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  • Writer's pictureGlenn Morgan

Deliver Us from Evil


The station wagon lurches to a halt in front of the rectory. Momentum carries me forward as Mom jams the brake just a bit too firmly. Gravel grinds under two tons of General Motors steal. The rectory has many windows, all with the blinds pulled down.


I wonder if it’s dark in there.


With a shiver, the car sputters to sleep. Mom stares ahead, breathing slowly. Gripping the steering wheel tight, she sends a plume of invisible Puff the Magic Dragon breath toward the windshield. Though it’s not cold outside, the lower portion of the window fogs. She drops her chin and fidgets to look past her knees. A moment later, the emergency brake protests through a series of loud clicks as Mom presses the pedal with her Sunday best high-heeled shoe.


Counting clicks, I guess at how mad she is.


Seven.


I wince. Seven’s a lot. She’s mad. She remains facing forward. Seeking to avoid trouble, I remain quiet. Time slips slowly.


As if shaking herself awake, she looks about the empty parking lot. Tilting her face upward, she checks herself in the rearview mirror. From the left sleeve of a Sears Catalog white poofy blouse, she plucks a tissue and dabs lipstick along each side of her mouth. Slowly, her head moves from left to right, all the while eyes center on the mirror.


Though she’s still mad at me for making noises in church this morning, I can’t help but stare.


She’s so beautiful. Milky smooth skin, pleading hazel eyes, perfect nose, and whisps of brown hair tucked behind each little ear. When my friends visit and we go inside for lunch, they all say the same thing. “You mom’s pretty.”


It's true; she’s pretty.


Spying my stare, she forces attention on her boy. Those hazel eyes narrow. Turning quickly, she places her right arm across the back of the front seat, “Do not embarrass me in front of Father. Do you hear me?”


I stammer, “Mom I …”


With python powers she springs. Hurling her arm forward she grabs my wrist. Twisting freckled skin in a superwoman grip, she yanks me toward the front of the car. Inches from her face, I smell the tea over which she stewed after church this morning. She hisses, “I’ve been embarrassed enough this morning with your goddamned farting noises during mass. You’re lucky Father didn’t know it was you.”


“Mom, I…”


Cutting me off, she bends my arm sideways.


I squeal in protest.


“We are visiting Father in his holy home. His home. He invited you here for a reason. Do not embarrass me. Do you understand me?”


Trying to free my wounded arm, I nod frantically.


“If you behave, he’ll ask you to be an altar boy. But you have to be good. Do not be stupid. Understand?”


“Mom, I’m not…”


She tightens her grip.


Again I nod, “Ok. Ok. Ok!”


She releases me. I tumble backward, rubbing my bright red arm.


Her gaze bores into me, “Father may ask you to pray. Are you ready if he asks you to lead a prayer?”


“Um, I guess. But, I don’t know what to pray about. Should I ask him what to say? Or should I just say grace or something like that?”


“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, are you dumb? Do not say grace! We’re not eating here. Just say the Our Father. You know that one. You say it every night before bed.”


Forcing a smile, she wraps up the pre-game pep talk with an offer of help, “Come on, let’s practice The Our Father together.” Mom leads me in the Lord’s Prayer.


Our Father,


Before Mom can ring the rectory doorbell, the dark wooden door swings open. Mom dips her head, “Father, thank you for inviting us to your home.”


Father is tall and fat, and wears glasses that make it hard to see his eyes. He has bug eyes. His hair is kinda white. I can’t tell for sure because it’s slicked back. His forehead rises toward the ceiling. As he steps forward I notice a bunch of thick black hairs hanging limply from his nose. It’s disgusting. His face is red and blotchy. Above those gross nose hairs, his nose is lumpy, like it was bitten by a dog. He wears a watch on his right wrist. He’s dressed in black except for his feet. He wears brown slippers, one with a hole. I wonder if he’s poor. I think Jesus was poor too.


Taking a measure of us, Father cocks his head. He looks past Mom before breaking into a grin. His teeth are small and yellow. Though he addresses Mom, he looks at me, “The Church is all of our home, Mrs. Morgan.” Sidestepping Mom, he bends low to extend a hand in my direction, “Hello young man, I am Father Lupus. Welcome to my home and perhaps someday your home away from home.” He smiles a crooked smile as we shake hands. His hand is wet and warm.


He latches onto my wrist and tugs me into the rectory. My arm still hurts from where Mom twisted it. Father’s grip hurts it more. Mom follows in our wake.


