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Michele Hoben and Teresa Toner Libera

Michele Hoben
Created using Teresa Toner Libera’s story (below) as inspiration

Diablo’s Pass
By Teresa Toner Libera

It was a rigid ritual to prepare herself for the daily mid-day mass. A ritual that took all of Lucia’s morning, leaving her time only for her rehearsed prayers right before she needed to leave for her bus. Although the ritual started with her kneeling by her bed that was not the time when she said her prayers. The kneeling was an offertory, as was her slow walk to the bathroom. The toilet was a wooden box with a crude cut-out, and her slow walk was a kind of protest, a necessary march, her offertory. The handwashing took most of the time, she wanted to absorb and savor the only water that she would let touch her skin. She loved the smell of the fancy rose soap it was her favorite, although she could never admit it to her grandmother who favored the earthy lavender soap. Favoring the rose soap embarrassed Lucia – it’s why she turned her eyes downward when the drugstore clear told her his nickel price, as he held out his hand in some kind of offertory of his own.

Scattered, staccato radio announcement trumpeted through her apron-covered bathroom window. Her hands worked hard to form a milky pile that she then spread up to her elbows. Then she’d scrub her left arm down from the elbow all the way back to her fingertips. Here she was diligent, here was where she could make herself tear up because she would claw the soap deep underneath her nail, pulling back the finger flesh until she was absolutely sure she had scraped up every last bit of trapped dirt.

And then her arm moved to the right arm. It was always that way: Up to the elbow, down to the fingertips, always a few tears. That’s why there was no time for longer prayers. The last touch was the smoothing of her long cotton skirt. The clothes, too, like the water, these were the only clothes she would let touch her body. Before she’d wipe the final blessings of water from her hands, she’d smooth out her skirt in a stiff, ironing fashion. She’d end the ritual with a quick pat to her hips to signal the final salute and the end of the cleansing.

***

The bus ride to St. Ave Maria church took Lucia through some of the most unbearable parts of the city. The river’s stench fought with the smell of offal to deliver a thick coating to the nostrils and lungs of the bus riders. Shouts combed through the air, leaving no silence untouched.

“Chicklette! Toys! Cigarettes!” yelled the street children, acting as masterful vendors to save their young lives.

Adobes, small stucco adobes, with gaping holes for doors, randomly checkerboarded the street. Inside the adobes, skinny dogs and even skinnier children lounged against the mud walls, while outside other children kicked trash, their makeshift soccer balls. Sparrows darted in and out of the adobes’ cardboard flap windows, making splatter noises as they hit.

But Lucia didn’t see the desperate ugliness. She saw only the delicacies of her city, heard only the tiny splashes of playful activities, saw only the random halos caused by the sun’s unwavering heat, smelled only her grandma’s perfume throughout the city, throughout the bus, and especially in the kerchief she held in her lap.

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Hoben I

Michele Hoben
Acrylic & graphite 15 x 22 inches
Inspiration piece provided to Teresa Toner Libera

On My Knees
By Teresa Toner Libera

I feel like a fake—kneeling here, only half listening to the priest’s prayers, drifting in and hearing only certain words : “In the NAME of the LORD and in the peace of his wisdom, I offer you SOLACE in His …” I drift again, “…PRAYERS, and the beloved consistency in Him and we KNOW in HIM…”

Here I kneel, waiting impatiently for my share of the solace promised. The small confessional booth in St. Peter’s lacks any sense of peace or solace, unless you claim some type of solace in the smells of old ladies’ perfumes, which are solidly attached to the thick chunky fabrics on the kneelers and bench.  The inhalation of these scents causes me to sniffle, which I think is misunderstood by the priest as tears. I hear the rise in the end of his sentence—he’s asked a question and I don’t know what it is—

“What?” I ask, and I could hear the breath he takes before he repeats his inquiry.

“The stations of the cross—have you prayed the stations of the cross?” He stops after the words: Stations. Cross.

“What the hell?” is what I want to say, but even as a lapsed Catholic I know I cannot possibly go with that. “Um, no,” I hesitate. Not only have I never prayed the stations of the cross, I don’t know what he is talking about—oh, could it be, maybe, the images on the wall in the back of the church—quickly I try to assemble guesses and figure out what my new Catholic assignment could possibly be.

“I want you to say a prayer at each of the 14 stations while thinking about Jesus’ plight.” Stations.  14 of them. Yes. Something hits me deeply, quietly—my mind settles. I know this will be the perfect penance for me.

>>>>>>>>>>

The days go slowly now that he is not here. I am more sure of myself than I was during his last years, but he is not here and that can stop me cold.  I also know that my days are not lively, nor filled with anticipation, nor “what next?” happenings. These days my choice to live is for him and I pray for a day when I chose to live for myself.

>>>>>>>>>>

My return to the whole Catholic church thing is for him too. Of course, my initial conversion was for him because he knew I was not made to be a Catholic, but he was not deterred and instead encouraged me with his whimsical descriptions of the gardens in heaven and the suggestions of the perfectly satisfying sex we would have in our ultimate final haven. He knew that was the way to convince me. The afterlife stories became elaborate and detailed so much so that the mere mention of heaven during a sermon would send us both into bouts of childish giggles.  But in the middle of our marriage, it all stopped – the stories, the church going, the sex, the hope.

The penance, too, is for him. He took such solace in the church again during his last years and in admitting before God his sins. I want him to see me trying to find the same serenity he found here. He was the one who taught me to pray, too; he said, “A prayer is a thought with God in it.” When he told me that, I could pray all the time and I haven’t stopped.

Station One: Condemned to death.

What did He feel when he was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate? “If you don’t stop preaching to the Jews…” And what did he feel when the doctors condemned him to a death if he didn’t quit? I cannot know this. I will never know what either man-on-Earth felt when they heard those words.  “If you don’t… you die.” For each man, there was no other choice: I cannot know this wicked-laced dilemma and this fact makes me weepy and lonely.

My kneeling here in the sanctity of this church does not fool anybody. My contrition is not for Jesus’ promise of redemption; it is for an earthly need to know what happened.

Station Two: We create for ourselves the weight of the cross.

I could not know how heavy the burden was, piled on by the lies told by two minds wrought uneven with desire. He loved me and I him and yet this was not the rope to pull us to safety. I see Christ’s stations as his stages—our stages —of what happened—the slow lumbering cross-bearing steps we took together.

Now I am kneeling in the back pew of the church and sobbing, trying to gather big gulps of air into my lungs between my loud sobs. The whole physicality of these emotions brought on by my thoughts, my so-called prayers, forces the longing and missing of him to the fore. I realize the weight he bore: The debilitating attraction to something that will cause your death. The fear, the crumbling–you cannot stop, no matter the cost.

I cannot know the entirety of this weight and this knowledge makes me sob.

(To be continued maybe…)

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