RBoswell-1-thumb-240x342Faculty member Robert Boswell‘s short story “The Soul in Paraphrase” has been published in Ploughshares‘ latest Omnibus collection (purchase a copy here). Following is an excerpt:

Of the several people and one supernatural creature witness to the encounter between priest and sinner, Alas (pronounced Alice) Casher is the most affected. For many years she has known that she exists on God’s earth to redeem the lost, but she has resisted the calling. As long as she possessed a house into which she could retreat, she avoided her duty, baking bread for the church each day to appease her Lord, listening each night for His pronouncements, but avoiding the righteous path by means of books and the insistent bodies of local men, by cable television and the distraction of national politics. Her father, Alasdair Casher, willed the house to the church with the proviso that his daughter could keep it until she married or turned thirty unwed. Today is her birthday, and movers are emptying the place of her material possessions. It is time to accept her vocation. She chooses a summer dress, combs her leonine hair, perfumes her long neck. Bearing the morning’s warm loaves, she enters the cathedral of St. George the Divine to select her destiny.

Instantly, she is overcome by the power of the Spirit. It is a carnal sensation, as if she is filled beyond her parameters. Her soul overflows. God is here to guide the current. She steps out of her heels and up onto a pew to survey the great room. It takes only a moment to understand both object and means.

Herbert Jonson isn’t the ideal husband—too old, too comfortable in his loneliness, too short, too obviously damned, too wet with the experience of other women. Yet while speaking with the priest he runs his fingers through his ashen hair, and she realizes he will remain compelling to her. What else does one need? Love is the condition God requires her to offer all people. Love is not the issue. Herbert Jonson is a worthy person in need of redemption. She steps down from the pew, resolved to the remainder of her life.

Many years ago she babysat Herbert Johnson’s children. What she recalls most concretely is his wife, striding into the hall to get Alas’s assistance with the latch on a necklace, naked from the waist down, the dark arrow of pubis an excitement that made Alas’s fingers tremble with the choker’s tiny trigger. Herbert was merely the man who affably said hello and drunkenly drove her home, his hand falling—one time only—from the knob of the stick-shift to the knob of her bare knee. Wholly accidental. Or if not accidental, unconscious. Or if not unconscious, the product of drink and perhaps the way she cast the knee in his direction, the white thigh attached to it purposely bared, her head lolling in the open window, her long hair trapping the automotive wind. God has given women magical powers, and Alas has never been reluctant to use them.

She prays while the men withdraw to the priest’s office, offering thanks for divine guidance. Prayer for Alas is like popular music for others, always playing in the background, the soundtrack by which she lives.


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