Her parents, for reasons she did not fully understand, didn’t attend church. Ever. Her father said nature was his church, but, on the other hand, so many millions believed otherwise, who was he to judge the merits of indoor, group-oriented worship? He drew the line at smoke bombs and hocus-pocus; he wouldn’t even read fiction because he only wanted to learn facts. Her mother saw no point without such evocative pageantry, but she didn’t want any trouble at home.

They didn’t want to deprive the girl, their only child, of wholesome church-going social normalcy, nor, certainly, any possibility, however remote, of everlasting life. So, at 11, she was left to the mercy of, briefly, the Pentecostals and later, more lastingly, the Nazarenes. (After all, moderate factions don’t recruit.) She was as good a Sunday school student as she was a student-student, the girl who grew up to earn a PhD and three master’s degrees, and her teacher, Mr. Meadows, offered her the unprecedented opportunity to prepare and teach a Sunday school lesson to her peers.

What was he thinking?  They paid her elaborate, lavish inattention, doodling, passing notes and chatting with one another, sighing and fidgeting as if she weren’t there, until Mr. Meadows broke in and took over. She stayed, she had to, they carpooled rides home for orphans like herself.

She could not, however, muster the perspective to return. A month later Mr. Meadows, jilted lover, appeared at their door, to say that one day she’d be a wonderful teacher. As her father jumped up and stood, spread like an X in front of the card table littered with ashtrays and beer cans, she understood.

 

Julie Benesh

Julie Benesh’s fiction has been in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review (receiving an Illinois Arts Council Grant), Florida Review, Gulf Stream, and other places. Micro-memoirs are forthcoming from Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and Green Briar Review. She has an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College and lives in Chicago.

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