All That Glitters

By Tom Bentley
Copyright 1999, Tom Bentley

Sister Hermione wrote on the blackboard a number of key phrases from the poem: “bleak December,” “midnight dreary,” and “Nevermore.”

“All right, students,” she said, “What do you think are Mr. Poe’s central themes in The Raven?” She stood in front of the class, Christ’s vigilant soldier, with the long, rubber-tipped pointer emerging out of the dark drapery of her floor-length habit.

A tentative hand poked the air in the center aisle, withdrew, and poked again.

“Yes, Billy, go ahead,” the nun said.

Billy Pearson started to rise, caught himself, and rigidly gripped the sides of his desk, almost as if to prevent himself from standing, like a grade-schooler, to recite.

“I think, you know, I think that he’s his conscience, I mean the raven is like his conscience, he’s there to remind him that, well, his girlfriend’s gone, and he’s bad, or something.” Billy’s eyebrows stood hopefully up from the full moon of his rounded face. Roger Beckman knuckled Billy from his seat behind and let out a derisive snort.

Sister Hermione crossed the pointer to her other shoulder and resettled her frown. “Well, Billy, the symbolic value of the raven is an issue we should examine, but I was searching for the broad, overarching patterns that could be plumbed for meaning. Anyone else?”

The class fluttered a bit, but no one volunteered. In the back corner, close to the windows, a tall, lanky boy dressed in black who had been idly gazing outside at the empty quad faced forward and tilted up his head. He didn’t raise his hand before he spoke.

“Poe’s overall theme is damnation,” he said in a flat tone. “The Raven has just a taste of what Poe’s all about. Why does the man poke out the cat’s eye in The Black Cat? Why does the man kill the old man in The Tell-Tale Heart? Because they are perverse and they are damned. And by extension, we are all damned.”

The boy slowly ran his fingers through his thick black hair and looked away, his odd, milky-gray eyes scanning the empty courtyard. He rubbed his dark whiskers, not seen on his classmates’ soft faces, and looked back to the classroom. “It’s so obvious,” he said.

Sister Hermione’s eyebrows arched towards her wimple’s brim and then shot down to her narrowed eyes. She raised herself up to the full five-foot-three-inch height of her command and brought the blunt end of the pointer down on the hardwood floor.

“We are speaking only of The Raven, Douglas. This is not the first time you have brought up subjects extraneous to our readings. Kindly confine your attention to the subject at hand.” She slowly tapped the tip of the pointer on her open palm. “Also, the issue of damnation is best examined in your Religious Studies class by your instructor. It is not a subject about which a sixteen-year-old boy makes pronouncements.”

Most of the class turned to look at Douglas, who continued to stare out the window, not betraying a reaction to the nun’s statement. Almost two months of the spring semester at Saint Jude’s High School in Los Angeles had gone by, and the boy had developed a reputation for making provocative statements in the classroom, always in his formal but matter-of-fact tone. The teachers did little to actually curb him, however; his test scores and general work were exceptional. In the time he had been at St. Jude’s he had made no friends.

At a desk two rows to his right, Candace Fields sat tugging on the golden hoop of her earring and staring at Douglas’ swarthy profile. He is truly a weirdo, she thought. But he’d be so cute if he’d just smile once a year. I don’t think he’s said ten words to anyone except the priests or the nuns since he got here. She flipped the heavy braid of her waist-length golden hair from one shoulder to the next. He knows his stuff about lit, though.

The midday recess bell rang and the adolescents streamed out of the classrooms and into the halls. Locker doors opened and slammed and a ragged chorus of voices rose and fell. Candace moved with the flow of the students out into the quad, keeping watch on Douglas. He walked off towards a small bench under one of the big, leafy elms that graced the campus. He was settling some very dark sunglasses on his face and beginning to read when Candace stopped directly in front of him.

“Hey, why are you sitting in the dark on such a beautiful day,” she asked, waving her tanned arm towards the bustling students in the bright courtyard.

He looked up, expressionless. “I’m perfectly at home in darkness.”

