|Oct/Nov 2014 Fiction|
Tapestry artwork by Susan Klebanoff
Churches always feel quiet. Quiet in the sort of way you imagine a library should feel, but never quite does. There's a sanctity there, seeming to emanate from the walls, from the cracks in the redwood pews. Run your hands along them. Feel them. They are hard; they are God. The sort of firmness your heart understands but can't ever quite forgive. The way they attack each individual vertebrae and some presence—untouchable, abrupt—works its way up your back. The spine is just a stairway for God. Let Him step into your head. The pew creaks in the silence. It is cold enough to notice that it might just be too cold.
Death is very short, I think. As short as life is long. Dying, of course, takes quite some time, but death? Just one moment and you're another star falling into the Pacific, becoming your own reflection. A blip. Untraceable in your disappearance except by certain astronomers or poets who study one bit of sky all too closely. It's a pinprick, is what I'm trying to say. One of those childhood flu shots with far more fanfare than its worth. Just a shot in the arm. Maybe life will seem the same after a couple eons, until it, too, fades into a bruise. A freckle.
There are boys to my sides: they don't think about it. Just fidget. Not a visible fidgeting, but rather a nervous sort of movement hanging in the air. An aura. They can't possibly imagine this is the closest they will be to death until it comes and bites them in the ass.
This is the district church. The big boy. The mother of all suburban churches. And all the old folks with God on their minds (and He has to be there when you feel like the dust particles blanketing the pews) come out from their homesteads to be young for a minute. We've filled most of the pews, parents stuck crowded in the back—let the old folks take the seats, of course. They openly fidget, the parents. Mom smiles at me. How long did it take her to pick out that dress? I don't want to know. Why am I sweating? A parent drops something. It rings out, echoing from the walls.
I wouldn't know, but for some reason, I doubt there's any Thornton Wilder gathering at the end of it all. Maybe it's because I think my parents would still be down here, below: Mom and Pop Simon trying to act like they've got a routine. Kind, always kind. I love them, I do. Actors, though, those two, always acting, honest, but acting. It gets hard to tell the difference. Hell, I've acted my part. There's a power in wanting others to believe that you believe in something. Perhaps life is no different.
That first Confession, I tried to tell him everything: the potato bug I'd flushed down the toilet earlier that day, that I'd talked back to my mother in the car on the way over, that I sometimes felt like it was just so hard to find worth, so hard, and would God hate me if I hated myself sometimes? If I couldn't find it? And they'd talked to my parents after that, to tell me what I should or shouldn't say in confession and that there are things only God should know. I wonder if my life is one of those things. I was so young then, scared shitless I couldn't tread any more water, that the waves might keep getting higher. Still am, I guess. Look at me.
The Bishop's started speaking now. I don't think anyone's listening. Can't tap my foot. Can't tap my foot. An easy thing to become addicted to, foot tapping, twitching. Hell, it got me through classes where I dreamt of going into the bathroom and flicking out my Adam's apple with a pencil (such thoughts are equally addicting). No help today though. The boy to my left explores his nostril with a frightening conviction. Perhaps he is dependent on that, too, in his own way.
If after I'm gone, you looked at all those old photo albums, would I still be there? Or, would there be a replacement, a shadow, a ghost? The universe convincing itself that my star had never fallen.
I wish they expected me to be truthful in confession. I'd like to see their wrinkles crinkle when I say I want to sleep with girls just to feel something warm, that I should never own a gun, that every other heartbeat is maybe just a little too much, and maybe they should stop, should just stop. I guess God's little tickle never found its way into my brain, got blocked somewhere along my spine. Maybe that's my fault.
Latin is never just said, it wafts, like an odor you can't quite place. Not good for the nerves. He's smiling now. Must be done. It's a good-hearted smile, though I can't help but wonder whether he feels something tingle in his cheeks, or if he's just going through the motions, like it's a function that doesn't quite know its own purpose. We're probably supposed to go up now.
My Pop doesn't usually come. Always seems to be sick or tired on Sunday mornings. He's back there today, though. There's a trickle in his eyes, like that one time I caught him with the bourbon after an extra shift at the plant. He smiles like it's for Mom's sake. It seems to mix with the light, his smile, leave the room in a haze. Head feels ablaze, like that, and getting up, Tim-to-my-right's pushing me to get up now, too. Will these steps bring me closer? Pop used to leave notes on the whiteboard at the bottom of the stairs, so even if I missed him late at night, we could still talk. Still talk. Too fast, it's white now. All is white, take each step like it's your last, feel them, feel the floor, down the aisle now, the Bishop's face is my father's now, and it's frightened. It whispers, "Your mother will forgive you."
I was wrong, I think. It isn't that I'm not enough for God, it's that He's not enough for me. So, I turn around, leave the ghosts of my footfalls to fill the silence, to cut through the black and blue of that haze. The doors of the church sting my hands as the wind, white with snow, squeezes into their gap. It eats at my cheeks. White.
Snow is cold in the way mother's stares are cold, but in the blue and dark and light and beauty, it is vindicating. And Pop is on the stairs of the church. He touches his hat, eyes shining in the sun.