[from Louise Gluck's A Village Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009]
He steals sometimes, because they don't have their own tree
and he loves fruit. Not steals exactly —
he pretends he's an animal; he eats off the ground,
as the animals would eat. This is what he tells the priest,
that he doesn't think it should be a sin to take what would just lie there and rot,
this year like every other year.
As a man, as a human being, the priest agrees with the boy,
but as a priest he chastises him, though the penance is light,
so as to not kill off imagination: what he'd give
to a much younger boy who took something that wasn't his.
But the boy objects. He's willing to do the penance
because he likes the priest, but he refuses to believe that Jesus
gave this fig tree to this woman; he wants to know
what Jesus does with all the money he gets from real estate,
not just in this village but in the whole country.
Partly he's joking but partly he's serious
and the priest gets irritated — he's out of his depth with this boy,
he can't explain that though Christ doesn't deal in property,
still the fig tree belongs to the woman, even if she never picks the figs.
Perhaps one day, with the boy's encouragement,
the woman will become a saint and share her fig tree and her big house with strangers,
but for the moment she's a human being whose ancestors built this house.
The priest is pleased to have moved the conversation away from money,
which makes him nervous, and back to words like family or tradition,
where he feels more secure. The boy stares at him —
he knows perfectly well the ways in which he's taken advantage of a senile old lady,
the ways he's tried to charm the priest, to impress him. But he despises
speeches like the one beginning now;
he wants to taunt the priest with his own flight: if he loves family so much,
why didn't the priest marry as his parents married, continue the line from which he came.
But he's silent. The words that mean there will be
no questioning, no trying to reason — those words have been uttered.
"Thank you, Father," he says.