"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines."
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How Do I Pray?

How do I let go of
DISGUST
ANGER
RAGE

How do I speak
LOVE
HOPE
COMPASSION
PEACE

How do I pray?
Heartsickness and despair
have bound my tongue.
Dread and powerlessness
constrict my heart.
Revenge whispers its
bitter nothings in my ear.

Hatred fills me
I know how tightly
I am caught in the
Tempter’s snare

How do I pray?

All I have is trust
God speaks tears’ language
God transforms rage into TENDERNESS
dread into COURAGE
hate into HOPE

God hears my faltering
feeble attempts
holds me close
releases me from the enemy that is me
sends me out to LOVE
as I have been LOVED
not because I feel it, but because
LOVE is LIVED.

Prayer is not limited to bended knee.

Sometimes prayer is in the walking.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Storms



Crawling under a table,
my fourth grade storm shelter,
I read, the unfolding story
drowning out sounds of wild rain
demanding entrance at the windows

Clucking teachers pecked and whispered
my oddness promptly reported
disquieting quirks of
my parents’ youngest born

Facing off with grownups
a gunfighter without a gun
stammering an answer
“I was scared of the storm,”
“I did what made me feel safe.”

Safety left me long ago
 my body a crooked “S”
I lie quaking under cover
no unfolding story but my own

cat's purring, insistent warmth
tucked into the bend of my 
knees is small comfort as I lie
waiting, waiting
for the storms to pass




Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Nice Boys

            Kevin pursued her the summer after ninth grade. A year ahead of her in school, he spent those three months before junior year riding his moped to her house on warm afternoons. They would talk and kiss on the swing in her parent’s backyard before he rode away again to his job at the music store.   
            Kevin was unfailingly polite whenever her parents were around. He was friendly. He invited her over to his parents’ house for dinner, and she immediately made a friend out of his mother. They spent the 4th of July together in his backyard. He shot off rockets and tried to impress her with his daring. She rewarded him with kisses and hugs. 
            She’d never really had a boyfriend before. In junior high, she and a boy held hands on the bus for a school trip, but this was the first time she could claim a real boyfriend. Her parents would not let her go on a car date with a boy by themselves yet, but his mother would give them rides to the movies. She hated scary movies, but she watched them with Kevin, so she could grab his arm and his shirt and squeeze close to him for protection. 
            They would call each other late at night and talk until one set of parents or the other finally yelled for them to hang up and go to bed. But even that didn’t keep her father from pulling her aside one day and telling her,
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you need to go out with. He’s a nice boy.”
            At the end of the summer, she used the babysitting money she had saved for two years to fly to Washington State to visit her favorite cousin and his family. She promised Kevin and his mom that she would take pictures of west coast sunsets and the Pacific Ocean. She sent him a postcard each day while she was gone. But when she flew home, something was wrong. Kevin didn’t return her phone calls. His mom told her she would have him call when he got home from work, but he never did. One afternoon, just before school started, he rode his moped up her driveway and told her that it was over. He didn’t want to start school with a girlfriend. There was just too much for him to do. It was better this way, he assured her. 
            She spent hours in her room crying along with every sad song that poured out of her radio, wondering over and over again what she had done wrong. Finally she got tired of crying and sad songs and found her way back to normal again. 
            But Kevin was still around. They ended up in Ensemble Choir together. She ignored him. He ignored her. Yet by her junior year, they had reached a truce. They were not exactly friends, but they didn’t hate each other either. She looked at him one day and realized she didn’t care if he liked her or not. It didn’t matter. She was in love. As she declared to her friends every day, she was really, really, really in love. Liam went to a different school. He was two years older. He was rebellious and funny. He smoked cigarettes and loved motorcycles, rock and roll and her, but not in that order. She wrote his name over and over on her jeans; the ones with the holes in the knees. Her mother never got mad at her for doing this, but the jeans were washed more than usual. It didn’t matter; she would just write his name again. 
            Her parents didn’t like Liam as much as they liked Kevin. Her father never pulled her aside and told her that Liam was the kind of nice boy she should date. Instead, they laid down unprecedented rules. 
            “If you’re only going to date one boy, then you can only see him once a week.” 
She was defiant and found a million reasons to sneak off and see him anyway. Finally, her parents gave up and let her date him. But she knew they thought he wasn’t the nice boy Kevin was. 
            Just after her 16th birthday, the school had a blood drive. You were supposed to be 17 to give blood, but she wanted to so badly, she lied about her age and gave blood anyway. There was a choir concert that night, and the nurse advised her to go home, rest, eat a healthy dinner, and she would be fine for the concert. But something went wrong. At rehearsal, as she stood on the front riser in her stuffy choir dress with the lights shining down on her, she felt dizzy and weak. Spots did gymnastics in front of her eyes. She grabbed her friend’s hand and said,
“I think I’m going to faint.”
She did. She dropped like dead weight. The strength of her friend’s grip on her hand saved her face from being smashed into the floor. She woke to find the panicked worried faces of her choir staring down at her. Even Kevin looked scared.
            Some of the choir members helped her up and dusted her off. Her dress was brushed clean, and the other girls clustered around her and helped to redo her makeup and smooth down her hair. The concert went well, without any more shocks or fainting. She didn’t realize, though, that her body wasn’t going to be back to normal for a while. The next night a friend threw a choir party. No parents, no supervision, and plenty to drink. She drank two beers, then giving blood caught up with her again. She was drunk. She felt dizzy, and her legs shook. She tried to walk to the bathroom, but she stumbled. Kevin caught her. He helped her. He took her to the bathroom and held her head while she got sick. He wiped her forehead and the back of her neck with a cool cloth. When she finally stopped throwing up, he led her upstairs to a back bedroom, took off her shoes and told her to lie down on the bed.   
            She had never been so grateful to this nice boy she had once cared about. But why was he lying down next to her? Why he was putting his hands all over her? Why he was trying to kiss her and roll her on her back and hold her down? He was touching her and pulling at her clothes. She was so drunk and so sick, she couldn’t make him stop. She couldn’t fight him off.
She tried to say, “No. Please. Don’t do this.”
But her words slurred. She wanted Liam. She wanted Kevin to leave her alone. Just leave her alone. The door opened and someone poked her head inside. 
“Oh, sorry.” 
            She opened her mouth to scream, “Wait! Don’t leave me!  Help!”
Her voice seemed to have abandoned her; no sounds, no words. Yet maybe the door opening, maybe the fact that there was a witness pricked Kevin’s conscience, because he stopped touching her, pulling at her. She rolled away from him and cried into an uneasy sleep. The next morning Kevin was gone. She drove home, still sick and now so scared. Should she tell Liam? Should she tell anyone? 
            One of Liam’s friends called her that day, and she started crying on the phone. He picked her up to go for a ride. Finally, her words rushed out. She told the friend what happened the night before. What should she do, she pleaded with him? What should she do? He grimaced and told her to try and forget about it.
“Never tell Liam,” he warned. “Never!”  
She never told Liam. She never told her parents or her other friends. She was ashamed and embarrassed. She was convinced that everyone would blame her. It was her fault for giving blood and drinking. She didn’t remember leading Kevin on. But maybe she did. Maybe she did.
            In choir practice on Monday, Kevin would not meet her eye. She glanced over at him once only to see him staring at her. He turned away when he saw her looking back at him. She wondered how she ever liked him or willingly kissed him. She could not imagine ever crying over him again; never again. She heard her father’s voice. 
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you should you go out with. Kevin is a nice boy.”

No, Dad. He is not nice. He is not a nice boy at all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why?

Too pretty for its sad purpose, 
the blanket covering the small body
 was shiny gold.
A baby doll lay beside it,
dropped, I guess, on impact.
One more life lost
among so many lost lives.
More parents going home 
without their children,
more children falling asleep 
without their parents.

If you're keeping score
hatred earned another point,
swooshed the net, slipped past the goalie
knocked the damn ball outta the park.
I'd like to say that
love will get the next one, 
the game's not over yet.
Surely we're due a photo finish.
But as long as there's a scorecard
we'll never see the end.
Just more pictures of
shiny blankets, small bodies, and
a doll who's lost her child.




Friday, October 2, 2015

Lament



She asked us to lament.
Lie down on the floor
weep, wail, wring our hands
learn suffering’s sound.

