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Celestial Marriage

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“Pain there?” his therapist asked him. “I felt you jump, sir.”

Mitt shook his head with his eyes closed. “Fine.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” he said. “I didn’t feel a thing.” He had no idea if he was speaking truthfully.

The therapist proceeded to Mitt’s chest, firmly stroking the spaces between his ribs to soften up the rigid cartilage. Mitt opened his eyes and peeked at Ann again. She was facing away from him; he saw only her hair, glossy with its film of fragrant oil. Her fellow was bearing down on her right leg, the one she’d complained about daily way back when, before her diagnosis with MS. Thanks to the regimen of horseback riding that she’d developed in the years that followed, the hip hadn’t bothered her since then (that he knew of), but her disease was a trickster, sly, perverse.

“Honey?” he whispered. Then, slightly louder, “Darling?”

She fluttered a hand at him. “Hush, dear.”

Mitt obeyed. He looked at the candle, its tremulous thin flame. He felt a hard fist twisting deep into his diaphragm, into his power source, where the words were stored.

The therapists finished up by pinching their earlobes and urging them to drink lots of water, lots of water, to flush out the toxins released by the massage. The men left the room then, good and faithful servants, taking an envelope with a check inside it that included a generous gratuity tip. Mitt was a lavish tipper, and always had been (not that the press would ever mention this fact). Thinking that Ann might want to sit up first and put on one of the robes their hosts had left for them, Mitt stayed on his back and gazed up at the stout beams supporting the vaulted ceiling of the condo. Ann didn’t stir, though. Mitt waited. Was she dozing?

He rose, forgetting to cover himself, and retired to the bathroom to comb his oil-soaked hair and examine his face in the mirror for any changes. He looked distinctly different to himself, not rejuvenated but less preoccupied, and certain faint lines that he’d assumed were permanent had vanished from his face.

“Angel?” he heard Ann call to him. She hadn’t used this endearment since their wedding, that day when the hosts of heaven had drawn near, bestowing upon them ancient cosmic potencies that would equip them, in the fullness of time, to propagate legions of loyal spirit children and take up lordship over their own planet in the Mormon infinity of worlds. How young they’d been then. How. And how terrified, when he thought about it now.

He returned from the bathroom and stood beside her table. “What is it?” She looked slimmer now, longer, ethereal almost.

“Thank you for this,” she whispered.

“You’re so welcome.”

She stroked her own face. He watched her trace a finger along one curved cheekbone then over her upper lip.

“How do you feel?” she asked him.

“How do you feel?”

“Really, Mitt? You really want to know?”

Something curdled inside him—he didn’t deserve this dig. Yes, he’d been busy lately, insanely busy, especially with those foreign-policy dopes, but he’d tried to remain attentive to his lady. He’d arranged this nice weekend for them. He’d canceled events, he’d canceled events that were scheduled months ago. Suddenly, he was impatient to get away from her, to find the remote and check on the day’s news. He hadn’t turned on the set since lunchtime yesterday, a gesture he’d hoped that she’d notice and appreciate, mostly because it came so hard to him.

“I feel like I’ve left my body,” she finally said. “And I don’t want to go back to it. Not yet. It’s so heavy sometimes. It’s all so heavy, life.”

He thought about this. He couldn’t disagree. But neither could he indulge the realization. At 8 a.m. his domestic team was coming, armed with an updated set of “vision” papers for his consideration and signature. It was all starting up again, it couldn’t be stopped, the savage, sacrificial uphill push. It punished the muscles. It seared the nerves. It hurt. And she wasn’t prepared for it, clearly. She’d lost the drive.

“Hold me,” she said, and she leaned up on an elbow, her towel slipping onto the floor, revealing everything, because they’d removed their Garments for the massage. They shouldn’t have, it wasn’t proper, but they had.

Leaving them vulnerable, glistening with oil, lit by a candle, with no choice but to touch.

The film adaptation of Kirn’s novel Up in the Air will be released in theaters next month.


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