Everyone had seen Agata around campus, but few knew more than her first name. She seemed to be a professional student, auditing seminars in classical studies, psychology, and history, but no one knew anything about her. She never greeted anyone. She walked across campus with her laptop held tightly to her chest and her eyes cast down, always wearing dark jeans and hiking boots and a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled over so that it covered her forehead.
In class her contributions were always brilliant, but few, and difficult to understand because her voice was so soft. No one knew that this was her third year of college, even though she was taking some graduate level classes. No one knew that the saw a psychiatrist every week, and that his notes contained the phrases, “social anxiety disorder”; “victim of sexual trauma”; or “will not open up about her past.” No one knew that she heard Mass every day at Saint Jason’s. When the priest first heard her confession, he didn’t know how to respond. She kept repeating through sobs, “I have sinned. I am damned.” But when he asked her specifically what she had done, she replied, “I can’t say! I don’t know! I’ve forgotten. I just know I have sinned in the most horrible way!” The next day’s confession was the same, as was the next day’s and the day after that. Finally Malloy told her he would only let her confess once a week. She wailed as if he had told her she was damned beyond all forgiveness, for that’s what it felt like to her. But she continued to attend Mass every day and stay after, kneeling before the altar, praying. Whatever evil she had done evaded conscious thought, always hidden in the darkest, most unfathomable depths of her memory.
Until that day.
She had gone to the museum to see a traveling exhibition of medieval religious art.
As she took the items in—statues, paintings, triptychs—she was overwhelmed by the feelings they evoked, like they were everyday objects she’d seen before, hundreds of times. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she found a bench and sat. It was already late afternoon, and Agata had skipped lunch, so she steadied herself and made her way slowly to the museum cafe where she had a sandwich and a soft drink.
It was early evening when Agata left the museum, and although she didn’t understand why, she headed to the Bean Around, the local coffee shop and hangout for university artsy types. This was odd because she always avoided places where there might be crowds, where she would have to deal with others. But however nervous and frightened she was, something in the deepest recesses of her mind compelled her to be here now.
It was open mic poetry night, and typically some of the poets were really bad—like moon, June, soon bad. One guy almost pulled off the impossible with a short poem that ended:
“And so now you’re satisfied that orange
“Has after all a rhyming word aren’t
Of course he pronounced the last two words as “arnch”—pause—“oo.”
Laughter, and appreciative hisses.
Others read or recited about love, social inequality, peace, solitude. One guy actually did a poem in Italian sonnet form titled, “Don’t Take My Guns Away.”
Agata sat in a lonely corner by herself, looking down at the table, her hood covering her forehead, spurning any attempts to enter into conversation, saying she was saving the other places at the table for friends who would be coming soon. A mostly empty bottle of wine and a half-full glass stood in front of her. A speaker finished. No one seemed to want to go next. Then, without knowing why, Agata sprang up, pulled back her hood, marched onto the stage, and took the mic. That’s when everything changed. Her voice was suddenly strong, clear, confident.
A maiden fair of face and form did live
On river’s bank in vale twixt snow-capped peaks.
And in that year when womanhood did come
There stirred in her new feelings now awoke.
In that same year a new young priest arrived
To that small village where the woman lived.
A comely man of rough and virile looks
Who made the girl’s young loins to stir and shake.
So rapt was she in him that she did go
And hear his daily Mass and in her mind
Did fancy them together and alone
The two abed and she wrapped in his arms.
She put her plan afoot midsummer’s day
His guidance did she need she said to him.
“My own small room lies just behind the nave.
“Come see me after vesper’s prayers,” he said.
At that appointed time she entered in
His chamber small with cot and writing desk.
And stood before him then she took his hands
And pressed and held them to her waiting breasts.
“What is this girl!” cried he in righteous rage.
“Do you not know you do now mortal sin?
“Release my hands and get you from this place
“And never come into this church again!”
She dropped her hands though his did stay a while.
She reached behind his back and pulled him close
And felt his lust pressed hard against her mount
And led him to his cot and pulled him down.
Here the poem became erotic as Agata described in some detail the couple’s many bouts of love-making over many months. Many in the audience stared in wide-eyed delight.
And so they met quite often here and there.
Sometimes his room, sometimes in wood or field.
He told her that their trysts must come to end.
But she did threaten to expose his sin.
So racked with guilt the young priest could no more
Endure his deeds’ great shame. He must confess.
And so did crawl and go to bishop’s throne
And there admit to impure thought and act.
The bishop seeing bloody hands and knees
Knew that the young priest did confess sincere.
“You’re in God’s grace, but yet you must atone
“For these vile deeds, so penitence I give.
