A bead of sweat pools on the tip of my nose. I want to wipe it, but I can’t move. Light pinwheels around my eyes like a kaleidoscope at a carnival. I hear my breath quickening, but I don’t know why. Other sounds morph into a distant drone punctuated by organ interludes.

Am I in church?

Yes.

Through pinholes in my delirium, I can see Father Tassio talking behind the pulpit, his hands working the sermon like a potter would clay on a wheel. Behind him, I can see the cross where Jesus bleeds, the holes in his hands pulsing dark tunnels to another dimension. I look away so I’m not sucked into them.

Amanda Wingo draws in her bible. Her pencil scratches into the onion thin paper. I want to be that paper. Want to feel that important to someone.

The organ explodes and my head reels.

Everything fast forwards. The ironwork on the ceiling spins like the inner workings of a Swiss clock racing to get away from time. The stained glass windows shoot daggers of colors that ricochet off pews that are lined up like dominoes. I want to knock them over and watch them tumble, but my hands are too heavy.

I can’t lift my head, either. I am stone – just another Parian figure in the church, albeit one with penny loafers and a navy jumper.

Father Tassio’s words turn to tongues, a belligerent rant that pummels my head like shrapnel. “Shut up,” my mind screams over and over as each word bullet zings me. “Shut up! Shut up!”

Will I go to Hell for my blasphemy? It has to be a pretty big sin to scream shut up at your priest. I don’t care, though. And I wonder what is wrong with me that I don’t care.

Perhaps this is demonic possession. Shelly Meyers, a sixth grader with hair that reminds me of Christmas tinsel, missed three weeks of school one time when she was possessed. I overheard her telling the Barrow sisters all about it in the cafeteria during lunch, though I didn’t understand why the devil would want to make you do things with boys.

I recall a scene from The Exorcist, a movie I’ve watched on cable far too many times. Not the best choice for a second grader, but television is never monitored at either of my homes. Maybe Captain Howdy needs a new little girl and has come for me.

Oh, please, oh, please, don’t let my head spin around like that.

I look over at Jesus. His holes expand and unfold into a blanket of space that covers me.

I knew he’d get me eventually.

I hear a thud,

then black.

I have no consciousness.

No awareness.

Am I dead?

No. 

Not yet. That would come later.

For now, I am simply nothing.

When I begin to come back, I hear water running. Then I feel something warm and wet on my cheek. A washrag. Steaming terrycloth.

“Are you all right, dear?” she asks with a voice soft as baby powder.

I can’t talk. There’s a boulder in my throat. But I can hear and I can see, though the light of the room makes me squint and washes everything out like an overexposed photograph.

“Breathe,” she says, and I do as I’m told. But my chest expands too quickly. It won’t stop, and I can feel an earthquake somewhere at my core. A chill skitters up my legs to my stomach somehow setting flame to something that erupts.

I vomit on her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “Don’t you worry about that one bit,” she says, cleaning her skirt.

Mrs. Tassio. I see her clearly now. I’ve thrown up on the priest’s wife.

“Are you all right?” she asks again.

I sit up too fast and almost hurl another, but somehow I will the tsunami in my stomach to recede. Mrs. Tassio puts a cup of water to my mouth and I drink. “Your mother’s on her way,” she informs me. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

She curls a strand of my hair behind my ear and I feel better, but then the weight of what I’ve done drags me back under. I’ve desecrated the priest’s wife. I don’t know where that ranks in the hierarchy of sins, but I’m sure it must be a doozey. Maybe even worse than telling a priest to shut up, even if I did only say it in my mind.

I start to cry.

“Father Tassio,” I whimper. “I need Father Tassio.”

Mrs. Tassio motions to a girl behind her. The girl approaches and I can see the burn scar that runs along her jaw. I want to touch it; I want to know what the puffy skin feels like. There’s something beautiful about the way it coils from her ear to her chin like a rivulet of secrets. I catch her eyes, and I can tell she misunderstands what I’m thinking because her mouth tightens into an asterisk of anger.

Mrs. Tassio dunks the washrag in a basin of steaming water. “Go get Father Tassio. If he’s not in the church, look in his office. 

