The missionary posted to my college has a dream snare guarding her heart. It is what first drew me to her when we sat along the same supper bench and what I first drew my hands over when we sat on her bed.
Usually it is hidden under shirt and jacket and tie, but when it rains and her clothes cling to her body the bumps of piercings can be seen, and when it’s hot and everyone discards a layer and their highest buttons then you can glimpse it on her untanned chest.
(The God Glacier disapproves of showing flesh, but The God Glacier has never left the mountains; that’s why there are missionaries.)
“It is to keep me pious,” she explains cheerfully, as if I am first to ever ask. “To make sure that I am not distracted from the Ice Church’s solemn work by any of you filthy foreign scrubland heathens.” She drums out her sarcasm along my bare arm. Her fingers dally.
(At first I was oblivious, safe in the assumption she was merely showing me the friendliness The God Glacier espouses, but a simple glance of her guardian has me caught.)
Later, in her room, she unbuttons further and pulls down her shirt to show me the whole thing. The string and owl feathers are tattooed in ink so realistic I try to slide my fingers under them and accompanied by piercings to strengthen the snare’s power: beads from her homeland and rings set with semi-precious stones blessed by the holy mothers surround the knot circle while two fox teeth hang from the bottom edge in the valley between her breasts.
“No dreams are allowed to enter my heart, for I have given my heart to the Chrice. However…” She takes hold of the hand with which I was tracing over her tattoo lines and drags it across her breasts to the next button. “There is no charm to stop anyone entering my body.”
(She tastes of the nutmeg goose we had for dinner.)
Her dream snare works splendidly; we spend no more than a handful of nights together before the fox teeth slice me and I again become nothing more than a heathen to baptise.
But though I did not enter her heart, she has broken mine. I was not someone special for whom she broke her vows. I was the next name on the list, a single point in a game the missionaries play. Saved souls take so long to verify that they may as well savour these souls’ mortal shells before the afterlife’s payoff. Hearts and dreams are just collateral as long as there is conversion.
While the influence of the missionaries on our land is great, the imprint of one on my heart is deeper still. After I have graduated and accepted a job close to the holy ice I will get my own tattoo: a ward web spiralling around my chest, its peak just above most of my shirts’ necklines, to lure beautiful youths into peeking further.
AUTHOR BIO: Penny Stirling lives between ocean and desert in Western Australia. She studied linguistics and dead languages and now types the words of strangers for a living. In her spare time she dreams her own words and cross stitches pixel art.