The Widow Jenkins was making eyes at Papa again.
Moriah saw, and despaired of Widow Jenkins ever learning not to make eyes at Papa. Such lasciviousness came, she supposed, of losing your husband when you yourself were yet so young and deprived of a man to guide you, but it was a crying shame that such a loss did not come with a little more pious introspection as well.
As soon as the thought came to her, Moriah immediately rebuked herself for its lack of charity. Why couldn't she follow the good example of her father? Papa was conducting himself very well, shaking the poor woman's hand with no evident recognition of her having dragged down the neckline of her dime store blouse to display her ample charms to full, fleshly advantage. He patted the back of her hand and smiled kindly, thanking her for blessing them with her company that Sunday morning. But Moriah could see the tension in his trousers, though it did not reach his face, and she prepared herself for the inevitable.
Papa would place his call on her soon enough. First, though, there was cleaning to be done. Young men stacked the chairs while she and two of the girls rolled up the dusty canvas cloth that served as their aisle runner under the airy, brown linen canopy of the tent. She was very careful when she knelt down to tuck her skirt securely under her knees and leave it draped modestly loose at the back. Papa had told her how the sight of her skirt pulled taut against her backside would arouse men to desire sinful things, and so she always took particular care over its placement.
Beside her, Susannah and Ethel were not so careful to spare men of temptation. Their skirts rode tight across their backsides. Susannah was admittedly a slight girl, with not much flesh to her bones, so there was little risk there that a man might be driven mad with lust at the sight of her posterior. Ethel, however, had a luscious curve to her derrière and the snugness of her skirt against it left nothing to the imagination. Automatically, Moriah glanced back to where Papa was conferring with the deacons. His eye, too, was on Ethel's bottom, shapely and bobbing as she heaved the carpet roll along the ground toward the altar. It would not matter to Papa that Ethel’s brow was bedewed with sweat and dust, as was only to be expected when one labored on the floor of the revival tent. No, the call of the flesh came from much deeper within, as she had long been taught. Moriah sighed inwardly.
So he would have that on his mind, too. And she would need to relieve his burdens. Poor Papa. What must it be like, to be a man of God and so beset by temptations beyond the will of mortal men to resist? She could hardly remember a time when they did not plague him, these female thorns in his flesh, much as the Apostle Paul had also suffered.
To be so beset by temptation marked Papa as a holy man, she knew. A man set apart for the work of the Lord, but also for great trial and torment as the Devil sought to tempt him from his work. It meant that there was a great calling on his life, just as there was on Moriah’s life, that she had been personally called by God to deliver him from these trials.
She remembered, with blushing shame, her fear and reluctance when first he had pressed this necessity upon her. She had been so weak in her faith that she had quailed and tried to refuse the honor. But Papa was so wise and good. He had held her gently on his lap and read her the words of the Lord's own mother, when she was charged with the task of bearing the son of God.
"You see, Moriah, how she answers him?" he had said, petting her hair as she followed his finger across the page. “There is no rebellion in her spirit. To the angel of the Lord she says only ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word'. Now these are very good words for any little girl to know, but they are especially important for a young lady with a calling on her life such as your own. I do not say it will be easy for you, and I think your flesh will surely rebel against me, but I ask only that you trust me to subdue it, and guide you in the fulfillment of this very special calling."
So Moriah had submitted her will to God's and her father's, which were, she knew, essentially one and the same.
Now she stood beside Papa and watched him watch Ethel leave, and she was grateful for his guidance in these matters, because even now, with such practice as she had had these past two years in delivering Papa from temptation, she still longed to draw back from him, knowing what would be demanded of her.
"Only the refreshment table left, I think?" Papa reflected, glancing around the tidied space under the tent. "Very good. Once you have rinsed the cups, Moriah, I expect you to join me in prayer."