“You’ll go afoot to Abby Eichenbrunn.
“And there will contemplate how God has saved
“You from the fiery pit and Satan’s maw
“And there remain until your end of days.”
The bishop called for carriage and for horse,
And entered Villach searching for the girl,
And found the maiden’s father in a field.
And there denounced the shame that she had wrought.
The man made haste to home and there he found
His daughter baking bread for evening’s meal.
“Vile whore!” he shouted, “From my house be gone.”
And pulled her by her hair into the street.
“You are my child, my daughter nevermore!
“Your name will ne’er be spoke while I still breathe.
“Now get you far from me. Dare not return.
“For if you do, God’s curse will fall on me.”
The girl could hardly walk for shock and grief.
But stumbled through the town midst jeer and curse.
Then turned and headed toward the snowy peaks
And hoped to find a place to end her life.
Days later as she climbed to air-thin heights,
She came upon a small hut in a glade.
A wondrous smell did waft on evening’s breeze.
She gathered strength and knocked on cabin’s door.
And in a trice there stood an ancient crone.
The door was but still closed. Whence did she come?
“Dear woman,” said the girl in voice so weak.
“Child, speak no more, for I know what you want.
“For you’re the girl who bedded God’s own man,
“And now you’re banished, feeling life’s at end.
“But do not haste for there is yet a door
“That opens to delights not of this earth.
“You’ll abide with me a while and gather strength,
“Then climb yet higher still on river’s edge.
“And just beneath the mountain’s highest peak,
“The water issues there from high above.
“Walk through the water’s curtain where it falls
“And there you’ll find the door to endless bliss.
“Among the gods you’ll live forever more
“And share their beds for days long at a time.”
She found the waterfall as was foretold
And took a step through wet and misty veil.
And as she did her former life was gone
Washed from her heart and mind and soul away.
Before her hand could touch the portal’s wood,
It opened of itself and there he stood.
The love god Eros holding in his hand
A golden arrow she caressed and kissed.
She put her finger to the arrow’s tip
And drew a drop of blood so bright, so red.
He touched her dress. It vanished into mist,
Then took her hand and led her through the gate.
They walked, her belly throbbing quick for lust.
On softest grass he stopped and knelt with her,
Then gently urged her lie down at his side,
And hands and lips explored her peaks and vales.
Here the poem became pornographic as Agata described how the girl abandoned herself to a world of sexual delights, where every sense was excited to its limit. The god Eros was her guide, mentor, teacher, and lover and brought her pleasures beyond those that any mortal could imagine or explain. She was bedded by every Olympian, male and female. Their love-making lasted days at a time, and those days spent with her body in a constant spasm of rapture.
Some of the audience had begun to sweat, some to breathe heavily. The words flowed and left nothing to the imagination. A few in the audience began to touch themselves, while some couples explored one another under tables. Some left, either to find release in private or with a partner. A few left in disgust.
Her body oft spent days in trembling bliss
While sampling all the Grecian mountain’s gods,
Enjoying pleasures she had never dreamed.
But surfeit even comes to godlike joy.
She found herself one day on aimless walk
No goal in mind, not caring where she went,
And found that gate where she had first come in.
She stared and thought and then reached out her hand.
It opened at her touch, and she stepped through,
But when she turned around the door was gone.
She turned again…
Agata collapsed onto the floor.
* * *
She woke in a hospital room at about midmorning. A nurse, probably in her fifties, was adjusting the flow of an IV going into her arm. “What happened?” Agata asked weakly.
The nurse turned to her and smiled. “Ah. You’re awake. Just a case of exhaustion, honey. We kept you overnight, just to be sure. You’re quite a celebrity, you know.”
“That poem of yours. There was almost a riot at the Bean Around. Most of the crowd wants to hear the rest of the story, but a few want you thrown out of town. That must have been some poem.”
Agata looked shocked. “I only remember the first few lines.” She paused. “After that everything is blank. How long did I talk, or recite, or whatever?”
“From what I hear, about five minutes.” Agata blanched. The nurse typed some notes on a laptop mounted to a cart in front of her. “Were you drinking? Is that why you don’t remember what happened?”
“I guess so,” Agata said, her eyes looking down, side to side. “But I really don’t remember drinking at all.”
The nurse removed Agata’s IV—“Since you’re awake you won’t need this anymore”—put a cup of ice water on the tray for her, and watched her drink all of it, then continued, “The doctor said you can probably go home this afternoon. Lunch will be by in about an hour. I’ll check on you after that.”
