How do I teach my child while living in a house of perigold and crystal, mirror ball spinning out of control? We speed into traffic. Cars dart like unfed rats. We drive to a place of worship. Dry grass pokes through a concrete lawn. The royal doors are a lusterless French roast brown. Our footsteps echo in the vestibule. We look for the familiar Christ, the Virgin, host of saints. A hall of framed canvases emits sounds of the roiling sea.
A sale is on—hats, rings, clutches, collectable mascot erasers, all emblazoned with a signature face—a flat-haired child praying, searchlight eyes, tiny hands inside muffs like a kitten, mouth agog as if performing a puppet show. A cherub? A warning of the inevitability of death? The gallery is festooned with carvings, portrait busts, paintings, of this infernal, innocent face. What is more fathomable, this child or a coral snake?
A sign on the wall says, Suffer us not to go amisse, but as a father, helpe and guide us. I had hoped for guidance, a set of rules, a way to a clean heart. My daughter gapes at the merchandise. Everything diminutive, infantilized, like the keychains that hang from her backpack. She rubs her hands together like a money changer. It has come—The Cheapening. We hear voices like the dribbling of a faucet.
In the nave, children pray on icon stands. Two nearby are kissing, one proffers a daisy. One rides a yellow ducky, it’s a potty, he’s doing his business saying a-h-h-h. In the ceiling, tube lights surround the Holy Ghost Hole, some red, some white, most too dim to see by. The vestry is filled with debris and haunt. Where is a Priest when you need one? Quench our thirst with living water. The arcade is turning. I am turning.
Bill Ratner is a 9-time winner of The Moth StorySLAM with writing published in Best Small Fictions 2021–Sonder Press; chapbook: To Decorate a Casket–Finishing Line Press; full-length collection: Fear of Fish–Alien Buddha Press, and other journals. He earns his living as a voice actor. twitter @billratner