Unsure of this teacher
permitting us grief
we tentative students

persisted at blind happiness.
O! To reclaim that
blessed invitation.
Now my cry,

“my God, my God,
why have you forsaken us?”
would swallow the silence,

Subdue the void
left by that absence.
I would give heartbreak its voice,
sing agony’s crooked tune.

I would gnash my teeth
fashion sack cloth
drench my head in ashes.

If remorse could
stop Death from cradling
babies in his unrelenting arms,
if sorrow could melt

weapons like wax;
repentance dry the eyes
of every parent

of every child lost,
no sense, nor reason,
then I proclaim my remorse.
Shout apologies to the heavens.

I turn back, turn around,
change direction,
heed the prophet’s call.
Only Comforter, speak comfort. 

Cry hope. 
Soften stony hearts.
Reshape new from old, living from dying.
Teach us life, teach us love.

My God, my God, hear our lament.








Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Prodigal



            The dark chill of the store was an abrupt contrast to the heat and light outside. Solvay walked in and stood still for a moment, letting her eyes adjust. She scanned the merchandise fanned out across the room. Guitars hung from the walls on her left. Big screen televisions, all playing the same movie, lined the walls to Solvay's right. In between were metal shelves with appliances, dishes, and other random objects that Solvay didn't want to take the time to identify. It was all the debris of other people's lives. The counter was presided over by a stocky man wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt brighter than the sun she had just escaped. Its orange and red flowers looked neon in the dim light.  The man stared at the nearest television; his acknowledgment of Solvay's presence was nothing more than a flicker of his eyes in her direction. A wall of guns stretched out on the wall behind his head.  The sight of them caught her off guard. She wondered who had once held them and what – or who – was trapped in their sights. 

            Solvay took a deep breath and approached the counter. The bag of utensils in her hand banged against her thigh, sticking slightly to the sheen of sweat from the heat, then bounced away again with her next step. 

            "Do something for you?" He asked in a sandpaper voice.

            "I saw on the sign that you buy silver and gold. I have some of my grandmother's silver.  I wondered if it was worth anything."

            He looked skeptically at the assortment of knives, forks and spoons jostling in the clear plastic bag as she laid it on the counter. 

            "Full set?" he asked. 

            "Yes. I even have the serving pieces to go with it." 

            "Silver isn't going for much these days." He pulled a knife from the bag, and turned it over a few times in his hand. "This isn't full silver. It's silver plate. Can't give you nothing for it."  He dropped the knife in the bag and pushed it toward her, his eyes returning to the blaring screens.

            Desperation tinged Solvay's voice as she pulled a box out of her purse. "I have jewelry too; some earrings and a necklace."

            The storekeeper sighed, as though he already knew of how little value her things were. He opened the box. Pulling out an earring he rubbed it against a small, black rectangle plate. 

            "Nope."  Handing back the earrings, he started to turn to the blaring tv once more, then stopped staring at Solvay's right hand. 

            "How 'bout that ring you got on?" he said, eyeing the opal and diamond ring she was wearing.    
             Solvay looked down at the ring that rarely left her finger. 

            "This was my mother’s ring. That’s an opal in the center. It's my birthstone."

            "It's money. I'll give you $200 for it." 

            Solvay hesitated. $200 wasn't great, but it was something. It could buy groceries; maybe convince a creditor to stay away for a few more days.

            The man mistook her hesitation for a bartering scheme.

            “I’ll give you $250, no more.” 

            Solvay slowly shook her head. "No, I can't. I know this is worth more than that.  And my father ..." Sophie broke off mid-sentence realizing the man's attention had turned back to the television. 

            Embarrassed, she mumbled, "It's just, you know. It means too much."

            The shopkeeper grunted, as though such sentimentality were the bane of his trade.

            "Suit yourself."   
           
            Solvay dropped the earrings and necklace back into her purse and turned to leave, cradling the bag of silverware in her arms. Her shoulders which had relaxed a little at the prospect of making some cash hunched again with worry. 

            As she opened the door the man called out to her, "You decide to sell that ring, lemme know.  I guarantee no one else will give that good of a price for it." 