The girl obeys, throwing me a look on her way out, a look I’d come to know too well over the forthcoming years.

Moments later, Father Tassio returns without the girl. I can’t decide if I’m more relieved that he’s here or that she isn’t. My stomach moans and I roll over on my side. He kneels next to me

“You sent for me?” he whispers, taking my hand. His skin is too soft, it reminds me of someone, and I almost recoil, but then I remember. Father Tassio. My priest.

I squeeze his hand. “I need to confess my sins,” I say.

“What sins could you possibly have, little one?” he asks.

I run down the list, admitting all my indecencies: the time I said shit when I stubbed my toe on the refrigerator, the time I blamed our dog Jenny for breaking my mom’s porcelain vase, the time I gave Milton Hewitt the finger when he splashed me on purpose with his bike.

By the time I get to today’s transgressions, about how I told him to shut up with my mind and how I vomited all over his wife, I hear funny sounds coming from Father Tassio. He sounds like the squeaky gate to the playground. At first I think he’s crying, ever so disappointed in me, but then I notice he’s holding his stomach.

Is possession contagious? Have I contaminated my own priest on top of everything else?

Father Tassio snorts, taking such deep breaths that his nostrils flutter like an accordion.

Mrs. Tassio steps over with a thermometer, but I wave her off.

“My penance. I need my penance.”

Father Tassio can’t talk. He turns completely around in his chair. His belly heaves like a bellow, and he wheezes like my Uncle Ernie’s mule. I look at the ceiling to see if there are any long spears that might fall from the sky, but I only see a brown water ring.

God, if his head spins around, I swear I’ll throw up again.

“Five Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s,” he finally gets out.

Mrs. Tassio sticks the thermometer in my mouth. “And how many for the priest?” she asks, then thumps him on his head.

 

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When she isn't making movies or music, DUCKY WILSON serves as a spy for the Bokonon Underground Army, living by the foma that makes her brave and kind and healthy and happy. Her poetry has been published in several literary magazines, none of which you've ever read, and her nonfiction work can be read exclusively on The Nervous Breakdown. Currently, she is in development on her next film, an offbeat musical about misfits looking to belong.

One response to “Possession is No Laughing Matter”

  1. ducky says:

    Comment by jmb
    2009-10-28 20:31:17
    Oh Ducky

    you swoon me

    I hope when I see Jesus
    the real Jesus,
    this is what he will say
    to me.

    “What sins could you possibly have, little one?”

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:03:16
    And I’m sure you’ll be absolved.

    xoxo,
    Janette Oke

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-10-28 20:57:15
    What a delightful piece.
    I’ve never been to church, but the way you write, means I don’t have to. You write it perfectly.
    Is it a sin to impersonate a Catholic? I’ve always wanted to take communion but I think that would be wrong…

    Comment by David S. Wills
    2009-10-29 00:26:37
    I’ve been a few times. Ours schools dragged us along as kids, but I never bought any of it and I’ll sure as hell never go back, even to vomit on the priest’s wife… Ok, maybe just once, just to vomit, but after that no more.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:06:59
    The best thing about church is the art. Catholic ones especially. This was an Episcopalian private school I attended, which meant church every day. I’m not religious at all now, but I still love to visit when there’s no service and look at all the work.

    If you’ve never had communion, do it just so you can know how disgusting those wafers are. They stick to the roof of your mouth worse than any taffy or peanut butter.

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-10-29 11:40:41
    Man, to have to go through church every day! The closest I came to that was Christian camp — what a nightmare.

    I always wanted to be Catholic as a kid, because it seemed really exotic, what with the sign of the cross and, as you mention, the art. Being a Southern Baptist was no fun at all. I was bored out of my freaking mind.

    Lots of detail here that reminds me of things I’d have preferred to forget: blasting organ, onion-thin paper, pews like dominoes (I love that).

    Join me in a rampage, heavy on desecration, on the other side?

    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-10-28 20:57:28
    Pretty good plan for getting out of church.