Moriah departed to complete the appointed task. The refreshment table was tucked away at the back of the tent, in clear view of the altar. Though Papa did not begrudge the elderly a sip of clear water when the heat and humidity generated by so many bodies caught in the ecstasies of worship were too much for mortal flesh to bear, he liked to call out any others who sought to indulge the flesh at the expense of the spirit. Two Sunday sermons and a Wednesday one besides had been given over to the topic of greed and gluttony, when once he spied Dermot Cullerton sneaking a dry saltine and a bit of watered-down lemonade.
Papa did not hold truck with folks who couldn’t deny their own flesh.
As Moriah worked to empty the watery dregs of the punch bowl and rinse out the cups for evening use, she did not actually dawdle, but she might have rinsed the cups one or two more times each than her comprehension of hygiene deemed strictly necessary. Then she used the tin dipper to fill one cup with good, clean water, and drank bracingly of every drop, struggling to resolve her will in harmony with what was to come.
Much like the Lord when faced with his greatest calling, she wished very much that the cup which was her lot might pass from her altogether. But Papa had no other daughter, and she knew it would not be right to expect that he avail himself of loose, immoral women. He might have taken another wife, of course, but Mama had left him so suddenly there could be no way to know for sure if she yet lived. And Papa was such an upright man he would never take to wife another woman, when he could not be certain he wasn’t still joined to another.
That was just the sort of clear, moral strength which Moriah coveted so desperately, and which caused her to despair of ever being worthy of her dear Papa. How could the Lord have seen something worthy in her, when even this simple act of submission, this gift of deliverance, was so beyond her?
When she turned to leave the rinsed and tidied dishes neatly stacked on the table, her traitorous legs actually quaked under the modest hem of her gunnysack dress. As if her papa were a man to fear! No, the fires of Hell were the only thing any mortal soul had truly cause to fear, and as Papa had always explained to her, a girl whose heart was yielded to her father's was in no danger of ever seeing those. So she strove to adopt a humble, yielding heart as she left the soft shade of the church tent and made her way up the narrow path to the little tarpaper shack on the hill.
She and Papa lived very modestly, as befitted a man whose income was based entirely upon the donation and goodwill of those who formed the congregation. A healthy population of sharecroppers, mostly. Transient families, moving through in search of a better life, now that the drought had dried up most of the country. Papa accepted without rebuke their modest efforts at compensation, and Moriah did her best to repurpose different scraps, odds and ends, in the furnishment and comfort of their little home.
Papa did not permit the frivolity of decoration, but he allowed her to hang curtains and to lay out a little mat to trap the dirt as they came in the door. She made sure all their clothes were well-kept and that Papa would not dishonor his calling by getting up to preach with missing buttons or frayed hems. Really, Moriah tried to console herself, she did do her very best to meet the needs of her father, so he could focus on his holy purpose.
It was just this which gave her difficulty. A thorn in her own flesh, as it were.
She tried not to appear failing in spirit when she crossed the threshold, but Papa, because of his righteousness, always knew.
“You took longer than was needful, Moriah,” he said mildly, and she bowed her head. It would be more sinful to deny it than it had already been to indulge.
“Yes, Sir,” she whispered.
“The same trouble?”
“I can’t hear you, Moriah.”
“The same, Sir. Always.”
Papa sighed. She knew she had grieved him. Everything she did ought best to be done as unto the Lord, gladly and willingly and with a cheerful heart. She knew in this area she had so much improvement to make, and she mourned that she had not yet done better.
“Moriah, I declare that cannot see my way clear to curing this vice in you. I think I have been most uncommon moderate in my demands and extravagant in my patience.”
“Oh, yes, Sir,” Moriah assured him. “Always.”
“Then why this rebellion? Why this insolence? The curse of Eve is on your flesh still, my girl. I have no doubt of that, for sure as not it’s the way of all women. But I think I have not raised too wicked a daughter in many respects, so I am confounded that in this, you persistently resist the calling on you to be good, cheerful and obedient.”
He beckoned vaguely, then, and she crossed the narrow room as quickly as she could, in an effort to atone for her earlier delay. She knelt at his feet without needing to be so bade, and bowed her head. He placed his hand on it in the usual way, and in his other held his beloved Bible, faded and worn with much paging-over.
