by Christina Kapp
At three years old the girl has a Bible in the drawer of her nightstand. Every night she holds it and says the only prayer she knows. Now I lay me down to sleep. The syllables bubble together like milk blown through a straw. The girl thinks the book is pretty and rubs the black leather cover under her thumb like a worry stone. When she peels the cover open, her mother’s hand crosses over hers like a dark cloud. Just pray, the mother says, worrying about fragile pages and clumsy fingers. The girl closes her eyes. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
At eight years old the girl dresses up in a puffy white dress and a veil for her first communion. She is too old to like princesses, but she waltzes around her room and raises a pinky as she sips from an imaginary teacup. When church is over, there is a fancy dinner. An enormous roast lamb. She receives gifts. A necklace with a gold cross, a small white bible with silver trim, money slipped into greeting cards. She uses a ruler to write in straight lines across her thank you notes, making the letters look round and fat-bottomed, like a line of little mice. She thinks the glue on envelope flaps glue tastes like communion wafers. She places the white bible in the drawer with the black one and aligns the edges, making a little pyramid of pages. She rubs the cross around her neck. She is special now. Anointed.
At seventeen, the girl fights with her mother over her curfew, her clothing. “Trouble,” her mother says, hooking a finger under her daughter’s spaghetti strap. The girl likes the feel of air on her skin. She likes the way older men dip their chins down to see over their glasses when she walks by, like the little nod she learned to do when she approached the altar. She daydreams about getting her first tattoo, a cross on her wrist. It is her own design, an intersection of swirls with a sun in the center. She is saving her babysitting money to pay for it, but when she shows her mother the design, her mother throws a bible at her. “It’s sacrilegious,” she yells, and the girl, defiant, picks up the bible and fans the pages with her thumb. “Show me where it says,” she says. Her mother storms out of the room. Both of them look at the ceiling and say, “God help me.”
At twenty-six, the girl, now a woman, returns to her mother’s house to get a bible to use at her wedding. She wants to be married in a church but worries that the priest will want to know if she’s religious. She doesn’t want to lie; she is already pregnant. She already lives with a man. She feels that doing church things when she was young should get her some kind of—what was the word? Dispensation? Some kind of freebie. The two bibles are still in her old nightstand, the white one like a moon eclipsing a dark planet. She sits with them in her lap, flipping through the pages. She wants to use the reading about love being kind, love being generous, but doesn’t know where to find it. She looks at the tattoo on her wrist, a lion with its jaws open, red tongue splaying out. It different from what she had imagined as a teenager, but the only thing she knows for sure is that life never turns out how you imagined.
At forty, the woman is invited to a book club run by a local church. She’s not much of a reader, but for a divorced mother, social opportunities are rare. She will take up almost any hobby—knitting, bridge, PTA—as an excuse to spend an hour or two with adults and a glass of wine. She has to choose a book for next month’s meeting. She’s not sure if it has to be religious. She asks a local librarian for suggestions. She hands her three books. “People like these.” At home, her daughter, thirteen and angry, yells at her. “You don’t read books and you don’t go to church. You’ll embarrass yourself.” The woman calls her daughter disrespectful, a brat. The daughter slams her bedroom door. The woman puts her head between her knees, wraps her arms around her legs. She would like to cry, but her daughter is right. She’s not a reader. She remembers the two Bibles, the yin and yang of black and white, their delicate pages left unread. She wonders if they are in one of the old cardboard boxes in her storage locker, brown flaps collapsed inwards like dying flower petals. She can’t imagine why she would still have them but assumes that they’re still around. There are things you don’t give away.
At sixty, the woman’s body aches when she gets out of bed in the morning. She goes to a yoga class at the YMCA where she uses a blanket to pad her sore knees and blocks beneath her hands to reach the ground. When she closes her eyes she thinks of God, who looks like Gandalf from the movie, or the hermit from the Led Zeppelin album. An old man. Hunched, white, judgy. She pictures these God brushing the cat hair off her couch, telling her to stop eating so many Doritos. When she gets home she will raise her glass of wine to him. “The body of Christ,” she’ll say, and “may the force be with you.” She’ll laugh and think that’s close enough. In yoga class, the instructor puts her hands in prayer position and says “shanti, shanti” and “namaste.” The woman says these things too, even though she has no idea what they mean.
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Christina Kapp teaches at the Writers Circle Workshops in New Jersey and her work has appeared in Passages North, Hobart, Forge Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, PANK, Pithead Chapel and elsewhere. Her fiction has been nominated for Best of the Net awards and a Pushcart Prize. She welcomes you to follow her on Twitter @ChristinaKapp and visit her website: http://www.christinakapp.com.