She was late to the Mass dedicated to her boyfriend’s late mother, who died just two months before her father. Stepping into St. Monica’s, making sure her heels didn’t click too loudly, she saw him—Matt the Agnostic—In the very back pew.
She slid in next to him. “You told me it was on East 81st,” she hissed. “It’s actually on E. 79th.” Her own mother would rather turn around and go home than enter church late.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t know. I don’t know why I said that if I did.”
“Think about it,” she said. “Think about it” was a code in their relationship. It meant, in psychoanalytical terms, to think about both the latent and manifest meaning behind what you meant by what your actions. Like, keeping basic Freud in mind, did he unconsciously tell her the wrong address on purpose? Maybe he didn’t want her to come. Or . . . had she considered the real reason behind why she was late? If there even was one.
“What?” he said. Thank God, he hadn’t heard the “Think about it.”
“Nothing,” she said.
She figured she needed to have an answer.
“I have to pee,” she said. “Like, for real.”
“Oh.” He conferred with his sister. “It’s on the right, downstairs.”
“I’m not going during service!”
“OK,” he said. A small sigh.
When Mass was over, he told her she could light a candle for her dad. They went over to the candles, which lit up electronically with the push of a button. He gave her a dollar, and she dropped it into the slot, then pushed a button for her candle. Nothing lit up. She pushed another. Nothing. She pushed one button after the other, and not one of them worked. She looked at him in a panic.
Matt started stabbing at the buttons like it was a video game. She could tell he felt responsible, since he was the one who told her to do this in the first place. She wasn’t even really Catholic. Her father was Catholic. Her mother was Baptist. She hadn’t been baptized in either church. Was it maybe time to take care of that? After all, Matt’s step-father was a deacon. He was sort of a big deal at St. Monica’s, actually. And her ties to St. Monica’s was that when Elaine’s was still
open, she would occasionally drink with Father Pete, who until recently was the pastor there. So at least she was well-connected; that was important.
Matt pushed random buttons over and over until finally, finally, a candlelit up. She crossed herself and kissed her fingers. It was sort of the way she picke dup since she sort-of decided to be a Catholic. It was the most ostentatious way and everyone knew she appreciated that.
Matt then directed her over to a place to kneel and pray and she asked, “Is that how it works? It seemed like there were a lot of steps.”
“I don’t know, he said. It’s just what I’ve seen people do.”
About three weeks before his death, her father had turned to her and said,“You have deplorable taste in men.” This was unfair, pretty much completely. If he was upset about the drug thing, well, that was in Matt’s past. To dwell on it was just so middle-class.
And yet, his words stuck in her head. To her left was a statue of two saints. People were touching the saints, rubbing them, touching their fingers in holy water and touching the statues again, crossing themselves, then kissing their fingers. Oh, how her mother would laugh. Perhaps—think about it—her budding Catholicism was a rebellion against her mother and a way to posthumously ally with her father.
Worth thinking about it, to be sure, but not too much.
She went downstairs to the bathroom. It was completely dark.
She reached for the light switch, but then stood for a moment in the dark.
She thought about what she and Matt had both lost and, with that in mind,if they were enough for each other. If this was why people got married—partially out of love, part out of fear—well, then, now she could see how that could happen. Of course this was why people grasped onto traditions—traditions previously empty to her, but now, well, maybe they meant something. Or maybe they didn’t. But there was a purpose to all of it. At the very least, something to pass the time.
Sheila McClear’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, both where she was a features reporter, Gawker.com, the Daily Beast, and the New York Observer.