She pursed her fleshy lips and leaned a bit forward. She put both of her thumbs under her thin, golden necklace and pulled it away from her neck. “Yeah, OK. Hey, listen, I’m Candace, you’re in my lit class and my religion class and—”

“I know who you are. Candace works, I suppose, but Diana or Artemis would be more on the mark.” He took off his sunglasses and looked at her, the fish-gray eyes still, absorbent.

She cocked her head and shook it a little and then said, “Well, you seem to know about Poe, right? And we have that mid-term next Thursday and well, Poe kind of gives me the creeps, but I do like him, but I don’t always know what he’s getting at. So I thought maybe we could study together, maybe some night this week or something.” She flung her braid, the end of which she had been fussing with, over her shoulder and looked directly at Douglas, her bright-blue eyes wide, eyebrows slightly lifted.

He looked off, into his own distance. “Poe only addresses the questions in the most superficial way, you know. Augustine thought that evil was the absence of good, but later theologians thought that intention determines good—that a truly sinful man acts with a desire to do wrong.”

Candace sat down next to him on the bench and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Listen, Douglas, if you don’t want to study with me, that’s fine. And I don’t see what a truly sinful man has to do with anything.”

The shadow of a smile flitted across the boy’s face. He turned to her and said, “It has everything to do with everything. As for studying, I will be busy tonight, but I am free on Friday.”

She grimaced and said, “Well, I usually go out with my friends for pizza on Fridays, but I suppose I could postpone that until Saturday. Let’s talk about it on Friday at school. I’ve got to go eat lunch—I’ll see you.” She sprung off the bench and walked briskly away.

Douglas put on his sunglasses and watched the slim figure of Candace, her bright white dress sparkling in the sunlight, move into the crowd. Diana, perhaps, he thought. Perhaps just one of the angels sent to St. Jude’s to check on our progress. But angels don’t have a sex, Douglas, he told himself. He stretched out both arms towards the milling body of students and yawned. He said aloud, “Behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” and then he turned back to his book. But he could still feel her touch on his shoulder.

When Douglas arrived home he went straight upstairs to his room. He didn’t bother to shut his door; his mother was at another conference, this time in Philadelphia—he only had to be back by nine to receive her check-in call.

He slid open one of the wide mirrored doors of the big walk-in closet; its reflections carried the impression that the room was filled, floor to ceiling, with nothing but books. He slipped on the loose, black wool coat with the padded shoulders. At the beginning of his experiment he had chosen only black clothes. He thought that if there ever was any trouble, it would be easier to blend into the darkness. Now, wearing dark tones seemed his second nature.

He stepped up to the tall metal cabinet, unlocked it and swung wide the doors. On every shelf was a miscellany of items, many quite expensive. Gold- and silver-plated pen and pencil sets, 35mm cameras, watches, small bottles of cognac and whisky—many of the goods were still in their packages. He pulled out a slim cassette deck and tucked it up under his right arm, underneath the coat. He clamped the deck against his side with his upper arm, and spun around in front of the mirror, checking to see if the broad shoulders and loose folds of the jacket smothered any telltale bulge from behind.

He pulled out the non-prescription glasses from his desk drawer and, holding them in front of his chest, began polishing them with a handkerchief. He was very pleased with this ruse, which forgave any visible stiffness in the clamping arm and allowed him the bent elbow to put added pressure on the deck. He turned around a couple more times in front of the mirror and then put the deck back in the cabinet.

The glasses worked well before, he thought. But what of it? It’s too easy, it’s all too easy. And boring besides. I don’t even get that little edge in my stomach anymore. He stepped very close to the mirror and looked intently into his pale, winter-gray eyes.

I still feel nothing, he thought. Perhaps I should up the ante a little, steal from someone, rather than a store. Take some child’s favorite toy or their dog, or something like that. He turned away from his image with an expression of distaste. No, that will just confuse the act with superfluous emotion.

He took off the jacket and settled at the broad oak desk. It was covered with papers and books. Perhaps I should take something larger, maybe more expensive, he thought. More challenge and more chance of coaxing guilt, perhaps. Well, this calls for the sack approach. He went back to the cabinet and rifled through a folded pile of paper and plastic sacks from various stores—Magnin’s, The Emporium, Nordstrom—his mother’s shopping needs often suited his own. He found one for Bullock’s and pulled it out.