Who art in Heaven,


“Follow me, please.” The rectory smells like an old basement. Father marches over a torn carpet into darkness, calling over his shoulder, “Let’s retire to my office; my little slice of heaven.” I scrunch my nose, wondering what “retire” means. Father turns back and catches my confusion. His eyes narrow as Mom and I try to keep up. Coming upon the end of a long hallway, he plucks a key from his pocket and unlocks a large black door.


He guides us into his office. The room is dim, small, and cramped. Well-worn floorboards creak with each step. On each side of the room stand floor to ceiling bookcases packed with tattered books and loose papers. Sprinkled throughout the bookcase are photos of kids. Seeing me squint toward a photo of a boy I play little league baseball with, Father clears his throat and grins, “My flock.”


Maybe 10 feet or so ahead of us, a brown wooden desk is piled high with books and folders. The desk looks like it should be on a sinking pirate ship. Directly behind the desk, the window shade is pulled low. Light creeps around the edges of the shade, as if it knows it’s trespassing. The room’s only other source of light is a green shaded table lamp, propped on a pile of papers and tucked against the edge of the desk’s right side.


The lamp shakes whenever someone takes a step.


The room smells like a combination of sweat and Old Spice. I think I smell bologna too. I love fried bologna, but it doesn’t smell like fried bologna; it smells like deli bologna.


Father rests his hand on the back of a single stiff-backed wooden chair facing the desk, “Mrs. Morgan, please have a seat.”


Mom nods, sits, and smooths her skirt as she squares herself to face Father’s desk. She places her hands upon pressed knees. Father lumbers toward his chair on the other side of the desk. As he walks past me, he drags fingers over the top of my head. His fingers tangle in curly brown hair. As he passes by, I am witness to a snow storm of dandruff spread across his shoulders. He smells a little like pee. After he passes me, I flatten down my hair where he touched it.


Not knowing where to sit or what to do, I stand next to Mom in her stiff-backed chair. With Mom to my left, I face the desk. Turning to face me, Mom forces a smile. She raises eyebrows and nods, serving up a bit of reassurance. In the silence between us, I hear her warn, ‘Don’t be stupid.’


She continues smiling so, I guess I haven’t done anything stupid yet.


Father sits with a grunt. His chair squeaks. Mom reaches up to place her right hand upon my shoulder. She gives me a gentle squeeze. I wonder if she’s proud of me. We wait for Father to begin talking. He takes his time adjusting himself in the chair.


Hallowed be thy name;


Ignoring Mom, Father eyes me. He licks thin lips before speaking in a voice a bit too load for his little office, “I am Father Lupus, my little lamb.” He smirks, “But you know that already, don’t you?”


I nod.


“And do you know who I represent, young man?”


I look to Mom. She gives me a nod. Gently, she rubs my shoulder.


“Jesus?”


“Yes! I work in the name of Jesus!”


Thy kingdom come;


“Glenn, I am but a simple servant of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And here in this parish, I bring the word of Lord Jesus to our community. And I speak that word to children like you.” He turns to Mom, “And to hard-working parents like you, Mrs. Morgan.”


Mom beams.


Standing tall, I glow in her proud reflection.


Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.


Father leans forward, steepling his hands before his face. It’s hard to see his eyes with those giant glasses so I don’t always know what he’s looking at. From behind fat fingers, he again licks lips. He makes a clicking noise when he does that. He stares at me. The air in the room thickens. It definitely smells like pee in here.


“Glenn,” he murmurs. His fingers wiggle as he stretches out my name, slowly twisting it to his will, “Glennnnn…” His voice trails off. Dropping his chin he looks over his glasses and speaks with authority, “Glenn, do you believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior?”


My heart pounds. Fearful I am about to fail a test, I stand in silence.


Mom pinches my shoulder.


“Yes,” I mutter.


“Yes what?”


I look to Mom, confused. She mouths the word ‘Father’.


“Yes, Father.”


Like fractured pond ice, the priest’s smile spreads crooked.


“Splendid, Glenn! Splendid! It seems you are well prepared.” He smiles at Mom.


“Glenn, I am confident you and I will come to an understanding today. Let me explain something to you, Glenn. Church is like a big home with many people. Instead of a family, though, we have an entire parish. Now, at home, your dad is your father and at home you listen to him right?” I nod.


Father nods back, “At home your dad guides you and you listen to him while here at Church, I am your father and here in this house, I guide you, right?”


Again I nod.


He puckers lips before lowering his voice, “Here, in this home – the home of Jesus – we help each other as we serve the Lord.”


He closes his eyes, then whispers, “If all goes well today, you shall stand beside me in service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For this to happen you have to listen to me and do as I say. Will you do that, Glenn? Will you stand beside me and do as I say in service to Jesus?”


I nod.


Sensing success, I look to Mom, expecting more proud beaming.


