BY CAT INGRID LEECHES
At night, a young priest crawls through my window. He brings with him what I think is the smell of the catechism. My naiveté is forgivable, this is my first love and it consumes me. All day, I could think of nothing else besides my young priest.
The young priest is a holy being.
He presses his face into my neck. I take his fingers in mine, and snap them off. He cries only a little, my throat itches from his tears. But thank goodness, my father does not hear.
I put the young priest’s fingers inside me. I’m a virgin, and it hurts, but I moan anyway.
I’m proud of myself for knowing this is how a woman behaves when she has a lover. Even if a lover is meant to be a secret, the moans must still be performed. (If a woman doesn’t perform the moans, it is simple really, a lover will not love her).
We will never be apart, I tell him. The priest emits a small vaporous cloud of piss. I’m stunned by the realization he doesn’t know my thoughts, that my desire isn’t strong enough to transmute flesh. But I know if my thoughts could somehow become his, he would understand.
I tell him a story:
Today I was rubbing my
nipples through my shirt,
while staring at the sea.
The young priest
interrupts me, You live
nowhere near the sea. I tell
him that it is dark out.
You have to listen.
And the sensation of cotton
creating micro-tears in the
delicate tissue of my breasts
made me lonely. (I am
prone to depressive
episodes, this I do not
I thought, what if you died
in a car wreck, and I never
knew about it? After all,
you are Catholic, and my
family is Episcopalian. (I
am a liar–there is no
religion on my birth
I would have no reason to
hear of your death. Now, I
do. Only at the moment of
your demise will your fingers
begin to disintegrate inside
I will tell everyone, I have
bacterial vaginosis, when
they inevitably ask, ‘What
is that smell?’
There is only one regret–if
I wasn’t a virgin, I could fit
all of you inside me.
In the morning, I discover that droplets of my young priest’s finger-blood have leaked into my underwear.
The finger-blood is a completely different shade of red than my menstruation, thus incriminating.
In my bedroom is a geological formation (i.e. a laundry basket)—complete with river silt and a lava bed. I ball the underwear up tightly and bury it for safekeeping in one of the middle strata, which is composed of heavier particles of sedimentation.
When I return home from school I find the molecular composition of my bedroom has changed. And I know that my mother has stolen the dirty underwear from my laundry basket. Her nose is magnificent. I should have known this would happen, but I had no idea that she even knew what a priest smelled like.
And I become so certain that I will find my mother in the kitchen glowing with the bioluminescence of Christ himself, that I am afraid to ever leave my bedroom again (even though I can no longer stand the smell). My father knocks on my door after midnight and coldly informs me that my mother has stuffed my underwear down her dying father’s throat. Since he now has a holy artifact in his possession, he can finally die.
But my grandfather is not a member of the church, so the whole family drives hours in the middle of the night to dump his body in the gulf. My mother coos motherly to my little sisters, and only refers to me as an apparition.
My grandfather’s body is in the fetal position behind the last row of seats. I did not know it was possible to bend a corpse in this manner. I can see the shape of his foot beneath the bed sheet. And if it wasn’t for this foot being definitively foot-shaped, I could pretend that we were transporting a giant snail back to its natural habitat. But he is human, and he is dead, and my mother is making it very clear that I am dead to her as well. Years in the future, when I dream of this trip, I am underneath the sheet too. Sometimes my arms are stiff and I can’t reach an itch on my calf. The itching is consumptive. It is the feeling of my skin celebrating a divorce from muscle and fat. In other dreams, my arms creep like a vine around my grandfather’s torso. The vine keeps growing, until our bodies disappear, the backseat covered in foliage. I can’t see, but I can feel the vines growing, they are covered in my skin. I even feel them as they grow through my sisters’ and father’s bodies, exit like waterfalls through their eyes and mouths. My mother seems immune to my rampant overgrowth. She never stops driving the car.
In happier dreams, I am just a shell on my grandfather’s back. Our human lives a momentary mistake in our existence.
After the funeral, my mother returns the underwear. I find them folded nicely in my top drawer, still hardened with saltwater and phlegm. Slowly, the rest of my underwear goes missing. My mother has used dynamite to destroy the geological formation in my bedroom. There’s no thing left.
One day, I wear the underwear to school. They are my only pair.
It is a Tuesday.
I can feel my grandfather stirring in the cells of the fabric. His breath moistens my lips. I do not blame him for refusing to remain in the ocean with his corpse. The gulf is slick with the dead. I am not sure if it is guilt or resignation, but I do not resist when I feel myself inflate like a balloon.
His spirit plunges into my body during my afternoon pre-calculus class. With my young priest’s fingers still firm inside me, and the spirit of my grandfather occupying my womb, I no longer feel insatiable lust. I am finally cured of my womanly condition.
I am brought to the nunnery on my seventeenth birthday. My mother asks them to perform the blood test. The nuns hold me down and jab a needle through my clavicle. Our family name is entered into a registry. My siblings are too young to understand the significance of this moment. My mother has to forgive me—Now when the time comes, we can all be buried in a nice cemetery. I bet it will be one of those rich people cemeteries, on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The Sisters inform me I am to serve in one of their holy wars. And my mother once again proves herself magnificent. She doesn’t even look me in the eyes–the eyes of her firstborn–while the whole family climbs back into the minivan.
I never see any of them again.
I am in my seventh decade now, and have become an artist of moderate renown. Critics associated with the church, celebrate my work: they say I have perfectly captured the non-erotic female gaze. I paint only portraits of the young priest, whose fingers are still firm inside me, from memory alone.
A reputation for serenity proceeds me.
The younger sisters seek my council. They speak of an insatiable hunger, which I barely remember. I tell them to fill their bodies with sea shells and rocks. If that is not enough, I help them fill every hole with cement. In the most desperate cases, we sneak out of the convent at night and travel to sea. I instruct the girls to prostrate themselves on the sand.
Cat Ingrid Leeches lives and writes in Alabama. Her work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Passages North, the Offing, and the Collagist.
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