This is the last practice for the year. Choir Director says, All your mothers brought treats for snack time. Our final performance is Sunday, so we must let our voices be the very best. After practice, weíll have treats in the church basement.

I want to ask her what kinds of treats, but she starts swinging her arms. The organist begins playing. The organistís hair is white like our robes. White as the divinity my mother whips up when sheís up to here with the holidays.

Jimmy breaks in on the wrong measure. Susanís off key. Choir Director mouths the words for the kids who canít read music and squirm the most.

Spit collects in the corners of her mouth. Choir Director never asks what we want to sing. She thinks her songs are the best, which is prideful and so God better be paying attention. At least we can wear our robes today. They are satiny smooth. Everyone in church says weíre Godís little angels. This is a bit wrong because girls canít be angels, but I donít say anything because itís not nice to tell adults theyíre ignorant, even if they are.

Sometimes after practices, I sit on Organistís lap and pretend my feet are hers as they prance the pedals. When Iím tall enough, Iíll take lessons. Iíll make the pipes flap open and closed and the whole congregation will wish there wasnít a sermon and that Iíd play all morning. Iíll jazz it up. Theyíll clap and yell amen and stand even if theyíre not able like in my friendís church. The only downside about her church is that the devil is always tricking them, and if they stay tricked then theyíll burn in a thousand fires for longer than humans live. Luckily, Iím Methodist so all we worry about is how much money goes into the offering plate so we can pay off the extra parking lot and the parsonage gardeners.

But I canít sit on Organistís lap today because Iím gonna be first to the snacks. I have to get there before Choir Director so when she metronome-taps my shoulder and says, No seconds, Miss Mary, I will say, I havenít had any yet, Miss Director. And she will say, God does not like greedy children. And I will say, God does not like the songs you choose.

After the one billionth time singing the song, Choir Director finally says practice is over. I crouch, ready to run to the basement, hang up my robe, and eat my firsts. But now sheís saying to line up in the choir room after Sunday school with our robes on. We always do, so whyís she wasting our time? Be careful, she says, of your angel voices. Please refrain from yelling and shouting at your school picnics. That reminds me that summer is almost here which means swimming at the pool every day and eating peppermint patties at the concession stand and maybe this year Iíll jump off the high dive instead of crying like a ninny and being led back down the ladder by the lifeguard. She says, Walk like ladies and gentlemen to the basement. Dad is always telling me to act like a lady, and I am sick of it. Iíd like to know who this lady is Iím impersonating because then Iíd kick dirt on her dress.

Organist plays the Charlie Brown song. We laugh because church isnít the place for cartoons. Iíve got my robe over my head before we reach the bottom of the stairs. My head gets stuck in the neck hole. Someone pushes me.

When I get into the robe room, everybodyís already there. We pull and yell and grab the hangers with our names on them. Organist is still playing upstairs. I say, Iím gonna get firsts! Jimmy calls me Mary Magdalene. I call him Heathen, which is what Mom calls Dad when he wonít hurry up on Sundays. Jimmy head butts me in the chest. I fall into Susan. Susan falls backwards. I grab at her robe, but the satin slips through my fingers. The fan that makes the organ work is whirling. The corner of Susanís robe catches in the blades. Her mouth opens like an organ pipe, but no sound comes out. Jimmy double-times it up the stairs to tell Organist to stop playing. The fan spins Susan closer. She reaches out for us. The belt slaps her thighs. Over and over. Her white tights burn black. They tear. Thereís a smell like when Mom lit her cigarette to close to the stove and lost her eyebrows.

We yell. Susan! Fire!

Preacher runs in. Heís always on the lookout for fire. Preacher plays tug of war with Susan and the fan belt. Her robe isnít white anymore. She cries off key. Preacher holds her in his arms. I pat her hand. I say, Your legs look like jellyrolls. Then I push through the children and run to the snack table.

# # #

Every Good Girl Does Fine by Erin Pringle
originally published November 2, 2008

 

 


Erin Pringle lives and writes in San Marcos, Texas. Her work has been published in over two dozen magazines, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, named a Best American Notable Non-Required Reading, and shortlisted for the 2007 Charles Pick Fellowship. Her short story collection, The Floating Order, was published by Two Ravens Press. Visit Erin onine at www.erinpringle.com.

Big Pulp credits:
Every Good Girl Does Fine
Palestine, IL

 

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