Apr/May 2008  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature

You could always say you were a Satanist

by Anna Britten

"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots." —George H.W. Bush, Chicago, 1987

"You could always say you were a Satanist."

McGraw smirks as he says it.

Behind him on the sports field, the bonfire is being built for tonight's Fundraising Barbecue.

I laugh so loud, outside in the corridor, the clerks and interns of party headquarters stare in through the door. Between them and me, stuck to the glass of the door to both offer some privacy and to illustrate the party's all-inclusiveness, various religious symbols in window sticker and poster form. There's even a photo of a gaudy gold Buddha. That cute, fat uncle of world religion, the one you can't be rude about.

"No, seriously. A candidate did that a few years back. They claimed it was a legitimate religion, and it actually got them a few votes." He laughs and shakes his head.

I clamp my arms across my chest to hide the sweat patches under my arms.

"So what you're saying, Mr. McGraw," I say, "is even though I have the money to run a campaign. Four years of experience in local government. A wife-in-waiting. A clean background. That's not enough to even enter the primary election?"

"Voters just feel safer with someone who believes in something."

"I believe in plenty of things."

I stare at the low winter sunlight washing through the window and pooling onto the beige waffle pattern carpet. Dust motes meander in it like kids running about in the surf, and they remind me of last night when Kelly and I watched that documentary on TV. This astronomer shot a laser beam to the moon, and it bounced back. Then we went to bed, and as we screwed, I was thinking how every particle of her and every particle of me was part of this same infinite fabric. I believed in that.

"Give it a name."

"You mean like Scientologist, Wiccan, Buddhist, Jehovah's Witness, even—ha ha—Satanist? I just have to sign up for something. So, I could say I worship lemons, and it'd be better than saying I am an atheist?"

He nods wryly, then rubs his chin and rocks in his swivel chair, which screeks like the music in the shower scene in Psycho. He is smiling, conspiratorially. Reckons we are onto something here. Cooking up a plan together.

"No. Sorry. I can't do it."

"Ah, Thomas," he snaps. "Just pick one. You don't have to believe it, just say it, then forget about it. And you're safe. You got a Catholic grandparent you could dig up? Or say you're Jewish. I'll fix you up with a kippah—who cares?"

He looks weary, his face hanging like a flag on a still day.

"I think it's fair to say I've stuck my neck out for you, Thomas. Because I think you'd be great for us. So just do this for me. For God's sake. I mean, for—whoever."

Through the window I see a man with blue gloves as big as cushions throw the wood on, higher and higher. Plywood polygons, torn planks, a picture frame, an empty crate that must once have held fancy Christmas jams and pickles.

"I like you, Thomas, but it'd be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an atheist to enter the House of Representatives," McGraw says, placing a hand on my knee. "That's my final word. Let's get some air."

He leads me down the corridor and out onto the field and puts his hand on my lower back as we head for the bonfire. I think we're going to stop when we're a few feet away, but soon we're so near I can smell the rotting wood and the gasoline. And then he shoves my coccyx again and we're as close as we can get without sitting on top of the thing, and the guy with gloves is backing away with a funny look on his face, and I can feel the jagged end of a plank digging into my calf. I close my eyes.

"We used to stick the likes of you on there," whispers McGraw. "Sometimes I'm not so sure that was a bad thing."