            Solvay looked back for a brief second then pushed the door open into the heat. Back in her car a moment later, she sat with the door open letting her old Corolla run for a few minutes before she drove out of the parking lot. Even though her time in the store was short, her seat and steering wheel felt like they had taken advantage of her absence to visit Hell.  Everything was hot, burning to the touch, and Solvay felt the sweat beading on the back of her neck and along her hairline. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through her fear. 

            She stared at the ring.

“It’s money,” she said, repeating the man’s words. Solvay was tired; tired of being broke, tired of worrying, tired of always looking over her shoulder waiting for her fears to take shape and form and finally catch her.  But this ring was all she had left. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Minister's Wife



            Malena woke up from a dream she couldn’t quite remember, except for a blurry sense that she had been falling. The red numbers on the alarm clock read 5:58. It wouldn’t begin its shrill call until 6:00. She reached across her husband Henry’s chest to turn it off. Still asleep Henry’s arms slipped around her waist and pulled her down to his side. Malena buried her face in his neck and smiled. This was nice. They barely exchanged a quick kiss before bed anymore.
Henry groaned and pulled her on top of him. She let him hold her a moment longer, then sat up to take her nightgown off. Henry opened his eyes and stared at her as though sleep had stolen his memory of her. She smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss him.  He grabbed her hips and slid her back to her side of the bed. 
“I can’t this morning, Malena. I have to go for a run. By the way, how much weight have you gained?” Henry swung his feet onto the wooden floor and stretched his arms over his head. Slipping off his boxers, he strode naked to the bathroom. The slight pooch of his belly had grown smaller since he’d taken up running again. 
Malena lay still, feeling her face flush with heat and shame. She felt her own belly, full and round. Her hips, supported by her prominent backside, stretched wide across the sheets. She sat up and pulled her nightgown back on before Henry could come out of the bathroom. She picked up the clothes he had worn the night before, and placed the pants and socks in the hamper. She started to hang up his jacket, then stopped and held it close to her face. It smelled like him, like his soap, his musky cologne. But there was something else; something sour, something familiar. Her stomach knotted, but she shook her head and hung the coat over the back of the chair at her desk. 
Henry walked back into the room, drying his face with a towel.   
“Are you going into the bathroom?”
Without waiting for a reply he threw the towel at her. “Here.” 
Treading heavily toward the stairs, Malena started turning on lights. The light in the hallway was first, then Sophie’s light in the bedroom across the hall from theirs. When she turned it on, she called to her daughter, “Sophie, wake up, kiddo. You’ve got to get up now.” 
            Sophie rolled from her side to her back mumbling something about clothes.   
            “Sophie, if you want pancakes, you have to move.” Another mumbled response. 
            As Malena continued toward the stairs, she turned the light on in the boys’ room. Gus rolled away from the electric glare with a groan, but Finn sat up and smiled as he did every morning. At six he was still little enough to be undaunted by mornings and school days.
            “Morning, mommy!” 
            “Morning, sweetie.  I guess you get the first hug of the morning.” 
            “Yes! I win again.” Finn stretched out his arms to Malena; unlike his older siblings, he wasn’t embarrassed by affection from his mother. 
            “Get up and get dressed, Finn. I promised Sophie I’d make pancakes this morning, but we’ve got to be ready fast. You can help me.” 
            “Is it a long pants day or a short pants day, Mommy?” 
            Malena felt the window pane.  It was cold.  Looking out the pockmarked glass, she saw that the grass was frosted in a shade of delicate white. 
            “It’s definitely a long pants day, Finn. I don’t think we’re going to have any more short pants days till next spring.” Finn stood up on the bed and bounced a few times, then jumped off, landing on the floor with a thud. 
            “Spiderman is going to the bathroom!” he shouted, then ran down the hall. 
            Malena laughed, and walked over to the other bed. Gus had burrowed his head underneath his pillow, but she could still see the curve of his chin and the pink of his lower lip.  He was twelve, but Malena thought she saw a trace of the little boy he’d once been. She stroked her hand across his back.
            “Gus? Gus. It’s time to get up.”
            “I know.” The pillow made his voice sound far away. 
            “Are you getting up?”
            “Yes.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Yes.”
            “Really?”
 “Yes, mom, I’m getting up,” Gus said, annoyed. He pushed the covers off, sat up and stretched his arms. 
            “I’m getting up, Mom. You can leave now.” 
            Some mornings Malena would have called him on his snotty tone, but she knew he was feeling awkward about his body around her, around anybody, so she decided to let it go. Finn came back in the room, completely naked with his pajama shirt tied like a cape around his neck. 
            “I’m naked Spiderman,” he proclaimed! 
            “Oh God, Finn! Stop walking around naked! Mom, please leave, so I can get up.”
            “Fine, I’m going. Don’t say ‘Oh God.’ Finn, once you’re dressed, go jump on your sister and wake her up.” 
            “I heard that!” Sophie called from her room.   
            Malena went down the back stairs into the kitchen. The stained linoleum was freezing under her feet. She thought about running back upstairs and digging out her grungy slippers from the closet. But it was getting late. She would try to remember them tomorrow. She started the coffee and pulled the box of Bisquick out of the pantry. 
It was all normal, ordinary. Henry came downstairs in running tights and a jacket.  Malena bit her tongue to keep her comment about his tights to herself. She had laughed when he bought them, teasing him about being desperate to look younger. Henry hadn’t spoken to her for a week. 
“There’ll be pancakes when you get back.” She spoke in a light voice, addressing his hamstrings as he stretched in the middle of the kitchen. 
“I won’t have time to eat anything. I have a nursing home service this morning, so I’ll shower at the church. Did you iron my dog collar? You know the old people like it when I look like a minister.”
“There are some collars on the ironing board in the dining room.” 
Henry looked at her. “Are you sure pancakes are a good idea? It looks like you’re already wearing some on your hips.” Malena’s eyes filled with tears; she tried to hide them by turning back to the griddle. 
But Henry noticed. “I’m just trying to offer some constructive criticism, Malena. You’re too sensitive.” He ran out the backdoor. Malena heard Finn hopping down the stairs. 
“I’m ready to make pancakes, Mommy.” He pulled the black stool up to the counter, and climbed on it, spatula in hand. 
It was so normal, so ordinary. Finn turned the pancakes, accidentally giving one to Maggie, their border collie, when he tried to flip it into the air.  Sophie sat at the table and finished the last of her math homework in a panic. Gus was sullen and sleepy when he first came downstairs, complaining that all the guys in his class were taking a weight training class at the community college. Flexing his biceps, he asked if he could take the class too. 
There was nothing different about this morning. The chatter, the commotion were the stuff of every breakfast, every day. But Malena didn’t go into the basement every morning. This morning she did. This morning, she ran to the basement to get the old birdcage that Finn wanted to bring to school for show and tell. This morning she saw the bottle of amber liquid, with measuring lines drawn across its circumference from the bottom to the top. She picked it up and saw that the whiskey was down to the one quarter line. She unscrewed the cap and inhaled its sharp aroma. Her stomach twisted just as it did when she’d smelled Henry’s jacket. Malena felt dizzy and sick. Bile rose to the back of her throat, and she leaned over thinking she would throw up. Nothing happened, but sweat beaded on her forehead and upper lip. 
“Mom! We have to go!” Sophie yelled to her from the top of the basement stairs. 
“I’m coming.” Turning, she wiped her face with her hand. This morning she knew what Henry was doing.

