a yet-to-be-published novel by Marie Ostarello
I used to go to church and watch the priests glow. Father Bertonelli was especially bright. A manifestation, now that I think about it, no more surprising than a glowing cat or a glowing tree or a glowing Francesca. Sometimes it just happened without my trying, this lighting up of some living thing, and sometimes I could will it to occur. It was a game I played with myself as a child, a way of tricking my eyes into seeing what wasn’t there or, I’m beginning to suspect, what was there all along.
I remember one such occasion as if it were happening today. The memory has the quality of ice––clear with opaque white patches, like frozen chunks of clouded sky––and, like all my memories, has the unpredictable capacity to either melt in my hands or rip my skin right off.
It is March 4, 1973, and I’m ten and three-quarters years old. St. Peter’s Church is fuller than usual as it’s the Sunday before Lent and people are suddenly more religious, everybody considering what they will sacrifice for God. We are late today, which is also unusual. My dad always makes sure we arrive ten minutes beforehand, hurrying my mother who always lingers with her wardrobe changes and make-up application as if she’s going on a date. Today she has worn a black bra under a tight white sweater, even though my father told her she was asking for big big trouble to parade around the yard in such a thing, let alone church. For some odd reason, I’m wearing my red velvet Christmas dress, covered by my navy blue midi coat.
The pews smelled like cedar, the songbook, when I skimmed my thumb over its edges, exhaled its many masses––candles, incense, girls’ hand lotions––ceremonies I had endured by sinfully fantasizing about boys. Out in the parking lot Uncle Lou waited in his silver Grand Marquis, his exhaust flowing an oily rainbow as he kept the vehicle warm on this damp fall day. Those who left the confessional, teenage girls who didn’t even know what real sinning was, returned to the pews and murmured their penances. I felt superior to them and all of their silly venial sins. Mine were mortal. Sins that would send you straight to hell. Mortal. Mine wouldn’t just wound you; they were fatal.
an excerpt from a short story, originally appearing in Hunger Mountain
Do You Believe in Mary Worth
I jump up and out and over the pool, folding myself into a cannonball. I feel the slapping, stinging jolt of coldness through my body, the shivers sent toward my center. The blue dreamy silence presses all around me, fills my ears like liquid fingers. I flatten and stretch until my fall slows and the backs of my hands touch the plastic bottom of the pool. Bubbles carry my breath toward needles of sun, popping at the surface. This is a world where the rules are different. I am weightless. A sleeping fish. All alone, at home in the water.
When I come to the surface, Doreen’s looking down at herself, stunned and dripping.
I stand in water up to my boobs.
“So are you gonna cry now?” I say. “Run to Mama?”
“No.” Doreen sits on the top of the ladder, wraps her arms around herself in a huff.
I do a back-somersault fish-dive, splash her a bit more.
“Stop it.” She says, dangling and dipping her feet. “I want to get used to it slowly.”
“It’s better to get wet all at once,” I tell her. “That’s the best way to get used to it.” I dive into the quiet blue world again, see her pink toes curled over a rung on the ladder. They look like fat worms.
I can’t help myself. I grab one of her ugly feet and drag her in.
Synopsis: The story of an eccentric mother who lures a neighborhood girl to play with her spoiled, manupulative daughter. However,
the tide turns.