September 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

When I say something does not feel right, it’s because that horrible thing standing in the first pew at my baptism is named uncertainty. Uncertainty has eyes that, like marbles, eerily roll around in the socket without you ever knowing. Even as an infant, his eyes meant something to me. I followed them as I did the slivers of light that flashed over my face as the sun moved around the steeple. At least the sunlight, I could be assured, had a point of origin. But the gaze of uncertainty wandered, suspended in homelessness, without its pupils.

When I grew up to be a girl, uncertainty scarcely appeared to me. I had long, red hair that fell over my shoulder blades like wings of fire. When I walked, I could not help my newly rounded hips from swaying to accommodate the stride of my tall girlish legs which, on their own, were quite shapeless. My breasts were still firm. As a matter of fact, one day I ran into the altar boy in the hallway at the chapel and the front of my blouse grazed his robe. The boy stopped abruptly in his place with a combined look of horror and curiosity. And as I stared back at him, the skin below his cheekbones turned a brilliant shade of pink and he ran from me, his oxfords clopping thunderously against the floor like a herd of hoofed beasts. No one would know that a single man’s fear could make so much noise.

By the following summer, I had lost much of the beauty that I had possessed as a young girl. My mother resisted my womanhood and left me a closet full of children’s clothing: embroidered white dresses that became stretched at the collar and the waist; hemlines falling, or barely resting against my upper thigh, swinging up into the shadowy spots. When it became clear that my appearance offended those around me, my mother presented me with a suitcase full of my father’s old suits. I rarely questioned her gifts.

On the first day of school, I wore a pair of olive slacks and a cream-colored blouse. The other women stared at me with lifted lips and the men simply ignored me.

I left school early that day and ran to the chapel to find solace. I tore through the wooden doors and violently threw my knees down to the floor and began to cry. When I was finished, I stood up and saw the altar boy staring at me from behind a column. Even time could not alter his childlike complexion. I brushed my knees and quietly approached him. I put myself before his face as though he were not there at all and let my breath warm his neck. I grabbed his hands that were tightly pressed up against his sides, and led him into me.

Uncertainty came to me that night. He stood at the altar, staring down at our naked and tangled limbs behind the first pew. The boys legs looked like mine. I could not tell if he had been looking at the boy or I, but his eyes flashed like glass before me and I knew why he had come.

When I returned home, my mother had not been waiting for me. She was out on the verandah smoking and hardly heard me come through the door. I went straight into bathroom and locked the door. My hands quivered as I swept through the vanity drawers to find the shearers. But once I did, time seemed to move infinitely fast. My red hair dropped into the sink like a scuffed, red ball. The games we played, the games I had won.


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