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june 22 2022

flash fiction

Stacked Floor Mat Rolls

My father never allowed me on the balcony. 

I snuck up anyway. 

I spent my borrowed time peering down between thin wooden beams into the sanctuary. It was dim, the only light in the grand room hued purple and green from stained glass windows. The shades of plum and emerald had the misfortune of appearing diluted and weak when tossed up against the audaciously rich shade of crimson covering the floor. I hunched under the organ’s bench, down low, staring at the pulpit across the room. It sucked the air from the sanctuary standing alone, but when my father's hulking presence was behind it, time and space itself seemed to be leached away. His body had a way of doing that, even in front of the congregation.

Heavy clunks on the stairs and wheezing in the air announced Sister Mallory’s presence long before her face peered over the top of the railing.

“Abigail? I know you’re up here, so don’t make me chase you out, girl.” Her complexion was beet-red from the climb.

She had discolorations clinging to her face and wisps of fine white hair peeking out from the bandeau of her habit. Her voice was deep, though that did nothing about the smell. Cardamom and honey clung to a particularly rancid exhale and failed miserably to mask it; rather twisting the odor into something sickeningly sweet. It always amazed me that no one noticed; perhaps they just didn’t say anything. It wasn’t particularly Christianly to point out someone’s bad breath, I supposed.

The folds of her black robes were close enough to touch, yet she still didn’t look at the organ or its bench. She turned with a disgruntled huff, and trudged back down the steep staircase. I didn’t even try to suppress my grin of triumph. 

My victory was short-lived. Ten minutes later, another set of footsteps ascended the stairs. My palms grew sweaty at the sound. His head turned to the bench as soon as he reached the final few stairs, eyes finding mine instantly.

He didn’t say a word. 

His hands were deathly still at his sides, but I knew the terror I felt now would pale in comparison if they began to move. It was always worse when they moved.

I pushed myself out from under the bench and made my way to the top of the staircase. He still didn’t say anything, turning away too quietly as he began the descent. My own feet sounded clumsy and loud behind him. 

When we reached the Narthex, Sister Mallory’s eyes darted between me and my father, fingers fidgeting with her palms and eyes downcast. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to go up there, Reverend.”

My father smiled at her, his expression cardamom and honey. “I’m sure she knew exactly what she was doing, and I’m sure she knew the consequences as well.” His eyes lingered along the curve of my hips. “Long is the path of discipleship, Sister Mallory. Thank you for your aid.” 

Sister Mallory looked as if she would say something, her jaw opening and hanging there; but after a few moments of uncomfortable silence she still hadn’t found her voice. Her jaw snapped shut and she turned, walking out of the big double doors at the front of the church. His hulking presence leached away time and space and color until only crimson remained. He was right, I had known. But she could still pretend not to. 

I watched her plump calves lumber away from me. I knew I wouldn’t see her until morning, when she would casually tap her knuckles against my bedroom door. She wouldn’t look me in the eye, for if she did she would see purple and green glass on my cheeks. Perhaps she would reassure herself I had gotten my cycle as she cleaned the crimson carpets from my mattress. Finally, she would take her leave with that story held to her bosom like my bloody sheets, lips pressed together in a thin white line as she shut the door behind her.

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