She has recently read that saints can do miraculous things like taste blood in eucharistic wine, heal the sick, bleed where Jesus bled, even translocate. Under his breath, her father invites her to pray for someone. She prays aloud as she counts out on her fingers: father, friends at school, some teachers, all dogs, the money launderers. At that, he bursts out laughing, startling the priest at the pulpit. Her father leans over on the cramped pew, makes a cave of his body, shielding her. Where did you get that? He can barely contain himself. But there is no chance for her to make sense of his laughter—to explain that she has heard this word on television, and doesn’t it sound like something everyone should want? The priest has already moved on with a stern look.
Her father uprights and wipes tears from his eyes, the laughter in his legs. In the gentle tremor of his right arm. Only she is left, in the bright swirl of belief that there must exist a laundromat where the money her father makes is washed clean in enormous machines. She wants to be washed clean in an enormous machine. Incense is lit, and she smells a burning bush right before her father scoops her up. Outside, she swallows two puffs of an inhaler and asks what it takes to be worthy of sainthood. Her father explains that first, one must die.
At her First Communion, the wine tastes like boiled raisins, and she grips the golden chalice, guzzling. Hoping to be deemed worthy of blood. No stigmata manifest at her Confirmation, even though she researched how to lift crimson from white muslin, should the stains prove sturdy. When the baby calf at the dairy next door gets its head trapped in a feeding trough and drowns in rainwater, she stops sinking onto her knees to pray. And when the prayer warriors at her secondary school are unable to influence the path of a hurricane by thumping the closed skin of the King James, she junks Jesus entirely.
Translocating, her father follows work off of their small island, and heads to where the wind is so cold it whips the face. He adjusts the hanging effigies of a crucified Christ in the new living room, while she meditates to a cassette tape of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which someone had thrust into her waiting palm outside the supermarket. She opens a thrift store copy of the Quran. Talks endlessly about the historical roots of all Abrahamic religions. The interconnectedness of all things, which she can see now. So clearly. Those first saints nowhere, anymore, in her mouth.
The crosses come down only when her father’s hand tremor gives way to bouts of incontinence. Boxes of adult diapers begin to live a double life as storage for his old work clothes and anything else that must be rehomed. She laughs only when he laughs, but his jokes are out of sync. Sometimes, unspoken. He wanders out into the street one late afternoon, flagging down a strange car like it’s a taxi. She hears his still-crisp voice: Why live where the wind hurts?
Reaching down into her faith for the resources to support him, she finds only a dried well. Nothing in the house can play that cassette tape anymore; she attempts a meditation practice from memory alone. A citizen now, she can work for the government of this cold country, and so she does. Her bus route paths through their neighborhood, and her hands grip the wheel tighter. Always, she expects to see him standing at the side of the road with a suitcase packed full of nothing but socks, waving her down. Full of regrets. Ready, at last, to return to the island.
In the nursing home, his few lucid days are passed recounting the things he had prayed for as a child. The zookeepers, he cackles. I prayed for the zookeepers.
She pieces together the rest on the long car ride home, one of his favorite rosaries still slung over the rearview mirror. Without zookeepers to keep the cages locked, the beasts might stir and walk about. How terrifying for a small child to be at the mercy of all that they feared. She thanks god for the good days. Then wonders which god she is thanking, and if it has access to the money launderers—the ones she first thought might wash her clean.
Rumpus original artwork by Liam Golden