lyrics by Joni Mitchell

(Standard Year 2248)

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The Priest sat at the airport bar
He was wearing his father’s tie
And his eyes looked into my eyes so far
Whenever the words ran dry
Behind the lash and the circles blue
He looked as only a priest can – through –
And his eyes said me
And his eyes said you
And my eyes said let us try

Had it been only four days? It seemed a lifetime ago she had first seen him, spoken with him; here, as now, in the lounge of the shuttle port. He had just arrived then, and was having a quick drink before deciding which of the various entertainment clubs to visit. She was just getting off work, but being a Southerner herself, she’d had to serve the man who ordered a mint julep.

“Atlanta, Georgia,” he’d said when she asked him where he was from. She was from Montgomery, Alabama and said so. He’d done the inevitable what’s-a-nice-Southern-gal-like-you-doin'-in-a-place-like-this routine. She’d done the usual it-pays-the-bills. They’d both laughed at the clichés.

“Is this your first time here?” Another cliché and he smiled a crinkled, beaming grin.

“No, but you can show me around anyway.”

Now, he didn’t smile. His conversation was stilted and stiff. No laughter at the clichés. And why should there be? Wasn’t this whole thing a bad cliché? A sailor on leave picks up some local girl and leaves her with empty promises and a heart just waiting to break. No, that was wrong. Leonard had made no promises. Maybe it was only that she longed to hear them. Or maybe it was he who longed to give them.

He said, “You wouldn’t like it here,
No, it’s no place you should share.
The roof is ripped with hurricanes
And the room is always bare.
I need the wind and I seek the cold.”
He reached past the wine for my hand to hold
And he saw me young
And he saw me old
And he saw me sitting there

“But sugar, if you don’t like Fleet…”

“Why do I serve in it,” he finished her question. They were lying in the dark, sated, and she, at least, was content. There was a edge – a wall around Leonard that she noticed never disappeared, not even when making love. “The opportunities for research are unlimited. And I’m practicing more real medicine on the Enterprise that I could in a lifetime somewhere else. And I’m challenged. I have to use every ounce of skill and talent…”

“And you're lyin’, Len.”

“All right, so I’m lyin’. I’m runnin’, how about that?”

She wouldn’t be put off by his caustic tone. “From what?” She didn’t expect a truthful answer.

“From a marriage I couldn’t handle. A child I couldn’t handle. Maybe from a me I couldn’t handle.”

“I can’t believe that.”

He eyed her belligerently. Even in the dark it was obvious. “Is that so?”

“You’re a caring, respectful man, Leonard. What is there that you couldn’t handle about that?”

“Maybe I wasn’t always that way.” The words were rueful, bitter, but used, as though the sour taste was far away yet too clearly, too often recalled.

A repeated, “I can’t believe that.”

He sat up, throwing aside the blankets, getting out of bed. “Maybe you’d better.”

Then he took his contradictions out
And he splashed them on my brow
So which words was I then to doubt
When choosing what to vow?
Should I choose them all? Should I make them mine?
The sermons, the hymns
And the valentines
And he asked for truth
And he asked for time
And he asked for only now

“It was my fault. I never had enough time. Never have enough time. I loved her, in my fashion. I love Joanna. I just can’t seem to give what they need. Certainly not when they needed it.”

She held him, comforting him. She hadn’t meant to badger him to a confession. She hadn’t meant to badger him at all. She was only trying to apologize for dredging up bitter memories. He’d become brusque and terse and she didn’t want to spoil his leave. Or, to be honest, the very pleasant time she was having in his company.

“It doesn’t matter, Len,” she told him. “It’s over and you’ve changed.”

“Have I?” he snorted. “Have I really?” I’m still runnin’ my dear. I have three friends on the ship, three out of four hundred and twenty. One I won’t even admit to. One’s more of a drinkin’ buddy than anything else. And the last… hell, even him I’ve jeopardized over medicine. Not his life, but his friendship.”

“You’re a dedicated doctor, Leonard…”

“I’m a coward. I failed once and I ran and I won’t try again.”

“You’re too hard on yourself, darlin'. You're the most gentle man I know.”

“And you know me so well.”

“Len, please, stop this. You’re wrong…”

“I’m not. I know the truth.”


The discussion ended there. They spend the rest of the time together lightly, with little discussion. Leonard seemed to want it that way. They danced, they ate sumptuous dinners, drank generously, made love long and often. And now they sat nearly silently, waiting for the shuttle to take him back to the life he used as penance. She wanted to ask why, she wanted to convince him he wasn’t the coward he claimed. She wanted to offer… what, she didn’t know. How could she let him leave like this? So cold, so lonely, so far, far away…

Now the trials are trumpet-scored
Oh, will we pass the test?
Or just as one loves more and more
Will one love less and less?
Oh come, let’s run from this ring we’re in
Where the Christians clap and the soldiers grin
Saying “let them lose”
Crying “let them win”
“Oh make them both confess.”

The End

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