Here is the church, here is the steeple. The wide oak doors open to a room full of stained glass. Light fractures like split ends. We are dressed in black, my shoes too big on the tiled floor. My parents wear clothes I didn’t know they owned. The church is so full of perfume, someone swinging a gold ball on a chain. The smell creeps down the aisle, lingering around my ankles, soaking the inside of my white lace socks. We take seats in the side row, the pews lined like dominos. The room is thick with bodies and I can hardly move, my arms sticking to my body, against the sweat I cannot control. My jaw is tense, locked in place. My father laces his fingers with mine and we hum a song that we’ve been given on a printed paper flap.
Here are the people. Hair tall. Closer to heaven. From above, we must look like ants. Ants sitting in church, ants roaming the halls of grocery stores, ants in paper towns. Ants waiting for something to happen. They are carrying a brown box down the aisle, placing it at the center of the room. Someone is crying. Many people are crying. Everything is wet, like it rained from the inside out. My mother is wiping my face, licking her palms to smooth my hair down, unabashed and brazen. I want to cry but can’t. This room is full of everyone I’ve ever met, their faces blank like a dream. When I turn to look behind me, they are facing away, looking up to a balance beam ceiling. I don’t know where I am in time, only that I am here.
Sometimes, I dream about Jesus. He is laying, palms down on the tiles of an indoor pool. It smells like chemistry and a moment that cannot linger. Sometimes, He drives my car down Red Mountain. I tell him to slow down, slow down, for the love of God slow down. It’s my foot on the petal, pushing seventy in a town where nothing moves. I’m afraid that this is all there is, that this is all that’s waiting for me.
In fourth grade, we ate ham sandwiches in the conference room and walked to Sunday school in a single file line. Rows of tiny heads bobbing in front of me. Everyone I know could fit in the congregation if we squeezed. It is the whole world in one room. All of us waiting for something to happen.
We are leaving the chapel in slow progression. There is music and someone has given me a candle, unlit. I cannot hold fire in my hand, but if I could, I’d give it to my father. He holds my sleeping brother. He must have been thirteen, but in this memory, he is a child no more than eight. I wish I could freeze him here forever, keeping him safe from the promise of age. We walk out into the sunlight and the sea of bodies in black is faded. It’s too bright to be real, like we are remembering something together. Virginia and her mother are crying, her body heaving on the ground. People pretend not to notice, not to look.
A black limo that isn’t a limo is pulling away from the curb. I want to know where we take the things we cannot say aloud, where we take the people who’ve come before us. The church doors shut with an unanswerable thud. I want to put my thumb in my mouth, to suck hard, to be so small I could disappear into a crack on the sidewalk. We are all watching each other, wondering how we should react. I let my face smooth and pretend that none of this is happening.
I close my eyes, listen to the sounds of feet on the sidewalk, chalking the space between here and somewhere else. Everyone is leaving, taking the harmony away from this moment. We are ants trailing a broken line. We are ants leading each other off a cliff. We are ants doing the best we can.
McLeod Logue is an MFA candidate at UNC Wilmington. Her work has appeared in The Nashville Review, The Shore Poetry, and elsewhere.