FIVE YEARS AGO, I DECIDED I would have sex with every man I could before I died. This meant long euphoric nights, giving and getting sultry kisses. This meant deep, sweaty moans, and, don’t stop, whispering in my ear. It meant giving my heart to lonely, scared men, but never allowing my heart to break. These men wore beaded rosaries. They surrendered to their knees, crying, praying to an entity for eternal glory, while I swooned them off their knees with short skirts, into bathroom stalls at church. They perched on toilet seats. I balanced on top—hard and wet, crying, Forgive me, God!
I chose the same old church from my childhood, a few blocks from home. I ran without heels, leaping over bodies on the road, hearing cars clang, and women’s piercing screams. It was worth it, seeing Samuel, who became my longest relationship, praying on a church bench. I sat across from him, wondering what he prayed for. I assumed they all prayed for the same things: daily reports on Channel 7, televising pyromania, fatal car crashes, and the thousands of people dead from murder, or suicide. He still ironed his dress shirts; he wore a blue tie; his full lips, whispered, “Hail Mary, full of grace …”
I shuffled from the bench, smoothing my red dress against my thighs, and approached the gold cross, propped in the center of the altar, its rows of white candles below. One used to pay to light a candle, but services were rare; the paper box with ten cents written across the side was gone. I assumed the priest left the matches thrown across the dirty floor. I assumed he left the doors unlocked, resulting in obscene graffiti on the walls, cigarette butts, needles, and patches of burnt carpet.
I slipped a match in my bra, lit a candle, then stalked down the aisle, fluttering eyelashes at the blue-tied man, who looked up, watching me; who hesitated, but followed down the carpeted hallway, into a bathroom stall.
My gift is to give love, and with every kiss Sam pressed against my neck, holding me against the door, we breathed loud and deep like newborns, struggling for air. He pressed in and out of me until he didn’t move, propping his chin on my shoulder.
He moaned, I’m going to Hell.
I’d seen a lot of men pray, but I’d never seen a man like him after sex, worried about Hell—a place that did not exist. I rubbed his shoulders, watching the gelled strands of his hair, surrender to his forehead. He balanced himself, palms flat against the door.
Why would you go to Hell?
Because we’re in a church bathroom.
I didn’t move. My eyes circled, looking at the beat-up sides of the stall, the blinking fluorescent light, his furrowed face.
Wouldn’t God want us to be here? I looked at him with certainty, touching the side of his smooth cheek.
You’re probably a prostitute.
Of course not, I said.
Let me take you to dinner.
Sam made the world seem normal, driving a car he didn’t crash to start over, somewhere new, as someone else. He opened the door for me, drove slowly blaring, “Love me tender, love me dear,” while bodies threw themselves into the street at his and other drivers’ front bumpers.
A few miles down, a couple ran from a shop with full trash bags thrown behind their backs. All the while, I tried to ignore the distant raining pops, reminded why I ran those blocks to church.
He took me to the part of town, where people were trying to live normal lives. Like Sam, they didn’t want to believe reincarnation. And though I enjoyed a night of dancing, food and wine, without the sounds of gunfire, bones being cracked by a fist, I believed the facts, festering in all my heartbeats. Sam was a good man, who gave me a safe house to sleep in and the illusion of what life could be.
He clothed himself after we made love, and he covered my naked body with a comforter.
There’s gotta be more than this, he said, staring at the ceiling.
There is, I said.
Reincarnation? He turned to me, frowning. Your soul won’t go anywhere if you don’t believe God exists.
I sat up, holding the comforter against my chest, trying to light a cigarette with the match from the dirty floor at church. I don’t believe God exists.
That’s why people start over. This is purgatory.
The flame approached the cigarette. Sam yanked both from my fingers, angry and disappointed.
I don’t want to lose you.
I laughed because there was no choice. I closed my eyes, wondering how many people had died while we made love, and then he said, I love you, Tequilla, which he’d said too many times to count, and so naturally, and so soon.
I never said, I love you, not even when he proposed. We seemed to be the only people left; me, standing in a cocktail dress, red lipstick, him in a blue suit with the same tie he’d worn the first day I saw him praying, and the beaded rosary. He slicked back his dark hair, smiling, staring at me with big begging eyes.
The world is different. The killings, the corpses. We’ll be reborn, but right now, I want to enjoy this life with you.
He made me feel beautiful. He stayed on one knee, holding a diamond in a heart-shaped box, smiling, breathing nervous and loud. Still, I said, no.
He rose from the floor, turning pale, and paler when I explained my frequent trips to church, luring men to bathroom stalls.
I want to give my love to every man.
He loosened his tie, waiting for me to say something more, and when I did not, he surrendered to his knees once more, pulling another old match from his coat pocket. I stepped away, ready to run, as he lit the end of his tie. He never spoke. He never moved. Even as the flame burned bright and fast against his fingers, he didn’t so much as flinch.
Victoria K. Gonzales is a proud Santafean, who began writing at an early age. During high school, she wrote and read poetry for the State Capitol and school board in Santa Fe. One poem was featured in a DWI radio show, while other poems were published in Green Fire Times. After graduating in 2014, Victoria pursued writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she received her BFA in Creative Writing, spring of 2018. Her photography and flash fiction piece, “C 8H 10N 4O 2 = Coffee?” was featured in two IAIA anthologies. She is currently a fourth semester MFA student at IAIA, eager to graduate and venture the world with her sweetheart.