By four o’clock Agata was back in her apartment. She sat back on the couch and stared at the Escher poster on the opposite wall, trying to remember what had happened. Around five her phone chimed and she saw a text from Dr. Fein, her psychiatrist. “What is this? Come see me first thing tomorrow,” read the text. She tapped the link accompanying the text and saw and heard herself reciting the poem. The camera panned around to record the wide-eyed, drop-jawed faces, the restless hands. It then turned back to her. She listened to what she had said. The story was vile, depraved, debauched. She didn’t know from what recesses of her mind the story sprung, but it resonated in her. She knew it was the truth.
She sat there, thinking, trying to understand. How could this be true? Finally, even though it was now past midnight and was raining hard, she grabbed her keys and walked out the door wearing only jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. The air was warm, and she heard thunder in the distance. In a few minutes, the warm rain had soaked her to the skin. She focused on her story, trying to remember what really happened, imagining this scenario and that. Looking for something that jogged a memory, something that seemed real. Something other than the story she had told at the Bean Around. She walked in the rain with no particular goal in mind. Up this street, down that, turning here, not really paying attention to where she was going.
The rain was coming down harder now, but she was enjoying the walk, even though she hadn’t come any closer to solving her mystery. Next to a lamppost she stopped and looked up into the sky, relishing the rain washing her face.
A mind-searing flash. A skull-shattering clap of thunder.
When she came to, she was lying several feet away from the lamppost where she’d been standing. She could focus neither her eyes nor her thoughts. Her body ached all over. She rolled onto her back, arms outspread, breathing deeply. The rain continued to fall. Her mind and her vision slowly sharpened, and she turned her head to the right. There, a few yards away, a tree was smoldering.
Several minutes later, when she was finally able to stand up, she found that her body felt like she had just done hours of hard training at the gym. She walked slowly and unsteadily home, tired like she’d never been before. When she got to her apartment, she opened the door, stripped off her clothes, and collapsed into bed.
It was early afternoon when she awoke. Her body ached all over. Then she remembered Fein’s text. “When can I come over?” she replied.
The answer came a few minutes later: “4.”
Father Steven Malloy was indulging in his two guilty pleasures, drinking a custom-blend coffee and hacking into the Vatican library. More and more of the archives were being digitized, but the things that really interested the priest were available only at the highest level of the Curia. However, Malloy had his methods. So when the phone rang and he saw it was Fein, he was annoyed but quickly said a prayer asking for forgiveness for his impatience.
“Steve. Mike Fein here. Our girl’s coming over at four. Can you be here?” Agata had long ago given permission for the two men to share information with each other about her.
“Certainly,” replied Malloy. “What’s going on?”
“I’m sending you a link to a video, and I think we need to talk to her about it.”
“OK. I’ll see you at four.”
Back at her apartment, Agata ate, then threw on a T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sneakers and walked the five blocks to Fein’s office. A few minutes after four he ushered her into his study where she slouched into the overstuffed leather armchair she liked to sit in during her sessions. She opened the bottle of water Fein always had on the end table for her and drank half of it as the doctor took a seat in a Kennedy Rocker opposite her. There was a knock on the door, and Father Malloy walked in.
“Are you ready to talk now? To tell us everything?” Fein asked.
“You saw the video of me at the coffee shop,” she said, looking directly at the two men. “So you already know what happened to me. That story is the truth.” There was a confidence, a clarity in her voice that neither man had heard before.
“No it’s not,” said Fein, his voice soft and almost hypnotic. “You’ve created this world and the characters in it to hide from the truth. You did not make endless love with a god. So who does that represent for you? Your father? Your brother? Some other relative? Who? And this place you lived in, this mountain hideaway. Were you a sex slave to someone? A sex worker? Were you the victim of sex trafficking? Until you’re able to speak the truth about whatever happened to you, and who did this to you, you’ll never find peace.” He paused for several seconds.
Agata looked back and forth from Fein to Malloy.
Fein continued. “You came to me—or rather were sent to me—with what I describe as traumatic dissociative amnesia. Some terrible event in your past has wiped your memory of everything that happened before the event. You knew your name—that in itself is unusual—but nothing else. I’ve always suspected that the trauma was sexual in nature, but now I’m convinced. You’ve made a real breakthrough though. You’ve cracked the door to your subconscious where this story resides. Now you need to open this door all the way so that you can see the whole thing clearly, without the distortions you now perceive looking through a tiny crack at only a small part of it.”
