FAITH, by Jan Harrington
Aunt Patty didn’t really believe in God.
She was just hedging her bet, she said, because
who knew? On lucky Sundays,
she took my older sister and me to Mass
at noon, then out for glazed donuts.
She never remembered her chapel veil.
This will have to do, she’d say,
bobby pinning a lipsticked tissue to her hair
as we entered to incense and organ.
She used the seated interval of the sermon
to organize her purse on the pretext
of searching for loose coins
for the collection basket. In light
from windows dimmed by the lives of saints,
she rummaged. The unclasped mouth
of her purse, the black cavity
of its interior, was as mysterious to us
as the tabernacle. We couldn’t guess what
she would toss on the pew next:
an eyelash curler missing
its rubber half-moon, a can of Slimfast,
a movie magazine, pages furled,
red licorice twists, a doorknob, a boar bristle
hairbrush—the only kind that didn’t split
your ends, she said.
One Sunday she pulled out a girdle, stockings
snapped to it. You should’ve seen Jimmy and me
last night, she whispered, dancing…
She twirled her hand
and silk legs swayed in midair as if moved
by the Holy Spirit. We always left at Communion.
It was the moment at which, according to her,
we had fulfilled our weekly obligation.
As the believers rose and filed
to the altar, hands folded at breastbones,
we stole toward the back door.
What’s the point in staying, she’d say,
we know how it ends.