Another kind of leper. (flash fiction)

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She stood out in the crowd, not so much for her beauty, apparent even under the plain headdress overshadowing her face, but for the way people moved away from her, even in such a crowd, distaining to touch her. The smear of red, still staining her lips from the previous application, gave the clue. She was a prostitute. He smiled, seeing the heart within.
She looked away, confused. He must not know, she told herself, but she knew he did. Embarrassed, her bold front crumbled, scorn she could handle, but not compassion.
His smile haunted her dreams that night. Could a man care for her, not just use her for her body? She’d had men mad for her, in love with her, but always secretly, behind closed doors, never an open smile like that one. There had been no sweeping look of the eyes, lingering on her bosom. It was not a look of lust…
Her hand trembled as she knocked at the door. It had been easy to find him, everyone was talking about him, but why must he come here of all places? As she’d expected, the door and was abruptly slammed in her face, but she wasn’t accepting that. Slamming her body into the attendant, she pushed her way in. He recoiled, not at her meagre force, but in horror that she’d touched him, sullied him. It was the same with all of them as she forced her way into the gathering…
There he sat amidst the throng of angry, staring faces. But his face was not angry, instead a look of welcome, even …empathy? He smiled again.
“Master don’t you know? This woman is a sinner!”
“I know.” Mary collapsed at the sanctuary of his feet. He didn’t pull away. Gushing tears washed over his feet and as she wiped them away with her hair he said…
“Your sins, and I know they are many, are forgiven because of the greatness of your love.” He smiled and light embraced Mary’s world.

The thaw.

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writer

It was not just the frost that numbed his mind as he trudged home; his heart froze long ago, finding expression only in his writing.

The cleaner was singing again, he noted as he hung his coat. “Can you be quiet? I’m trying to work!” He growled, pulling the chair up to his desk. Typewriter posed, a cup of coffee slid silently beside his elbow. He nodded. Phrases squeezed out onto the page.

She was humming confound her! It was the Latin background. “Let’s face it,” he thought, “I can’t afford anyone else.” He paused watching her smile as she placed his wet shoes by the fire. He didn’t pay her to do that, or make coffee. She was just a natural mother, not like his had been… He recalled the time she’d brought her little daughter, how they’d cleaned and laughed together. He’d got no work done that day but he’d secretly enjoyed watching them.

Words seemed to swim into pictures, mothers, children, en-wrapped, smiling teasingly. He’d never felt the warmth of his mother’s arms… he’d learned to cope with her rejection, to numb himself, but Maria’s warmth felt threatening sometimes. She was like a fire and he longed to warm his hands, but there would be pain, he was sure, like the pins and needles of frozen fingers.

She looked up smiling. “Is everything alright sir? You look so sad sometimes. I wish there was something I could do.”

“Do Woman! What in Heaven’s name are you talking about?” His voice was harsh, eyes flashing. She recoiled for a moment then a spark appeared in her eye, a hot flush burning up her cheeks.

“You pretend you’re fine! But you’re not! Anyone can see that!” she flamed at him. Surprised he crumpled for just a moment, but that moment was enough. Ignoring his protests she grabbed him in her arms cradling him like he’d seen her do her daughter.

“I’m sorry, so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she whispered. He stopped protesting unable to strive against overwhelming warmth enveloping him. As her fire melted his ice, looking up into her eyes he realized it was not a mother he wanted any more. He needed love desperately and he saw it in this young widow