Agata responded with that same calm self-assurance as if she were reciting a list of trivia. “I now know my whole past. My name is Agata Fichthauser, daughter of Adalwin and Hannah, and I was born in 1463 in Villach, a small town in now southern Austria. I was baptized in the Sankt Jakob Church by Father Walther. When I was fourteen, Father Walther died of the plague. I seduced the new priest, Father Adolfus. When our secret was found out, my father denounced me and threw me out of his house. Father Adolfus was sent away. I wandered the mountains for several days until I came to the entrance to the Venusberg. I was in that world for over five hundred years but grew tired of my life there and left. I was found alone and naked by some hikers on the Appalachian Trail north of here, and you know the rest.”
There was a long silence as Agata looked from one man to another, studying their expressions. Finally Fein spoke. “Agata, my dear.” A pause. “This is not a breakthrough. You’re still hiding from the truth, and I’m at a loss as to how to make you see it—to let it out.”
“I’ve told you the truth,” said Agatha confidently. “If you can’t or won’t believe it, I don’t know what I can do to change that.” She stood. “Doctor Fein. Father Malloy. Thank you for your time and efforts. Goodbye.” She smiled, walked to the door, and left the office, each man feeling somehow that her last two words were in some way final.
Fein looked at Malloy and shook his head in despair. Malloy got up to follow her.
“No,” said Fein. “Let her be. She needs some time to think.”
For three days Agata didn’t leave her apartment and didn’t answer her phone or emails.
During this time Malloy was going through some records in the Vatican library. Although he found Agata’s story impossible to believe, parts of it seemed to have a ring of truth. He finally located the records of Saint Jacob’s church in Villach. June 1463 recorded the birth of Agata Fichthauser, daughter of Adalwin and Hannah, by Father Walther. Walther died in 1477 of the plague. In the same year, a Father Adolfus arrived in Villach as priest, but the next year he was sent to a monastery in Bavaria, “to seek forgiveness.”
How could she know these details? He then knew that, however improbable it was, she’d been telling the truth all along. She was angry, confused, probably depressed. What might she do to herself? He hadn’t been able to contact Agata for days and had thought she just wanted to be alone. But that “goodbye” had sounded so final. Might she be a danger to herself?
Malloy raced to Agata’s apartment. When he got there he knocked. “Just a minute,” came a bored voice from inside. She opened the door, and Malloy looked away immediately. She was wearing only a thin, almost see-through top and small, tight running shorts. “Oh. Glad you’re here, Steve,” she said smiling, her voice casual like he’d never heard from her before. “Come on in. I’m going to need some advice.”
On the couch sat a man, midtwenties, black, curly hair, neatly trimmed beard, and wearing… a tunic? And a golden arrow in his lap. “Have a sit, Steve. Oh, this is Eros, the guy I told you about. Steve, Eros. Eros, Steve.” She made the introductions, then sat next to the man, who laid his hand high on the inside of her thigh. Malloy sat wide-eyed. She turned and said something to the other, which Malloy didn’t understand at first. When as his ear finally tuned itself, his jaw dropped. They were speaking Ancient Greek. The language of Homer.
“Eros came to find me and take me back to Venusberg,” Agata said as if she were stating the obvious. “I said he should stay here, but he can’t because in our world he’s mortal. I mean, no vaccinations, no immunity from anything, not even knowing how to cross the street without getting killed. I keep telling him I’m not going back, but he can’t understand. Maybe being a god, he’s not used to mortals refusing him.” By her tone, she sounded bored. She picked up the arrow from the god’s lap, caressed it lovingly, and kissed it. Then she gripped it hard, drew it back and jabbed it into Eros’s neck.
The god turned to her in wide-eyed disbelief, his hand clawing at the wound. Two or three spurts of blood squirted from his neck, and as Malloy watched, the god’s body, blood, and arrow dissolved into dust and then disappeared completely.
“So tell me, Steve,” Agata said, now standing, her voice still calm, bored, but with a perplexed look on her face. She turned her head to the side and stared at the ceiling as if trying to figure out something. “So I killed Eros. But since he was a pagan god, and he wasn’t actually real, is what I did a sin? Do I need to go to confession?”
Nelson Workman is a 1970 graduate of the University of Virginia, where he majored in German. He retired in 2013 after thirty plus years of teaching German, Creative Writing, and English in junior high and middle schools in Virginia Beach. He and his wife, Lydia, love to travel, especially to Italy and to Malta, Lydia’s place of birth. Nelson’s hobbies include reading, writing, swimming, spoiling grandchildren, and feeding the deer that wait for him outside his door every morning.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Agata and Eros”:
There’s so much to like about this piece. Author Nelson Workman delivers a story with intrigue, ancient gods, some interesting questions, and several dashes of humor. Let’s not forget the wonderfully crafted erotic poetry in a style that perfectly fits the story. And the unexpected ending caps the piece with a perfect finale.