by Marie Drennan

The heat in Carson’s groin was going supernova. It had gone nova several days ago and he was just starting to learn to think on top of it when all at once it became too much and he found himself in his back yard doing handsprings, half-falling and half-leaping onto his hands, his elbows giving and then springing back, launching him back to his feet. He bellowed and snarled while he did this, but it still wasn’t enough.

He settled for it as an inadequate substitute for having an orgasm -- no, for taking his cock in his hand and furiously -- no, for taking his raging cock in his shaking hands and furiously, furiously --

But he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t do that because of the tubular metal device imprisoning his penis, placed there by a woman with the devil in her soul. A woman whose cruelty approached the infinite, whose appetite for a man’s suffering dwarfed the cosmos. Carson breathed into the ache. The handsprings did nothing about the ache.

* * *

In the practice of caging, an advanced form of sexual bondage, a man is custom-fitted with a restrictive metal tube that prevents him from touching or stimulating his penis. It also prevents the penis from becoming erect. Some variations include interior bumps or spikes, which cause pain when the penis tries to stiffen. Men who wear the device report that the constant pressure of the metal against their dicks is a torment, especially as time passes and horniness increases, resulting in a steady state of semi-erection (held in check by the snug metal tube). Simultaneously stimulated and deprived of stimulation, the man and his dick become overwhelmed, frantic, desperate to come. They’d do anything to get their hands on themselves. Anything. Some spend hours on end tapping the metal with spoons, trying to work up enough vibratory force to get themselves off. It never works, and there they sit, groaning and swearing and pulling at their balls, rueing the day.

* * *

“Comfy?” She hovers above him, smoothing his arm hairs away from the silk knots around his writs, sliding her cool hands down his arms. She smells of cucumber and melon. Carson breathes her in and closes his eyes.

“Mmmhmmm.” His heartbeat picks up speed as Nicole settles in beside him and acquaints herself with his prone form: fair skin and black hair at underarm and nipple; pleasing bicycle-and-Frisbee muscles around shoulders and chest; visible pulse in the hollow beneath his ribs, which are starting to heave a little, like a rolling mini-quake that shakes you up but leaves no major damage.

Nicole muses, rises from time to time to brush her lips against a favorite contour, a newly discovered freckle. She touches. Carson moans.

It is the evening of the last day of a ten-day ordeal: ten days in dick prison. Nicole likes it when he calls it his ordeal. Carson has found that he likes whatever she likes, because when she’s liking things, things get very, very hot. Painfully hot. Rolling around screaming your lungs out begging Jesus for just one flick of her tongue to the head of your cock, just one. That hot.

None of that is going on right now, though. Right now, they are quiet with each other, the way they are when they begin, he waiting, dreading and craving, she drowsing and taking her time. One finger to peachy areola, round and round, and round and round. And down. Nails softly across navel, tentatively following the furry trail until it disappears beneath the sheet. His breath harsher now, head and shoulder blades tensing against the pillows.

It’ll be a while, you know that, so just mellow. Mellow out and take it as it comes. It’s nothing new; nothing you can’t handle; nothing you can’t handle.

Her hand glides over his hip bone, on top of the sheet, and rests on his thigh. He swallows and presses his teeth together, breathing, breathing.

And then her hand slides up, collecting his balls in a tidy purse made of sheet, while her other hand sprinkles frictionless lightning sensations across him, into him, squeezing pressure and tickling strokes through fabric make him arch and fight and sigh. Always it’s this bad, this suddenly; always he thinks he can hack it, thinks he can transcend, thinks if women can go through childbirth with no drugs and just breathing then surely he can do this, but God it’s like the first time every time, it’s just like the first time she mmm took him on this oh, on this ride, this oh...

