Gone

This short story was the first-place winner in the Summer Postcard Fiction Contest held by Imprint, the University of Waterloo student newspaper, in 2006.

Our mother always took us to church, Emily and me. When we were younger, about five or six, we often found ways to keep ourselves occupied when we were supposed to be paying attention. The rule wasn’t strictly enforced. Our mother always said that children would do what they do, and she couldn’t stop us. I felt that this gave us special permission. I silently sneered at all the other children there, trussed up in their Sunday outfits and given disapproving glances.

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The games we would play differed from week to week. Sometimes we played tic-tac-toe, drawing an invisible grid, X’s, O’s, tracing them with our fingers on the varnished wood of the pew. It felt like glass. Sometimes the game was to pretend we were pious. We would hold up our hymn books and develop those glazed looks of salvation on our faces, but we would always giggle afterwards. The saints stared down with their raised hands. The halos silenced me sometimes.

“I’m going to run away,” said Emily as she leaned over my ear and stood up to sing. After the mass, she would light a candle in front of the Virgin and whisper a frantic prayer.

They were married in a big church with the stained glass saints, intoxicated, I now thought, on the change from water to wine. They accepted the body of Christ, which was deposited on their tongues as they knelt, side by side, before the altar. Eat, said the priest. And they did, and they were husband and wife. My mother stood on the outskirts of the crowd, gently smiling. I couldn’t tell whether she was happy, or had merely accepted Emily’s fate. Admitted defeat, I would have liked to say, but then again she hadn’t really fought for anything at all.

Emily stayed home. George supported her. Although, what did he support? Her rampant boredom, I assumed, and the degeneration of her sanity. But now, I know she was caught in the stillness of the world. She sat on the bed and fingered the beads, praying erratically.

“Emily,” I whispered in her ear. But she was gone.

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