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They Fasted

Grandmother ate nothing. Mama ate nothing. Emmy ate nothing. The three of them sat in the kitchen watching the food on the table. The three of them sat in the living room watching the clock. The three of them sat in the pews at Saint Augustine’s watching the priest. 

I ate a cheeseburger. Rare, dripping with blood, oozing with cheese, burnt crumbs of bun falling onto my lap. I ate and enjoyed. I ate and smiled. I ate and thought of them fasting, watching, praying. Good Friday. It was good for me. 

They returned from church and the house smelled of meat. It reeked of recently cooked beef and melted cheese. Grandmother’s hand immediately went over her mouth, Mama’s hand went over her nose, Emmy closed her eyes. They were hungry. I was full. 

They spoke in whispers, if they spoke at all. And even now, when so repulsed, they whispered. 

Grandmother whispered to Mama, “Why did you have meat in the house?” 

Mama whispered to Grandmother, “For Easter. For after. To celebrate.” 

Emmy whispered to me, “I’m hungry.” 

I sat down with them at the table, arms folded in front me, and smiled. Now, they watched me. What did they see? A fifteen year old. A child. A girl who was smiling.

But, it was not them I wanted to disrespect. It was God. Ever-present, ever-hovering, ever-judgmental. He who took Papa before he was ready to go. He who led me to believe that happiness was inevitable, not fleeting, but eternal. He who promised us all so much and gave us what? Holidays without meat and weeks without indulgence. 

Grandmother reached her hand out to touch my arms. I winced. She sighed, and whispered, “You’re just a child. God will forgive you. He understands. Sometimes children crave meat, even on days like today, and they cannot resist.” 

I stared at her. “I don’t want to be forgiven.”

“But how could you not?”

“Because I don’t care.”

“Don’t care?”

“Don’t care.”

Grandmother nodded, “You’re upset with Him?”


Mama laughed, “What has He done to you?

Grandmother said, “And it cannot be too bad. It will all be forgotten in a few weeks when you make your confirmation.”

“I’m not getting confirmed.”

“Not getting confirmed?”

“No way.”

“How can you not make confirmation? You are a Catholic! Without confirmation you cannot get married in the Catholic church!” Grandmother forgot to whisper. 

I smirked, “I know.”

Grandmother stared at me. She stared and then her stare moved and her gaze was fixed behind me. Grandmother rose from her seat at the table and walked over to the stovetop where the dirty frying pan still sat, thickly covered in beef fat. She carried the frying pan from the stove to the sink and turned on the faucet, drenching the pan in cool, clear, water and pouring dishwashing soap over it. As she scrubbed, she hummed to herself. Her humming made me shiver. She hummed hymns, the hymns they sang acapella during the weeks of Lent. 

Mama looked at Grandmother and then looked at me and frowned. Then her face softened and she sighed. She was not able to speak because Grandmother was humming and the humming had pacified us all, even Emmy who hung her head to hide her confusion. But Mama could move and so she did. She reached her hand across the table and took hold of my sweaty palms. She squeezed them tightly and gave a small smile. Grandmother stopped humming. Mama released my hands from hers. Grandmother sat down once again at the table. 

She spoke, without any attempt to keep her voice soft, “I washed your dirty pan.” She waited. 

“Thank you, Gran.” 

She still waited. She raised her eyebrow, lowered her eyebrow, watched me watching her eyebrow and then licked her lips. “If you refuse God, He will not be there to save you from Hell,” she said. 

I winced. To save me from Hell? I imagined Hell. Fire, red, hot, black, loud, pungent with sinfulness. To save me from Hell. Is that all He is good for? 

“Is that all He is good for?” I smirked, then quickly bit my lip. Grandmother forgot to exhale. Mama put her hand on Grandmother’s shoulder. Emmy kept her face hidden. 

“Watch what you say, little dove,” Mama hissed. 

Grandmother exhaled, “Do it for Papa.” I froze.

“For Papa?” For Papa? For him? The him I wished could have a capital “H”? He who had always been forgiving when I forgot to say Grace before dinner. He who had always been patient when teaching me the Apostle’s Creed. He who had always let me eat meat on Good Friday because he said that children should not fast. 

“Do it for Papa,” she repeated, returning to a whisper. I felt her hand around my hand and saw her other hand around Mama’s hand and then Mama’s hand around Emmy’s hand and then felt Emmy’s hand touching me. “We can say this Good Friday prayer in memory of Papa,” Grandmother almost smiled. 

In memory of Papa. The words hung in mid air. In memory of Papa. The words confirmed that he was dead. It was not a phrase that could be said about the living. He was dead, but what could I say in memory of him? I was filled with memories of him. Warm blankets being wrapped around my body, hot food being put on my plate, sunny days being taken for walks. And the words Grandmother kept imprisoned within her, but Papa said so freely: I love you, Anna. I love you, Anna. I love you, Anna. He said them loud, louder, louder still each time. I love you, Anna. 

The four of us closed our eyes. The four of us squeezed our hands. The four of us prayed inside our heads. Grandmother prayed to God in memory of Papa. Mama prayed to God in memory of Papa. Emmy prayed to God in memory of Papa. I prayed to Papa. Through the silence of our closed eyes, I heard three stomachs growl, moaning with hunger and longing for a smell that still lingered. My stomach made no noise. I opened my eyes.