Oh had she looked incredible, swaying to the music, barefoot and backlit in his living room. He had no idea how he’d got her there, that first time. There had been a party, mutual friends, a work connection: she taught history and civics to Catholic high-school girls, and he occasionally got brought in to teach the same girls the craft of stained glass. Why, he’d asked her, did she teach in a Catholic school? Because, she’d grinned, the faculty (except for temporary hires such as herself) were piously celibate, and the students were hormone bombs: the opposite of the boring work environment. Plus, she said, priests were sexy in a neurotic, intellectual kind of way, a sort of Woody-Allen-meets-The-Exorcist kind of way. Nicole was by anyone’s standards a knockout, and Carson had felt the pressuring stares of other males as he chatted with her, hoping she wouldn’t scamper off somewhere when she finished her beer. He liked her, instantly and a lot, and although he was what his female friends called "generally not a pig" -- (but what data were they using? What were the parameters of the study?) -- he was quick to sneak a studious peek at her, full-length, when she excused herself to find the bathroom.

What he saw as she sidled and dipped through the crowd made him slaver and growl. Inwardly, of course. Outwardly, he welcomed her back with an affectionate (though not too intense) smile and several seconds of thoughtful eye contact, vaguely (he hoped not spastically) trying to make the most of his respectable height and Basque good looks. He wasn’t just hitting on her. Really he wasn’t. His instincts told him to behave better than that. But God, he thought, wouldn’t it be good if she, if they -- ?

And here she was, just days later, backlit and swaying, up on her toes as she read his CD spines and sipped at the joint he’d rolled them. He watched from the couch -- really watched. He couldn’t not. The stretchy zipper-cardigan thing she wore made a neat silhouette, just taut enough in key places to offer an idea of form, of firmness, beneath. Indented below the bottom of that garment, a sliver of white waist; then the rumply roominess of bandana-patched jeans, which made him think of tackling and tickling and --

He noticed she was looking right at him and for a second thought he should stop staring or apologize, but no, it was cool, it was just right. Nicole was smiling easily and going through the business of changing records. Planes and coils of incense smoke lifted around her hips. Carson sank further into the cushions and watched some more. To the Smiths’ rumbling drums and pretty strumming she swayed, closing her eyes, pulling a long pin from her pile of maroon curls and tumbling them about. The erection Carson already had grew considerably more severe when Nicole unzipped her shirt-sweater-thing and dropped it to the floor. Underneath was a faded, formerly pinkish or purplish kind of thing, strappy, and smaller, much smaller, much less of it, much more of her now. She had a bra on but it must be a really flimsy kind, because the shape is really natural and see how there’s just a little bit of bounce when she walks, when she, when she’s walking over here...

And she walked over there, to him, and stood between his knees offering him the joint, and he took it and set it aside and put his hands on her instead. He felt her legs strong inside the rumply jeans; he kissed her belly, kissed her hands, drew her down.

That afternoon Carson and Nicole did everything two people can do to each other who have any notion of being able to face the other person or for that matter themselves in the mirror the next day with anything like respect. Or even tolerance. They lunged. They plunged. They fiddled, they fooled. They harpooned, slew, devoured (as in sharks), broke (as in mustangs). Sweat-drenched, he rose above her on his man-knees and shook his man-fists toward the sky, roaring a man-roar of such sky-splitting alphaness that he was sure the world knew his was the Ur-Package from which all light and heat in the universe drew their force.

Two seconds later, she had him on his back gurgling and curling up his feet like a newborn.

She rode him like a thousand spangled rodeo queens. Like the Furies screaming into battle. Whichever way he thrashed and strove, she anticipated, corrected, conquered. Her body clung to his as though she were riding a dolphin, keeping up with its flips and frolics, its sudden turns and slick aquatic maneuvers. For several millennia he lay gasping and needing, hoarsely bellowing and dying, dying. When at last, with a slow forceful grind, she ripped from him an orgasm that he felt from the base of his spine to the base of his brain, he sank into rest with a planet’s weight, into the heavy rest of stones and wood.

A little while later they did it again.

It was slower the second time, more deliberate. Carson applied some skills of his own, with hand and tongue, and Nicole reveled nastily, languidly, beautifully, in her throes. Again they fucked, and fucked and fucked and fucked, and this time Carson was able to discern order, patterns of escalation and delay, rising action and unbearable plateaus. It made sense -- a kind of tortuous, brain-scrambling sense. He got it. And he knew he was going to have to have more.

