Saturday, August 8, 2009

Opening Heaven's Gate - Part 2

The following short story, titled "Opening Heaven's Gate," was written for an assignment in a narrative theory course I took during my final year in college. This was my first attempt at any type of creative writing.

It will be presented in a series of four posts. These divisions were not part of the original assignment, and carry no thematic or structural intent. Enjoy.


Watching the child as she nursed, Sarah slowly unwrapped the pastel pink blanket, wanting to see if the angel that had arisen from between her legs amidst Rebecca’s yelling and her own flights in and out of consciousness was indeed a corporeal being. Careful to keep the child close to her body for warmth, she removed the pink blanket, revealing another of pure white cotton underneath. Removal of this layer exposed spindly arms and legs, perfectly formed hands, feet, and toes, and a pink torso, almost imperceptibly rising and falling with the intake of each short breath. A marvelously formed body, straight from the vaults of heaven: supple, untarnished skin, light wispy hair like the finest of spider silk, all finished off with those cerulean jewel-eyes. The baby’s body looked so innocent, lying in the crook of Sarah’s arm, suckling down milk with healthy vigor, relishing the sublime pleasure of her mother’s provisions. Held tight by the fleeting peace of her daughter’s contented suckling, Sarah wondered if her mother had ever looked at her with similar eyes when she was newborn, a short fifteen years ago. Wondered if her mother had looked at her body before it was assaulted by pastel dresses, bonnets, stockings, proper shoes with a proper heel, the cloistered stares of the adolescent boys and the open gawking of mature men. Or had she thought her ugly, with her brown eyes and nearly black shock of hair, a curse for sins unknown to her? Had she once been innocent too?

A faint tapping on the door startled her from this train of thought. She heard Abe’s voice behind the door, and out of modesty, removed the child from her breast and slid back beneath the blankets. The infant began to kick and the face again turned red and contorted, but no sound came out. Sarah turned her head to make sure her hearing was working, but heard nothing other than the faint huskiness of Abe talking quietly with Rebecca out in the hallway. Everything was there: the flushed, angry, contorted face, the kicking, and the shaking of a scream. Everything but the sound. The child, still frustrated and obviously hungry, was not making any noise. Knowing Abe would soon enter, she rewrapped the child, first in pure white, followed by pastel pink, albeit without the skill Rebecca had developed through six children. Abe entered the room, and walked around the foot of the bed.

“I want to see my daughter,” he said.

Abe was a good catch by any girl’s standards. One of the founding members of Heaven’s Gate Ranch, he was the head foreman and engineer for the construction crew that ran all building operations. Thirty years ago, as a young man of twenty-two years old, Abe left the settlement of Bountiful with four other men and their ten wives, two each, respectively. The story had now become legend at Heaven’s Gate, one journey in a long line of wanderings, dating all the way back to the prophet’s first move from New York to Pennsylvania in 1827. Abe employed his carpentry skills in the construction of the first house in their remote corner of New Mexico, a sturdy, five bedroom dwelling—one for each man and his two wives—which had been expanded over the past thirty years to hold his five wives and close to thirty children. He had since built houses for the other men and their expanding families as well. The once small community had, with its own thriving growth and the arrival of other like-minded settlers, grown to nearly five hundred members. If these people needed anything built—be it house, temple, or something in between—Abe was the man they turned to, from the first conceptual architectural drawings to completion of the final structure. Abe was always building, bettering Heaven’s Gate for the glory of the Lord.

Sarah stood outside the oaken door of the temple’s main chamber, examining the expert scrollwork lovingly carved into the face of the door. The space was divided into six squares, each of equal size. In the center of each square was a series of five concentric circles. She traced her finger along one of the larger circles, going round and round, always tracing the same path in a never ending contemplation of infinity. The temple was cold inside, the lights were out, and the yellow flickering of candles contrasted with the pure white moonbeams that shone through small clerestory windows. A chill ran through her body and the starch of the simple, neatly pressed white wedding dress she wore felt rough against her skin. Yesterday had been her fifteenth birthday, and she had received the dress as a gift, the first recognition of her birthday in fifteen years. Abe Clarkson, the man who she had never met, but only seen from afar, waited inside with the rest of the elders, and she could hear their voices, muted to the volume of a whisper through the thickness of the door. Suddenly, as she traced, the door opened quickly, leaving her finger pointing in midair, her body in a prophetic pose, as if pointing the way to the Promised Land. Sarah’s father gave her a strange, unfamiliar look, and beckoned her inside with an unemotional distance she had never experienced from him. Abe, with his reptilian, sun damaged skin and a slight paunch overhanging his large gold belt buckle, looked all of his fifty-five years, even in a fresh-pressed shirt, black jeans, and black jacket. Sarah could have sworn she saw him flinch nearly undetectably as she entered the chamber.

“She’s beautiful,” Abe said.

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