            Malena tried to clean, but her thoughts whirled frenetically. She couldn’t concentrate on any one task, so she haphazardly abandoned one chore for another. She would start to wash a dish, put it down and move to the ironing board. Leaning over to plug in the iron, she saw dust along the baseboards, so she pulled out the vacuum. Finally, she gave up and waited for Henry to come home for lunch. Malena waited, sitting on the torn plaid couch that the church council insisted stay in the parsonage because a member, long dead, had donated it to the parsonage rather than the landfill. She waited with the bottle on her knees, spinning it like a top, wondering in which direction the sloshing fluid inside would point. Henry came in through the back door. Malena heard his briefcase land on the floor and his keys slap against the kitchen counter. He called her name. She didn’t answer. He walked into the living room, whistling. Malena knew this meant he was in a good mood. Maybe he’d run faster today. Maybe the nursing home service had gone well or someone had complimented him on Sunday’s sermon.  Maybe someone had died and left the church money. Whatever the reason, when he whistled, she knew he’d won somehow. Usually he wanted to celebrate by having sex instead of lunch. He wouldn’t want that today. When Henry turned the corner from the dining room to the living room and saw her holding the bottle, the off-key tune died on his lips. 
His face flushed, and his gray eyes looked defiant and hard, like stones. Malena and Henry stared at each other. Neither spoke nor moved.  Malena only knew she was breathing by the rise and fall of her chest.
            Henry turned away first, picking up the mail from the table next to the front door. 
            “There’s nothing wrong with me having a drink or two, Malena. I wouldn’t hide it if you weren’t so uptight about it. I wouldn’t do a lot of things if you weren’t so uptight.”
            Malena cut off further explanation. “Who is she, Henry?”
            “Who is who?” He asked, sounding innocent.
            “Who is she, Henry?” Malena asked again, her voice rising with each word.
            “I don’t know what you’re talking about Malena. I just drink to relax.” He smiled at his wife, his tone calm and appeasing. 
            “Bullshit! You drink to cover your guilt. Who is she, Henry? Who is she? Is she a parishioner? Is it Nola Dobbs? Carmen Sweeny? Is it someone in the choir, the council, the women’s Bible study? Who is she?” Malena stood up and walked around the coffee table to face him. He backed a step away. 
            “You’re imagining things. Again.” But Henry couldn’t look at her. He stared down at the mail in his hands.
            “Who is she? When will I start getting phone calls that mysteriously hang up at the sound of my voice? When will people stop talking the minute I walk into a room? When will the synod start getting complaints about you? When will the rumors and the innuendos and the damn whispering start, Henry? When will we have to move again, Henry? When? WHO IS SHE?”  Malena screamed, and then she slapped him across the cheek. Her palm and fingers stung. The left side of his face bore the imprint of her hand.   
            Henry touched his cheek. He raised his fist. Malena put her hands up, protectively, covering her face. But Henry dropped his hand. He looked at her calmly. He smiled at her. He laughed. 
“It’s Diana.” 
“Diana?” Malena stared at him. Her mouth was dry. She couldn’t seem to catch her breath. He didn’t need to punch her with his fists. He had just knocked her windless with two words.   
“Diana.” He walked around the table, picked up the bottle and opened it. He lifted it to her in a mocking toast, and then drank, almost emptying it in one swallow.   
“She likes it when I drink. She likes a lot of things.” He turned and left the room. Malena heard the tinny jingle of his keys, then the slam of the door. She looked at her hands. She stared at the room around her. Nothing looked familiar. Her hands, her home, her life was foreign and strange. Looking down at the coffee table, she saw the old black covered Bible that belonged to Henry’s great-grandfather. Henry displayed it prominently; a showpiece of the generations of self-righteousness that grew abundantly in his family tree. Its binding was torn in places and the pages were grubby from years of turning. She picked it up and felt its weight press against her palms. With both hands she threw it through the glass top of the coffee table. The sound of the glass shattering gave her no comfort.
           
