by E.M. Brown
I remember us just outside the classroom. All excited to get out of very windowed yet very blinded square room. We poured out, a sea of blue, the color of the boys’ tucked in collared shirts, and dark blue pants that made the sea deepen. The break was brought on by a very meticulously established routine of mass at very random times it seems now that I’m older. Sitting in a church today on a holy day of obligation as my sister reminded, eyes surprised by the prospect of me really going to mass for once. Like I hadn’t followed along with the tradition for longer than she, sitting and standing and kneeling in subsequent sessions of talking and guilt. The sea flowed out and parted into two pre-established, single-file lines. Literal lines painted the ground which led to the corridor that lead to the church, the largest structure of my school. Chatter and peeping littered about as we all looked around for something that wasn’t there. Twelve of us, maybe 14. I remember peering over the identical shoulders ahead and behind looking for my escape. What were we talking about? What were we being shushed for from far behind? Like a distant, floating moth, the voice hovered back there aware of all our movements and misgivings. I wish I could remember what was said. What pieces of information we were so excited to relent when away from the falsely lit classroom. The voice snapped in as we neared the water fountain. Everyone was suddenly thirsty. Everyone suddenly had to use the bathroom. And we paused. Wouldn’t we be late, I thought, but took a sip and used the bathroom like the worst of us.
I discovered as we entered the church that we were alone. The rest of the school, the other 3rd graders, the 8th graders, and the others. They were all still somewhere not here. We all looked at one another. I was clearly not the only one who thought we were there for the ritual, surprise mass. We all touched the water and made signs and splashed the friend in front of us. We circumvented the first few glossy, wooden pews heading for the back. The church at my school was and is still a large place. The high vaulted ceilings stretch up so far I still have never really looked for their end, in the same way you know the corners of your living room exist yet never find yourself looking for them. Mosaics situate themselves in corners that are not corners but areas with focused lighting sources highlighting the tiles with sharp cobalts and bright shards of orange, but I never have the time to look at the whole pieces as we keep walking passed them. Excited, short footsteps and pivoting heads against cotton collars make the only sounds.
Where were we going? Why were we here? I still don’t know. But as we turned a section of pews I heard it. The door at the back of the church open letting in light where huge windows above already let light in. No one looked nor I. Not until that door closed did we all stop. A slam. A heavy glazed, wooden door slamming into its frame jarring the churches suspended light system, tinkling as they settled back down. A single man entered through from the anteroom, past the cryroom, into the church. The parted sea now frozen, and just while we were curving around the pews. Unnatural and interrupted. The moth found its way through the sea and unfroze our focused attention. Come now. We followed her now as the man found a seat alone in back. Was he why we were here?, I wondered. Was he some new priest? Some lesson? We sat down. Peering over the shiny wooden pews’ backs, the man’s graying beard and craggy clothes meant nothing. What did he want? Ok, now boys … her voice trailed off as the man rose to his feet and began to walk down the center of the church past us. Shorts! How ridiculous he looked in church with shorts! Heads floated in unison towards the front of the church near the alter and tabernacle as the row of hanging lights still lightly swayed. The man threw his fists into the empty air and screamed something muffled by his beard. Heads snapped around, side to side, shuffling pants hushed upon the benches’ polished wood and our teacher rose. WHY! I remember the word ring throughout the church right before its bells began to chime and drown out everything. I could hear the bells from my house most weekends. From random, abandoned roads when riding my bike, from my best friend’s garage, softened by distance. His hands gripped the front of the alabaster table as the rest of his body fell to the floor. I remember how it mirrored the large crucifix which hung right above where he now fell and realized that he was not our teacher’s friend or a lesson or a mass. The bells were loud inside the church. Louder than I’d ever heard them before. They warped the stale, thickened air trapped inside the building bending and building like a siren in our new and sensitive ears. The man may have wept, I don’t remember him leaving, yet by the time blue shirts and bluer pants surrounded my vision, I couldn’t see the teacher hurriedly summon us to rise, I couldn’t see it full of noise and confusion and ancient, literary anguish, the outside world so quickly come in and go.
E.M. Brown is a previously unpublished writer from New Orleans. He is an ad professional by trade and a moonlighting fiction writer by passion. This story is about an experience he had in Catholic school as a young boy. “I never thought about the experience until I once again, years later, revisited the same church as an adult,” he says. “I suppose I was trying to understand how the memory fit into the way I live my life now (as a non curse word counting person).”