Fiction · 10/07/2009

Save Me

It lasted only a few moments. When I surfaced there were soft murmurings. I wore the only good dress that I had, a purple pastel with little sea pearls sewn around the collar. My husband went under after I did. I wanted to be first person he saw when he opened his eyes. I wasn’t, but I smiled just the same. Usually so sure of himself, he looked lost, hulking in the small pool, looking over his shoulder like he was waiting for redemption to catch up with him. The Pastor, looking judicial in his flowing, dark robe chuckled low and deep. He motioned with a thick hand “Come on out, son!” Everyone laughed. I did not. We were saved.

Afterwards we all gathered in the church’s small backyard for a meal. I sought shade. The sun felt mean and relentless. I itched in my wet dress. My husband had been determined that the congregation would become our new family, and had encouraged me to put aside my reservations. I’d do just about anything for my husband, a man who has always tried hard, so eager to put the past behind him. I showed my willingness to try to be more open by letting our son, Junior, be held by all those who offered. A large woman whose name I forgot as soon as she told me clutched our son, small for his age, like a sloppy sack of onions. She wore a big white, floppy hat and when he reached in his gentle way to touch the brim, she was quick with a smack on his hand. No she said in a baritone. His chin quivered while his mouth moved open and closed without a single sound escaping. As politely as I could, I tried to take him in my arms, but she pulled him back and said, And what do you think that will teach him? Junior looked around, rubbing the persistent patch of scaly skin on his forehead with a small fist. He looked like he could see things that the rest of us didn’t.

My husband stood unknowing by the old-fashioned barbecue, with his hands scrunched in the pockets of his pants that were still dripping from the cuffs. He nodded furiously at the elders who spoke in grave tones, poking the air with long, tapered fingers. I thought I heard my name once or twice. The Pastor’s rotund wife, all dressed in white, fanned the large charcoal briquettes that were just beginning to glow. Other women basted large glistening pieces of meat marbled with fat. Something rose in my throat but I swallowed it down.

On the way home, we drove with the windows open. Everything felt different. I told my husband that sounds and smells didn’t seem the same anymore. Without smiling he said, you are a different person now, we are different people now.

At home I put the baby to bed, patted the wispy fringe of hair on his forehead and stared at him hard. He looked up at me before closing his eyes. He didn’t offer the smile he usually gave me. Downstairs, my husband busied himself exorcising our house of the things we’d enjoyed up until that morning: our music, magazines, books, beer, and television. Even my makeup, though I wore so little already. He took off his shirt and wiped his face in one hard, sweeping motion. His smooth chest glistened. I noticed a new bend in his strong back.

We heard Junior cry out in his sleep. We both looked toward the stairs. I hated the smallness of my voice when I asked what are you afraid of? For a long time he didn’t answer. Then: everything and nothing at all.

We carried the bags outside where my husband ceremoniously dumped them in trashcans, placing the lids on tight as if the contents might miss us, find their way out and want to come back into our home.

I went to Junior’s room. My husband was there, holding Junior close. He whispered in his ear. My boy looked wise. Did I see Junior nod? His small eyes narrowed at me, then turned away. My husband was in a reverie all his own, swaying with his boy in his arms.

I backed out of the room feeling overcome by it all. I would try to do better. God save me, save me, save me, save me was all that came to mind.

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Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, apt, Pequin, Rumble, Pank, The Foundling Review, Blood Orange Review, Underground Voices and others. Her chapbook of short fiction, Natural Habitat, will be published by Burning River Press in 2010.