This will do, he thought. Overpriced bric-a-brac, plainclothes dunderheads with third-grade educations, and areas with oddly shaped displays and concealing nooks. He stepped back to the desk and opened a small metal tin containing a number of store receipts. He found one for Bullock’s and slipped it in his wallet. He took out the tiny stapler from a drawer and put it in his pocket. He went back to the closet and selected the thin, black corduroy jacket and slipped the bag in the wide, pouch-like pocket he had sewn in the lining. Then he walked downstairs through the big, silent house, out into the street and made his way towards the mall, six blocks away.

In the store he wandered through various departments for about half an hour, not seeing the correct object. The he was struck by something in the household furnishings department, in one of the ersatz “environments”—coffee table with books, couch, lamp, end table with coasters—glossily arranged to display conspicuous taste. On a glass-topped table was a fairly large golden ceramic bowl with bold swirls of glaze and delicate fluting on its irregular rim. On its tag was written the artist’s name and its eleven-hundred-dollar price.

Douglas glanced at the bowl, noted its price, circled around and sat at a huge overstuffed chair nearby that afforded him an encompassing view of the surroundings.

Perfect, he thought. A pricey bauble labeled “art.” Some charlatan carefully made it, and I’m going to steal it. The display was blocked from view from behind by a series of showy lacquered partitions. Douglas could see two salespeople chatting over by the register and one showing a bedroom set to a couple quite a distance away. The only customer was a gray-haired man who resembled Father Clement, one of the priests at St. Jude’s. He was circling around a number of floor lamps in the section adjacent to Douglas.

The timing is right, Douglas thought. He rose and moved over to the edge of the couch in back of the crystal table, slipping the folded bag out of the pouch and holding it to his side. As he sat down on the couch he quickly unfolded the bag and set it on the floor to the right of his legs. He leaned forward and picked up one of the books on the table with his left hand while with his right he slipped the bowl down into the bag. He flipped through the pages of the book for a moment; it was a hardcover edition of Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins. More tributes to taste, he thought. As he rose he folded over the top of the bag and strolled past the register. He glanced at a clerk, who looked up at Douglas as he passed and then went back to writing.

Nothing seems amiss, Douglas thought. Another act of wanton criminality. On the empty escalator down he stapled the bag shut with the receipt exposed. Another satisfied customer, he thought as he was stepping outside. He was about ten feet from the door when he heard a soft voice behind him say, “Son, I think you’ve got something in that bag that doesn’t belong to you.”

Douglas whirled around and saw the gray-haired man from the lamp section; he was holding a wallet with a badge exposed and walking towards Douglas. Not hesitating, Douglas pitched the bag underhand towards the man and sprinted towards the parking lot. The bag struck the man slightly above the knee and fell to the concrete with a loud, shattering crash. The man took a few quick steps towards Douglas, stopped, and then turned to stare at the golden chips glittering on the sidewalk in front of the storefront window.

Douglas’ long, galloping legs punished the pavement through the neighborhood, his route sinuous and adrenaline-charged. Satisfied that no one had followed him, he slowed to a jog, turning into the small neighborhood park near his house. He leaned back against the big old oak that fronted the small pond and wrapped his arms around it from behind, forcibly gripping its gnarled bark. His breathing began to return to normal, but he felt a pressure in his chest and a dull pain. He listened intently for a moment to his pounding heart, which two months before had been diagnosed as having an irregular beat, but that wasn’t his main concern.

Caught in the act, yet I still feel nothing, he thought. This is only animal fear, animal sweat, not remorse. I don’t want to confess, there are no pangs of guilt—I don’t want anything. I feel nothing.

He walked over to the pond and stared down at his dim, dark reflection, cast from the nearly full moon. Perhaps it is time to choose a different commandment, he mused. He turned back towards the tree and looked at its heavy trunk. An image of Candace flickered in his thoughts for a moment. He sighed, turned and slowly walked home.