* * *

“Imagine. . .shhh. . .imagine what it’s going to feel like when I take it off.” Nicole murmurs against his neck, brushing soft kisses across his forehead, cheeks, mouth. “Think about the sensation, of getting hard, of filling up --”

“Jesus!” he whispers, almost whining. Ten days. Her hand still cradles his balls, slipping under and around and across and moving them, moving them against each other, sliding, stroking through the sheet. Unable to stop himself, Carson pulls steadily against the restraints at his wrists and ankles, punctuating his groans with earnest yanks and dazed glares at the ropes.

Stop fighting it, stop fighting, just go with the flow, go with the, oh shit Jesus how can she do this, okay, breathe, maintain, it’s only another minute or two, just be, just be

“HAUGH!” Concussion rings through his tortured dick. Banngg. Banngg. Through bleary eyes he sees Nicole give him her drowsiest, musingest, evillest smile. In her cool white hand, a silver tong. One of her favorite toys, the one she uses when she needs to bring him to a state of alertness. After another purgative groan, Carson lifts his head, tries to give his attention.

“Are you ready?”

* * *

He was always saying he was ready for things and finding out he was wrong, that he could not possibly have been ready, that no man alive could ever really be ready for the things Nicole liked to do.

So ready, no. In all honesty, no. But willing? Are you kidding me? He was all over that kinky action. In fact, some of it was his idea.

For example, it was Carson himself who brought up the notion of their sex play extending beyond the immediate “session,” maybe for a day or two. Well, maybe just one. Or maybe two, possibly. Nicole’s face lit up like embers at the thought, a merry crackling in her eyes. That night she put him through the aches with a wanton, savage energy, dragging him down into an ocean of furious churning, then tossing him helpless and weakly shouting on an arid, endless shore, waiting, and finally casting him headlong into a crazy bonfire blaze of imperative, of must, must

come, must come, coming now, have to be coming NOW

“Ow!” Bewildered, mostly out of his mind and half out of his body as well, Carson registered cold, cold cold cold ice on his, on all of it, a whole mountain of ice wrapped in a bath towel freezing cold right all over his everything, and pressure, that awful pressure, now receding and taking root in his guts, gripping and heavy and hard as his penis hid, soft. And cold. He shivered violently, and Nicole was there quick with untying hands and soothing whispers and warm, warm blankets. She held him, a drowsy pieta, while he whirled alone in the silence of his suffering.

Had he been ready for that? No. That was a whole different league. A door opening. He knew it, even as he shuddered and winced and waited out the night in her arms.

And soon, a day wasn’t enough. Two days, not enough. Three, four, a week -- it wasn’t only the Big-Bang orgasms that kept him showing up, although those did render the plain kind, the previous kind, pretty futile; no, it was also the time in between, the time spent in line at the bank or at the grocery store, brushing his teeth or working in the glass studio: this ordinary time infused with new, stupendous significance. He never just waited anymore. He refrained. Every moment of every day was about the choice to refrain. Of course, he didn’t refrain absolutely from everything, not in the beginning. The deal was that he could do whatever he wanted to himself, as long as he stopped before he came.

He did a lot of things to himself around this time. He didn’t think there was a teenaged boy alive who put more felicity and ingeniousness into his self-abuse. Not for him the Speed-Racer pecker-play of youth. Filched magazines, pocket pool, lotion mixed with Listerine? All strictly amateur. What Carson did to himself rivaled, in both intensity and duration, the things Nicole enjoyed doing to him, minus certain obvious positive factors that could result only from her presence. The shower proved to be a particularly trying time for him, as well as one of erotic ingenuity. As he knelt in the tub, holding his rigid monster under the faucet’s battering flow, gnashing his teeth and trying to thrust into the cruel nothingness of the water, he knew he had become a hopeless wiener-fiend -- but a scrupled one. He always stopped in time.

“Good answer,” she murmured, drawing from behind her back a gift wrapped in red paper and red ribbon. “I thought this might help.”

And there it was: the cage.

It looked like fear itself, gleaming in its nest of red velvet. It looked like salvation.

It felt like a milk bottle in his pants. All week he was sure, as he moved among his students, admiring designs and helping to adjust acetylene torches, that the girls were staring at it, thinking he stuffed. Hey, how about this milk bottle in my pants? Like it? Wanna take a gander at the milk bottle down my pants?