“Hear me, O Lord,” he entreated. “Rebuke the rebellion in the flesh of this, your servant. Rebuke in her rebellion my beloved daughter. Strengthen me to guide Moriah in the ways of righteousness, and forbid her flesh a victory in this as in all matters.”
Moriah nodded earnestly beneath Papa’s hand. This was so exactly what she wanted! How wise was her Papa, knowing to pray exactly this.
“Guide her into all humility, Lord, and inspire her to find joy in her submission to your will for her, as it has been revealed to me. Guide my own hand in chastisement of her, and guard me from that paternal devotion which might inspire me to moderation in administration of discipline. Let her surrender be for your glory, Lord, in this and all things.”
“Amen,” Moriah murmured, in unity with her father’s plea.
She raised her face to his, shining with hope. He smiled kindly down on her, and unbuttoned his pants.
“My greatest blessing,” he sighed, as she moved forward and tried to keep the expression of gentle joy in place even as she had to take in her hand that heavy, hard maleness which it was incumbent on her to soothe and subdue.
She kissed the velvety head with something almost like tenderness, and told herself that the unpleasant curl in her stomach when it twitched and jerked against her lips was just her rebellion dying, because of course she must be glad to have the chance to serve her Papa in this way.
She didn’t like to look at it, but she tried to make herself enjoy the sight of his flesh tonight. The blunt, fleshy tip of it, with the little slit in the end was naturally repellent to her, but she knew that was not right of her to think, so she tried to persuade herself it was quite a good and lovely sight.
She pressed a fumbling little kiss to the very tip, and was rewarded with a deep, rich groan from her Papa himself.
She looked up in pleased surprise to see his eyes were closed and his head was tipped back. Normally he was forced to keep a firm, guiding hand on her head, in case her sinful flesh inspired her to fight the necessity, but tonight he seemed to sense the power of his prayer because his hand rested on the top of her head only lightly.
Inspired by his faith in her, she tried to fit her lips around the thing without even having to be told. She tried to suck a little, the way he liked her to, but it was sweaty and salty and she was mortified that even her determined willingness could not forestall a gag. Papa, well accustomed to her wayward ways by now, simply fit his hand firmly around the back of her head to prevent her retreat. She gagged again, helpless, imprisoned from the front by the invasion of Papa’s flesh and from the rear by the guiding force of his hand. But she reminded herself of all the torment Papa had withstood tonight, the flesh of all those women, and she knew she must be very brave. So she forced herself to relax, to accept that his needs in this matter far surpassed her own, and relaxed her jaw.
To her great joy, Papa was able to advance some way into her mouth. He thrust his hips in a slow, controlled rhythm and she gagged only three or four more times for the duration; a great improvement on all previous attempts.
Her eyes were shining when he withdrew and smiled down on her.
“This is surely a very great progress, Moriah,” he whispered encouragingly, and she nodded.
“Yes, Papa,” she said, so grateful he had noticed. “Oh, yes!”
“I think you will also bear up under your chastisement very well now, don’t you?” he suggested, and her smile faltered.
“Oh . . . yes. I mean, yes, Papa. But, is it—I mean to say, is it very necessary tonight?”
Papa’s look of mild surprise caused her even more alarm than did the realization that he was halfway through removing his belt.
“Necessary? My dear child. You have been entrusted to me by God. I would be failing the Lord in this sacred trust, if I took it into my head that I even once shouldn’t discipline you according to the offenses committed.”
“Yes, Papa,” she whispered. At his answering nod, she bent over the bed and raised the skirt of her dress. Her cotton drawers she dropped immediately after, and Papa’s hand sought, carefully, the fleshiest part of her bottom.
She wondered if he was picturing the wanton flesh of Ethel as he had seen it that night; if the modest obedience of her own flesh was not, in some way, a balm to him now. The idea that it might be gave her the courage to weather the three brutal cracks of the belt that followed, one on each cheek and then a great, fiery stripe across them both.
