Michelle Ross's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Cleaver Magazine, The Common, Cream City Review, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, Paper Darts, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, and other journals. She serves as fiction editor for Atticus Review.
H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
M I C H E L L E R O S S
H A I L S A T A N
The year our parents took us out of church school, because with Lily starting kindergarten they could no longer afford tuition, Mrs. Pyrtle warned Mom that public school would expose us to terrible evils. Carrie and I overheard Mom tell Dad this as he helped her unload groceries from the trunk of her car. “She said they’re going to wind up taking candy from the hands of Satan.”
Mom was prone to exaggeration. Complain about her meatloaf, and she’d act like you said you’d rather flames from the stove lick her like she was a spitted chicken than politely eat what she’d prepared. So maybe she misrepresented Mrs. Pyrtle’s warning, but the point is that by the time that big yellow bus came to a screeching stop in front of our house for the first time, Carrie and I were on the lookout for Satan.
We found Satan everywhere in public school. Satan was in the cafeteria, where the girls asked us if our mother sewed our clothes. Satan was on the school bus, where the older kids called us pussies when we wouldn’t hang our heads out the windows as the bus scraped against tree limb after tree limb. Satan was most definitely at recess, where classmates goaded us to play a game called Butt Ball, the objective of which seemed to be to pelt us with such fury, it pained us to sit.
But our younger sister Lily, who wasn’t the new kid, the weird church-school kid, who hadn’t heard what Mrs. Pyrtle had said, seemed perfectly at ease. On the school bus, she sat with three other girls her age. With their hair bows and their charm bracelets and their sequined tops, they looked like fancy bonbons in a four-piece box. As Carrie and I watched Lily smile all the way to school and back, we decided that she was so full of Satan’s candy, she was like a piñata. What she needed was to be busted open with a stick.
We prescribed all sorts of fixes, from prayers to dabbing cod liver oil behind her ears to not washing her hair. We believed we meant to save our sister. Like that time at the beach when we told her about saltwater crocodiles. How were we to know they weren’t lurking in that muddy Gulf water?
Soon, Lily sat alone on the bus. She stared quietly out the window as the bus weaved in and out of ugly neighborhoods like a worm tunneling through manure. Lily prayed as the candy girls whispered about her from two seats up.
Then, one day one of the girls called out to Lily, “What’s your deal?” as the other girls snickered. And Lily, naïve Lily, told them about her efforts to ward off Satan. She said she would pray for them too.
In an instant, all eyes were on Lily.
It was like Butt Ball. Lily was spread against the wall, and she was looking over her shoulder at Carrie and me, begging, “Tell them. Tell them!”
We seemed to have two choices, either peg her in the butt as hard as we could or spread against the wall alongside her. But damn if our poor butts weren’t already bruised enough.
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