Words By Zoe Andrews, Art By Evelyn De Morgan
Shoulders back. Hair combed. Tie straightened. Sit and wait for your sister. Don’t listen.
Wander. Turn on the radio, and confuse the radioman for God. Radioman tells you to get up and dance, so you do. Turn that off!
Listen this time, because if you don’t, Dad will come downstairs and make you. But don’t do it happily. Make a scene. Stomp your feet. Get mad, because your head is full of steam and it makes Ma worry because it seems so much like your father’s and at church today she’ll pray for both your tempers. Storm outside because you don’t want to be inside anymore. Stomp in the dirt to make Ma mad because she made you mad and it only seems fair.
Trample her flowers, feet stomping in a beat like the songs on the radio.
Penelope’s face appears in the window and before you can finish sticking out your tongue at her she’s run off to tattle. You consider hiding just in case it’s Dad. Ma comes out instead and your shoulders relax.
She straightens your tie. Combs your hair. Tsks at the mud on your shoes and the hem of your trousers and you’re sent inside to change. No more Sunday best. You don’t mind the scuffed, torn, too-small, too-old shoes because all the boys have mud on their shoes the way soldiers have medals on their chests, battle scars and symbols of pride and boyhood and mischief. It’s the jeans that bother you. Too old, too short. Two embarrassing inches of ankle show because you grew too fast and you can’t afford new ones and everyone knows that when they see that flash of skin.
Pull your socks as high as they go and look for a taller pair. Ma is hollering at you to leave even though she has been using her church voice all day, and Penelope is whining up the stairs and you run before they wake up Dad. Dad doesn’t go to church. You don’t know why. He is too loud, you think, always yelling and hollering, because you’re always shushed in church and Dad is louder than you are.
The church door has squeaky hinges. Ma jumps at the noise when someone late slips into the back pew. They dip their fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross; forehead, belly button, shoulder, shoulder, and open their Bible to the daily hymn.
Swing your legs until Ma put a hand down to still your restless knees. Remember the flash of your ankles and tuck them beneath the pew. You wonder what she prays so hard for that she cries. You try to listen, you really do, but it doesn’t make sense.
Your mind wanders, and you wonder what the radioman is doing and what songs he’s playing, and if Tommy will be at the park today because he shoved you last week and you still want to get him back for it. You like it when the choir sings because it’s music and because that usually means it’s almost time to go. Ma only hums along because she doesn’t like to sing in public even though you think she has the prettiest voice you’ve ever heard, singing to you to the rat-a-tat-tat of the rain on the roof when thunderstorms scare you awake in the middle of the night.
Amen, the church says in one big voice.
Amen, you say quiet to yourself.
Forehead, belly button, shoulder, shoulder.
This morning’s mess is forgotten when Ma hugs you tight and takes her time getting home. You don’t know why she does this every Sunday, but you like the side trips to the department store where she doesn’t buy anything, only looks and tells you not to touch. The three of you go to the market next, where she buys milk and a treat for supper and Penelope makes eyes at the boy behind the counter.
Wonder if he’ll bring flowers like the other boy did. Dad didn’t like them and smashed them all up, and the house raged all night long.
Help set the table for supper. Ma makes chicken, and when Dad takes a big helping and doesn’t say anything, she sighs real big.
Another Sunday trickles by.
Climb reluctantly into a bath and wash the day off your skin. Scrub extra at your ankles. Let Ma kiss you on the forehead.
Apologize for stomping on her flowers.
Don’t worry about it, baby.
Say your evening prayers.
And then you listen real hard, even after you’re meant to be asleep. Sometimes, you can hear Ma crying late at night. It makes you sad, and sometimes you put your hand up against the wall, and hope she can feel you loving her. Dad always says he does, but sometimes, you don’t think he loves hard enough.
The wind outside the window sings you a lullaby.
Wake to the blessed quiet of the house. Eat your porridge while Ma drinks her morning coffee. Dad is still asleep. Radioman gives everyone the weather for the day. Thunderstorms, he says. Angels bowling up in the sky.
Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Pull on your jeans for school and wonder how miraculously, almost like magic or maybe by the grace of God, two inches were added to the hem.