She sobbed silently into the pillow, as Papa allowed her to, but took care that no sound should escape.
Tonight, when he set aside the belt, he surprised her. When he finished her punishment he usually settled onto the bed beside her, drawing her into his lap to offer petting and comfort before the final, rough demand was made of her mouth that would give him the release he sought, but tonight he bade her differently.
“Turn onto your back, daughter, and spread your legs.”
She looked askance at him, but only once. His expression spoke of greater punishment should her reluctance persist, so she turned as bade and, though the posture and its indignity did cause her to suffer some qualm of modesty, she spread her legs to shoulder’s width apart.
Papa made a sound deep and low in his throat. She jerked up in surprise to stare at him.
He had removed his shirt while she lay there, recovering from the blows, and was now in the process of removing his trousers. She propped herself half up on the bed in confusion.
“In good time, Moriah,” he muttered absently, so she allowed him to undress in peace. Then he gestured at her that she should do the same.
With trembling hands she divested herself of the simple, faded floral-pattern dress and the brief slip beneath it. No wind stirred in the sticky closeness of the shack, but as she shifted against the scratchy coverlet the perspiration that dewed every inch of her did catch a whisper of breath from some direction: perhaps her papa herself, who exhaled deeply at the sight of her body, bared to him.
“That’s my good girl,” he said tenderly, climbing purposefully onto the bed. “You have been so diligent to meet my needs these long months. You have seen the temptation I suffer, with all these loose women and their wicked ways, every one of them natural born harlots, seeking to draw me from the path of righteousness. But you! You have given me deliverance. With very little complaint you have borne the demands of your calling, and given me what comfort in the flesh it was within you to do. This has all been according to the will of the Lord.
“Tonight, my girl, I hope you’ll find great strength in you to please Him further, for the demand that will be placed on your flesh is the greatest one a woman can bear, save the holiest and highest call of childbearing. But that, too, may not be long in coming to you, so it’s only proper that we ask of the Lord this night that He prepare you for the eventuality of both. Do you understand?”
Moriah did not understand at all, but she worried it would be rebellion to say so.
“Yes, Papa,” she whispered. “Of course. And it is quite . . . quite right and good, I think. To help you do as the Lord has bade you do. Is it not?”
“My dear daughter, of course it is,” he whispered, and bent to press a tender kiss to her mouth.
Then he settled himself between her legs, and took his maleness in hand. She watched with mingled horror and perverse fascination as he advanced it to the very join of her legs, that seam where her womanhood was contained, whose exploration she was strictly forbidden to undertake.
“The sin of Onan,” her father murmured, and she recognized the rising, ringing tones he used when he stood at the altar, “was that of selfishness, Moriah! Did you know it? In his fleshly weakness he withheld from his brother’s widow the blessing of his seed. I promise you, Moriah, I will not sin against you that way. Nor, I think, will you against me. You will not withhold from me what is due to me, nor I from you. Though it may bring great trial on us both, should you progress in the natural way of women when a man takes full knowledge of their flesh, I think it would be the greater sin if I were to spare you this completion.
“Only ask of me, dear, that I will not sin against you, and I promise you my spirit shall be more than equal to my cowardice.”
Her papa? A coward? Moriah fairly bristled at the suggestion.
“Oh, Papa!” she said earnestly. “You’d never sin against me! Please—please give me all that it suits you to give, and I’m sure I will do my best to be grateful.”
“My darling,” her father said huskily, “I believe you have given me just the strength I needed.”
Indeed, there seemed a new heat and hardness in the blunt, velvety head which nudged against her now. It surged against her as if taking on life of its own in the nearness of her presence. She followed the guidance of her Papa’s hands and the pressure they exerted, lying back and lifting her hips slightly. She felt an opening of some manner, down there, at an entrance she had not really known she possessed. Her papa seemed well aware, though, and pressed against it with something like urgency.
“Papa,” she scrunched her face up in confusion and burgeoning discomfort, “Papa, what exactly are you—oh!”