            Malena washed the hand that had hit his cheek over and over again. It didn’t stop the stinging. She paced back and forth, her hands fluttering in front of her. She couldn’t stop moving. She couldn’t deflect the bombardment of memories. On their first anniversary, she’d walked into the church office to surprise him with a picnic lunch and found him standing at the copier with his secretary. He was behind her, close behind her, stroking her bare arms. The secretary quit soon after. Right after Gus was born she’d seen him slide his hand along the thigh of a college student at the college ministry picnic. The student had blonde hair that fell below her waist. Henry had tangled his fingers in it and they had smiled at each other. In Henry’s last church, two choir members had walked in on him and the choir director kissing by the wooden rack that held sheet music. In less than a month, Henry was moved to a new church. 
            Each time Malena had threatened to leave, to walk out. She would go back to teaching. She would find a job. She and the kids didn’t need Henry to take care of them. She didn’t need Henry. But he’d always begged her to stay. He’d always promised to stop, to change. They had gone for counseling. He sought out a spiritual director. He had been reprimanded by the synod. Henry told Malena he couldn’t live without her. He couldn’t live without the kids. Henry swore he loved only her, and he pleaded with Malena to keep loving him in return. She did.
            But Diana? Diana was her friend. Diana made her laugh. Diana was the only person in this stuffy, self-righteous church that didn’t make her feel inadequate and ill equipped to be a minister’s wife. Diana seemed to know when Malena was discouraged or feeling hemmed in by the house, the church and her life. She took Malena shopping and to the movies. They went to lunch and talked and laughed.
Henry was screwing Diana. She could not comprehend it. She could not bear it. Malena’s stinging hands fluttered. She paced. She couldn’t cry.  She couldn’t speak. Henry was screwing Diana?  Henry was screwing Diana! She wanted to pray; she wanted, she needed God to help her. Help. Her. She tried to pray, but God was gone.