Every Friday morning all the students at St. Jude’s were required to attend Mass before classes. Douglas always sat on the inner end of a pew off the center aisle to concentrate on the motions of the priest in the exercise of the liturgy. Today, his thoughts were elsewhere, and he had paid little attention to the service until the bells signaled the moment of Transubstantiation, when Father Clement raised the golden ciborium above the altar and the hosts became the sacred Eucharist.

Once again, bread becomes Body, wine becomes Blood.... How is it any different from voodoo? he thought. Now if the eating of the host gave you faith, and you didn’t have to work from the reverse idea.... Douglas sighed aloud as he thought.

The students soon began moving towards the front rail to kneel and receive communion. He spotted Candace settling in at the rail, tilting back the golden drapery of her hair to take the host from the glinting vessel.

Douglas stirred. Yes, fornication, he thought. It’s got all the elements—Catholic hysteria about the body, moral stain, the scourging of guilt—I need to commit adultery. Methodically, he began building a structure for his new experiment in his mind.

As Douglas was filing out of the hall after literature class Candace appeared at his side. “So can you believe that Marcher guy in Beast in the Jungle?—he just didn’t have a clue! It’s like, he’s so smart and everything, but he just draws a blank about May Bartram.”

Douglas looked levelly at her for a moment and then said, “James reveals that the river of the self is quite deep, and swimming in it is a dangerous venture. Everyone’s jungle contains beasts.”

Candace rolled her eyes and then stared at him for a moment. “Douglas, loosen up, ok? You’re not in class anymore. Do you ever stop talking like a museum tour guide?” She laughed and poked him in the stomach. “Anyway, are you going to lecture on the mysteries of the written word tonight, or what? My place or yours mister?”

He looked tranquilly into her bright, eager face. It can’t be argued, he thought, Artemis, the virgin, the goddess of the moon. “My house is big and quiet,” he said. “Do you know the Brentwood area? I live at 363 Fallen Oak Lane, off of Belvedere.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Brentwood, huh? Cool. I just got my license and I sort of already asked for the car. Is seven-thirty ok?”

“Seven-thirty is fine.” He slowly reached out and touched her gleaming hair. “You have beautiful hair, Candace.”

She beamed and said, “See you tonight.” She walked quickly away out into the courtyard. Douglas followed her with his eyes for a long distance. The human element adds a certain degree of unpredictability to this idea of mine, he thought. So much the better—no science is exact.

At seven-twenty, Douglas opened the door to Candace, who was dressed in a white sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up to reveal a host of golden bracelets, and thin, peach-colored pants. Douglas was dressed in his customary black. “Wow, this place is a palace!” she said. “My house could fit in your courtyard.” She walked over to the piano and stroked the deep gloss of its case. “So, do your parents own Raytheon, or what?”

“My mother is one of the world’s foremost research and clinical psychologists. She has published eleven books. My father,” he said, and went over and sat down stiffly on the edge of an ornately brocaded loveseat, “my father was also a writer, but he wasn’t published. He died in a car wreck six years ago.”

“Oh,” she said, and softly touched the ivories of the keyboard. “Well, where is your mom, or your brothers and sisters?”

“I am an only child. My mother is at a conference in Philadelphia. Since her recognition of my independence, I am no longer required to travel with her. We have houses in Geneva and Lisbon, and she lectures all over the world. She bought this house with the rather mercenary perception that the rich housewives of Beverly Hills would pay dearly to have Olivia Splitsen tell them that they are repressed. She was right.” He faced directly towards Candace and cocked his head. “She is rarely wrong, other than having some rather quaintly traditional ideas about Catholicism.”

“Huh? But you’re a Catholic, right?”

Douglas produced his dryly ironic look, one eyebrow raised over the opacity of the gray eye. “I would probably best be described as a baptized dissenter. The Catholics have produced this wonderfully inventive construct, the onus of original sin, and its regulatory mechanism, the production of guilt. Much of the artificiality of the idea of sin is evident—I would contend that if there is no conscious, willing apprehension of sin, no kowtowing to shame, there is no sin.” He put his hands on the top of his head and gave the smallest of smiles to Candace.