She sits still, staring at Father. Her eyebrows pinch. Then, she cocks her head to the right. Slowly, she smooths her skirt.


Give us this day, our daily bread;


Now I’m really confused. ‘Did I do something wrong?’ Looking to the ground, I shuffle feet. My Sunday shoes hurt. They’re new Florsheims and I haven’t broken them in yet. The heels hurt the most.


Perhaps annoyed at the swelling silence, Father sighs. Stale breath uncoils across the landscape of his desk, lapping at my face. Looking to Mom, I pucker my mouth into a tight ball. Mom ignores the smell and turns to me, whispering, “Smile and look at Father while he speaks, Glenn. Let’s listen to exactly what he is saying.”


With silence covering her mouth, I turn to face Father.


Father seems bothered. He frowns before shifting back in his chair, “Glenn, I am going to give you an opportunity to serve Jesus. I will guide you as your shepherd. And with me at your side, you shall drink from the Lord’s chalice and you shall sup with me at the Lord’s table. Will you allow me to guide you and receive my gift of stewardship?


I don’t know what a chalice is and I don’t know what stewardship is but I nod anyway, fearing I’ll do something wrong if I don’t say yes. I have no idea what he’s talking about.


And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;


“Good, Glenn. Good. Then I will tell you what you must do. If you do as I ask I will take you under my wing and show you how to serve the Lord. Through me and with me, you shall serve Jesus.” His head bobs up and then down. Behind those giant glasses, his eyes change shape as his head moves about. I can’t tell, but I think he’s looking at my clothes. They’re new so I feel good.


He startles me, “Will you do as I say, little lamb?”


I don’t like being called a ‘little lamb’, but I nod anyway. Behind those giant glasses, his eyes widen.


I don’t know why, but I am scared. I place my hands over my privates, hoping not to pee my pants. The side of my neck throbs to the steady beat of an invisible drum.


Father blinks slowly like a lizard. His breathing grows heavy, labored.


With eyes closed, he addresses Mom, “Your son shall be a fine alter boy. A fine boy.” He returns to face me, eyes wide, “Glenn, you are ready. Would you like to be an alter boy and serve the Lord at my side, little one?”


I don’t like to be called ‘little one’ either but again I don’t say anything. Instead, I swallow hard and nod.


Father licks his lips all the way around. It’s gross. His tongue is speckled white. The center of his tongue seems cracked. Pushing back his chair, he spreads hands, “Come around to this side of the desk, young man. Come closer and rest upon the knee of a fellow servant so I might bless you and explain the responsibilities of an altar boy."


And lead us not into temptation,


Before stepping forward, I look to Mom to make sure I get this right. I don’t want to do anything wrong and embarrass her.


Mom sits frozen, continuing to stare at Father. Then, as I start to step from her side, I see her eyes narrow. I know this look. It’s the look she gives right before doling out a beating with a belt, or a wooden spoon, or a shoe, or anything else at hand.


This is the look I fear.


Lips pursed tight, Mom breathes through her perfect button nose. Her nostrils flare. I don’t know what I’ve done, but something is wrong.


I stutter-step, trying to distance myself from Mom. I don’t want to get smacked; especially not in front of Father. I stammer, “Mom I … I didn’t do anything.”


Startled by my pleading, she turns to me. The hardness of her stare melts. And just like that, the beauty my friends whisper about appears before me. She removes her hand from my shoulder. I flinch, fearful of a crack upside the head. Reassuring me, she speaks in a sing-song, “Oh honey, no. You’re not in trouble. It’s not you that’s sinned.” Her eyes swell. They sparkle in the glare of the lonely green lamp.


‘Is she gonna cry?’ I wonder.


For a moment, silence joins us in Father’s cramped office.


Bidding silence farewell, Father wheezes, his breaths are forced and short. He pays no mind to Mom and addresses me firmly, “Come here boy. Sit upon my knee.”


Ignoring Father, Mom cups my cheek, cooing, “I love you. You’ve been a little angel today, but I’m afraid with all your baseball and soccer practices there’s no time for you to be an altar boy.” My eyebrows quiver. Quickly she continues, “And that’s OK, Glenn. It’s OK.” She turns me by the shoulder so we face each other. She pulls me toward her until our foreheads touch. She locks eyes with me, “You’ve been wonderful. And you’re not the one that’s done something wrong.” She turns from me to face Father. As she does, she returns her mask of beatings yet to come. Her words are sharp, “Is he, Father?”


but deliver us from evil.


Mom does not wait for a reply. She stands straight. Sensing she’s ready to unleash her Irish, my breathing quickens. As does hers. Her chest rises and falls. My heart heaves itself against the inside of my ribcage, seeking escape.


