Lit/South Awards 2022 Flash Competition – Second Place
Kacie Faith Kress
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I force myself to kneel. The incense smolders, burning acrid in my nostrils. It tastes of the years I spent within these marble walls, a schoolgirl dressed in plaid, tugging at my collar.
The rapturous luxury of this place draws worshippers like flies to rot; the ritual words and smoked taste of incense whisper of bonfires and freedom. Bacchanal worship. But it is a lie; this smoke never leaves the fluorescent light. Never touches the skin beneath robes. Never hears a voice raised in anything but obedience. It is the taste and smell of witch burnings; the wild that was rooted out at its core.
The altar boy is baby-faced; he is kneeling, the clunky edges of his tennis shoes tipped together. He scurries to turn pages—to fulfill his duties. No doubt his father sits amongst the pews, proud. No doubt his sister watches the way her brother and father look at each other. The way her mother looks only down.
He lifts a four-pronged bell and rings it, the brass crying softly: Does He know? Does He know?
The priest meets my eyes. The grain of the church pew rolls damply beneath my palm, slick with sweat. I wipe it clean on my skirt, and think of the different dampness—thicker, softer—that kisses my skin when I slide my fingers between her thighs.
Latin words bite the air. Hands are raised, fingers clasped in prayer. I search the worshippers’ eyes. They are heavy, made lazy by the droning voices and the weight of summer heat. Afternoon sun slants in through the stained glass windows, illuminating each dust mote.
The priest raises his voice above the mournful, harmonious cry of the cicadas. Under the organist’s feet the floorboards cry: Does He know? Does He know?
I stand in a cathedral. But my God lies in supple skin and warm eyes. In the smooth lines of our bare bodies, limbs entwined.
All rise, all rise.
A reading of the Gospel. My thumb draws crosses on the places she’s kissed. Hands, throat, lips.
I have been a sinner nine years; the brand on my chest reads confession missed. I couldn’t force myself to pay penance for prayer. To apologize for her hand fitted gently within mine, for the static in our socks as we danced across the carpet and spilled wine.
What is life but time?
With Her the hours matter.
I stand in the communion line. I clasp my hands together—a pious lie. Innocence, innocence; our love is soft. We hold each other tightly, brush hands across temples, kiss away tears.
It is my turn. The priest holds aloft a gold medallion of bread, like the halo of a rising sun.
But no light bathes me. I am shadow; I would disappear.
I mutter amen; he places the host on my tongue. And he never once guesses what else my lips have done.
Flash judge Tara Campbell writes: Rich sensory details drew me right into the setting of this story. The author skillfully extends one pivotal moment in time, pitting the expectations of society and the faith community against the deepest desires and true nature of the protagonist.