She sat on the piano bench with an incredulous expression. “I can’t believe you, Douglas! I mean, you act like sin is some kind of trick, like there is no good or bad!” She stabbed one of the high note piano keys; its plangent tone rang through the large house.

Douglas eagerly leaned forward and began to speak rapidly, with quick, staccato gestures. “Actually, you’ve touched on a question that fascinates me—the relativity of good and evil. You see, in some ways evil serves to define goodness—a figure like Hitler seems to embody that Manichean sense of evil as a material thing, an indwelling darkness. But did Hitler’s own consciousness admit of the scope of his seeming depravity? Goethe said ‘No one knows what he is doing so long as he is acting rightly; but of what is wrong one is always conscious.’ I tend to argue that often times what is called evil is just a prescription for keeping order by the ruling body. I don’t know.... Are you aware that Lucifer was God’s most beautiful angel?” He looked at her, eager, expectant.

She got up from the piano bench and sat on the edge of the loveseat. “Douglas, God, Douglas, you’re out there. Jeesh, I like you and all, but you are out there. I don’t care what Gerber or whoever said, we all know what’s right and wrong, don’t we?”

He looked dispassionately at her, the ice-gray of his eyes steadfast. “Come upstairs. I would like you to see something.”

She hesitated and then slowly followed. When she entered he was unlocking the cabinet. She stared all about the room.

“Wow, do you think you have enough books? It would take a month just to read the titles!”

He swung open the cabinet door and gestured within. “Everything you see in here is stolen. I stole it all, calmly and deliberately. I feel no shame or guilt. The alleged ethical transgression is all hypothetical—it is dependent upon your agreeing with the system.”

She stepped up to the cabinet, picking up and setting down a Nikon camera, a Walkman; she turned back to him with a ladies’ silver Longines in her hand.

“That’s bullshit, Douglas. You’re bullshitting me. No way. Sure, I mean, I’m too sure, you’re a nice guy, you couldn’t have just stolen all this stuff. And you don’t even need it, anyway. Look at this house!”

“Exactly. I don’t need it. I don’t need anything. Am I less of a ‘nice guy,’ as you put it, because I stole? Is it an actual sin, an objective wrong? Is my soul damned? I think not. But I’m open to other interpretations.”

She looked at him with her lips compressed, her face narrowed. “Douglas, do you have any friends? Do you have a girlfriend? Have you ever had a girlfriend?”

He looked away and said, “I do not see the relevancy of that, but, no, I don’t have many friends. My opportunities have been limited. My mother and I have lived all over the world. Except for a year at a public school in Athens, I have only had private tutors. My mother recently had some antic notion that I should be in the company of ‘normal children,’ as she put it, thus St. Jude’s.” He ran his fingers through his thick black hair. “As for girlfriends, I never thought that they were necessary. Books have been my companions. The body does have its appetites, but, if you were paying attention to the Bible chapter about Onan in our Religious Studies class a week ago, you would know that those appetites can be quelled.”

She looked puzzledly at him for a moment, and then reddened. Then she laughed shyly. “Nice guys don’t talk about stuff like that. Maybe you aren’t a nice guy. But you are totally interesting—I’ve never met a guy like you.” She set the silver watch on his desk. He picked it up and held it out to her.

“I have no use for any of this stuff. My point is already proven. Do you want this?”

She laughed again. “No, I can’t take that. Sin or no sin. Besides,” she said, shaking the gilt bracelets on her wrist, “can’t you see I’m a golden girl?” She smiled and set the watch back in the cabinet. She pulled out a small bottle of cognac. “So, are you a secret alcoholic as well as a thief, Douglas?”

“Ha! To steal a phrase, the great European narcotics—alcohol and Christianity. No, I have no interest in uncontrolled consciousness. But good liquor can heighten consciousness, if well used. Have you ever tasted Remy Martin?” He pulled a brandy snifter out of the cabinet. Douglas, he thought, no one is better qualified to direct your movies than you.

“Well, I sometimes drink blackberry brandy or Southern Comfort. Is it anything like that?”

