My back kneaded the wall outside the woman’s bedroom. Through the cracked door, I saw the woman sitting on her bed, taking things from a round, red, velvet box. Pressed my face against the crack, widening it. My mouth was a small O, my eyes pleading.
“You may come in,” she told me.
I approached the bed stopping with my hands on the white, linen coverlet. One green embroidered flower rested under my fingers. I stroked the bumpy needlework.
“What’s this?” I asked, my hand on the book.
“It’s a children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”
I opened it. A berobed man held a cup and, above it, a small, round, shining white wafer. A sudden stillness filled my insides, rang through my heart and, without sound, through my ears. Tears welled in my eyes. The woman gently took the book from my hands and placed it back on the bed.
“Go play, now,” she told me.
Half way to the door, I stopped and gazed back at the small, cream book.
I returned to the bedroom I shared with Eve and Claire. My face sheltered behind an immense book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes propped against my knees, I sat with my back pressed against the closet wall; the closet door remained ajar.
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old, I chanted under my breath. After each stanza, I raised my head and listened. The rays of the sun on the window seat beckoned me to my accustomed place but I remained in the closet.
The woman’s door closed. She traversed the hallway and descended the stairs. As the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed to her room and tried the handle. It was unlocked. The red, velvet box was not on her bed. I went into her closet. There it was on a shelf above my head. I climbed onto her shoe shelf and lifted the box down. Beneath letters and dried flowers, I found the missal. I took it and returned to the closet in the room I shared.
Slowly, I read each page, drinking in each picture. On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white, round thing, the words read: ‘Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.’
Something tugged at my heart. My chest heaved. A stuttering “Huh! Huh! Huh!” came from the recesses of my chest. The well of tears gushed over. When it receded and the stuttering ended, I left the closet and pushed the book as far as I could under the my mattress.