Arin felt the chill radiate from the stone arches in the church vestibule. She joked about how they’d need to pass out hard hats if she ever went back. The church looked stable enough, and not at all bothered by her presence. She guessed maybe what the old priest had said about one sinner not being stronger than the blood of Christ was right.
She blessed herself with holy water from the stone bowl that sat between the very back benches of the sanctuary. What did she need sanctuary from, she wondered. Oh yes. The demons that decided to attack her mother. ‘If you’re a person of faith,’ the doctor said, ‘you might want to stop by your church on the way home.’ He made it sound like her mother wouldn’t have that opportunity again.
The bottom of the stone basin felt cool and slick as she dragged her fingers through the water. Her mother always smacked her hand when she did that as a child. She couldn’t do that right now. But just the fact that she was in a Catholic church would be enough to wake her mother from her unconscious state.
Brigid Marie Buckley was strong. She’d been a fighter all her life. She fought her three brothers, her alcoholic mother, and abusive father. She fought her husband, who thought since her father hit her, it was okay for him to do it, too. She fought him until he woke to the smell of chicken frying in the middle of the night, and found her standing over him. Her small hands barely held on to the cast iron chicken fryer.
‘Hit me now, why don’t you? You wanted to hit me. Do it now.’ The next thing they knew, he was running into the night, no pants, no shoes, just his undershirt and boxers. None of that prepared her for the fights with her daughter growing up.
She always wanted a daughter. Arin said she would have been better off with just a doll to dress up and play with. She tried to dress up Arin, but she fought her, from the time she could find her hands, her mother said. She fought her mother every step of the way, from childhood, through her teenage years, and even through college. Brigid won a few battles, lost many more. In the end, she relented and took comfort in the ones she bested her daughter on. Church was not one of them.
Brigid took her to the old priest, and asked him to have a word with her. Remind her that the Bible required her to honor her father and her mother, though the father part was okay to overlook, she said. Arin nearly went mad. After telling the priest what he could do with his rosary beads, and his cross after that, she swore she’d never be back and stormed out the huge doors. They slammed so hard the stained glass windows shook. She was as good as her word. She had not returned. Until today.
She’d tried praying. More, since her mother became ill, but she’d been annoyed with God for quite a while now. It was bad enough being a Catholic in a family full of Baptists. Southern Baptists. Christmas dinners were always colorful. One grandmother said she had no patience for those Papists. The other declared she should try being baptized by water again, only hold her head under for longer this time. They both claimed to love God, and swore that God loved them, even if He wasn’t too thrilled with the idiot across the table. Arin decided to give Him one last chance.
For someone who was supposed to answer prayers, He didn’t seem to have much time for hers. That was part of the reason she decided to drop by His house for a visit. His track record wasn’t great with her. Her mother struggled from the time her father left, though in fairness, she struggled before. Even after he was gone, the effects he had on her and her mother still lingered. He said he’d come back and get Brigid if she ever had another man in his house. It seemed she took him at his word. She was so afraid he would return, she wouldn’t even be there when a man came to work on the house. Arin had to miss school just to be there when they got a new water heater installed. When her mother came home and saw the van still there, she couldn’t come past the front steps. Arin had to answer the phone four different times to assure the neighbors everything was okay. Her mother just wanted to enjoy the last few warm fall days. The excuse might have been more plausible if it hadn’t been barely above freezing outside.
‘She doesn’t have to worry about him anymore, you know. He’s not going to bother her again.’ If Arin jumped any harder, she would have physically lifted off the pew.
‘Who the hell said that?’ Arin looked around, even though she knew there was no one near. Under the pew. That was it. Except there was no one there. Or at the end of the pew. Or lying down on the pew in front of her. Or behind her. That was it. But it wasn’t.
‘Perfect,’ she said. ‘Stress induced auditory hallucinations. Just fucking perfect.’
‘Watch your mouth. And you’re not hearing things,’ the voice said. ‘Well, in the strictest sense, you are. But what you’re hearing isn’t a hallucination.’
Arin stood up and started to ease toward the center aisle.
‘Oh sit down. This is my house. You are my child. I’d never do anything to hurt you.’
Arin collapsed back onto the pew.‘Okay. Hang on a minute. You make it sound like you’re God or somebody.’
‘A Just God. Not just somebody.’
‘This isn’t funny. I’ve been praying to you for—’
‘Thirty-four years, 11 months, 5 days, and well, do you need the minutes? I could tell you, but that lapses into the realm of parlor tricks.’
Words were beyond her right now. The voice sighed, and she felt the room grow warmer. And brighter. ‘Yes. I do know. But it’s not like you could count them to confirm I was right, now is it?’
The voice paused, and she felt a breeze on her scalp.
‘I would recommend you deep condition sometimes, though. And it wouldn’t kill you to get your hair done once in awhile. You’re beautiful. I made you that way.’
‘But isn’t vanity—’
‘Vanity is excessive. Being all I made you to be is just being smart.’
She ran her hand through her hair, and could swear she heard someone sigh. ‘Would it be too much trouble for me to see you?’ she said.
‘Well, not too much trouble. But if you saw Me, you’d die. What you perceive as my physical form is more than the limitations of your human mind can handle. But you have some idea what I look like. I made you in my image.’
She shook her head, and waited for the fog lift. It didn’t.
‘I gave you a measure of faith,’ the voice said. ‘Use some of it.’
‘Okay. Okay. Let’s assume for a minute you are who you say you are.’
by Robin J. Greene
‘Okay. Why now? Why here? And why my mother?’
The voice sighed again. It felt like someone sat down next to her on the pew. She couldn’t help but lean into what felt like strong, sure arms, and a chest that just seemed to invite her closer. It felt like she was small and nothing could hurt her, ever. ‘I’ve always been here. You just chose to not hear Me. That’s the problem with giving you free will. Sometimes My children use it when they should just let go and let Me take care of them.’
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Then help my mother.’
‘I already have. And always do. She listens better than you, though not as well when we’re talking about you. I see where you get it from. But then, ultimately, you get it from Me. I have to be stubborn to deal with My children.’
‘I’ll do anything if you make her well. I’ll go back to church. I’ll be a good Catholic.’
‘You should know by now religion doesn’t matter. Faith is what matters. Faith that I will take care of you, and confidence. Confidence in yourself for a change.’
The arms felt closer, and warmer. The church looked like it just opened from the top to let all the light of the world shine in. But when she looked again, it was the same cool, dark space it had always been. And there was still no one there that she could see. ‘But if it came down to that, I’d—’
‘Yes,’ the voice said. ‘I know you would. You would die for her. But think about it. Do you believe that would make her happy? Do you think if she knew you gave your life for hers, she’d ever be happy again? ‘
‘Well, I guess not. But I don’t have anything else to offer.’
‘You’ve offered more than enough. The rest is up to Me. I will say this, though. Rather than die for her, will you live for her? Will you make sure all the things she taught you, and all the sacrifices she made for you are not in vain? Will you truly live for her? Will you live for Me? Live your life for My glory, and thereby for hers? Live for Me.’
The gloom returned to the church. The cool settled back in. She felt alone again. Then the arms hugged her. At that moment, she knew she would never really be alone.
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