I watch the shower run, churning water drowning out everything else. Perfumed soap does little to cover the burning scent of lemons and judgment. Every passing moment holds an increase in both heat and dread. The shower surpassed comfortable temperature, climbing steadily. The pressure is as high as it can go, roaring in my ears. Father watches me intently, disappointed but resigned to help purify me once again. I strip away my clothes, not daring to look at my shameful body. I know what I need to do, what I have done every time I commit myself to sin. Father was clear on that. Still, I am hesitant to accept my punishment. I know I deserve it, but my corrupt, infested body demands to resist Father’s reasonable hand. My hands are shaking as I pull down my underwear. I have no choice but to look down and see proof of my wrongdoings. It’s not as if I could ignore it, the Lord’s wrath curls within my waist and nearly sees me bedridden. Still, the blood soiling the white cotton nearly brings me to tears. If I could follow the word of both my father and the Lord, I wouldn’t have to atone with my flesh. No matter how hard  I try, I can’t purge the evil from my soul. Every month, Satan runs his filthy claws through my womb and bestows this perversion of decency. To bleed without contrition would allow him to bed me.

I kneel before Father, the devil’s call coiling deep within me. Alongside my prayers for forgiveness and cleansing, I silently pray that I don’t soil the floor with my perversion. To taint this place would only send me further from heaven. I’m disgusted with myself for that distracting hope during the cleansing, Satan lurks within scattered minds. Father looms overhead, nigh as tall as the house itself. I hate to put him through this, I know that having his own daughter be so corrupt pains him. He spends so much time and effort trying to teach me the ways of the Lord, yet I continue to fail him. He’s far more gentle than I deserve, no matter how hard I fall from grace he has yet to lay a hand on me. He says to beat me would merely cause my weak traitorous mind to turn from the Lord completely and I’d end up like the filth beyond these walls. 

Cleansings are always silent, a private admission of my sins. To speak while so corrupt that the Devil claws out my womb is to give voice to him. Silence at least doesn’t let him poison my tongue. The Lord acts as my judge, prosecutes until my feeble defense of ignorance shatters under his might. The next stage is upon me, the one that inspires the most contrition. I turn, refusing to let either knees or eyes leave the floor. My back is to Father, but I don’t need eyes to know what comes next. I can faintly hear the sharp scrape of a blade being sharpened over the roar of water pounding onto the tile floor. My body goes still as soon as his hand brushes my head. He’s made it clear that to touch a sinner is to dirty his own hands and bring the Lord’s wrath down upon himself. Yet, he’s willing to get so close in an effort to save me from damnation. It warms me to see how strong his love for me is, despite my evil throwing it back in his face. I love him for trying so hard to keep me on the Lord's path, even when it causes him harm. I’m forever sorry for my inadequacy 

He runs his fingers over my sparse hair and scaly red scalp. I remember back when I was young and before I lusted and sinned, it had been brown. With every cleansing, it grew lighter and more grey. That is another mark of my corruption, if I would just cast the devil out, my hair would grow shiny and long. He gets a good grip on my head, lining up the razor. I hold my head as still as I can, to move is to invite pain, and to soil Father’s hand with my filthy blood would see my punishment drawn out until I lost consciousness. I’d made that mistake only once. Father’s mercy is the only reason I’m still alive. If I were to ever taint him so again, I would be cast from this holy place and left to rot. He slides the blade over my scalp, dead grey hair and wet flakes of skin falling to the floor. Self-loathing builds with every slice of the razor, every squeeze of his hand. I can feel his disgust at having to touch me, to be exposed to such evil. I desperately wish that I didn’t have to subject him to my presence, but I still sinned. If I were not so weak-willed and pathetic, I wouldn't be hurting my only family. The evil burrowed in my soul leeched into my mothers, banishing her to become a corrupt whore wandering the streets with the rest of the infidels. Every second of contact feels like an eternity. Still, he continues dutifully until no hair remains on my head. Relief and gratitude flood my body as soon as his hands leave me. 

