A Louisiana Summer
by Caroline Rodrigues
The last church I set foot in burned to the ground. The metal cross on the steeple turned a hot poker-red. When it fell with a soft thud onto the church lawn it singed the fresh green and yellow grass in the charred black shape of a cross.
My brother pinched my cheeks and said it was my fault because the Devil was raging inside of me, but that couldn’t be true, because Mama and I shower our Mother Mary statue with flower blossoms and petals and say our prayers three times a day. Mother says this will wash the sin right out of me.
I keep my nail polish hidden under my pearl-white church gloves. When we pray, mama keeps her eyes closed, so I peek one eye open and admire the Harlem Red color that Anna’s mother painted on for me. She winked when she did it, saying “If your mother asks, it wasn’t me.” She understands.
When the police questioned me about the church, they asked me what my favorite color was. I thought I was tricking them by answering red, because it wasn’t my favorite color, even though I adored it on my nails. It was the first untrue answer I could think of. But they thought that liking red gave me motive. I didn’t tell them about how the town bully and sweetheart all rolled into one, Chet, had made me come out here. He brought some of his big friends, and they kept lighting matches and putting them out by pinching them with their thumbs. Chet made me climb up to the bell tower with him, and he stuck his hand up my skirt. I didn’t like it. I was too ashamed to tell. I was screaming at him to let go of me, and his friends heard, so he stopped and turned to yell at them to shut up, and I ran. They threw fiery matches at me as I ran into the center of the town, heading for the sanctuary of my home. I told mama I had gone to the church to pray and made her promise she wouldn’t tell Papa that I snuck out again. I didn’t tell her that this time it wasn’t by choice.
They found Chet out, anyway. Turns out one of his friends was the Priest’s son and he felt so guilty that he told his father. They’re all spending time in jail. Chet wrote me a letter, telling me that he knew dark sins lived inside of him, and that he wanted me to visit so that he could cleanse his soul and gain closure. I didn’t visit. It is time for me to do my own cleansing of the bad.