Without looking away from Father, Mom places her hand upon my shoulder and gently pushes me backward, increasing the distance between me and the adults.


Father sits in silence, mouth agape.


“Mrs. Morgan, I do not know what you think is happening here but I assure you…”


Mom takes two steps forward, until her thighs shove against the edge of Father’s desk. Slowly, she leans over, moving aside papers and pressing palms into the blotter upon his desk. As Mom lords over the stammering priest, he shoves back in his chair. The chair moans in protest as Mom drops her chin, “Father, my boy, will stay on this side of the desk today and every day and you will not touch him ever. Are we clear?”


She turns to look at me, “You will never sit on this man’s knee. Is that understood?”


Not knowing what is happening, I simply shake my head.


“Mrs. Morgan, I mean no…”


Returning her stare to Father, Mom stamps her foot. The floorboards tremble as the little room shutters. At the edge of the desk, the green lamp teeters, ready to topple. Father flinches, then seeing his lamp at risk of sliding off the desk, he lurches over, grabbing the lamp’s electrical cord. The lamp tumbles and, with Father yanking the cord, it swings against the side of the desk. First a flash of bright light then, in the darkness, the sound of glass tinkling to the floor.


Dim light cast from a lonely window falls across a pile of spilled folders, knocked to the floor in Father’s failed attempt to save the lamp. In the shadows, Mom hovers over the desk. Not knowing what else to do, I step forward to pick up the scattered papers.


Without breaking her lock on Father, Mom barks, “Glenn, do not touch those papers. Do not help Father. Do not ever do anything he asks you to do and do not ever go near this ‘servant’ of our Lord again.” She turns to me, “Go back to the car. I’ll meet you there.”


“But Mom, I didn’t…”


She screams, “GO!”


Before rushing from the room, I steal a glance at Father. He seems to crumble in his chair. Giant glasses slip down his ugly nose. He sits ashen, mumbling and spitting. As I leave the office, I hear Mom hiss, “If you ever …”


Sensing an adult fight, I quicken my pace, rushing out the front door, toward the station wagon.


The sound of my own gasping breaths fills the back seat of the car as I try to figure out what just happened. Looking down, I’m happy I didn’t pee my pants.


But, having failed to become an altar boy, I expect a beating right here in the car, or maybe I’ll have to get out of the car so she can smack me across the parking lot. I look around to see if there are any other cars. I don’t want anyone to see me get a beating.


The rectory front door swings open with a loud crack. Mom flies downs the rectory stairs, one hand covering her mouth, the other extended forward as if searching in the dark. She fumbles at the car door before yanking it open. She tumbles into the front seat. She’s gasping. The door slams. Ignoring me, she faces forward. She grips the wheel with both hands as I start to plead my case, “My I didn’t mean to do anything. And I’m really sorry I’m not gonna be an altar boy but I was just try’n to….”


She holds her right hand high, silencing me.


She’s trying not to cry. I can tell.


She pulls her lipstick-stained tissue from its hiding place in her sleeve and wipes her eyes. Composing herself, she takes long breaths. Time slips slowly before she turns to face me. Blotchy eyes watch as I press back into the seat. She speaks deliberately, “Glenn, honey, you were perfect. Just perfect. You’re my little angel, you know that right?”


Understanding I am not going to get smacked, I nod.


“Listen honey, this is important, OK? You are never, ever, ever to spend time with Father and you are never to visit him or go to the rectory or be alone with him or any of the other priests here. Will you promise me that?


“Umm, Mom, what if…”


“Never!” she screams. “Never, ever.” Then she gathers herself, “I think he’s sick, Glenn. And, well, if his sickness touches you, you’ll be infected. So, if he or any other priest asks you to do anything, no matter what it is, you say, ‘My mom said I’m not allowed’ and no matter what he asks you to do – even if it’s a bad thing – you tell me, OK? Promise?”


“Um, OK, Mom. I promise.”


She shares a weary smile. It’s kinda like the smile I smile after winning a fight but getting punched a lot or maybe getting a black eye even though I won the fight.


“All right then. Now, to prove you did nothing wrong, how about you and me go get an ice cream cone over in Ridgewood before heading home. Does that sound good?”


I nod, stunned.


Having delivered her son from evil, Mom’s smile widens, “What flavor do you want?”


“Chocolate!”


“All right, then. Chocolate it is.”


She turns forward and starts the car. In the rearview mirror, I see her face harden. The car springs to life. As we leave the rectory behind, she sees me spying her in the mirror. She smiles. “You know I love you, right?”


She’s so beautiful.


I nod.


Innocently I nod.


Amen.

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