The final act of cleansing looms before me, salvation found in the liquid inferno. I rise to my feet, making sure not to brush father’s knee. Steam beckons for me to purge the devil’s influence from my body. Curled up in the back of my mind are those damned traitorous fears of the water and the disinfectant. It is baseless, only serving to bring me further punishment. If I were pure of soul, if I truly followed the Lord, it wouldn’t burn. To be pained by the cleansing is to be touched by the devil. I step forward, filling my mind with prayers for absolution and repentance. The world goes white the moment I’m touched by the liquid. Droplets of flame burrow into my skin, boiling me alive in a cloud of my own damnation. The pain is secondary to thoughts of repentance. If the Lord must hang for humanities sins, then I shall burn for my own. If I were to cry out, to let father hear of my suffering, it would be disobedient. I have earned my punishment, and I shan’t give in to Lucifer’s desire to voice his displeasure. Blood wells from my tongue as I choke on Lucifer's sweet temptation. I hide none of my body, bearing everything as an offering to the water. I reach blindly for where I know by heart my purification to be. I grasp the slippery bottle, the venomous scent a promise of forgiveness.

I step away from the downpour, skin glowing red and stinging. I open the cap, trying not to drop it. An overpowering burning scent of what was supposed to be lemons nearly brings me to tears. With a shuddering breath, I dribble the liquid onto my hand. While it makes no sound, in my mind I can practically hear the sound of sizzling meat. It sinks into my raw, heat weakened skin, burning the devil within me. I set the bottle on the shelf and begin cleaning in earnest. The hands are always the first to be purified, as they are the tools of the devil. Instinct guides me through the process. The rough scrubbing of my hands causes the cleaner to sink into my cracking red skin and splintered brittle nails. Water pounds against my blistered back. My mind is utterly blank as the chemicals spread over my body. This process, though painful, is one I’m grateful for. It will all be worth it to please Father, to please the Lord. Besides, I’d rather swallow the cleaner than be cast to the infidels. There'd be no way to get into heaven then, and I'd truly be lost forever. 

It was always surreal to be cleansed fully in this way. It's the only time I’m allowed to touch my breasts or the slit between my legs. To touch them is an act of lust, one of the worst sins I could commit, save disobedience. I can’t help closing my eyes and holding my breath as fingers snake up my chest. Even though it’s needed, I can’t help but feel Father looming beside me, ready to cast me to the pit for daring to lust. I make quick work of my chest, soft growths prickling with sensitivity. I take a moment to breathe as I ready myself for the final area to clean. It’s impossible to tell the tears lingering on my face from the rest of the water. 

I pour more cleaner into my hand, heart beating a frantic rhythm against my ribs. My muscles feel as though they’re carved from stone. Father is watching, I can’t hesitate, I’m still unclean, If he notices… I stare at the opposing wall and touch the mound between my legs. All thought is driven from my mind, all that exists is my hand and the poisoned lips of my entrance. The hypersensitive flesh quivers and recoils from the caustic salvation forced upon it. The pain in the rest of my skin seems nothing comparing to the searing kiss between my thighs. I jerk my hand back in an instant, fingertips smeared red. I wash it away and step back from the water. 

The wave of relief when I leave the shower is staggering. It was done, The hardest part of the cleansing was over. Crushing the forbidden instinct to look to Father for praise, I instead wait for his lead. I knew what was next, what always came after a shower. But, to undermine his authority and take initiative would land right back where I started. Even with my eyes on the floor, I could feel his eyes studying every inch of my naked body. He must have been satisfied with my reddened skin, as he shut off the shower and lead the way out of the bathroom. The air in the hall was blessedly cool and dry compared to the sweating room they left behind. It stung my seared hide, but it was welcome none the less. The screaming waters were gone, leaving the house deafeningly silent. Our footsteps could have been gunshots in the abyss of sound. 

We come to a small door tucked away in an abandoned corner of the sitting room. Before, it had been a closet. Now it was being put to a far greater purpose. Father unlocked the door, allowing a wave of festering dead air to escape. It was tiny, completely bare save for a dusty brown towel covering the floor and a rusty bucket. It was odd to see it in the light. I bow through the low frame, stirring the dust in the air. To kneel is an instinct in this place. Father gives me a bottle of water, pristine plastic a strange sight in the closet. I don’t see his face as the door closes behind me. I don’t need to look to feel his smile. 

The harsh click of the lock sliding in place rings in the dead space. All I can see is the thin bars of light framing the door. The towel is like sandpaper against my newborn skin, made rough from over laundering. Still, I hold onto the feeling of the dry fabric, for its far more pleasant than how it’ll be in a few days. I clutch my water, not daring to crack the seal yet. I’ll need it later. Before, I’d made the mistake of drinking it in one go, and I had paid dearly for it. There’s no moisture or life in this air, save for my own breath. The worst of it was already over. All I have to do is wait until the Devil gives up his hold than I can leave. Five days is a small price for salvation. I wait on that once white towel and pray that rest comes quickly. 

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