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Lilith at Easter

She had entered the holy temple. It was cool and dripping with the smell of incense, like the cave she loved. She felt Sam standing next to her in a tailored brown suit with a matching vest, which she had never seen him wear, and so dressed he looked much younger than she was accustomed to. The fragrance of his mother and sisters stuck in her throat like taffy. They were wearing separate, loud colognes that blurred momentarily in the narthex, making Lilith long for the scents of sweat and salt water, unpretentious and undemanding.

Her breath trembled to come out of her, but she forced it back in like a fisherman plunging struggling fish into a bucket. Mr. Zimmerman’s meaty, hairy arms flashed before her eyes.

Emmaline was wearing a delicate pink dress that attacked Lilith’s yellow linen like a bloodthirsty dragon, reducing it to tattered shreds around her scuffed ankle boots. Lilith’s head felt as stiff as a basket from the spray she had used to tame her hair. Emmaline’s hair was soft and dark and curled around her tiny ears. Lilith looked at her askance and wished every molecule of each of them would stop hating the other, as Emmaline pursed her lips and offered her a small, pitying smile, behind which seemed to lurk a great evil that only a woman can see.

“Hey.” Two cool, long fingers tapped her wrist and Lilith looked up, distracted, into Sam’s eyes which were the color of a sky blanched to near-whiteness in noon sun, his hair, like parched grass, falling gracefully around his face without the need for pomade. She would give up everything for this man. In a moment, she felt again like his dog.

“They were not prepared for such a crowd.”

“They never are,” he whispered in response. “Normally half this number attend.”

Later, she was standing in front of a pew holding a liturgy book, mumbling a prayer, trying to slow the cadence of her voice to match the soft roar of everyone else reciting the prayer. Her mind was empty, and she felt an acute sense of embarrassment. She knew that if she stood here twenty years from now, next to Sam, she would feel the same thing, and her heart turned over with fear. She thought of her empty house, and her parents’ shadowed bedroom, waiting for her when Sam told her goodbye that afternoon. She thought of how her mother had chosen to go away and was lost to the world. She wondered if she could go to the ocean and kneel by the water’s edge and see her long black hair trailing like kelp. She knew that at some point she could possibly choose the same thing, and her fear grew more acute.

She kept mumbling the prayer, trying to slow the cadence of her voice, feeling like something was being drawn from her with every word she exhaled, and that she was suffocating. She knew this dilemma was a riddle she would spend the rest of her life trying to solve.

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