Cry Room, St. Mark's Church

In the back behind smudged glass we sat
with three other mothers and their kids.
No one was in fact crying. Or reciting
prayers. We could have been looking in

the window of the A & P or K-Mart. I was old
enough not to consider crying an option.
My little sister crawled beneath the kneeler
and fell asleep. I crouched awkward in the pew.

To be caught in the cry room—I wouldn’t hear
the end of it. Everyone stared down the usher
when he came in to shake his collection basket

under our noses. 1963. I’d made my first
communion and begun saving my best lies
for the confessional booth. A room for sins.
A room to cry in. I watched my mother’s head

loll back, snap forward. Why were we there?
Was someone going to bring us yet another
baby to take home? One woman entered late
and sat in the last of the four pews, wedging

herself into the corner to sob uncontrollably.
Other mothers stared out the window
at the muffled mass as if waiting for the good parts.
Mine sighed and yanked us up and out

of there. We walked home in a fluster of spring wind.
I was hungry for a doughnut or two. Glazed,
sticky in the flimsy cardboard box with the see-through
plastic window. Did we stay long enough for it to count?
I asked. My mother carried my sister in one arm

and puffed on a cigarette with the fervor
of the newly-converted. We passed the Powder
Puff hair salon and the boarded up Dairy Queen
and the ill-fated slot-car track and the ditch

they found Larry Jarman in. I didn’t cry then
and I’m not crying now. God—you had to love
the dude. God, not Larry. It might’ve been Larry’s
mother crying in the back. Or Mary Magdalene’s

distant niece. Or the victim of another immaculate
conception. All I know is that I bugged my mother
into a frenzy till she bought the doughnuts
at Oaza bakery near the drive-thru car wash

and threw the box at me and told me to shut up.
My older brothers had lied about going to early
mass. I don’t know where they went, but they wouldn’t
take me with them. My mother believed in miracles

and my sleeping father believed in the almighty dollar
and the nearly almighty cents. I at e two doughnuts
before we got home. The sweet glaze stuck to my lips
and face. I confess to a smile and a taunting boogaloo

on the sidewalk as my brothers raced out the door
to snatch the box. My mother dropped my sister
onto the stoop, then fell to the dead brown grass
and smiled her own wistful boogaloo. You had to love him

or hate him or pretend or believe he didn’t exist. The cry
room stunk with soiled diapers and sweat. The hymnals
had pages ripped out, drooled and doodled on. The truth
was elusive. Why would he want criers in a separate room?

What about a room for laughers? No one laughed
in church. Even when the priest—any priest—tried out
a joke. Are there any good jokes that don’t have a cruelty
to them? Cigarettes weren’t as good as I imagined.

We haunted ourselves in the reflection of the cry room glass.
My tiny grandmother in her tiny room watched “Mass
for Shut-ins” on her tiny TV. She might have been crying,
depending on the pain. She was my second death after Larry.

Nobody explained about Larry till I was old enough
to understand. The church stretched yellow police tape
around our lives like those in fancy stores where you couldn’t
touch a thing. Usually, some kid started bawling, but not that day.

Oh, the sweetness of the glaze,
and how the greed made my mother smile.

:: Jim Daniels, in Green Mountains Review (18:2, 2005)

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