I’ve been trying to grow wings, which sounds crazy, I know, except Cara has a pair. I swear. She shows them to me every time we change for gym class. They’re small — just two fuzzy, little knuckles raised about three inches below the nape of her neck — but her mom, who’s president of the PTA, promises they’ll get bigger with a little holy water, so, after school, Cara and I sneak into the church’s vestibule, dunk our fingers in a font and bless our shoulder blades.
In Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ seventh grade class, we learn religion. She tells us we believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She tells us only men can wash the pope’s feet. She tells us Paul fell off his horse and Lot’s wife turned to salt after God drowned the earth and everything wasn’t hunky-dory. She tells us Lucifer had wings, until he didn’t, and now we (unlike him) better not get seduced by evil. She won’t tell us, but I’m pretty sure Satan lives underneath the girls’ bathroom, the one between the two kindergartens. The tiles give off a heat that seeps through your penny-loafers, even when you avoid the cracks. I try not to go in there, the same way I avoid the fourth floor and Marnie Levinsworth. This school is full of monsters and ghosts.
Cara and I loiter in the back stairwell. She runs a finger across my back and frowns. You need something stronger than holy water, she says, and hands me a shampoo-sized bottle of chrism. Blessed by Pope John Paul II, it reads. Cara’s mom got it when they saw him say mass at Giants Stadium.
Two drops before bed, Cara suggests, but I never take the oil out of my backpack. I feel too guilty to use it.
Whenever Evan Merkle misbehaves, Sister Jerome Gaudentius flings an eraser at him. She keeps a set, just in case, lined up on her desk: fat, yellow rectangles, pink pencil toppers, a translucent watermelon wedge particularly good at leaving juicy, red welts. Once Evan learns to duck, so do we.
Cara tells me that my wings won’t grow because I think too much. It doesn’t matter how much oil (or water) I use; it doesn’t matter if I only say an even number of Hail Marys before bed. Your mind has got to be light, she says, like a feather.
Maybe, I say, except wings aren’t all fluff. They’re also flesh and blood and bones that’ll break if you ever crash down to earth. Something to carry, you know, not just something that carries you.
Cara blinks at me a few times. Marnie Levinsworth has had wings since fifth grade, she finally says.
OK, I say, even though we both know Marnie Levinsworth’s wings aren’t real.
Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ pulls me out of lunch to tell me to eat more. She remembers back in first grade, I used to toss the crusts of my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches underneath the cafeteria tables. She remembers, last week, I passed out in gym class and my mom showed up with orange juice. I tell her she’s wrong because she is. I’m not starving myself. I don’t tell her I’m always a little sad.
Before First Friday mass, Evan Merkle whispers that his sister Liz said that Monsignor Kasprowicz once told her that if you try to smuggle a Eucharist out of church, it’ll turn to blood in your pocket. No one believes him, not really, not even Cara, but during communion, most of our class takes the wafers with their tongues. I don’t take communion at all.
Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because my parents weren’t married in a church. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I don’t like Marnie Levinsworth. Or Sister Mary Gaudentius. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I can’t write the Our Father on graph paper without touching any horizontal lines. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because the other 7th grade girls deserve wings more than I do. I can’t remember the last time I thought I was going to heaven.
Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, Lunate Fiction, and Fewer than 500.