It also felt like the seventh circle of hell. He’d grown accustomed (or almost so) to the constant friction of his shorts against his erections, had even found himself musingly trying to discern with his blunt dumb head where the fabric, seam, and zipper of his baggy trousers (the only kind he dared wear anymore) met. But, distracting as that was at times, it was nothing compared with this. Nothing. The tube was not distracting; it was frenzying. Carson didn’t muse, or play, or ponder or wonder or think. He couldn’t.

And she knew it would be like that. She knew every morning of that week when she helped him put it on; she knew in an even worse way when they met for lunch after his class; and she knew in the worst way of all when she took it off in the evening, stretching him out in the bathtub and laughing musically while his freed penis filled and sprang and bobbed in the water. The sounds Carson made at these times were unlike any others he’d made before; the outrageous rush of blood, the fast-fast hardening, made him think of decompression chambers, of divers coming up too fast from depth, of the bends. When, on each of the first three evenings, Nicole stroked him to orgasm with a nubby washcloth and lots of Suave, he screamed like a breech birth.

On the fourth day said he wanted to go longer.

That was fine with Nicole -- but she insisted on making crazy love to him first, shouting her joy (and he shouting his) to the heavens.

* * *

“How are we doing there? All right?” She raises her head to check on him. His haggard groans have given way to a faint, imploring sigh; his lashes flutter as his eyes roll in beatitude. The tube is off. He has crossed the desert and lived to see the oasis of the tenth day. Nicole ministers to him, moistening his lips with her kisses and surrounding him with the sweet abundance of her hair, a profusion of rosemary-infused curls. Her hand maintains him in the position of a royal scepter, gripping him majestically at the base and drawing his skin taut: a revelation of violet flesh and wild nerves.

“Please,” he breathes. “Touch.” She has anointed him with an oil of spice and wind; he feels the movement of every wisp of air, every tendril of smoke from the incense that burns nearby. He can feel Nicole’s pulse beat in the heel of her hand and along her thumb; each gentle wave tricks him into thinking she’s moving her hand, moving her thumb, letting it trail upward along his own moving veins, upward to graze the burning pillar of him -- but she never moves and he is racked, crucified in his desire. She gives a small squeeze and his voice rattles, a final beseeching prayer, Please, please; why are you doing this, why?

* * *

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Eli, eli, lama sabachthani? The words haunted Carson, as did the gory crucifixion images he had studied in preparation for his first large commissioned work. Pleased with his teaching, and impressed by the favorable mention of his work on a local TV news show, Saint Mary of Magdalen Church had chosen him to design a replacement for the stained glass window that, like a lot of other stained glass windows in recent years, had been vandalized. Nicole had been with Father Rhys when he found the window destroyed, spray painted and smashed with branches hacked from the poplar trees in front of the chapel. Glass and foliage littered the altar and the first row of pews. Father Rhys had reacted stoically, but Nicole had found herself crying, keening actually, not for the loss of the window (which she’d always thought had been kind of generic and uninspired) but for the boredom and impoverishment of imagination prodding whoever had needed to take such an action. Unnerved by the proximity and volume of such feminine distress, Father Rhys had calmed her with a safely abstract discussion of the question of Mary Magdalene’s identity: Was she indeed the unnamed sinner, the “woman of bad name,” who burst uninvited into the house of Simon the Pharisee and, undeterred by the jeering of the upright people of the household, washed Jesus’s feet in her tears and wiped them with her beautiful hair? Who, weeping in penitence and in abject love of God, was finally held above her accusers by Jesus himself and given a place at his side? Was this harlot the same who wept with the Blessed Virgin, who tended the Savior throughout the Passion on the Cross, and who would be the first person to witness the Resurrection?

Nicole couldn’t answer that, but she found it incredibly sexy that the old priest cared so much.

Carson knew nothing about the Bible or about saints or anything religious, really, and he wasn’t especially curious. At first, it was only the size of the job that interested him; that, and the pay, and the exposure. He flipped through dozens of art history books, hoping to find some intriguing variations on the scene Father Rhys had chosen: the Magdalene clinging to the foot of the Cross. No such luck, though; there seemed to be one standard vision, one way to do it. But, as his friend Natalie pointed out, a job’s a job, and a big job is rent plus a ski weekend or two -- no vacation without vocation, har har. So he settled down and got to work.


