juan had seen her in church often, sitting at the back and praying her rosary.

The girl sat across from the priest, bolt upright in a hard-backed wooden chair, and looked him full in the face. She was a beautiful girl, full-figured with a head of long thick black hair. Father Juan tried not to admire her for her beauty. He still wore the collar and vowed to himself to deserve to wear it until he formally took it off.

“Father, I’ve made a decision. I am going back to Mexico to join a convent there.”

“Wonderful, my child. You have felt the call of a vocation?”

“Yes. And I have my father’s blessing.”

“Good, good. And what can I do for you?”

“I’m leaving tonight. And the order I am joining is very strict and old-fashioned. I won’t be keeping any of this.” The girl ran her fingers through her hair and held it out from her head. “But I don’t want any stranger cutting it off. I would like for you to do it, so I can sell it and help my family with the money.”

Father Juan was stunned. “Are…are you sure, Angelina? Perhaps this order is not so strict as you think or perhaps it would violate some rule…”

The girl held up her hand. “No, Father. I am sure. And I want to help my family. After I quit working here, they will have little to live on.”

“All right, child. I suppose I can help you.” Father Juan stood up. His knees were shaking. He walked to the closet and grabbed the ancient clippers that Maria used so poorly on him. Home haircuts save money, he told her. More money for the renovation work on the church. Every little bit helped.

“Where shall I sit?” the girl asked.

“There is fine. The cord is long, and the outlet is here.”

The priest’s hand shook as he tried to plug the clipper cord into the wall. Then he stood up and stepped toward the girl. The girl gathered her thick hair and held it up so the priest could tie the white barber’s cape around her neck. Then she let it fall. The priest’s hands were buried in an avalanche of black silk. Father Juan pulled his hands out from under the girl’s hair hastily.

“I have no guards for this machine, Angelina. Would you like..”

The girl cut him off. “That’s all right, Father. Just shave it all off. That’s how they do it at the convent.”

The priest clicked the clippers on and gently lifted the girl’s hair, exposing her right ear. He pressed the blades against her cheekbone and slowly pushed the machine up the side of her head by the ear, letting the blades chew up through the thickening hair. A 2-foot long tress came loose in the priest’s hand, revealing a path of black velvet where it had grown. He laid the tress in the girl’s lap and began a second path up the side of her head. More black velvet appeared, with white scalp showing beneath.

The priest continued intently, shaving up from the bottom of the girl’s densely packed hairline, up the sides and then the back of her head. The nape had some shorter, more delicate looking stray black hairs that the clippers lapped up and loosed down the girl’s back. A heavy sheet of hair followed as the clippers continued up the back of the girl’s head, tracing the outline of her small skull. Then the other side of her head, row by row. The girl’s hair was so thick that even the shaven remnants hid most of her scalp. The clippered hair was left smooth and even.

Finally, Father Juan moved in front of the girl, who held a few tresses of her long hair in her lap. More hair had gathered on the floor and would need to be collected later. The priest tucked the blades against the girl’s forehead and pushed the blades back. The hum of the powerful machine never changed as the long hair on top of the girl’s head was swept up out of its path, tumbling onto her shoulders and sliding into her lap. First one half of her head was shorn down and then the other. With the top of the girl’s head shaved close to match the back and sides, the priest stepped back. He saw a few longer patches where his hand must have faltered and placed the clippers against the almost-bare head, clipping all down to a neat short fur. Once, twice over the same spot.

“There, Angelina. All done. So much hair.”

“Thank you, Father. How does it feel?”

“Ummmm.” Father Juan had taken care not to touch the girl’s small round head. He knew how the feel of it would affect him. But the girl took his hand and ran it slowly up the back of her head, beginning at the shorn nape and moving up against the grain. It was like a dense carpet under his fingers, and he touched the front delicately with his fingertips only and then let his palm caress her entire shorn crown.

“It feels good, no?” the girl asked

“It feels very good, Angelina.”

“Help me pick up this hair, Father.”

The two bent down to harvest the black tresses littering the floor. As Angelina leaned forward, another torrent of shorn hair slid down the cape. “Let me take that off for you,” the priest said. His shaking fingers fumbled with the clasp and he felt the short sharp nape hairs pressing into the back of his hand as he tried to get the cape off. He couldn’t resist a final backhand caress of the short-shaved hairline, still so dark and clearly defined, even as short as it was.

“You have such a beautiful name, Angelina. Will your order allow you to keep it?”, the priest asked.

