The newlyweds stepped out of the Holy Dirt Room at El Santuario de Chimayo, a historic adobe church in the mountains near Espanola, New Mexico.The man and the woman put on their sunglasses. The sky was host to two clouds that looked like hot air balloons from the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The couple had just finished praying and rubbing holy dirt over their eyes and ears in the hopes of taking away, or at least diluting, the sins of the world. They were ready to embark on a life of holy matrimony, their spirits brushed clean by the grit of the blessed dirt.
The Sanctuary of Chimayo was famous, you see. Miraculous healings had been attributed to its holy dirt by people from all over the world. Countless pilgrims had traveled from as far away as Vietnam in the hopes of washing away the taint of the profane with the sacred scrub.
The young man walked briskly through the brick courtyard to the front of a rose-tangled trellis near the entrance of the church. Sunshine spilled over his dark hair like a luminescent dew. He made a beeline to the couple’s panting Portuguese water dog tied to a marble statue of a Franciscan friar standing next to the roses. Pulling a liter bottle of water from his backpack, he poured water over the dog.
“Do you do that often?” asked an old man, jutting suddenly from behind the blossoming rose bush, his eyes soft as waterfalls.
“What? You mean pour water over my dog?” asked the young man. “When it’s hot out, yes.”
“Did you just arrive?” the old man asked, as if he’d been waiting for the couple to appear. The rose blossoms pulsated like flames over the deep wrinkles in his face. The grey beard poked from his chin like knife point.
“Um, we’ve been here awhile,” the young man said.
The young bride sidled up beside her husband. “It sure is a hot!” Sweat filtered down her cheeks that were round as peaches.
“Your dog is like me,” said the old man. “I love water.” He pointed to the young man’s feet. “Why do you wear sock sandals? Take them all off and go barefoot like me. You know, to strengthen the sole.”
The old man’s feet were the same color as the adobe church. He examined the young woman with unabashed interest. “Take off those glasses.”
The young woman raised her cat-eye sunglasses up over her eyes. She squinted and lowered the lenses to shield her eyes from the sun.
“Ohhh,” said the old man. “Let me see them again.”
She lifted the shades a second time, her irises as viscous as a pour of thick honey.
The old man looked at the cross on the steeple of the church. It looked as if it had been etched into the blue sky. “Pretty.” Turning his trim body to the young man, he said, “You’re lucky she wears those glasses. You know why?”
“Attraction is all in the eyes. I’ve studied eyes for longer than I can remember, forever it seems. Now, remove your glasses. “
The young man, not knowing why, removed his sunglasses.
The old man scanned the young husband’s eyes, dark as pools of blackstrap molasses, and, with an index finger buried in the grey beard on his chin, after a lengthy silence, said “She’s a diamond. If you cheat on her, you’ll turn into sandstone.”
“Why would I cheat on her?” said the young man. “We were just married. We’re on our honeymoon.”
“People do crazy things.”
“Do we make a good couple?” asked the young woman.
The old man paused once more, touched a slim finger to his temple, smiled bright, and said, “Of course you do!” He stepped into the crimson shadow of the rose bush. “Same for you. You betray him and you’ll turn to sand. You’re a diamond because of him. Do you understand?”
A gust of wind shook the leaves of the bush. The red flowers shivered like fire.
The Portuguese water dog shook droplets of water from his back. The liquid beads fell to the parched earth like gemstones falling from the sky.
The old man disappeared behind the statue of the Franciscan friar as if he had never been there. The husband took his wife’s hand in his own and they walked together, the dog in tow, out of the shadows into the bright hot day.