He borrowed a bible and looked up all the references to Mary Magdalen. As a character, she’s given pretty short shrift in the text, he thought. Most of what was there focused on the hair-and-feet bit, which Carson had always found pretty debasing and misogynistic. He still did, for the most part, although he’d never known that (according to the devotees of Saint Mary of Magdalen) the act symbolized the giving up of her physical charms and her renunciation of the material world for the love of God. She, in fact, was the first true penitent, and Jesus let people know it, telling those who put her down that their lack of forgiveness would weigh more on judgment day than would Mary’s minor moral slippages -- because of the great love she had shown. And when, six days before his crucifixion, the disciples yelled at her for anointing his head with expensive oil that could have been sold, Jesus defended her and said that her deed was good and that wherever in all the world this gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as well, in remembrance of her.

Carson stood for many, many hours in that church, trying to recall what he had never been told, in remembrance of the woman from Magdalen.

And six weeks later, it was written:

The second most remarkable aspect of Carson Moore’s recent piece is its vibrancy. The artist (artisan, Carson fumed) has discovered how to bring blood, a pulse, a rushing river of breath and emotion to what is, after all, a hard medium: glass, shards, edges, outlines. The most remarkable aspect of the piece is its originality, its sense of moment. We’ve all seen the scene, Mary Magdalen sobbing piously at the foot of the Cross, Jesus bleeding and looking skyward, making his final mortal plea, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” But we haven’t seen it like this. In Carson’s rendition, Mary is not a weeping wreck. She is a friend; she is rock-solid. There is intimacy. Her gaze, though sorrowful, radiates absolute trust and trustworthiness. Jesus’s eyes turn toward the grieving woman, and in them we read an entirely human want of comfort, of solace. It is a bodily want -- but not the one we might expect, having heard some things about Mary’s checkered past. Rather, the longing transcends both erotic desire and relief from pain; it goes deeper, speaking directly to a universal human need (and the one that gives the Passion of Christ its enduring vitality). It speaks to the need for love. It is often said that Jesus “died for our sins,” but this interpretation ignores the significance of love as the primary theme in his crucifixion. For love of man, Jesus willingly went to the cross, the apex of un-love; the jeering hatred of the crowds, the whips and stones, the crown of thorns versus the steadfast devotion and faithful tending (at great risk to herself) of Mary: this is the human and spiritual drama that Carson reveals for us in shards of glass and metal.

“Hot damn,” is what Nicole said as they stood before it on the night beneath the official unveiling. Outside, a robust halogen street lamp pinch-hit for the sun, illuminating the window. Carson still had the keys to the chapel, and Nicole had brought along some chocolates and wine to celebrate. She stared at the window, hugging herself and twisting gently, ruminatively, from side to side. When she turned to look at him, her eyes were bright and wide.

“Honey? Sweetheart? Don’t get mad at me for saying it, but I think you’re an artist after all.”

Carson didn’t get mad. He wrapped his arms around Nicole and kissed her forehead, kissed her eyes, kissed her mouth. He pressed his face against her delicate neck, her proud breast, and they sank together to the floor, sinking and rising into the truest of communions, beneath the savior and the saved, comrades in exaltation.

* * *

“You’re all right. Shh. You’re all right. We’re almost there.” Nicole is raised on one elbow, her face close to his, whispering comfort and encouragement. She dips her mouth toward his when his moans increase, as if tasting, drinking the need in his breath.

“I can’t -- ah, God, I can’t. . .” Carson’s voice drifts into babble; his eyes shut tight, his head tossing, pressing first one cheek then the other into the sheets, a fever victim in a light sheen of sweat. Space and air whirl bitingly around the head and shaft of his penis, which Nicole waves loopily, holding him at the base. Without warning, she slaps his cock against his stomach and stars explode behind his eyelids. The ache disappears for a moment, then roars back up like a Mack truck. He can’t hear her, himself, or anything for nearly a minute.

