It’s mass. It’s the second collection.
Now the object of all this is to get the money.
Concentrate on this, and this only. Get the money.
He walks down the aisle toward the altar holding the long-handled basket; right down the center, he walks. Once at the first pew, he turns. He thrusts the basket into the pew under the noses of the parishioners. Everyone generously contributes. Row by row, slowly he proceeds up the aisle. The basket is filling with money. He reaches the pew where the woman sits; the woman he always watches, who intrigues him. She places her envelope into the basket. But for this, she is forever a stranger. Stony-faced, he continues. For some reason the sight of her makes him glance back at the altar. It’s black-veined marble. The crucifix hangs above, the cracks show in the wood. The corpus is bloodstained. Before proceeding to the next pew, he glances at the woman’s long slender legs. Feelings rise in him.
Oh, would that he were a statue with no feelings.
A bloodstained wooden statue. Like that Christ.
He thinks of that man from the night before; he sees his face. His mind wanders. He moves the basket slowly so they may put in the money easily. Where is the man now? And somewhere, someplace, the host was being elevated at the very moment it happened.
Somewhere in this big world, there was mass at that very moment.
He moves along the row of pews. Someone is kneeling in the way with his head in his hands. The basket won’t go past him. He won’t move. He wishes to be kneeling too. He wishes to pray with his head in his hands. But—the basket’s just half full. Need to fill it fully. He moves more quickly.
He is the collector.
How ashamed his parents will be when he’s found out—
No. He thrusts the basket out. Now is for the money. Now it is mass. Mass is eternal. Mass is of God. He smiles dimly pushing out the basket. What a laugh; to care about his parents now, now that it is too late. His hands grip the long handle. His hands are clean. The effects of last night’s liquor are long gone. He sees the blood, the cuts, the seeping wounds. He sees the drip of the blood into a puddle. But maybe it’s not that bad; maybe the man survived; he didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Truly he was a coward last night—the basket’s too heavy to hold—he’ll drop the basket—
No! Stop it!
Lord, give me strength. Squeeze the handle. He shudders. The basket moves filling. The organ music swells. Perversely he thinks of a woman he read about once who was enamored of a bull. That was unnatural. He feels unnatural. Now is the time to think perverse thoughts. The dark blood begins to congeal. He steps to the next pew. He thrusts in the basket. What’s it like to be lying on the tracks with a locomotive bearing down? This is how he feels. There’s a locomotive coming. He hears it. He feels it. But this is all fantasy. The money is becoming heavy. His muscles flex. He clenches his teeth. Drinking wine will do no good. Drinking wine does no good. Drinking wine is no good. Wine costs money.
Get the money.
Basket in, basket out—much too mindless. But look at all that money. There’s plenty of money in the basket now. Yes, he must be the devil. Yes, he is worse than the devil. Even the money is evil; the basket’s overflowing now; but no, this is God’s money. Nothing of God’s is evil. Would that he were of God.
He glances over to his family, in the back pew. The thoughts swarm upon him. The money is too heavy. He sees the wife he will lose. He sees the children he will lose. He’s near the end. His glasses are sliding down his nose. He pushes them up. They slide back down. There’s no use. He paid nine dollars for liquor last night at three a.m. He glances back to the priest in his heavy vestments. The innocent holy man. So unlike him. But think of it; think of it; the money becomes his once it’s slid into the basket.
How easy it is to give up ownership of something.
Of one’s life.
A pale slumped old man in one of the last pews gives an envelope. Every rib is showing under the old man’s thin shirt. And the skinnier one next to him is bald; they sit pale bald and bony, like dead men.
But they give money.
In the last pew, he is given money by a scowling man; it is him; it happens to be exactly the way he feels. He turns and looks out over the church; they could all be his brothers and sisters.
They could all be him. But they are not. Since last night, there is a chasm between he and them. If only he had not done what he has done.
But he is at mass now.
He steps to the back wall of the church and pours the money out into a large basket on the floor. He holds the empty basket.
The money’s gone now.
They’re pulling up outside; there are sirens.
But no; he is at mass now. Car doors slam outside.
He gives up the basket. He goes to sit by his wife. He is at mass now.
The back door opens.
That back door creaks so badly why don’t they do something about that back door—after all, they’ve got the money. He knows they’ve got the money. He got it for them.
Jim Meirose’s short and long works have appeared in numerous publications, including South Carolina Review, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Witness, Into the Void, Exterminating Angel, Phoebe, Otoliths, Baltimore Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, American Literary Review, 14 Hills, and many others. Twitter: @jwmeirose jimmeirose.com
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