The Splinter is a novella which explores the intersection between religious ecstasy and eroticism. Although not a piece of ‘erotica’ in the contemporary sense, the story examines the human hunger for transcendence through both pain and pleasure.
For thousands of years, man has sought experience of the divine. He has found strange and sometimes shocking ways to achieve it. Dolores Gutierrez has had visions since early childhood. Convinced that God is calling her to holy orders, she has modeled herself on Teresa of Avila, a medieval saint. But it is pain, not prayer, that brings her visions.
Acutely aware of the dark history of his own religion, Father Steven, the sensible priest of her parish, is certain that Dolores is far more in need of psychiatric care than a nun’s habit. He seeks the help of a colleague, Brother Simon, to assess the disturbed Dolores.
Uniquely qualified to counsel the young woman because of his own struggles with self-immolation, Simon takes on the task only reluctantly; he is not convinced his own demons have been put to rest. Is God really speaking to Dolores, or is it something else?
The Splinter is a dark erotic novella of the intersection between masochism and ecstatic religious experience. For certain Christians, The Splinter might be read as a fundamentally blasphemous work. If you are not comfortable with examinations or reinterpretations of acts of religious masochism, you might do well to give this one a miss.
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This story is so well and sensitively written that it’s open to many interpretations, like a parable. My interpretation is that, in the end, Simon teaches Dolores a lesson he fails to learn himself. Or perhaps his demons are darker than we realize. But, even with a tight moment of tragedy in this story, Dolores finds her happily ever after. I would have loved this story without it, but that redemption makes it even sweeter. In the end, sexual and divine ecstasy aren’t so different.
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As he reached the top of the stairs, he heard a sound. At first he thought it was the wind, blowing a branch against one of the windows. Then his stomach churned.
Still, he had prepared himself mentally for this. He knew what the sound was and he knew he had to stop it. He also knew exactly what was going on in Dolores’s mind. Even now, after so long, the sound made his mouth water.
Father Steven was right: penance is not penance if it isn’t difficult. Simon walked quietly to the end of the corridor until he stood outside Dolores’s door. For a moment, he felt paralyzed. All he could do was count the soft, wet lashes as they fell on her skin.
His lips moved silently as he prayed, trying to stop the counting. Then he knocked at the door.
There was no answer. Depending on how long she’d been at it, there probably wouldn’t be one. If she were too far gone, she’d be deaf to practically anything but a nuclear explosion.
“Dolores!” He knocked harder.
The soft sound of the flail didn’t stop. He tensed his jaw, turned the doorknob, and pushed the door open.
The sight of her hit him like a physical blow. Pale and kneeling by the side of the bed, her back a riot of open welts, the tips of the bloodied flail shed their crimson tears in a speckled pattern across the white bedspread in front of her, and up the side of the wall nearest the bed.
He walked over to her and stopped her wrist as she swung it back to deliver another blow.
“You can’t do that here.” He was being as gentle as he could.
She slowly looked up at him, her eyes unfocused and filled with tears. A smile spread across her agitated face. “Am I not pleasing in your eyes, Lord?”
She was wasted on her own endorphins. Simon grabbed a robe that was draped over the bottom of the bed and hung it around her shoulders. He pulled her to her feet, but her legs wouldn’t hold her, so he lifted her onto the bed and rolled her onto her side. Her breathing was shallow and rapid–mild state of
“Dolores, can you hear me?”
“You’re not God,” she whimpered.
“No. I’m not. He’s not coming.”
“Did he send you instead?” She began to cry in little hiccups.
“No. No he didn’t. It’s just me. Dolores?” He cupped her chin and gave it a little shake and watched as she blinked, her eyes clearing. “You can’t do this here. You can’t.”
“Jacob’s not allowed to do heroin, and you’re not allowed to do this.”
“But…” She sounded so small and so far away. An odd little giggle rose in her throat. “It’s not the same.”
“Yes, it is. It’s exactly the same.”