“No. I don’t think so. I will miss my name. My grandmother named me. My people have funny stories about the angels.”

“What kind of stories?”

“Well, the missions to my people must have told the Bible stories in funny ways. My people say that Lucifer was not cast out of Heaven with his followers. He was just curious about the Earth and the people God had created, so he asked to be sent to be the eyes and ears of God. And God gave him and the other angels who went with him a task: to test the people of Earth, so they would learn.”

“Learn what, child? What could be learned by the temptations of devils?”

“Learn whatever, Father. All tests are for learning. And it was the job of Lucifer and the others to test and help us learn what we need to learn. That is their chosen task in the world – their vocation. Just like you have your vocation, Father. We say that Lucifer is called the “light-bearer” because he is the first teacher, showing us the light. He taught Adam and Eve about good and evil, no?”

“I suppose. Yes, in a way. But what of the other angels, child?” “There are no other angels, Father. Lucifer and his followers are the only angels that are here on Earth. They are our only guardian angels. What they teach us from their tests is all we have to protect us, all that guards us. If we do not learn… well, that is for us to deal with. God and his angels cannot help.”

Father Ruiz looked at the girl. She smiled a far-off smile.

“Your people tell strange tales. I wouldn’t repeat the folklore of your people to the nuns, my dear.”

“No, Father.”

With her hands full of hair, the girl stood up and faced the priest.

“There is one other thing you can do for me, Father.”

“Yes, child.” As the priest watched, in one motion, the girl slid her simple white cotton dress off her shoulders and on down to the floor. She wore nothing underneath, and her brown nipples stood out from her breasts. Between her legs, the priest saw a triangle of shaven stubble reaching from thigh to brown thigh. The girl lifted her arms above her head and rested her forearms on her butch crew. Her eyes looked different – bolder and more confident. The set of her body made her look far older than the young girl she was.

“I am a virgin, Father. I don’t wish to be one forever. Take me. Please. Make love to me. I wish to be a woman before I am a nun.” The girl spoke in hushe
d tones, standing among scattered locks of her own hair, staring knowingly into the eyes of the priest.

Father Ruiz stood stock still. This was what he had waited his whole life for. A beautiful girl. So nicely shaved. Such a nice tight butch crewcut. He felt the desire welling up in him. But as he stood looking at the girl, admiring her curves and the cut of her hair, he paused. It felt wrong. It felt like it would not – would never be – enough for him. In the silence of the moment, Father Juan heard the workmen laboring on the church and he remembered the loyal members of the parish and he remembered his own long education and his years in many other parishes. The couples he had married. The old that he had helped ease out of the world. The babies baptized. Did he really want to give that up? The girl was so beautiful, but were the pleasures of the flesh enough to surrender his vocation, his entire life?

“Please put your dress back on, Angelina. I can’t help you.”

The girl stepped closer, one hand rubbing her shorn head, the other caressing her shaven sex. The girl’s voice was a throaty whisper. “Please, Juan Ruiz. Is this not what you want?”

The priest swallowed hard. The sound of the church renovation pounded in his ears, hammers on nails, making new walls, new pews. Or was that just his own heartbeat hammering in his ears?

“Please get dressed, Angelina.”

The girl smiled. Then she bent down and stepped into the cotton dress, picking up a few last tresses as she pulled the dress on.

“I can go now, Juan Ruiz.”

The priest handed her a few tresses that he had collected and opened the door to the outside.

“That’s Father Ruiz, Angelina.”

“As you wish,” the girl said. She spoke the next words slowly and carefully. “Father Ruiz. Well done I say to you.  Thank you, Father Ruiz. Very well done.” And she stroked her head again. Then, she listened briefly to the sound of the workmen, sawing and hammering away at the old worn church.

“All things old made new again, eh Father Ruiz?” she said.

“Yes, child.” The priest paused, looking at the girl’s outline in the doorway. “Good luck to you in your chosen vocation.” The girl smiled her puzzling far-away half-smile.

“And good luck to you in yours, Father Ruiz,” the girl said.  “Good-bye, Father.” The girl walked out of the room into the steamy Texas air.

From his window, Father Ruiz watched the girl walk away. Standing behind his desk, he crumpled up the letter he had been writing to the bishop and threw it away without looking at it. He saw the girl walk down the hot sidewalk, off into the setting sun that blazed from the horizon at the end of the street. As the priest watched, she crossed the street, looked back once and then disappeared into the glare of the sun.

 

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