by Corinne Mahoney
Diana is sitting with the other would-be converts listening to Sheila and Robbie Miller in the rectory hall. They’re animated and cheerful, unlike the majority of the Catholics Diana sees at Mass. This disappoints her.
Diana isn’t converting to Catholicism because of God or Jesus or Mary. It isn’t the stiff pews, the rituals, or the emotionless worship, though they make it more palatable. It isn’t the crucifix behind the altar either, though it draws her hungry eyes every time she walks into church.
She wants to wean herself from the lizards, the mice, the moles. Last winter it was a cat, and she hasn’t forgiven herself.
Diana had devoured self-help books, Tae Kwon Do, and yoga in pursuit of self-control. She had eliminated gluten, then carbs, and gone vegan. She had even trained for and run a half-marathon. In despair, like most do, she finally turned to faith. She studied holy books and doctrines. She was researching salvation, but instead found a workaround.
And it worked brilliantly, until the Eucharistic Minister ratted her out to Father O’Malley.
Two weeks ago, the priest touched her elbow as she was leaving mass and asked if she could wait while he bid the other parishioners goodbye. Diana stepped back inside.
A hint of incense wafted into the pew as the priest slipped in beside her. The smell reminded Diana of walking through the halls of her dormitory in college, the aroma of concealed transgression oozing from behind closed doors. It was the same dormitory where she first fed. She had seen the mouse in the basement laundry room wriggling to free itself from a sticky trap next to a dryer, its leg almost detached from its battle to escape. She tried to push away the memory of the sinewy limbs in her mouth, the metallic taste of its silky fur on her tongue, the fragile bones slipping through her lips as she sucked them clean.
Diana’s stomach grumbled. She had missed something Father said, but he was still talking.
“I want you to feel welcome here. I also want to see if you’re okay? We’ve noticed you gulping down most of the consecrated wine during communion.”
“I’m sorry, Father.”
“Is alcohol a struggle for you?” Father’s voice was kind, but his whispered breath was the sour of chronic post-nasal drip.
She shook her head.
“There’s no shame, Diana. Coming to God is the right way to overcome such demons.”
She bent her head and stared at the tan-padded kneeler. Her stomach tightened trying to hold onto the new hope the body and blood had given her. She had gone three months without so much as a spider.
“I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t realize the proper protocol, that’s all.”
Father’s milky blue eyes narrowed.
“Where were you confirmed, Diana?”
Alcoholics and sinners of all sorts are welcome. Outsiders are not.
Diana had not grown up religious. She hadn’t even been baptized. Her parents were hippy atheists. She hadn’t known that sacraments and salvation are withheld from those who haven’t completed a process.
Father O’Malley told her about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Millers who taught the classes.
“You are always welcome here even if you don’t attend RCIA, but I hope you will. Until you’ve been formally accepted into the Church my dear, you must refrain from receiving communion.”
He patted her shoulder and wished her a lovely afternoon. The next closest Catholic Church was two bus rides away.
So here Diana is watching the Millers. There are snacks and coffee. She gobbles down pretzels, but they can’t quell her hunger.
The Millers drone on and on, preaching in tandem. Diana is too hungry to follow their words, so she eyes their bodies. Robbie is meaty and short, his fingers stubby. Sheila is petite, mouse-like. Every part of her seems impossibly frail, except her smile.
Sheila excuses herself and heads to the hallway in the back of the rectory toward the restrooms.
Diana sees it as a sign. It’s been years since she’s gone even more than a week. The 65 days she counted last night until Easter were too many to bear. Diana gets up and traces Sheila’s steps into the dark hall. She opens the restroom door and listens to Sheila’s urine streaming into the toilet. Diana waits in silence perched next to the sink, and when Sheila opens the stall door her smile lasts only a second.