He poured a generous amount of the liquor in the snifter and held it up in the light. The rich, tawny liquid sparkled as he swirled it in the glass. “Not exactly. It’s more like a golden fire, a soft golden fire, perfect for a golden girl.” He smiled and took a sip and handed it to her. She inhaled its bouquet and opened her eyes wide.

“Whoa, I don’t know...this stuff is like major head rush.” She took a tiny sip, squinched up her eyes a bit, and then took a larger sip. “Wow, it’s good, I mean, it’s great, but it’s like drinking...I don’t know what.”

They drank together for a while, with Candace chatting amiably. She told him about the red Alfa Romeo convertible she was going to buy, how to determine if Brad Pitt was cuter than Tom Cruise, and how her first boyfriend could belch “louder than a firecracker.” Douglas gave her free rein; though he too felt the warm spell of the brandy, he was intent on cataloging his reactions to Candace and nudging the course of his idea.

The bottle was empty. Candace took the last drink out of the snifter. She flipped her thick yellow tresses over her face and laughed. “Shit, Doug, I think I’m drunk. I don’t think I could tell the difference between Emily Dickinson and Madonna. Maybe we should postpone the study session until next week. I should go.”

“Well, it’s a beautiful warm night. We could walk down to the park near my house and clear our heads.”

She looked up and gave him a lopsided grin. “Well, yeah, all right. You lead the way, professor.”

They made their way outdoors. The moon shone with a fierce light on the big houses and trees of the quiet neighborhood. Candace stumbled slightly and then put her arm through Douglas’. “I don’t want to fall on my goddamn face out here,” she said, giggling.

Douglas felt her warmth close beside him. “God has damned nothing about your face, Candace,” he said. He fingered the condom in his pocket. Sex can supposedly be done gently, he thought. A night of shame without shame—I love a paradox.

They entered the grounds of the little park. Douglas led her over to the big old oak, its massive, serpentine limbs curling towards the night. A slight mist hung on the pond, which was dappled with moonlight.

“Ooh, what a spooky old tree,” Candace said as she brushed her hands on the rough bark.

Douglas was close behind her. “Yes,” he said, “Are you familiar with the Druids? They were the Celtic priests who had many rituals and sacrifices. The oak tree and the mistletoe that grows on it were considered sacred.”

Candace turned to him and leaned back against the trunk. “Well, I know about mistletoe,” she said.

He pressed against her and put his mouth heavily on hers. She eagerly gathered him against her. Their mouths wetly moved over each other’s faces, their hips flexed and pushed; the only sounds were the pond’s soft lappings and the fitful breaths and smothered moans of the lovers.

Douglas buried his face in her golden hair and brought his hand up under her sweatshirt, brushing the firm smoothness of her small, rounded breasts. When he started making small circles around her taut nipples, she gripped the sides of his hips and drew him even more tightly into the warm basket made by her open thighs. She creased his lip with her teeth; a small spurt of his blood went into her mouth. He drew up her sweatshirt, settled his mouth on one uplifted breast and put his hand between her legs; he could feel her heat and dampness through the thin pants. She thrust against him and groaned, made a small sobbing noise, and then pushed him away with both arms.

“Douglas, Douglas, we can’t. This is wrong,” she said in a strangled voice.

He staggered back and stared at her. His eyes seemed to spark in the pond’s reflection. He looked at the oak and then unzipped his pants and let them fall. He grasped his stiff organ and massaged it with quick strokes. In a moment he threw his head back, his features chiseled, mouth open and groaning, his eyes closed. His semen shot out in streams that had a soft flare in the moonlight and settled on the trunk of the tree. It all happened swiftly; in a moment he was dressed.

Candace stared at him in horrified fascination. She was both repelled and excited.

“Douglas, what, what, why? I don’t understand you. I have to go! I have to go home!” She began to quietly cry.

He began to reply, but only murmured softly. Douglas had a sensation both of nausea and thrill. His chest felt like it was being squeezed; his left arm ached. He gaped at Candace and felt the tingle of a deep blush on his face.

“Candace, I didn’t mean, well, uh, I didn’t want to scare you. I’m...oh, Candace, I’m sorry, I am, I’m actually very sorry.” He dropped his head and looked at the trailing vapors on the pond.

