Fiction from Deirdre Danklin
He was handsome like a ’50s superman. Hair so black it was almost blue. Eyes the color of Listerine. Our mothers called him Father Whatawaste. This was before we knew about the things priests do to children. We still thought the collar meant close to God. God’s mouth on Earth. We went on a trip to the woods. Father Whatawaste and Sister Theresa and thirteen girls from St. Lucy’s Preparatory School. In the woods, we were told, we’d feel closer to God.
On the bus ride to the woods, we were silent. Watching Father Whatawaste talk to Sister Theresa and envying her habit, her marriage to Jesus, that let her lean in, pretending she couldn’t hear the things he murmured to her. We watched her neck flush pink with blood. At night, in our tent, Annabell Hurley said she’d like to take off Father Whatawaste’s cloak and sink her teeth into him. She’d bite him all over until he was purple with her bites. We nodded, we agreed. We, hot-headed Catholic school girls, conspired with Annabelle Hurley to consume him whole.
I got up, pretending I had to pee, but really looking for a spiritual experience in the dark. At that age, I thought God was just waiting for me to be alone before he’d show me a sign or grant me His favor. I walked to the edge of the lake, looking for a bolt of lightning or a burning bush. Instead, there was Father Whatawaste, his cloak hiked up to his hips, tentatively trying to walk on water. I believed that he could. He, so handsome, so authoritative. I would have believed he could fly. He stepped once, twice, into the cold water and sank. I watched from the shadows of the trees as he lifted his befuddled head to the sky, searching, like I was searching, for any sort of sign.
Back in the tent, Annabell Hurley was still talking about the things she’d do to Father Whatawaste. She’d tie him up in her father’s toolshed and feed him birdseed out of her hand. Yes, yes, the other girls nodded. She’d encase his feet in cement and bury them in her grandmother’s garden and train peas to vine up his legs. Of course, of course, the other girls said. Listening to them plan their pagan rites, I heard the clarion bell of my vocation. I thought: he is looking for favor in the wrong place. We girls are the priestesses with violent visions. He, his feet wet with failure, should come home to us.
“I know where he is,” I said.
The girls’ eyes shone in the dark.
So, when Sister Theresa found him the next morning, strapped to a tree with ropes taken from our tents, his naked body bedecked with flowers, a bird’s nest resting like a crown on his head, blood running like vines down his legs, her first thought was that it was a beautiful tableau. The center of an Italian triptych. Out of habit, she sank to her knees.
The thirteen girls from St. Lucy’s were nowhere to be found, even though our parents searched for us, we’d heard a higher call. We wait, teeth sharp, for the next group of children led by a beautiful man to the forest, looking for a sign, trying to get closer to God.
Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University. Her flash has appeared in Hobart, The Nashville Review, Pithead Chapel, Longleaf Review, The Jellyfish Review, and Typehouse Literary Magazine (which nominated her story for Best Small Fictions), among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in CRAFT. She writes an experimental book review, one month of which was published by CAROUSEL. Her multi-genre artistic collaboration with the sculptor Rochelle Botello is forthcoming from 7×7.LA. She’s on Twitter @DanklinDeirdre.