This week’s entry to our New Voices catalog comes from Brad Aaron Modlin: “Imagine This, Thaddeus” shows the titular character, Thaddeus, a monk in fourth century Egypt, in the midst of temptation. The voices are literally set against one another, as they battle, the Tempter poking at the very things he knows will sway Thaddeus the most: his loneliness, his comfort. Read on:
But a child is a version of you, a child keeps you alive even after your body is nothing, he looks like you and says, “My father taught me this.”
Thaddeus, One of the Desert Fathers, Monks of Fourth-Century Egypt
Imagine these nothing-tasting lentils are not lentils, but something new, a fruit your mouth can’t even recognize. Imagine berries a pink brighter than the sunset overflow from your wooden bowl, and when you drop them onto your tongue they pop with tart-sweet juice. Imagine you’ll never run out because they grow like an explosion all over a bush, in a place where plants can thrive, a place made of more than sand. You can pluck the berries whenever you like because the bush belongs to you, because it’s yours. You own something and no one can tell you how to use it or criticize. You can drape a blanket over it to hide it from other people—you can have a secret, and the bush stands on your land, in front of your house because you own a house and it’s more than one room and you can shut the door and tell other men they can’t come in, but you can open your door to women, and dozens of them slink by every evening and you can open your door and call to them and they won’t leave until morning and one day you open the house to a woman and she becomes your wife and her eyes are like lamps and the shape of her cloak is the shape of her breasts and she gives you a bowlful of those berries and never lentils because she is too vibrant for lentils, she throws lentils on the floor and laughs and her hair falls long, long down against her arm and her hair swishes behind her like a flag when she walks, and when she falls back onto your bed, her hair whooshes like a sail.
I won’t listen to this, Troubler.
Imagine she falls back onto your bed, Thaddeus, because you have a bed instead of a sleeping mat on hard sand. And straw stuffs it and softens it because you need softness for what happens there. And she is a sail and you are the wind and she presses her hand into the small of your back to draw you closer because she wants you to touch her and her cloak is the shape of her breasts and you can whip the cloak off just like you can pluck berries from the front yard.
I will think of this place where providence has brought me. I won’t let you veer me away from this desert air in my nostrils, from these prayers.
Imagine she makes herself beautiful just for you, so she holds a sharp-edged mirror to her face and she pretends not to see you in the doorway one morning, but smiles and then her hand brushes against the mirror and it slices her palm and she winces and you rush across the room to take care of her. You dip the sponge in the water jar to wash the blood away, and you mix a salve from olive oil and your spittle and trace the cut with your finger, a quiet line, slow as a rowboat adrift. And her hand cups your spittle and the worst of you can heal each other, and when her breath returns to its normal rate, the rate you fall asleep to each night, you fold her fingers down over the cut and kiss her fist and you think, This is why I am alive, to take care of her.
And someone needs you, someone you can see and hear, and she says, “Help me” and, “I’d be lost without you,” and someone cares whether you wake up and feed yourself or lie in bed all day or starve to death. And your final thought each night centers on someone else and every day is a day of noticing each other. Listen, Thaddeus, I speak of good things.
I will pray, but.