Wednesday mornings her school takes Mass. The students shuffle into the chapel and the priest’s ruddy face gleams over them, his flock, in a content and smug way that only a childless man’s can. Each Wednesday she walks down the aisle with a little hope, a fragment of faith that today she will experience anything other than herself, something purposeful and loud. Something she can wrap her hand around like a great walking stick, invisibly rooted in the earth so that she is never wavering. She takes this faith, bundles it into her blazer pocket and smuggles it into Mass – her friends are none the wiser. She likes to imagine the scandal her confession would cause. Did you hear? She was caught with faith! But she seems so normal!
It isn’t about morality. She has always considered herself a woman of principle, even if those principles are occasionally abandoned, left nuzzling the vodka bottle she tops up with water in her parents’ freezer.
It’s the promise of magic that keeps her hanging on the priest’s spit. Like those childhood hours spent at the bottom of the garden, hoping to catch a fairy and gobble it up. The longer she waited, the stiffer her jaw, the stronger her conviction in a fairy marching straight for her mouth. But the diligence never paid off. The fairies lost their wings, grew tall and broad like the shoulders of the boy squeezing in next to her, pushing her tight against the edge of the pew.
Above her in the gallery, the organist plays low, long notes and the choir cries Emmanuel. The priest takes to his podium and the boy lowers his arm by her leg, running his finger around the edge of her sock. She uncrosses herself.
One day, the vodka bottle will freeze over. One day, she’ll be caught.
The tired book opens with a thud, the priest runs through sacred words and the boy’s hand dances beneath her kilt. His Breitling, a present from his father, catches the sun streaming through Mary’s shattered veil. Tu, septiformis munere. Digitus paternae dexterae. Tu rite promissum Patris. Sermone ditans guttural – but she doesn’t speak Latin. Wedged between their sermons, neither the priest nor the boy can stir in her anything more than friction.
When Mass has finished, the priest stands in the vestibule farewelling students, patting his favourites on the back, telling them all to Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. The students file out of the chapel and onto the lawn. The boy sprints over to a group of friends and runs his fingers under a mate’s nose. They fall to their knees laughing, grab each other in headlocks and wrestle on the newly-cut grass. She watches from afar, hope still fluttering in her blazer pocket. Perhaps the boy’s friend knows a little magic.