Volume 34, Number 2

Sin at Michael’s

Robert Fox

We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle …

—John F. Kennedy, 1960

St. Michael was a saint. There is a big church on the hill named after him. Yesterday my mother took me there.

Sunday my mother and father fought about presidents. My father says that Vice President Nixon is going to be president. He says my mother should vote for Nixon, and if she doesn’t he is going to win anyway. I don’t think my father wants my mother to be wrong and make a mistake. I know my father is right.

My mother likes Kennedy. He is good and maybe he goes to St. Michael’s church. I don’t know if my mother thinks Vice President Nixon is bad. He is the Vice President.

The trip to St. Michael’s took a long time. My mother and I walked to the bus stop. We made sure I went to the bathroom before we left the house. I did the best I could to avoid trouble later. We were late and we had to walk fast so we wouldn’t miss the bus and that helped keep us warm, but we weren’t happy about it. It was windy out, and my coat squeaked a lot when I moved. I had to keep my hood up even though I didn’t like it. It keeps you covered up and makes you sweat.

Every bus is noisy, and we keep to ourselves on the bus ‘cause we don’t know people. I got to sit by the window, and I could see a lot of cars and people walking on the street. My mother doesn’t drive a car. My father drives a Chevrolet big enough for all the kids. I was the only kid on the bus, and I think kids get to ride free. I’ll ask my father about that because he knows about money. He makes money.

The bus drove to the Union City that is crowded with a lot of houses and people. Tall houses. My mother used to live in one. I remembered the Union City when we got there ’cause my mother went to the doctor sometimes. She saw the doctor last time when the weather was still warm. I don’t like the doctor’s office ’cause there are too many mothers with their kids there. I have to wait alone a long, long time in the wait room. I don’t understand the magazines, and the little books are pretty stupid just like my brother told me. Somebody scribbles in some of the books. Where do they get a pencil to do that? The other kids get cranky and don’t stop. Crybabies.

Our stop was coming up so we started to walk to the front of the bus. My mother held my hand, but I had a hard time not falling down. I fell and hit my head on the back of the seat that a lady was sitting in. I said I was sorry. Some people laughed, and my mother smiled when she picked me up off the floor. We got off the bus and nobody was around, and my mother wasn’t smiling. She fixed my hood and pulled the strings good and tight. We walked down the big wide sidewalk. We walked slower so I guessed we weren’t late anymore.

After a while, we were across the street from St. Michael’s. My mother said, “You see, there’s the monastery.” I don’t know what that means. St. Michael’s was very big, very important. Bigger than the church in our town. But it was a Cath’lic church too and had a big round top like a building in Washington. It was made of big rocks like a castle. When we got on the grey sidewalk outside of St. Michael’s, I touched the black iron fence with sharp points that ran all around. The squirrels inside the fence were running on the brown grass and the big church trees were where they lived. I am much bigger than the squirrels.

We went to the front of the church and walked up the steps. It was a good thing my mother was there ‘cause it’s kinda scary, and you could get lost quick there. The door was heavy, and I went in first. I didn’t walk fast and it was dark just like the church in our town. You have to get used to the smell for a minute or you might get sick, I think. Maybe the smell is from the candles. I watched my mother dip her fingers in the water and do a sign. Then we went into the big part of the church.

The ceiling was so high you could get dizzy just looking up at it if you weren’t careful. It looked like it had giant spiderwebs on it. We walked slow up the middle after bending to the floor. There were so many rows of benches in front of us I couldn’t count too many of them. It looked like a long walk. It felt like the dark forest and the witch’s castle in the Wizard of Oz or maybe the Wizard’s castle, but I didn’t want to be afraid like the lion. Is he orange or brown?

You have to be very quiet in church. In a big church you have to be even more quiet ’cause even a little noise in a big church can sound big. You have to watch not to kick a wood bench ’cause that makes a really loud noise. Then people will look at you, and then you might have a problem or prob’ly your mother will get mad.

