St. Paul's, Six Years Later

By: Garret Hinson

            I could see a perfect summer day outside the stained glass windows at St. Paul’s. Mass was dragging on and on, as Father Craddock stood there at the altar, reading something in Latin in his dry voice. Mother was nodding along to his words, smiling, and my older brother, Anthony, was hunched over with his forehead pressed against the pew in front of us. He wasn’t praying.

            Anthony didn’t believe in God. In fact, he only came to Mass to hear enough of Father Craddock’s sermon to criticize at Sunday dinner. He really hated the Tree of Knowledge. I guess it is kind of dumb when you think about it: an apple making people evil. But I don’t see why you have to go and become an atheist over it, especially since atheists go to hell and all. I sure as hell didn’t want to go to hell. I think Anthony must have taken it badly when Dad died nearly six years ago. Heart attack in the bathtub. Anthony found him with his eyes still open, floating in soapy water. Ever since then he had been pretty shaken up. Being seven at the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening, and that day at St. Paul’s, six years later, I was more worried about perfecting my curveball for Pony League than the meaning of life and death. Anthony liked to watch me play though, so me and him had an understanding. He came to all my games, and afterwards we would listen to the Mets on the radio at Sonic, drinking milkshakes. That’s why I was worried about Anthony hunched over like that, talking to himself. Because of our understanding.

           I made sure to hear enough of the sermon so I could prove to Mother that I had listened, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye. His face was all in shadows, and I could see his lips moving. I tried to make out what he was saying, but it must have been pretty quiet. It was weird to see him like that, so I looked back up at the altar and stared at the giant silver crucifix that was hanging from the ceiling by that clear, thin wire. How the hell did that wire hold that cross up? It looked like it weighed a ton, and that silver Jesus was leaned forward so far that he looked like he might fall right off the cross and kill Father Craddock mid-sermon.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Jesus had really come back to life or not, but I never asked Anthony about it because that wasn’t part of our understanding. I did think about Jesus hanging there on the cross, though, thinking to himself, “only three more days, only three more days.” That really made me sad. Hang in there, Jesus.

           Mother squeezed my knee a little. She could always tell when I wasn’t paying attention. I tried to focus on Father Craddock and sat up a little straighter, but I could see Anthony, still hunched over in the pew, looking sort of agitated as Father Craddock spoke.

           “We earn the indignity of death by leading lives full of iniquity. Our bodies fail us because our hearts fail us. These are the wages of sin. But the gift of God is everlasting life.”

           It sounded like the usual stuff to me, but Anthony jumped up when he heard that part. He stood there for a second like Father Craddock had insulted him, with his fists clenched. We were sitting near the back, so no one really noticed, especially not old Father Craddock with his cataracts, but my mother’s head jerked around to look up at him, and even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew it had that awful, angry look that would have shamed me back into my seat. She was never a very tolerant woman, and I wondered if she might start beating Anthony with her purse right there in the sanctuary. But Anthony never even looked at her. He stood there for a second, shaking and white, and then swooped out of the sanctuary.

           I could tell something was wrong, so I got up to follow Anthony outside, because we had an understanding, but Mother grabbed my arm so tightly that I nearly yelped in pain. I looked back at her, in mid-step towards the vestibule, and I saw her mean, narrow eyes burning into me. Her clenched teeth mouthed, Sit down, now. But my chest was swelling with something like anger and pride mixed together, and I yanked my wrist right out of her grip. I looked down at her there with her Bible open in her lap, and my eyes burned right back into her. Then I backed out of the pew and out the door into the vestibule, and she didn’t follow me. When I ran out of the big double doors and onto the sidewalk, Anthony wasn’t even around. But I took off walking down the street, because I didn’t want to go back in. I couldn’t stand to see Mother’s awful face. I couldn’t stand to see old Father Craddock withering away at the pulpit. Mostly, I couldn’t stand to see poor Jesus nailed up there on that sad cross, hanging by that thin little wire. How the hell did it never break?