‘Drink the water. I dare you!’
‘No way! That’s holy water! My insides will melt!’
I curve my hand and scoop the water into my mouth. Nothing melts. We laugh as I exhale one loud exclamation of relief. We charge down the aisle, kicking and scuffling, cursing the need to go over the roles we will perform on Sunday. We are buoyed by my pseudo bravery, flouting the rules of decorum in this place.
It’s cool in the church, no sun beating on our burnt limbs. We don our robes and perform time honoured rituals. I hand Father the chalice, empty now as it won’t be on Sunday morning. Even in practise the remembered smell of incense lingers. It coats both my mind and my tongue.
The priest is a background drone as he intones. He casts holy water and droplets land on my arm. I am in a nether world, physically present but my mind has already drifted to other summertime pursuits.
I’m rostered to help clean up today. As I wait, the late afternoon light beams down upon me, dust motes float in the air and I am coloured by stained glass. Heavy doors swing shut behind the other boys. They shout out their goodbyes. Free to race away.
I can feel his eyes upon me. Slanted, cat like, sizing me up.
As the door swings shut, my stomach tightens. This is no dainty butterfly dance of nervousness. Instead the heavy beating of crows’ wings grows inside me. I imagine the crows’ beady eyes standing out on stalks.
I am the hunted. The wings beat upon me until I close my eyes. I squeeze my eyes shut so I can see the red tracery of capillaries in the darkness.
I bite the inside of my cheek and my mouth fills with blood, the taste of iron on my tongue.
Iron like the outlines that form the stained glass.
Iron like a crowbar.
Iron like a weapon.
There is a vortex of sound. His breath raises the fine hair on my arms and I am not quite able to transport myself as the masses of saints bear silent testament.
Outside those doors, summer continues. I think about the squeal of bike tyres and the hum of bees. I think about swimming pools and bombing off the jetty.
I do not think about this place, or the press of his hand. I do not wonder if I am the only one. I do not think about telling. I think that I was wrong to drink the holy water. I think that my insides are melting after all.
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