This week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is an Ernest Hemingway quote, “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” As my thoughts are now turning to what I’ll write after the Alchemy xii series is finished, I’ve found myself being drawn to explore something altogether darker. The Hemingway quote made the perfect prompt to take a little spin in that direction.
The piece of flash fiction that follows contains an element of non-consensual sexual activity.
She wanted to let the light in…
She wanted to let the light in, but she didn’t know how.
“I’ll help you,” said the priest.
She noticed a stain on his cassock, a trace of a meagre meal eaten too fast. Or semen, maybe, unconsciously wiped off his finger. But, no, this was Father Ulrich… She turned her attention back to what he was saying.
“You have ungodly thoughts, don’t you?”
“I understand. Women are weak.”
She had ungodly thoughts, but not of the type he was referring to.
“I’ll help you banish them. We’ll let the precious light of God wash through you.”
“Thank you, father.”
She dropped to her knees on the hardwood floor in front of him. The small parlour of the priest’s house was dark and airless, reminding her of closets in which she’d hidden as a child. It was hard to breath and the air she drew down into her lungs carried the stench of a man who lived on his own. She should have found a reason not to come here. At least, not on her own.
The priest laid a benedictory hand on her head. As he mumbled Latin words that made no sense to her, his hand weighed more heavily. She could feel the chill of his dry touch through her fine hair. She’d always found his hands ugly—the skin that stretched over his knuckles was white and papery, peppered with liver spots and bright, scaly patches where bone reared close the surface. Of course they would be cold to the touch.
He removed his hand and she waited. The timbre of his breathing changed and in the silence, the room became more oppressive. She swayed slightly on her knees, feeling the seam between two floor planks cutting across her kneecap.
The priest moved on silent feet. She’d noticed that before, during services. He walked without making a sound. No footfall. No click of hard leather on wood. She’d looked at his feet when she knelt in front of him to take the sacrament. He wore the same rough-hewn boots as the other men in the village. But they clumped noisily in theirs, while he trod with soft stealth.
He was behind her.
“This will be an act of cleansing. Contrition.”
His joints creaked as he bent, then his cold fingers brushed the flesh of her leg. He raised the back of her skirt and underskirt, bunching them at her waist. She took a sharp breath. What he did wasn’t unexpected, but there was still a ripple of shock as expectation became reality. She’d heard whispers of his cleansing rituals, even though Father Ulrich commanded the women never to speak of them.
“Hold this up,” he said, pushing the crumpled fabric harder against her.
She moved her arms back so she could grab hold of her skirts.
“Yes, Father.” It was hardly more than a whisper.
He hooked his fingers into the top of her underclothes and drew them down slowly. His nails scraped the curve of her buttocks. Her gut roiled and her hands, hidden in the folds of grey wool, clenched into fists. The garment held tight between her legs and he had to tug to free it, exposing her folds to him. A small sound escaped her mouth, and his. He let her drawers pool on the floor around her knees, the white cotton protecting the modesty of her calves.
His first blow came without warning and knocked her forward. She let go of her skirts and put out her hands to save herself, letting out a sharp cry as surprise was overtaken by pain. The heel of her hand skidded on the floor, picking up a splinter. Pain countermanded pain. Her head dropped forward and she sobbed.
The priest cleared his throat impatiently.
She resumed her position, this time with her knees further apart for better balance. She furled her skirts back up to her waist, exposing herself for him once more. He resumed the beating. She didn’t fall forward again, but she cried out each time he hit her. He murmured in Latin—cleansing prayers, no doubt, chosen to scour the inside of her mind.
When he finished, he touched her with his long, cold fingers, making a noise in the back of his throat like a rutting dog.
A few days later, as the bruises on her buttocks faded, the site of the splinter became infected. It swelled and reddened, pushing out globules of yellow-green pus until finally the tiny foreign body was ejected. The wound left a scar, a minute red triangle, which served to remind her, daily, of the first time Father Ulrich beat her. Of all the other times that came later, too many to count, none stood out in the same way, none left any permanent mark on her body.
But each time, her thoughts grew darker, the ungodly taking up a greater portion her mind. This was no way to let in the light.