She jerked violently on the bed, but Papa had anticipated her resistance and held her firmly at the hips, keeping her angle agreeable to his approach.
“Papa wait,” she gasped, her flesh once more prey to her very human weakness, “please just a minute—”
But Papa must have understood it was not wise to wait. He leaned down over her instead, wrapping his great, strong arms around her slight frame, and drove his hips roughly up against hers.
Her scream was a thin, broken sound, swallowed almost entirely by his rough, probing kisses. She wet his chin and cheeks with her tears, but he would not slack his pace or his progress at her choking plea for mercy.
“I am so sorry, Moriah,” he said brokenly, his hips jerking cruelly upward. She shrieked, sparks and stars dancing behind her field of vision as the impossible, burning sting of it all overwhelmed her. “So sorry it must be like this for you. If I had it in me to resist longer, I would have done so. But that whore, Anna Jenkins, teased me tonight with her flesh. And that loose girl, Ethel Allen, she is little better. Waving her backside at me like a temptress of Eden. Christ! No man could stand it.”
She was so ashamed of her weakness; her pain. How could she let it usurp her understanding of Papa’s torment? But even as he listed the sins of the women who debased the sanctity of his church, she could not focus through the pain. Oh, God, the pain! He was enormous within her, how could he even fit? It was impossible. It must be impossible. Yet her amazing, wonderful father made it so. Made himself fit. Made her take him, as she ought to, as she should, as she must.
She struggled valiantly to focus on his need. On his desire for her—and he did desire her. He was confessing as much to her now.
“My sweet Moriah. I know you cannot help what a temptation you are to me. I know it is not in you to be loose or immoral. You are such a good girl, Moriah. You don’t even look at the men, though I see how they look at you, heedless of your virtue, your complete allegiance to your Papa. But you have eyes only for me, and I honor you for it. I am so sorry, my girl. If I could have resisted any longer, I would have, I am sure of it.”
She nodded, sobbing, trying to reassure him through the weakness of her flesh and the distraction of pain. What did her passing discomfort matter, compared to the high and lofty purpose of her dear papa’s calling?
“Please Papa,” she whimpered, “please can it only be quick?”
He must have taken mercy on her, because at the very sound of her humble little entreaty, his face darkened and twisted and he lurched forward—hard—how could she bear it any longer?
But then there was no need. She felt it. Her release, her relief, her sweet reward from her dear Papa as he spent himself fully, deeply, inside a place she had not even known she possessed. She felt it fill and flood the very core of her, his precious gift, which he entrusted only, ever, to her.
Something about seeing it this way, as a reward for her obedience to her calling, worked a precious little miracle inside Moriah. She felt an amazing thing build and grow within her, a sweet, deep, pure thing that hummed up from the soles of her bare little feet, through her splayed limbs, her delicate thighs so rudely, roughly forced apart by the breadth of her Papa’s hips.
It went sweet and clear to the very center of the place that made her female, and lit her brightly all through her aching insides.
She screamed again, thinner and much shakier than before, and felt herself clench at him. Clutch at him. As if she needed, desperately, more of the very same thing she had moments ago been so shamefully desperate to repel.
“Oh!” she sobbed, tears flowing freely once more, this time at the wonder and awe of it. “Oh, Papa, what . . . oh!”
He stared down at her in fear and awe as untold ecstasy washed over her, wave after wave, until at last, in the dimming ebb of a tide of pleasure, she lay limp and spent beneath him.
“Oh Papa,” she whispered, dazed. “I think I . . . I think . . .”
But the truth was, she had no sense left to spare for thought. Her head drooped back against the pillow and her Papa kissed each of her eyelids in deep tenderness as he eased himself out from between her parted thighs and the battered little citadel he had conquered there.
“I think,” he said, finishing the sentence for her, “that you have been blessed for your surrender to me. And perhaps now you will not be quite so reluctant to yield to me in the future.” Then, in a devout rush of closing prayer, he concluded, “And thank God for that.”
Moriah’s eyelids fluttered in dreamy agreement.
“Amen,” she sighed, and slept.