“How then,” demands Sister Sloan, “do you suggest we correct the boy for his complete disrespect in the sanctuary? ‘Let the mother deal with the issue in her own way,’ says Sister Joyce. ‘She knows best.’ But if she knew best, would we really be in this situation to begin with? She doesn’t care for the boy, she encourages this type of behavior.” Darcy shifts in her seat, leaning forward with the look of a hawk. “- The truth is, the truth mind you, is that you were waiting for this Mrs. Knox, if I may be honest. You want us to discipline the boy. Why else, for God’s sake, did you send him here? Are there not enough seats in the public schools?”
The oscillating fan in the corner of the rectory office clicks and sways.
“That,” Darcy says, smiling. “Is exactly right. All the good seats were taken.” She locks eyes with Sister Sloan and imagines the color red.
Sister Sloan folds her arms with a grimace. “No respect in your whole family, none at all.”
“Now Sister Sloan,” Sister Joyce is so still she melts into the beige wallpaper, “there is no need to let things get out of hand.”
“Out of hand? Things got out of hand, if I may be honest, the moment this boy was born.”
“Excuse me?” Darcy’s smile leaves the room.
“How old are you, Mrs. Knox, twenty-four? Twenty-five?”
“Twenty-eight, thank you.”
“If my math is correct, and it is, that means you had James when you were only fifteen. Unmarried I can guess.”
Father Abraham grabs for a tissue from the top of his desk but lets loose a sneeze before he can catch it. “It’s the leaves this time of year, something about the way they die I think.”
“Are we done now, is that everything? If you don’t mind I’ll just give you the twenty dollars and go.” Darcy stands, opens her purse and looks for change. “I think I’m thoroughly convinced how terrible a fucking mother I am, thankyouverymuch.”
Sister Joyce places her hand over her heart as Darcy’s “fucking” shoots straight through it. “My dear, no one is judging your aptitude as a parent, and no one is concerned with the twenty dollars-“
“-Sounds like foreshadowing, if I may be honest, honestly.”
“-But what happened last night is surely something that requires an immediate response.”
“He desecrated,” Sister Sloan spits, “the very sanctity of this church!”
“Last night?” Darcy remembers James’s strange behavior earlier, the cut on his cheek he refused to explain and an incoherent exhaustion displayed at breakfast. She looks to Joyce. “What are you talking about? I thought I was here because James stole from the collection plate last week-“
“-Honestly, you don’t even realize where James was last night? Why, the vandal was here! I retract my previous assumption that you want us to discipline the boy, because surely you need us! You are entirely incapable!”
“What do you mean, last night?”
“I was right, wasn’t I Father Abraham?” Sloan asks. “He hasn’t told her.”
“Perhaps James hasn’t told you what it is he’s done,” remarks Father Abraham, “to keep his dignity intact, as it were?”
“It’s beyond any kind of dignity.”
“He is a 13 year old boy, I don’t even think he has a sense of dignity to protect-“
“Oh for goodness sake, that is a matter of semantics!” interjects Sister Sloan.
“Semantics? Beg my pardon but I don’t think you’re using that word correctly at all.”
“Show her then,” Sister Sloan points at Father Abraham.
Father Abraham presents three large carpenter’s nails from the top drawer of his desk. “We will forego pressing charges, but-“
“Why show me those?” Darcy is ignorant.
“We found these in James’s backpack, let the record state. My father was a carpenter so I have a little knowledge on the issue. Father Abraham, how much would you wager the damages will costs?”
“Well, with labor and repair, you know there aren’t many wood workers who can do that kind of thing anymore-“
“ Would you say a thousand? Several thousand at the least, yes?” Sister Sloan’s hands are now propped on the edge of Father Abraham’s desk.
“Well yes, I’d say that’s a fair estimate.”
“Exactly!” Sister Sloan thumps a small fist on the cover of a bible sitting atop the father’s desk. “And I think he should pay every penny, or at least the mother who is just as much at fault-“
“Damages?” Darcy avoids Sister Sloan’s glare and imagines the color red.
“I arrived this morning to prepare for tomorrow’s mass.” Father Abraham folds his handkerchief. “And found the wooden Christ that had hung in the sanctuary on the floor, split in two. I then noticed a shattered window-”
“An expensive stained glass window.”
Father Abraham empties his nose into a handkerchief; the monogram contains letters not found in his name. A musician tunes a stringed instrument in the sanctuary. Sister Sloan opens her mouth to speak.
Darcy’s tongue begins to numb.
“We gave James every bit of instruction a young man needs in order to fulfill his duties as a Christian and – despite my faith in the power of the holy verses – he proves himself a sinful little pig.” Sister Sloan looks to Sister Joyce and Father Abraham. “I have never seen nor heard of such a terrible thing, have either of you?” She looks to Darcy; her eyes are daggers. “Shame on me for ever believing a well behaved boy could ever be molded from a bastard’s birth-”
Darcy sidesteps Father Abraham’s desks and lunges at Sister Sloan. Sister Joyce glimpses Darcy’s fist over her acolyte’s head and attempts to intercept, but old age has made her too slow. Scolding swans swirl across Sloan’s vision; a cacophony of random brass notes erupt from nowhere; the rectory office walls rotate ninety degrees; the floor slams Sloan’s ribs; the taste of wrought steel in her mouth is surely blood. Sloan peers up in time to see Sister Joyce placing a slow arm across Darcy’s chest. Father Abraham, only then, stands from his desk.
