than their pet, for many were sent to the abbey when they were no older than I. They would flirt and ask me for a song, a poem, a story, the more bawdy the better, and the anchoress had taught me many of those. Where she had learned them, she would never say.
    “Were you an entertainer before you became a nun?”
    “No, Pocket. And I am not a nun.”
    “But, perhaps your father-”
    “No, my father was not a nun either.”
    “I mean, was he an entertainer?”
    “Sweet Pocket, you mustn’t ask about my life before I came here. What I am now, I have always been, and everything I am is here with you.”
    “Sweet Thalia,” said I. “That is a fiery flagon of dragon toss.”
    “Isn’t it, though?”
    “You’re grinning, aren’t you?”
    She held the candle close to the arrow loop, illuminating her wry smile. I laughed, and reached through the cross to touch her cheek. She sighed, took my hand and pressed it hard against her lips, then, in an instant, she had pushed my hand away and moved out of the light.
    “Don’t hide,” said I. “Please don’t hide.”
    “Fat lot of choice I have about whether I hide or not. I live in a bloody tomb.”
    I didn’t know what to say. Never before had she complained about her choice to become the anchoress of Dog Snogging, even if other expressions of her faith seemed-well-abstract.
    “I mean don’t hide from me. Let me see you.”
    “You want to see? You want to see?”
    I nodded.
    “Give me your candles.”
    She had me hand four lit candles through the arrow loop. Whenever I performed for her she had me set them in holders around the outer chamber so she could see me dance, or juggle, or do acrobatics, but never had she asked for more than one candle in her own chamber. She placed the candles around her chamber and for the first time I could see the stone pallet where she slept on a mattress of straw, her meager possessions laid out on a heavy table, and Thalia, standing there in a tattered linen frock.
    “Look,” she said. She pulled her frock over her head and dropped it on the floor.
    She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She looked younger than I had imagined, thin, but womanly-her face was that of a mischievous Madonna, as if carved by a sculptor inspired more by desire than the divine. Her hair was long and the color of buckskin, catching the candlelight as if a single ray of sunlight might make it explode in golden fire. I felt a heat rise in my face, and another kind of rise in my trousers. I was excited and confused and ashamed all at once, and I turned my back on the arrow loop and cried out.
    Suddenly, she was right behind me, and I felt her hand on my shoulder, then rubbing my neck.
    “Pocket. Sweet Pocket, don’t. It’s all right.”
    “I feel like the Devil and the Virgin are doing battle in my body. I didn’t know you were like that.”
    “Like a woman, you mean?”
    Her hand was warm and steady, kneading the muscles in my shoulder through the cross in the wall and I leaned into it. I wanted to turn and look, I wanted to run out of the chamber, I wanted to be asleep, or just waking-ashamed that the Devil had visited me in the night with a damp dream of temptation.
    “You know me, Pocket. I’m your friend.”
    “But you are the anchoress.”
    “I’m Thalia, your friend, who loves you. Turn around, Pocket.”
    And I did.
    “Give me your hand,” said she.
    And I did.
    She put it on her body, and she put her hands on mine, and pressed against the cold stone. Through the cross in the wall, I discovered a new universe-of Thalia’s body, of my body, of love, of passion, of escape-and it was a damn sight better than bloody chants and juggling. When the bell rang for vespers we fell away from the cross, spent and gasping, and we began to laugh. Oh, and I had chipped a tooth.
    “One for the Devil, then, love?” said Thalia.
    When I arrived with the anchoress’s supper the next afternoon she was waiting with her face pressed

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