The barbed wire boy remained in the last pew for the next few weeks, learning when hallelujah was appropriate and when it wasn’t. He learned the words to the hymns. He learned how to pray. Like most places he went, here people steered clear of him. But it didn’t bother him as much since he was at church and Jesus felt closer.
One day, after the minister had preached a particularly vehement sermon on Job’s burdens, the minister’s daughter stood up to ask if anyone was sick. "I can feel it, " she said. "Someone here needs healing. It’s okay to raise your hand. Stand and let the Lord know your troubles, so He can take them away. "
At first no one stood, so the girl continued. "Someone here is in pain," she said, closing her eyes, seeking out the shy, pain–ridden person with an inner sight. "Someone here is in a lot of pain," she kept saying.
She opened her eyes and stared past the pews of identical oval–shaped faces until she found the barbed wire boy with his spirals of wire making any sense of symmetry impossible. He stared back, lips slightly parted, knowing she wanted something. He nodded and she came to him then. Everyone turned to watch her walk to the back of the room,where she asked the barbed wire boy to stand. "Let God’s touch heal you," she said. Then she placed the palms of her hands on his shoulders.
Closing her eyes in deep concentration, she muttered prayers while everyone looked on. The barbed wire boy himself couldn’t understand why she was doing this, or even why he had nodded when she stared at him. He stood there, surprised as the others, and found his eyes full of tears. He could not remember the last time anyone had touched him.
When it was over, the minister’s daughter pulled her hands away slowly. He could feel the suck of her flesh as it slipped off his barbs. She held her hands up then, showing them to the congregation. And there, in the middle of her palms, was the mark of the stigmata.
Someone shouted, someone fainted, someone praised the Lord. The minister himself said they had witnessed a miracle, though no one truly knew what the miracle had been. That the girl had been courageous enough to touch the boy’s barbed wires? They weren’t sure if that wasn’t just plain foolishness.
"Let us celebrate this holy event by hosting a Feast of Love next Sunday, " said the minister, but everyone stared back at him closemouthed. "What is a Feast of Love? " they asked, and the minister took this opportunity to remind them of why he had been called to them. "Of course you haven’t heard of the Feast of Love, " he said."That is why the Lord led me here. " He went on to explain that the Feast of Love used to be a tradition of the church where everyone in the community gathered, rich and poor alike, and feasted at table together.
"Why was it abandoned?" one of the town mothers inquired, and the minister explained that the rich people had grown tired of eating with the beggars. And as it’s not a command in the Bible to hold the feast, they agreed it would be in better taste to just cancel it.
The congregation thought this was a wonderful idea, and soon everyone was talking after services about the following Sunday’s feast. "Now this is church! This is church!" one of the mothers shouted, and a hallelujah was sent up after her proclamation. In the bustle and excitement of planning the feast, the minister’s daughter took the barbed wire boy by his hand and began to walk him home.
"You aren’t afraid to touch me," the barbed wire boy said when they found themselves deep in his father’s woods.
The minister’s daughter shook her head.
"But everyone’s afraid to touch me," said the boy. "Even my father."
The minister’s daughter considered his question. "I liked the way they felt going in," she said, "coming out again." She smiled fiercely.
She stopped then, in the middle of the woods, and put her hands upon his face. Wincing, she stood on tiptoes to kiss him. As she lowered herself again, he saw that her mouth and chin were smeared with blood. "You’re hurt," said the barbed wire boy. "I hurt you."
But the minister’s daughter shook her head, wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. "I like it," she said, and they walked further into the woods, until they came to the place where the beekeeper’s hives hummed in their boxes.
The barbed wire boy lifted a lid and gathered a swirl of honey on his fingertip. He turned to offer it to the minister’s daughter and said, "My father says this is the true nectar of heaven."
"Eat of my flesh," said the minister’s daughter, and lowered her mouth. Carefully she licked the honey from the tip of his finger and afterward pulled his mouth down to meet hers. She tasted tangy and sweet. She tasted of blood and honey.
She took the barbed wire boy by his hand and walked him away from the hives, off the path, to lay in a patch of daisies. With each touch the girl sucked in her breath, with each release she sighed. And later, while they lay among the shredded flowers, blood red on the white petals, it was the barbed wire boy who could do nothing but sigh and moan in exquisite pain.
* * * * * * * * * * *
His head was full of her then, every day for the next week. His thoughts ran to nothing but the minister’s daughter. If the beekeeper asked him a question, the boy didn’t hear. If dark clouds gathered over the forest and lightning cracked the sky open, the boy didn’t notice. When he went with the beekeeper to check on the hives, he filled the bee boxes with enough smoke to knock the bees out for days. "What’s wrong with you?" asked the beekeeper. "Is this something to do with Jesus?"
The barbed wire boy only smiled and said nothing, and the beekeeper suddenly felt something like a notion of worry over his son’s well–being. He understood his boy’s sadness, his boy’s pain. These things defined living, thought the beekeeper. But when the barbed wire boy stumbled along the forest floor with a stupid grin on his face, tripping happily, he suspected the worst. Love, thought the beekeeper. My boy’s in love.
Though the beekeeper worried over the barbed wire boy’s happiness like a town mother over the state of the boy’s soul, it didn’t matter. Parents worry over their children constantly. In the end they can do nothing to protect them. The barbed wire boy would have to learn his own lesson, thought the beekeeper. And he would do that. He would come to learn this the following Sunday, at the Feast of Love.