We found a good bench to sit on. I think my mother said a prayer. Then she told me to sit still and wait and don’t go anywhere. She said she’d be back in a few minutes. I thought about sitting still and not going anywhere when I watched her go to the side of the church and stand behind a man who was standing. Now I knew why we were in church. My mother was going to confesh. Confesh is something the Cath’lics do, but I don’t know what it is. I knew she was going to confesh in because she was waiting to go into a little room that has a soft red curtain for a door just like the one in our church. It’s a quiet door. Maybe we can get quiet doors at our house.

Why go all the way to St. Michael’s for confesh? I don’t know, but it doesn’t bother me. A Cath’lic does a lot of things that I don’t know about, but I don’t mind because my father doesn’t know a lot of things a Cath’lic does either. He is Prodisden. Across the street.

Finally, my mother went into the little room past the red curtain. The curtain looked just like some old clothes you can see on a king. There are lots of red things in a Cath’lic church. The windows have a lot of really red pieces and the candles are in the dark red cups. At the front of the church are red curtains and rugs under the bright lights, but I haven’t been close to that.

Waiting for confesh in to be over is like waiting at the doctor’s office. Sit still and be quiet for a long time. At least there are no crybabies. I remembered the little books in the doctor’s office and then I saw a church book on the bench. I started looking at the book, but I couldn’t read most of the words. In church, there are a lot of Cath’lic words on the walls and windows and in the church books like you don’t see other places. The church books are serious and don’t have many pictures. I was putting the book back, when I saw that somebody wrote in it. It wasn’t a scribble like at the doctor’s office. A real person wrote it, but it must’ve been in Cath’lic. It said, ‘Fuck you’. I knew who ‘you’ is, but I still didn’t get it. I’d have to ask my mother about that. She knows some of the Cath’lic words. I didn’t see any pencils around to write with.

I was sitting on the bench, and you could tell if a witch came into church because she wouldn’t touch the water and do a sign ’cause then she’d melt. So witches can’t be Cath’lic. Then all of a sudden I saw my mother was back again and next to me. I think she was crying because tears were on her face and that never happened in church before. I felt bad for her and touched her arm. She said, “It’s OK.” Her face was sad and she kneeled and said some prayers.

Then my mother sat back and looked down to her lap. She said, “Sometimes even your mother does stupid things.” I was surprised she was talking right after confesh in. I told her she was very smart and knew things that other people didn’t know.

“Here, Mom, you know the Cath’lic words. Read me what somebody wrote in this church book.”

My mother looked in the book and then closed it real fast. She made the kind of sound she makes when somebody drops food on the floor at home. I thought she was going to be mad, but then she looked at me and said to be good and forget I saw those words and forget we made a visit to St. Michael’s. She said, “Remember we went to the doctor’s office today.” I could have ice cream when we got home for being good.

We left St. Michael’s and walked to the bakery to get the good bread. Then we waited for the bus to go home. It was windy. I looked at the Empire State Building. Buildings over there are giant and grey.

I feel bad when I don’t remember like I’m supposed to do. I’ll try harder. I thought I could forget St. Michael’s church, but going there feels like a story you could remember. St. Michael’s isn’t a good story to hear. I’m not a good storyteller always when I don’t think they hear me. I talk fast and loud and alone ’cause they must be busy thinking ’cause they don’t look like they hear me and I might cry. But I’m wrong ’cause a young man doesn’t shout and talk nonsense, and I should calm down. A good story means take your time and don’t tell tall tales. I’ll try harder.

Last night I had a dream and got scared. I woke up and went to my mother and woke her up. I told her I had a dream, and the Tin Man was Vice President and cried at the doctor’s office ’cause he didn’t get a lollipop. My mother said, “Go back to sleep.” I walked back to bed and felt like I might throw up, but then everybody would wake up with the lights on and it would be noisy and hot even though you only had pajamas on.

Kennedy won. He is the President. Presidents can be like normal people. I guess my mother was right.

When I grow up, I want to vote for a good president. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Does Kennedy do confesh? Can presidents sin? Does God see everything they do too? They better be careful. God can be scary.

Today I asked my mother about when we are going back to the doctor’s. She said she didn’t know and told me to not worry about that and go play. I don’t know why.