The water was intentionally scalding; the straight razor fogged with steam. The patterned tile cut octagonal prints into the skin of penitent knees… as Sister Dana prayed:

"Dear Father, I have grievously sinned in mind and body. I am unworthy to address Thee. I love. But my love is tainted. Pleasures of the flesh have sullied it before Thine eyes and made it base and contemptible. For I am weak. Lust contaminates my blood. I must abuse myself to staunch its carnal flow. Yet still these unchaste thoughts persist. I cannot beg forgiveness, Lord; it is too undeserved.

"I know I'll sin again. I must. But help me, Father, help me. The one I love is blameless. She is good and pure and would not stoop to cravings such as mine. My only fear is that she'll find me out and come to hate me. That I could not bear. I cannot change the way I am, but Marcy needn't know. I thought I saw it in her eyes. I thought her innocence accused me.

"But maybe not. Maybe I imagined it. Maybe there is still time to prove my love for her is not profane. Please, Lord; please don't take her from me. I promise never to let my secret defile her. I swear it. I'll protect her always from myself, as well as from all others. I will, dear Lord, I will. I will, I swear it."

The nun crossed herself and rose. She stepped one foot, then the other—numbly—into the seething tub. A heat rash blossomed instantly on her ankles, calves, and knees, bleeding upward. She closed her eyes. Her nostrils flared, breathing in the vapor. The pain she blocked with her mind still crooked her fingers. She clenched her teeth. Then, legs spread out as widely as the confining sides allowed, she slowly squatted.

The agony was nearly overpowering. It ravaged deeply, blistering the tender skin, withering the folds like leaves on fire. Her eyes streamed tears. Her lungs felt fearfully constrained. She swallowed hard, again, again, as if to keep contained her dose of suffering.

Then stoically she soaped herself, working up lather in her lap. She grasped the razor. It had belonged to her father's father, then to him, passed on to her—a keepsake she had coveted from the day he died. She had kept it sharp, well stropped, and ready. It was with this she had shaved her scalp. It was with this she now would shed what hair remained.

 

It's growing!...

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