The Priest’s Wife: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

In this excerpt from The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast: New and Selected Stories by John L’Heureux, a priest’s wife moves among mountains.


1. The priest and his wife were seen skiing together before they were married; or, rather, she was seen skiing and he was around, somewhere.

She took the lift to the slope reserved for advanced skiers. She was wearing a black parka and formfitting ski pants, also black. Her blond hair hung loose and straight.

Those who watched with binoculars from the deck of the lodge said it was an exercise in discipline. She allowed herself none of the indulgences of the advanced skiers. She plunged straight down vertical slopes, shooting off at an angle over horizontal ones, slaloming between invisible poles even when her momentum would have seemed to indicate certain disaster. She never shifted weight suddenly from one leg to the other. She never skidded, never fell. She crouched, swerved, straightened, her body always completely in control.

An exercise in grace, someone said. No one could take their eyes off of her and so no one was sure who said it. It may have been the priest.

Snow had begun to fall, so they all went indoors for hot buttered rum and a little fooling around by the fireplace. Every now and then someone would look out the window and see her mounting once more that precipitous slope, and then the lightning descent, the perfect turn around the invisible poles.

Among 20 snowy mountains she was the only moving thing.

2. After he met her the priest was of three minds regarding what he ought to do. After he watched her skiing on the slopes he was of one mind. He wanted to be a poet and write perfect love songs. For God, naturally. And then eventually perhaps for publication. And finally just to create a good thing. To make something. He was of one mind about that.

John L’Heureux was the author of more than 20 books and directed the writing program at Stanford University. He died in 2019.

Excerpted from The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast: New and Selected Stories by John L’Heureux, published by A Public Space Books on December 3, 2019. © 2019 the Estate of John L’Heureux.

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux, A Public Space Books, 432 pages, $28
John L’Heureux’s short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and Esquire.


• By John L’Heureux
• A Public Space Books, 432 pages, $28

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