by Cassandra A. Clarke
I was never one for going to mass on Sunday, though I tried to be. My parents were that kind of people. It never stuck with me. I always stared at the stained glass too long, rearranging the shapes and shards of red to resemble another picture. Once, I swear, the glass looked like the taut legs of can-can dancers underneath silken skirts. They were laughing; their mouths hidden by the arc of window.
There was never anything inside a church for someone like me, an architect by trade, a grown woman who likes to break things down and rebuild them to maximize space, talk, and movement. Churches aren’t those kind of things. But still, I am running towards my childhood church. I don’t know what I expect to find there, beneath the multi-colored glass, those kicking legs, those lines of pews arranged to make me feel how inaccessible God was from my seat.
I was visiting my parents. Or, really, my father.
My dad had gotten old. Old enough that he often forgot where he was and who he was. Mom decided that she needed a trip. Didn’t say where she was going or when she’d be back. Just smiled at me, and squeezed me so tight that her Chanel perfume made me sneeze on her shoulder.
Dad was on our lawn. He was mowing it. He stopped. He looked at the sky, as if he heard something I couldn’t. I saw him from the window. His head cranked back like a duckling. I went out to see if he was okay, or if he needed a glass of water. I was new to this, caretaking. I didn’t know what to ask.
I touched his shoulder. When I did, he spun around. I leapt back in shock, and felt ashamed.
His eyes, which typically had a sheen of white covering his irises like a veil, looked even whiter than I remembered. His head shook side to side. His teeth, those gloriously crooked teeth, sugar-stained from sneaking chocolate syrup into his cereal each morning, snarled at me.
“It’s ok,” I said to him, although I knew I was really saying it for myself.
His teeth gnashed at me like I wish a piece of chum in the ocean and he was the shark that had always been watching me underneath the waves. I wondered if this was what age was like. If it waited for us all like this, until we were too weak to push it away.
He approached me, reaching his hands out for my throat.
It couldn’t really be him, I thought. He’s having a spell, I guessed.
Spell or him or old age or wonder did me no good. He still reached out to grab me by my collar. His yellowed nails scratched the spot above my collarbone. I could feel the wet trickle of blood. He opened his mouth and on his tongue I saw three bottle-caps from soda. He wasn’t allowed to drink Coke because it made him cranky. There was the Coke insignia, laced in blood, as if he chewed the bottle whole.
I wish I could have been the person to wrap my arms around him and wait until the thing that was inside him lulled. I wish I kissed his forehead. Instead, I ran to the church.
Inside, the church was empty. Lanterns were lit near the pulpit. Flowers were standing by the door in attention. Lilies. I stopped to touch one. Mom always said if you touched one, it would bruise. I touched one, but these didn’t. I ripped the petals from the stalk, and stamped onto them.
Outside, I could see him approaching. Our church was only a block away from our house. He would find me. He would shake me until I threw up onto the tile floor.
I looked to the rows of pews, each one so bare and open, and I envied them for their inability to want shelter. I walked to the nearest one and sat down. I could hear the doors rattle open, and could hear the sound of the thing that was and wasn’t my father approach. He was mine now to watch. I looked to the stained glass windows and this time found one painted in differing hues of blue. The window looked to be a sky cracking in half, cracking right where the dove met the horizon, as if begging to be broken.