“Come Thou Fount” flows from the sanctuary on expertly tuned strings.
“Oou ‘itch!” Sloan screams, her hands grip a red leaking nose. “Oou ‘oke muh ‘ose!”
Darcy breathes heavily and still. She has proven her point.
Sister Joyce is frozen, her arm the small God dam between a mother and a sister.
“Mrs. Knox,” Father Abraham begins, with a tone of authority most often saved for the end of a sermon, “it seems our school has just recently run out of seats.”
The ride home is quiet; James and his mother stare out at the trees and houses that hobble along.
“You were in there for a long time. I heard screaming.” James looks to his mother and wonders why she isn’t smoking. “You’re quiet.”
“Thinking about what?”
“Did you break into the church last night?”
“Did I break into the church last night?”
Darcy steers with one hand as she elegantly brushes a strand of violent red hair from her face. She lights a cigarette. “James, that’s something you do when you’re about to tell a lie.”
“Something I do when I’m about to tell a lie?”
“I mean rhetorically, and I mean when you repeat a question you’ve been asked.”
“It means I am not saying ‘you’ as in you, I am saying ‘you’ as in everyone.”
“I thought you were done talking to the adults.”
“You aren’t answering my question James, which is another thing you do when you’re about to lie.”
The car fills with a light marinade of smoke; James inhales and is relaxed.
“I felt guilty.”
“Guilty? For what?”
“Sister Sloan was talking about how sin is why Jesus was put on the cross-“
“Oh for chrissake.”
“And then after class she took me into the hall and said she knew I stole from the collection plate and I better confess because even if no one else knows she knew and I knew and Jesus knew, on the cross, because he could see all sins from the cross and what I did was a sin and why he was on the cross-“
“She said what?”
“And so I felt really guilty and-“
“James, are you telling me Sloan told you that you were why Jesus was crucified?”
“Well maybe she was saying it rhetorically-“
“Oh for chrissake.”
“But if Jesus died for our sins-“
“And taking money from the collection plate was a sin, and he died on the cross-“
“-Then he was on the cross because I took money from the collections plate, right?”
“He was crucified because you took money from the collections plate?” Darcy cracks her window to ash her Virginia Slim. “So you snuck out of the house last night-“
“Well I knew you would say no.”
“Good god James, of course I would have.”
“I rode my bike to the church after you and dad went to bed.”
Darcy takes a long drag. “Then what? You broke a window?”
“All the doors were locked, so I had to smash in a window with a rock.”
“An expensive stained glass window.” Darcy squints at the road. That self-righteous bitch was right she thought. Of all the reasons to be upset at James, this is the worst.
“I’m sorry mom-“
“What did you do next?”
“I borrowed dad’s crowbar-“
“You stole dad’s crowbar.”
“Well, I guess…”
“And all of this because you felt guilty over stealing twenty goddamn dollars? Don’t, don’t say that word James, don’t say damn.” She inhales. “Why did you steal dad’s crowbar?”
“I had to, I needed it, to take the nails out, I couldn’t just leave him up there…” James speaks with the opposite of bravado.
Darcy inhales, several times. James does not notice the smoke exhale.
“Did you not tell me about it James, to keep your dignity?”
“What’s dignity? Are you speaking rhetorically?”
Darcy is silent; she hears the snap of rulers and smells the dust of chalk. She is angry with the situation, not with James. No, it is what James is starting to believe that angers Darcy; he worships guilt. She remembers the youthful sensation of shame and terror at the altar, reading Siddhartha in middle school and abandoning ritualistic dogma until she first held James. It was then that she returned to the cold embrace of religion, believing a village was needed, hoping that she could offer the thing her parents had offered her, a feeling of Jesus. But what was evident now – all too obvious and splintered – was the slow conversion of her son to a life of idle hatred and sorrow. The Holy Spirit fell on her then, she thought, not as a spirit of fire but a spirit of ice.
“James, you didn’t put Jesus on the cross. That’s not how it works. Hell is not a place.”
“But Sister Sloan says-“
“Sister Sloan is a bitch. Don’t say that word, don’t say ‘bitch’, ok?”
“But the Bible says-“
“Listen, you had absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. It was a bunch of angry Jews and Romans, not you, you’re a sweet innocent little boy.”
The car engine rattles and shakes a bit. Darcy realizes that an oil change is three hundred miles past due.
“Do you believe Jesus died for our sins?”
“Do I believe Jesus died for our sins? No, James, we don’t have sins to die for. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I didn’t put Jesus on the cross?”
“You didn’t put Jesus on the cross.” The cigarette reaches the end of its life, the ember touches skin and Darcy jerks her hand towards the window. “Shit.” She presses the burn to her lips and sucks in a hiss.
“Your knuckles are red.”
“Yeah, well I hit a nun today,” Darcy’s son smiles. “James, you’re never going back there, ever again.”