“Poor baby.” Smoothing his damp hair from his forehead, Nicole moves up onto her knees and nestles between his parted legs. “You’ve been through so much.” Reaching forward, she rests her hands on his shoulders, then slides them languorously across his chest, tracing the bow of his bottom ribs, the banding of muscle at his hips. From there, she rakes her fingernails down the insides of his thighs and back up, just letting her thumbs caress the skin of his scrotum. His cock thrashes in time with his head. Carson sobs without sound.

One set of fingers, then the other, wrap themselves around his penis and Carson is filled with a fiery white light. The fingers move and are innocent, tentative. Just the tips travel along his length, up, up, up, down, down, down. Like a patter of rain. Carson’s hips thrust and bounce back down on the mattress, once, twice, then resume their slow, dinosauric undulations.

Nicole bows down, elbows planted at his sides, hair tumbling onto his skin. Her pink tongue darts out, a flash of atomic heat against the heart shape of his glans. Nerves blaze; bones shudder. He barks a truncated “ahh” -- “a!” Tongue swipes him again, a sudden lash, he feels the presence of Kali, the Destroyer goddess, the Avenger with her long red tongue and black, all-seeing eyes, consuming all poisons and purifying the world with the blast of her gaze and her red tongue, her tongue of pain.

“No. . .”

“No?” Nicole grins; this he can hear. “No more of this?” Her tongue swipes again, then her teeth grip, sinking in and then her lips press wetly and smooth, smooth inside and it’s nearly over, so nearly over

And although it is over, her beloved teacher and friend dead after unspeakable hours, Mary feels no change in the texture of her anguish. It is as if the ragged punctures in his hands and his feet were made to match the one in her soul. In honor of the festival of Pasch, all the crucified men have been taken down from their crosses. Those who still live have their legs broken by the soldiers, but Jesus is already dead. Pontius Pilate grants permission for the disciples to take the body, and they wind it in a linen shroud. Mary accompanies his body to the empty tomb where it will lie until the burial and stays there until she is forced to return home. For two days she weeps without cease. At sundown on the Sabbath, she is allowed to go to the market to purchase oils and spices with which to prepare Jesus’s body for burial. The next morning, at first light, she and the other holy women journey to the tomb, which they find empty: Mary has lost him again, lost even this. Frantic, she summons Peter and John; they find the cloth that had been wrapped around their master’s head and leave, dumbfounded, to confer with the other disciples. But Mary does not leave. She is not able, not able to suffer any more of this loss, and she cannot stop herself from staring into the sepulchre and searching for the body that is all she had left. So desperate is she to find him, to have him again, that she ignores the two angels sitting where Jesus’s head and feet should have been, until they ask her why she weeps.

Carson doodled while his eyes skimmed the text again. He still wasn’t getting anything he could use. Two weeks had passed since the director of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church invited him to submit designs for a new window, an even bigger piece than the one he’d just done for Saint Mary’s. Carson thought he detected a bit of iconographic one-upmanship on the part of the pastor, who, when asked what scene he had in mind, had said, “Well, if Mary’s has the Passion, we should probably have the Resurrection.” (Window envy, Nicole said matter-of-factly.)

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him," Mary answers. Someone Mary assumes is a gardener enters the tomb, and he, too, asks her why she is crying. Mary begs him to tell her what has been done with Jesus’s body. The man speaks one word:


In an instant, she knows. She whirls. Her stricken body collapses; she sinks to her knees. It is him. It is him. Her heart cracks open and she reaches for him, but he motions her away, commanding: “Noli me tangere.”

Do not touch me.

* * *

“Don’t. No. Don’t stop, don’t stop this time!”

But stop she does. Hands off. The curve of her smile. He burns.

* * *

“Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”

It has been a miserable three weeks of searching fruitlessly for inspiration, but finally Carson has found his subject, his point of entry into the story he will soon render in glass. It was there all along, but Carson didn’t recognize it until he came across one Renaissance-era painting among thousands of Renaissance-era paintings of the scene. Noli me tangere. On the left is Mary, kneeling on the ground, her fingers twisting in the fabric of her mantle -- cruel that she cannot put her hands on her lover. Her body is concave, caved in, with shock and with want. Especially want. It is physically knocking the breath out of her. While her chest and shoulders slump, her head is flung back and heavily to one side, as if it, too, will soon fall. Her eyes, though, are wide open and riveted on the face of Jesus, who holds one hand toward the sky and the other down, toward her. He is the bridge between Heaven and earth, not yet claimed for the one, no longer belonging to the other. And Mary, penitent Mary, she is the other. She thought she had given up all attachments to this world; she thought she had emptied her heart of all but love of God. But it isn’t true. In the end, she learns it isn’t true. She loves him. And she wants him -- Lord, Lord, how she wants him. His flesh has healed but in her mind he still suffers alone and untended where she could not reach him. Her want incinerates her.