“What is with you, Douglas? You act as though you’ve never told anyone you were sorry before.”

He glanced at her and looked back towards the pond. “I haven’t,” he said.

They walked back to the house in silence. Douglas felt an odd chill when he saw that the blood from his lip had stained the white sweatshirt. As she was about to get in her car, he tried to kiss her. She turned her face, but let him kiss her cheek. She started the car and said out the window, “Listen, I don’t know what all this means, but I do like you. But all this is too sudden, and, well, just too weird. We’ll talk on Monday, ok?” She drove off down the wide driveway.

What it all means, he thought. It means that I must revise my theory, because unless I’m mistaken, that was shame that I felt. But something else, too, something else. He thought of Candace’s comely face, smiled, and then frowned. I’ll have to think about this.

His sleep that night was filled with the looming shadows of vague figures and flares of light. He spent most of Saturday deep in thought. The usual cold accuracy with which he observed the world and himself had vanished. I can’t get her out of my mind, he thought. Last night now seems like madness, so out of my hands, so unlike what I had planned. I need to make a gesture towards her, something befitting a Diana, a consecration....

He sat on the loveseat, staring dumbly. A shaft of light from the late afternoon sun caught the edge of the large gold crucifix that his mother had hung on the wall opposite. Douglas idly looked at the play of light on its surface and then he stirred.

It’s perfect, he thought. It has drama, symbolic weight, and a nice edge of blasphemy. It can be my last gesture as a thief and my first gesture as a person falling in love. It has it all.

He went to the secretary and scissored out a large disk from white construction paper. He scaled it to a size he presumed would fill the bowl. On it he wrote:

Candace—Don’t be shocked by this. It will be returned. It is just to symbolize the high feeling of communion I desire between us. You “carry the sun in a golden cup”—your luster is as pure as this. I wanted to make a dramatic gesture, because I feel a great drama beginning. As Nietzsche said, “Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.”
I will see you soon. Douglas

Well, I’ll have to figure out how to get it to her without anyone seeing it. Ah, let’s do the deed first and then worry about details. He settled in to do some reading. At fifteen minutes before midnight, he went up to his room. He started to pull on a black sweater.

No, he thought, setting it aside. This is a new start, a new idea. He pulled on a white sweatshirt and went downstairs. He rode his bike through the dark, quiet Sunday morning streets to St. Jude’s. The grounds were empty. He parked his bike in the shadows where the church butted up against the first block of classrooms. He went to the small side door that one of the altar boys had told him was rarely locked. It was open. He slipped inside the dim church. Smiling, he dipped his fingers in the holy water, crossed himself, and genuflected before ascending the altar steps. Have to respect those evil spirits, he thought.

He approached the altar and swung open the glittering, ornate doors of the tabernacle. Inside were the golden chalice and the ciborium, kept empty until the morning of the service. He grasped the golden bowl and turned to descend the steps when he heard a noise behind him. It was Father Clement.

Douglas thought to throw the vessel back on the altar, paused, but then ran down the altar steps. Father Clement ran to the head of the steps and shouted, “Stop! Stop! Stop, thief!” Douglas was racing towards the big double doors at the rear of the church when his chest felt like it did a somersault; it seemed as if all his breath was sucked out of him. He crumpled to his knees, raised the bowl to the statue of Christ near the entrance, and gave a high, boyish laugh. He slumped to the ground as his weak heart gave its last beat.

The priest ran up to the intruder. He was shocked when he saw that it was Douglas. He knelt and cradled the boy’s head between his legs, softly uttering some prayers. Douglas’ hand still gripped the golden bowl; his face was relaxed, his eyes closed. He had a slight smile on his face, a look like nothing so much as the look of a young boy, an innocent young boy.

Later that morning Father Clement gave his statement at the police station. “I was just returning some vestments to the dressing room from the rectory when I heard a noise. When I glanced out I saw what I thought was a man leaving the altar with the ciborium. He ran when I shouted, but then just collapsed—it must have been God’s will. But what would a nice young man like that want with a holy vessel?”