Jude was upset. Zina was not supposed to be part of his Mondays. He suspected that whatever it was she wanted had nothing to do with the ACA.
“Madam is downstairs in the spa. Follow me, please.”
Even as his anger ricocheted around his head, he felt his body beginning to react to the thought of seeing Zina.
“What took you so long?”
The basement of the residence was large. It seemed to be a complete sports facility. There was a jacuzzi. A sauna. Various types of treadmills. Bicycles. Numerous exercise machines designed to elicit innumerable forms of exertion.
The woman who had been waiting for him was wearing a short white robe. She had a towel wrapped around her head. On her shoulder sat an Ornithoptera alexandrae. Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. The creature’s wings, the largest of any butterfly in the world, opened and closed. Opened and closed. Meditatively.
“Well, someone deserves to be fired for this. Maybe we should fire you. Or better yet, let’s fire that man-for-all-seasons Rashid calls a driver.”
Jude tried to exhale. She clearly knew a lot about the ACA, though she was never interested in talking about it.
“I’ve been having this feeling of intensity for the past few days.”
It was very spiritual. She claimed. This intensity. Like someone, or something, was trying to reveal itself to her. She had needed a scribe. She had summoned Jude Marsini.
An explanation would have bored both of them. More Zina than Jude, in truth.
“Just take your clothes off. There’s a towel hanging behind you if you’re feeling modest.”
She stood by the door of the sauna and stared at him. He stared back at her. Violet eyes. That no one could say no to.
In the basement of the American Ambassador’s residence in Amman, Jordan, Jude Marsini removed his clothes. He was far too embarrassed for a towel to salvage any of his modesty. It remained hanging on the hook. Zina handed him a large notebook and a black pen. The paper was waterproof. The birdwing danced away through the air.
Zina took off her robe and threw it on the bench. She resembled a Capitoline Venus. Her hand seemed to be deliberately blocking the blonde fuzz between her legs. Her body was toned. The freckles he had seen splashed across her shoulders spread down her back. Her nails were painted a pale pink. There was a small scar above her left knee. Jude felt pins and needles on the inside and outside of his skin. It might have been the heat.
He noticed Zina was holding a stone with her right hand. A small brown coloured stone. It looked like a dormouse curled up in her palm.
In 1829, over a period of sixty-five days, from the 7th of April until the 30th of June, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates. He wore a hat which he would pull down over his face. Inside the hat was a stone. The ‘Seer Stone’. Small. Brown coloured.
Once, Martin Harris, his scribe, replaced the stone in Joseph’s hat. To test him.
“All is as dark as Egypt.” He said.
Zina unwrapped the towel from her head and covered her face. She leant back against the sauna wall. She slipped her hand, and the stone, beneath the towel. Her voice arrived like a Gregorian chant. Deep and melodious:
“Only Corianton, Not Alma, Only Corianton Became a child of mine. I had placed my word in the land of Siron, My throne descended on the home of Isabel, My light brushed against her hair, My rain fell upon her shoulders. To the hardened, she was a harlot, Yet to me, she was why Why I sailed through Lehi Why I wrote through Moroni Why I loved through Joseph And why I returned in the latter time. But it was only Corianton, Only Corianton Who recognized my sign.”
She removed the towel. Her skin was deep red. Wet with sweat.
“Now, write below: The Plates of Isabel.”
Jude focused. His eyes had never been this hot. His eyelids scratched against them. His bones seemed to be crying out to be released from their blanket of flesh.
Zina exhaled. As though relieved of a heavy burden she had been carrying.
“Who exactly is Corianton?”
Corianton was the son of a prophet named Alma. The Book of Mormon relates that he was seduced by a harlot named Isabel. History now holds that he was the only one in his generation to recognise Isabel for what she really was.
Jude wiped the sweat from his face and struggled to stay composed.
She was a sign. She said. Of God. Disguised as a prostitute.
“Don’t you love how God shatters our expectations?”
Zina climbed down from her bench. Jude could tell that his body was no longer under his control. It reacted to her regardless of how much his mind might object. He watched as Zina lowered her head into his lap. Her mouth had moved from reciting ancient and scared hymns to doing those things that made him feel watermelons breaking against his head. Lemons exploding in his mouth. Sharp objects racing down his skin. Minutes passed. She raised her face and looked into his eyes.
Jude Marsini knew that if he didn’t leave the sauna that instant, he would most certainly die. “But wouldn’t it be beautiful for you to die like this?”
An excerpt from When Her Hand Moves, a novel by Omar Imady