On Sunday mornings, before church, I lie in my bed with the radio turned low next to me on the bedside table, listening to Powerline. I listen to REO Speedwagon and Styx as my sister sleeps in her canopy bed across the room. I look at the pink lacy fabric stretched across my own canopy, and I remember how Troy’s hands felt on my hips. I remember the weight of him on top of me on this very bed, three months ago while the rest of my family was greeting parishioners next door in the vestry, and I think of my father standing at the pulpit on Sundays. We are all sinners, he reminds us every week, and I think that certainly I am now one. Before I met Troy my gravest sins were fighting with my sister and lying to my parents about finishing my homework, but now I wonder what my father would think about the state of my soul.
I get dressed for church, and my pants are a little tight. My sister has spread her clothes out on her bed and is trying on different outfits. She does this every week, and it drives me nuts. She stands in front of the full length mirror hanging from our bedroom door and checks herself out from all angles. I have one outfit that I wear each Sunday, my church outfit, a pair of black dress pants and a blue sweater with little flecks of tinsel in the wool. In the summer I wear the same pants with a flowery green top. My sister insists on making every public appearance a fashion show. My mother is always talking to her about her vanity, about making her beauty an invitation to sin. She sends my sister back up to her room if her necklines are too low or her skirts are too short. She licks her thumb and rubs at my sister’s rouged cheeks as if she were a toddler with food on her face. I stand in front of the mirror with my church outfit and check out the way my sweater meets the top button of my pants, which is straining to stay inside its buttonhole, and I decide to rifle through my dresser drawers for a longer sweater.
We live in a small brick house that faces the church. The church parking lot is right outside the front door, and together we make the quick trip across the crumbling asphalt plain to the side door where the Sunday school classes are held. My father holds the door open for us, his family. My father doesn’t speak on Sunday mornings. He eats his breakfast quietly and spends the time before we leave in his study, lost in thought. My mother, my sister and I greet the parishioners in the vestibule as they arrive, while my father contemplates the sermon he is about to deliver. He is a thin, wiry man, with a clean, cropped haircut and a small, shiny patch of skin growing at the top of his scalp. He approaches the pulpit quietly, but when he speaks, his quietude leaves him and he is bombast and hellfire and redemption. I watch him from the front row, as he addresses the congregation, naming their sins and proclaiming that God will punish them unless they repent. I hold my hands in my lap and pray to Jesus that my father is wrong.
The small thing inside me swims as my father bellows. It is as heavy as Troy was across my body. My mother reaches over and holds my hand, patting it absently as we listen to my father. I think, as she holds my hand, that I am never truly alone anymore, that Troy is with me, that even though he hasn’t even talked to me since that late summer day, that he has left a piece of himself that I can’t possibly keep, and this makes me sadder than the universe.
After the service, my parents stand in the vestibule with my sister and shake hands and give blessings. I step outside for some air. I watch the traffic leaving the parking lot, the line of cars that snail-crawls out onto the highway. I look at how the telephone poles and powerlines edge the road, and the empty, stubbly brown corn fields that stretch out on the other side to the horizon. And as I walk across the grass, down into the ditch that rises to meet the highway, across the pebbly shoulder and into the middle of the busy roadway, I imagine myself floating as the small thing inside me floats, and I think of my father.
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