I Have Confidence
Toying with irreverence, absurdity, and lifelong loves.
Unfinished short story
“It’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?”
Maria stood by the bed, hands clasped in front of her as if she were supervising the children’s studies or vocal rehearsals. She felt acutely aware of her body; she wondered briefly if her dress, the one she had made from the drapes in her bedroom, was matronly. This was the first night of their honeymoon, the first night of her marriage. The first night Maria would spend with the man she now called husband, rather than Captain. She picked at her thumb.
It had been so easy the night they danced the Laendler. Maria lost herself in the Captain’s eyes; his warm, white-gloved hands; his authoritative yet yielding embrace. She allowed herself to be swept up in the private magic of dancing with a man she was falling in love with at a party peopled by faces that didn’t matter, would only serve as the backdrop to their step-hop into something good. The setting created a safe, arm's-length intimacy.
Now, they were alone. Here he was, standing there, loving her—and prepared to love her in more ways than one. Maria had never done that before, never come close. She’d been a nun at the abbey, after all; the only entity she’d ever shared this kind of intimacy with was God. He knew her like no one else, even better than the Reverend Mother. Would she feel as though she were betraying Him? She was a married woman now; she knew what was expected of her. And she wanted to, of course, she loved the Captain, but that didn’t make it any less—
“…awkward, isn’t it?”
The Captain let out a small chuckle. “Shall I, or…?” He gestured loosely about Maria’s person. She was surprised and a little charmed by his timidity. (He had done this before.)
She nodded. “If you’d like.”
They stepped toward each other. It brought her back to that night in the gazebo when they’d professed their love—or rather, when he'd said he loved her and she'd begun musing on her miserable youth. That night, she wondered aloud how this could be happening to her. How she—a failed nun, a will-o'-the wisp, a clown—had found love in a man so strong, so soft as the Captain. She could hardly keep his children out of trouble, the very thing she had been hired to do (so, a failed governess, too), yet he still chose her to be their new mother, his designated love. She was awash with gratitude.
The Captain reached around her body to the top of her dress. He pinched the zipper pull and dragged it toward her waist; a shiver jittered down her spine. She found his hands on her shoulders, gently turning her to face away from him. Maria closed her eyes as the Captain peeled the dress down one arm, then the other. It fell to the floor and she shuttered. He paused, then slid his pointer finger up under her bra strap.
Maria could barely nod. The Captain moved his fingers to the clasp and with one snap—he had done this before—it was unlatched. He repeated the motions of the dress, slipping one strap over a shoulder, then the other. She shrugged and the bra dropped to her feet.
Had the hills ever been so alive? Maria thought of the birds, the lake, trees, breeze, brook, and stones. She could hear their song ringing, her heart sighing and laughing, blessed. Then, the Captain’s firm hands were on her waist. He was rotating her to face him again, her eyes still closed, head lost in the mountains—
“My god.” His hands fell away. Maria’s eyes shot open.
“What? What is it?” She took in his stricken face.
“What the hell is that?” Maria followed his horrified gaze down to her bare breasts. She relaxed.
“Oh,” she said. “It’s a nipple ring.”
The Captain gasped, covering his mouth. “A— a—,” he stammered.
“Haven’t you seen one before?” Maria fingered it gently.
The Captain shut his eyes. “I shouldn’t look.”
Maria rolled hers. “It’s not as if you’re not going to see everything else.”
“What else is there?”
She laughed. “There’s no need to make such a fuss, darling. It’s very common among women at the abbey.”
The Captain peered through his fingers. “Even the Reverend Moth—?” He shook his head. “No. I don’t want to know.”
Maria sighed. This was not how she imagined the night would go. In fact, she had completely forgotten about this minor body modification, so accustomed to it had she become. It was like a mole or a scar; just there, after all these years. She took a near-imperceptible step closer to her husband, hoping he wouldn’t recoil further.
“The Lord loves us all as we are,” Maria said. “I came to love you and the children, pinecones and dog whistles and all. Just as you came to love me. Surely you can find it in your heart to love all of me.”
She held her breath. It was not unlike sending out a prayer, waiting for a divine response. After a moment, the Captain lowered his hands.
“Maria, I do love you.” He swallowed. “But, my dear, I have to ask—does the carpet matches the drapes?”