            Malena was never a convincing liar, but she was amazed at how easily she could explain away chaos to the children. The broken coffee table was due to her clumsy vacuuming. Daddy had been called away to visit a family in crisis. It was all right that they were eating without him. He would be home late. The evening looked as normal as the morning. But Malena felt far away, as though she were out-of-step with time. She stood at a distance and watched ordinary Malena do the ordinary things. Ordinary Malena washed dishes, helped with homework, directed showers and read bedtime stories. Ordinary Malena gave kisses and hugs, helped lay out clothes for the next day; picked up toys and checked through backpacks.   
            When her children were asleep, Malena went back down to the basement. She didn’t find any more bottles, but lined up against the wall were old cans of paint displaying their colors in drips of hue frozen on the sides of the cans. Malena found a can of red, chosen once to renovate some old chairs her grandmother had given her. But the only brush she could find was stiff from too much use and too little cleaning. It would have to do.
            She took the paint, the brush and a screwdriver, and went upstairs to her bedroom. The bed was still unmade. Her desk was covered with a swirl of papers, bills, unread magazines. She pulled out a drawer, and reached in with her hand. She felt the cigarette pack taped at the back. Henry wasn’t the only one with secrets. She pulled off her jeans and t-shirt and put on the bathrobe that he had given her last Christmas. Sitting on the bed, she opened the paint can with the screwdriver. She threw the tool onto the wooden floor. It landed hard, gouging a mark in the already scratched wood. Malena didn’t care. She opened the window of their room, the one that faced the church. She climbed out onto the narrow pitch of roof, paint can in her hand, brush in one pocket of her robe, cigarettes and lighter in the other. 
            It was cold, but Malena didn’t feel it. Instead she felt feverish and the bitter air was like a cool cloth on her skin. She dipped the brush into the paint and tried to form the first letter. The bristles were too old and stiff to cooperate. She hurled the brush to the ground. Dipping her hand into the can, she cupped the paint like Henry cupped water when he baptized a baby.  Putting her hand to the shingle, she shaped an S. 
            Sweat started at the peak of her hairline and slipped down her forehead into her eyes.  She swiped at it with her arm and the paint spackled her hair in red. Malena felt the perspiration gather under her breasts and behind her knees. She took the cigarettes and lighter out of the pocket, laying them precariously on the shingles next to her. She pulled off her robe and threw it to the ground to join the brush.  Before it could land, it caught on a low branch of the oak tree in the side yard and hung there like a ghost. Malena didn’t notice. A sudden gust of wind chilled  her feverish skin, and dried her sweat.   
Turning back to the paint, she started the next letter; O.  Malena splashed her hand into the paint a final time, kneeling on all fours, intent on her message. The last letter; another S. 
            Sitting back, Malena lit a cigarette. She sat perched on the roof holding it in her red stained hands like some sort of smoking bird. Blood colored paint covered her. It was smeared across her breasts where they had sagged against the roof as she wrote. She looked down at herself and saw that the paint had tinged her belly, her knees, and the tops of her thighs. She was covered in blood. She was a sacrificial lamb. She exhaled a ring of smoke and watched it climb the air. Maybe its perfume would be pleasing to the God who was supposedly up there somewhere. She looked at the letters again. Here was her prayer. Here was her plea. S.O.S.  Save our souls. 


This story was written as an assignment for a creative writing class I took with Professor Amy Weldon.