Minor Lust

Junior year was my best year in high school. By then, I knew what was up but didn’t have to worry about graduation or applying to college like the seniors did.

It was the year the orchestra got to go to Prague for a competition. I had never been anywhere. The other oboe player, Guinevere Sobolanski, had travel stickers all over her oboe case.

“Prague?” she said. “I like Prague.”

Guinevere knew a lot of things I didn’t. She read a lot. She’d pull out a book in orchestra when we were sitting out a movement. She had skied, downhill and cross-country. She saw an avalanche once. I’d never been to the snow.

Of course she made her own reeds. She bought her own cane online and split it herself. She had all the equipment: a guillotine, a pre-gouger and gouger, a gauge, and a shaper. It took her four hours to make a reed that lasted seven hours on her oboe.

She wanted to teach me to make my reeds and I used to go over and keep her company while she was working, but the school bought mine for me. At least I didn’t use the plastic variety.

Junior year was also when Maria Callan joined the orchestra as principal cello. She sat at the head of the orchestra’s left wing, facing Mr. Frost. The oboes were front-row middle, so Maria was in profile to us.

Maria was beautiful. Or whatever comes after beautiful on the good-looks scale. She had a face and figure that didn’t belong in high school. She’d pull up her skirt and spread her legs and draw her instrument in between her thighs and my eyes would drift over to her from Mr. Frost and his baton, and stay there.

“Close your mouth,” Gwen would say. “You look like a panting spaniel.”

Gwen and I, unlike Maria, were normal. We both had a few zits. We both had a lot of eyebrow. Out in the hallway between classes, we were both more or less invisible.

“You’ve got to quit staring at her,” Gwen would say.

“Why?”

“You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I don’t feel embarrassed. I can’t help it.”

“What’s the point?” Gwen would say. “You’re never going to talk to her, are you?”

“I saw you talking to her. What’s she like?”

“She’s nice but she doesn’t seem too bright.”

Compared to Gwen, she probably wasn’t bright at all, but somehow that seemed like a good thing to me. I wasn’t daydreaming about talking to her.

At this time, the elders in my church were taking each teenage boy aside to discuss the facts of life. Brother Germers and I sat down on folding chairs facing each other on the gym basketball court. The gym was deserted.

“I’ve never kissed a girl,” I said. “I haven’t even held a girl’s hand except when we’re dancing at the socials.”

“I’m not tasked with discussing carnal relations with you,” Brother Germers said. “I do understand that your body is pure. That is a very good thing. I believe that all our boys are pure in body.”

I relaxed.

“I want to talk to you about your thoughts,” Brother Germers said. “Your thoughts are just as important — they’re more important — than your corporeal body. Your body is going to die and return to the dust. Your mind and soul are going to live forever. You have the choice now of spending eternity with your Heavenly Father or being thrown into Hell, to be tormented by Satan and all his minions for eternity.”

I could see where this was going. I began to sweat. Brother Germers was not going to accept any waffling.

“Boys your age are confronted every day with young women who are blossoming. Satan and your hormones want to turn your thoughts in impure directions. I’m talking about lust.”

“Lust.”

“Lust is a sin. It’s a worse sin than the actual lustful act, because it pollutes your mind, not just your fleshly shell.”

“Yes,” I said. “Sure.”

“Do you lust?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Are your eyes, and your thoughts, drawn to certain girls? Do their bodies cloud your mind? Are their firm young bodies like blazing beacons that cause impure thoughts to burn within you?”

“No!”

“You’re lying.”

“Alright. There is one girl.”

“Thank you. What are you going to do about this problem? You can’t participate in services here with a corrupted mind.”

“I won’t look at her.”

“I think that’s wise. Let’s meet again in two days to check on your progress.”

I was glad to get out of there. Fortunately, Brother Germers did not make me go into detail about those corrupted thoughts or what they led to, exactly. The thoughts mostly centered on Maria’s bosom.

“That guy is a knucklehead,” Gwen said. “Utter nonsense. Wait. You’re not going to look at her? Really?”

“My folks love that church. They’re old-school.”

“Learn to lie, buddy.”

I couldn’t help looking at Maria so I did lie. Brother Germers seemed to believe me and he left me alone after that. He’d smile and nod whenever our eyes met at church.

A month later, we left for the competition. When we landed at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport, a big bus was waiting for us and all of our instruments. We stopped at our hotel and then had a quick look at Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinium. After that, the bus took us on a tour of the city. We stopped at St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle and that evening had dinner on a cruise boat on the Vlatava River.

The whole thing was like my first visit to Disneyland as a kid. Magical. On the boat, Gwen and I sat at a little table for two by the railing. The sparkling lights along the shore and the violet evening sky were quite beautiful. I was dividing my attention between the sights, and Josh and Maria, sitting together at another little table holding hands. Josh was a big, handsome first violin.

“Really?” Gwen said.

“I can’t help myself.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Haven’t you ever been in love? Or whatever this is?”

“It ain’t love, brother. It’s not even puppy love. You don’t know her. You wouldn’t like her if you did know her.”

“Sure.”

When we got back to the hotel, I watched the happy couple enter the elevator, heading for her room or his, no doubt, with the roommate staying out of the way. The chaperones were clueless.

“Do you want a book to read?” Gwen said. “I know you didn’t bring any.”

“Not really. I’ll just sit here in the lobby and watch the world go by. What are you going to do?”

“I was going to finish a reed, but I brought some games. Scrabble? Boggle?”

“I guess so,” I said.

We went up.

“How come you have a room to yourself?” I said.

“Odd number of girls.”

There was one light on, a lamp on the end table by the bed.

Gwen got out the Boggle box. We sat on the bed. She handed me a pad and pencil. Set up the hourglass. Shook the box.

“It seems sort of mysterious, them down there doing what they’re doing while we sit here and play Boggle,” I said.

“I’m not sure ‘mysterious’ is the word,” Gwen said, “but it’s definitely something.”

She put down the tray and flipped the hourglass.

My brain seemed to be working faster than usual. The Boggle words jumped out at me. I beat Gwen easily in the first round.

“Hey,” Gwen said. “How did that happen?”

I shrugged.

Josh and Maria didn’t seem so mysterious to me now. I looked at Gwen. Her eyes in the dim light were very large and dark. Her skin glowed gold. The mystery wasn’t somewhere else. It was in the room with us.

There was something I should know, should do, that was essential, but I had no idea what it was. I couldn’t speak. The moment lasted. I didn’t want it to end because when it did, I was afraid I would have lost something forever.

“Gwen…”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Ready for the next game?” she said, when I didn’t go on.

I nodded.

This time I couldn’t find anything. Gwen clobbered me.

“Have you ever been fascinated with somebody but you don’t even know them?” I said.

“I haven’t had much luck with boys,” Gwen said. “I expect I’ll meet somebody in college or grad school or even later than that.”

“Yeah.”

“We aren’t ready yet, you and I.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I was alone in a room with a woman who knew a lot more about life than I did. I could see her chest rise and fall as she breathed.

“Take that energy and learn how to make your own reeds,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

“Yeah. Listen, Gwen…”

“Focus,” she said.

She rattled the box.

“Give me a good game this time,” she said.

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