Do not touch me.

Carson studies the composition of the painting. Just as Jesus’s hands delineate heaven and earth, so does the hand held toward Mary seem to bisect her: head above the hand, body below. It is is flexed at the wrist, its fingers splayed in a gentle gesture of rebuke; it could be a hand saying “stay” to a dog. All that is below the hand obeys its mystifying command: Mary’s body appears deflated, weak, incapable of motion. But above the hand, her white-edged eyes are wild, leaping toward the beloved, springing at him. Her mouth is open slightly, gasping, or begging perhaps. The forbidding hand is below their line of sight -- her eyes do not see and her mind cannot grasp what is warding her off; the gesture works on her body like an imprisoning spell.

There is something else, something extra, about the gesture that Carson can’t quite identify. The arm nearly straight down, wrist angled up, the index finger raised higher than the rest. The hand is tensed but open. It is expectant. It is about to pick something up. But look at the lines; look at what that first finger extends toward. It is reaching for a lock of that significant hair, and beneath it, Mary’s breast. The Son of Man is also a son of woman. Even if he doesn’t belong to either Heaven or earth, still he loves both, craves both, craves what is most essential in each realm. He is trying to explain to her. In this moment, both are denied him.

Carson gets it.

He, too, wants without end.

* * *

It is time. Yes yes yes it is time it is time...

Her flickering tongue, her pressing, delectating mouth, the sensations, the movement, the heat, the pressure, the boiling, thundering magnitude, he kicks, he thrusts, he cries out in ragged gasps, more, more more more it is time --

She is with him, his guide and protector, his fellow traveler in the open plains of need. She lays her hand flat on his breastbone. “Keep breathing,” she murmurs. Her other hand tenderly raises his gorged, tensed scrotum on nimble fingers, shivering and jouncing the sore, shiny bundle. His angry penis no longer waves but thumps itself imperiously against his abdomen, rising up, rising to demand its right, to drum out the command that it is time.

It is.

When she unties his hands, his arms tremble and contract like wet newborn limbs. She kisses him deeply on the mouth and gently holds his face in her hands until he is able to open his eyes and look at her. He sees a corona of rosy curls, the solar music illuminating her eyes, her loveful smile. She stretches her body next to his, skin on skin from breast to belly to foot, sharing sweat and sheen. He is shut-eyed and silent now, and still except for the geologic heaves of his breathing, his stomach and pelvis locked in a final, finishing thrust that waits only a moment more, only a moment more --

Her hand closes around him and slides with slick ease slowly to the crown. Full strokes, firm and real, opening skyways and lightning clouds inside his body, one, two, three, firm and real, gaining, gaining, scorching all the hot places, searing and squeezing. His hands clamp to his face, grip fistfuls of hair, her strong fingers, the hill of flesh at the heel of her hand, pushing him, pushing him, and then his hands open, seeking, wanting. His hands open, one up, rising to the sky, one down, noli, the commanding hand held close between her body and his, below their line of vision, one up, one down, down seeking hers, the heat, the want, he is the bridge, he is not yet, one hand open and aspiring, one hand tensed and gesturing the unbelievable, the not of this world, and she obeys, and he breathes.

He breathes.


Marie Drennan teaches media writing at San Francisco State University, and is about to finish an M.A. in Creative Writing. "Ascension" is her first foray into erotic fiction, and although she doesn't know what possessed her to write a dirty story (for a fiction workshop led by the chairperson of her department, no less), she really liked doing it and plans to continue. Ms. Drennan's boyfriend wishes to state that he in no way figures in any of the author's work.

email Marie Drennan

Ascension © 2003 by Marie Drennan






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