Originally published on Fresh Yarn
"Sally Burns' father slept with another woman."
My mom is going on and on about it. "Can you believe it? Poor Mrs. Burns. We should go see her after Mass," she exclaims as she tries to load my two younger brothers and me into the family station wagon. "Whoever slept with him is going to hell because that's immoral!" Now we were paying attention. Someone was going to hell. "Now get in the car. You want to be late for church and sit in the back with all the poor people?" Well, yes and no. "Oh damn, I forgot my hat. Andrea run into the house and get Mommy's hat. It's on the bureau in my room."
I don't want to go back into the house. Not because I am lazy, which I am, but because my Dad is in there and he doesn't feel well. My Dad suffers from a special kind of illness that makes you sick in the morning -- mostly on the weekends. That's why he can't go to Church. And that's why I don't want to go in there.
When he's not feeling well he throws things at you and yells, "Git," "Move," and other one-syllable words.
My Dad looks like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and when you're around him you always have to ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky?" The answer is usually "no."
Well, I'm going to get in trouble if I don't get out of the car this minute and get Mom's hat! So, I put one white patent leather shoe in front of the other and head for the house. I try to stay focused on the lace ruffles on my socks instead of what lies on the other side of the door. We live in a giant purple house and even at the age of ten, I know this is wrong. I open the front door slowly, careful not to make any noise, and tip-toe like a cartoon character into my parents' bedroom where the hat is supposed to be. The light is off and it's hard to see, but I don't want to turn the light on. I decide to stand in the doorway awhile and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
I say a quick prayer to God. After all we're going to His House and that's why we have to cover our heads with hats. So He should help me. "Dear God, please don't let my dad wake up and please don't let him see me." I take a step. "If you let him sleep I'll be extra good." I take another step. "I know I haven't been good and broke the commandments when I told my little brother that he was adopted and that's why his hair is brown instead of blonde like the rest of us, but I'll never do that again." I take another step. My dad moves. "And I'll put an extra quarter in the basket at Church when it comes around even though I was going to use it to buy a goldfish," I add hastily to my bribe/prayer. I take another step.
The hat is so close that if I lean way over, I can grab it. I do. I lean as far out as I can and I feel the brim. I have it. I've done it. "God thank you. You won't be sorry." I lift the hat up, and I knock over a glass that was underneath it. It makes a loud noise and I freeze. I don't even blink my eyes.
After a second my dad jumps off the bed and darts into the closet. A sense of relief floods over me. That wasn't Dad -- that was the cat. As I pick up the glass, which smells like the rubbing alcohol our maid uses on her shoulder when it acts up, and put it back on the nightstand, I'm thinking of the promises I just made to God and if they actually count now when my dad wasn't even there in the first place. I really wanted to buy that goldfish but now I have to put my quarter in the basket. And why does God need my money anyway? Isn't He all-powerful? If He wants something he can just make it for himself. He'd be mad at me anyway if I gave him an extra quarter for nothing. Wonder if your house is on fire and you promised to be a nun if God saved your life, and then you found out there was no fire in your house and your life didn't need to be saved after all. Do you still have to become a nun? I turn toward the door.
"Where are you going?" My dad is suddenly in the doorway. He must have been in the bathroom -- maybe he just took a shower 'cause he's naked. "I told you not to come in here." He looks mad.
"I'm getting Mom's hat." I hold the hat up as evidence. I feel scared and overdressed. I wish my dad would take the hat from me and use it to cover himself up. He doesn't. He picks me up by the waist and throws me onto the bed. I turn onto my stomach and close my eyes and wait to be spanked but he doesn't do that. He turns me back over to face him and all I can think is, "It is so big." It's a California King and I feel lost laying on it. This must be what Goldilocks felt like when she laid down in the Papa bed. I like my twin bed so much better, where I sleep with all my stuffed animals. Stuffed animals are soft and furry and never move or take off your underwear. He spits on his hand. Is he going to put that on me? My brother spit on my little brother once and my mom got really upset with him. She said, "Spitting is rude." If she was here right now I'm sure she would tell Dad that he was being rude.
I look up at the ceiling, and wonder if God can see what's happening. Then I remember it's Sunday and He is busy listening to all the prayers of the people in Church. In Catechism class, Father McClellan told us that Purgatory is filled with people that are burning off their venial sins (the little ones) so that they can get into heaven. "Whenever you feel pain here on earth you can offer it up to one of the poor souls in Purgatory," he informed us. Your pain would count as theirs and they could get out of there faster. Like a spiritual multi-level marketing plan. So whenever I wanted to run across the hot pavement in the summer with bare feet, I tried instead to walk as slowly as I could so that it would be more painful and I'd offer it up to my Aunt May who I figured was in Purgatory. Father McClellan said that when you helped get a person out of Purgatory, when they went to heaven they would pray for you. I didn't like to think of Aunt May burning in Purgatory, so I offer up the pain I'm feeling in my privates and my stomach, and hope it does her some good. My dad is holding his hand over my mouth and it covers up a little bit of my nose as well, so it is hard to breathe. I offer that up too. Dad suddenly moans really loud and I can tell that he is also hurting. Maybe he is offering up his pain, I'm not sure.
Seconds later he leaves the room and I find my underpants hugging my right shoe and pull them up.
I grab Mom's hat and run out of the room. It hurts so much to run I figure if Aunt May is not in heaven by now, then she had a lot more sins than I thought she had.
When I get back into the car my mom is yelling at me. "What took you so long? We've been waiting for five minutes!" I'm shocked. Five minutes was all it took? Wow. It seemed like an hour or another lifetime. I guess all the big sins are quick. You could murder someone in probably a second, if you had a gun. You could steal something in a couple minutes, if no one was looking. You could take the Lord's name in vain in a few seconds. My mom is doing it right now. Sins are not that time consuming when you think about it.
We back out of our long driveway and
speed off to Church.
My mom scolds me as she guns the Country Squire down the street. "Andrea, if we're late and miss Mass it'll be your fault." She looks in the rear view mirror at me as she continues. "We'll all have mortal sins on our souls and go to hell." That doesn't scare me as much as it usually would because I am pretty sure I am already there.