Beyond All Desiring
a novel

by Judith Laura

an excerpt from the beginning of
Chapter 3

He peered at his computer screen waiting for the web site to load. Tomorrow was his wedding anniversary and happily he had remembered just in time to order something for Anita. The university building was quiet; it was between quarters and most of the students were away for a break before the big influx at the end of August. This lessened the competition for the University’s computer server. Still, the site seemed to be taking forever to load.

It was one of several places where you could buy flowers, balloons and such. He could call an 800 number if needs be, but he would much rather be able to see a picture of what he was buying. Just as he was about to try another flower site, it loaded fully. Last year he had gotten her balloons, so he decided on flowers this year. A half dozen roses and then at the last moment he added some chocolates. He keyed in his credit card data and clicked “Submit.”

He leaned back in his chair, lifted his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found himself staring at her picture. Not the one of both of them and the boys, but the one of her alone. In her wedding gown.

 He could still remember entering the Basilica and feeling the inner shift that occurred whenever he set foot in a Catholic church. He credited it to years of childhood training. He could seek to deny it, to expunge it with a study of the political history of the Vatican, a course he had completed only the year before his wedding, yet there it still was.

Perhaps, he hoped, it was that this particular church, though situated in prosaic downtown Philadelphia, was a wonder of architecture. Built between 1846 and 1864, it was a replica of the baroque Corinthian San Carlo al Corso constructed in Rome beginning in the early 1600's. It had taken most of the 17th century to complete and was built to inspire.

He crossed himself as he passed in front of the main altar. He could almost feel the Basilica dome shining down on him. Votives flickered in front of all the saints and were especially numerous before the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the side chapel where the wedding would take place.

Anita was no virgin. Nor would he want her to be.

Although she had been the first time they had made love.

They had joked about it after, about virginity being overrated, especially by the Church, as she popped one of those birth control pills that had recently come on the market. Yet they had agreed to be married in this anachronistic establishment. It was his heritage as well as hers: a shared torment.

She had teased him about the wedding, about all the customs, knowing he would be interested from a historical point of view, if nothing else. She said she wouldn’t tell her parents they had made love.

“Worst case scenario: Mama would disown me,” she said. “Best case: I wouldn’t be allowed to wear white.”

“You look good in red, in yellow. In fact you look good in every color,” he said.

“You are sweet, cariņo, but I want to wear white.”

“And why wouldn’t they let you wear white?”

“You have to be a virgin to wear white.”

“I wonder how that custom came into being.”

“You could research it if you want,” she replied, only half teasing, “but basically white symbolizes purity.”

“But why? Don’t you think that’s a bit prejudiced? What’s impure about brown, or black, for example?”

She shrugged. “Never thought of it that way.” She kissed him.

He ran his hand over the long black curly hair he loved.

She stepped back from him. “I think I’ll wear it up like this.” She had pulled her hair to the top of her head. He had seen her wear it that way when she went to her job as buyer at a department store. It looked appropriate for work, but it was a shame to hide its fullness, to pull its curliness taut.

“I like it better down,” he said.

“But I need to look sophisticated and dignified on my wedding day,” she said, still holding it up.

He didn’t know if she was serious or teasing. He hadn’t asked about it again, but he had thought about it frequently, thought about how he wanted Anita to look like Anita on their wedding day, not some sophisticated, dignified version of herself.

The chapel was nearly full as he entered it from the right side aisle. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to acknowledge the people he knew as he passed them, or if he was supposed to be so absorbed in his impending nuptials that he was excused from such pleasantries for once. He compromised by placing a semi-smile on his lips and focusing straight ahead. . . .

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