    This was great. I was spellbound, nervous. And then? Totally surprised. Perfect.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:18:50
    It was a challenge to get the right tone. Not sure I did, but I’m not a stickler for form.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by David S. Wills
    2009-10-29 00:27:05
    Also, great tags.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Robin Antalek
    2009-10-29 02:57:13
    As a reformed Catholic schoolgirl who hasn’t set foot in a church since my family was asked to leave the Catholic school when the priests found out that not only had my mother been divorced but marched in Washington in support of Roe Vs. Wade ( this was the seventies) you brought back way too many memories and you did it beautifully. This sentence, (among others) was killer:

    “There’s something beautiful about the way it coils from her ear to her chin like a rivulet of secrets. I catch her eyes, and I can tell she misunderstands what I’m thinking because her mouth tightens into an asterisk of anger.”

    Amazing!

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:13:35
    My mom was a big huge sinner, too. She converted to the Presbyterian faith until we graduated high school, and then she thought it would be more productive to sleep in on Sundays. Why do parents think kids need church when they themselves don’t really believe in all the show?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rich Ferguson
    2009-10-29 04:17:22
    Dang. If only I’d tried this one during all those years of church. That could’ve been my perfect ticket out. Instead, I just carry around tons of Catholic guilt.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:15:04
    Forgive yourself.
    For everything.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-10-29 04:59:02
    Ducky,
    I love how this reads.
    It is as though I am that little girl in fear of damnation.
    I love your minister’s wife.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 05:17:03
    I was terrified of the devil as a girl. Now I don’t believe in all that, but I still love scary movies and there’s obviously some residual “what if” somewhere deep inside my core.

    Mrs. Tassio was a good woman. So was Father Tassio. Just really good people. Don’t meet too many like that in life.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by N.L. Belardes
    2009-10-29 05:48:36
    I come back to TNB from my long self-imposed hiatus to this brilliance! Your words are my exorcism for the morning, which I needed far more than coffee.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 12:32:05
    Sir, you are too kind.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Matt
    2009-10-29 07:59:04
    Ducky, this is great. I love your last line, especially.

    I’m an atheist who was raised in a secular household, but was sent to a Christian school for Kindergarten and 1st grade (as it was the highest rated school in our district) and daily church attendance/prayer were mandatory. I share with you that sense of being absolutely uninterested with the sermon, though I never threw up on anyone.

    Mr. and Mrs. Tassio sound like great people.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 12:37:54
    They were great people, even if they were Episcopalian.

    I’m not sure I’d label myself an atheist, I tend to rebel against any label, but I absolutely have no use for religion. I’m too pragmatic for it.

    But maybe energy is recycled, maybe that’s what happens to the “soul.” Is there a central energy ball by which all life springs forth? Nothing can’t become something and something can’t become nothing. Or can it?

    See, I can fuck myself up chasing my tail like this. I’d rather just admit that I have no fucking clue, it’s fun to consider and argue, but at the end of the day, anyone who thinks they have the answer needs to check in with their ego.

    Same goes for aliens.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-10-29 12:43:20
    I don’t know… it seems like a laughing matter to me.

    I was terrified as a kid that the Devil himself lived in the space under our stairs, this tiny, stony little room set into the ground. Why he chose to live there, I’m not sure. Surely he could have found somewhere nicer.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-29 16:55:37
    I used to think Maleficent (evil queen from Sleeping Beauty) lived under my bed. I’d jump into bed every night from as far away as I could.

    I think evil things like dust bunnies.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2009-10-30 02:09:43
    Or are dust bunnies evil things?

    Love, love, loved this.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-30 04:44:37
    Dust bunnies are warriors in the land of socks but they have force fields that keep evil away. However, they hold the secret of mai-bi, which evil things try to steal.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Mary
    2009-10-30 06:53:40
    Oh, how great is this? I love it. What a fantastic moment. Poor kid, though. You must have felt awful…

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-30 09:53:18
    It was either possession or the flu. I’m still not sure.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Mary
    2009-11-02 15:46:29
    Funny how in Catholic school, just coming down with the flu can make you feel guilty.

    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Reply here

    Comment by sheree
    2009-10-30 08:54:13
    I love that you used the word washrag. Brilliant writing.

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