You don’t know me. I’m not a regular parishioner here. Just a visitor, in the area for a few weeks and staying with relatives. But I wanted you to know that I’ve been watching you on Sunday mornings these past few weeks. I pay attention to the way you bring your children in and sit them on the pew beside you. Like ducklings, so neat and orderly. I see how you keep them quiet. No annoyance or threats, just a raised eyebrow here, a waggled finger there. That’s my own style of discipline too.
I wanted you to know that I haven’t missed all those little gestures of love and tenderness. The way you smooth down the girls’ hair, or put a hand on your son’s shoulder during the hymns. I love that kind of thing. In fact, I’d like to have had more of it in my own childhood. Maybe that’s why you caught my eye.
I see that you wear a wedding band. I haven’t been able to help speculating about why your wife isn’t there on the pew with you. Maybe she’s a nurse, or has some other job that requires her to work on Sunday mornings. But then you’d always have the option of attending Mass together on Saturday night; it must be something else.
It occurs to me that maybe she doesn’t come to church because she doesn’t believe. Like my mom’s friend Denise, who suffered such horrific abuse as a child that to this day she can’t stomach the notion of a benevolent deity. It was her stepfather, by the way, in case you were wondering. Men are such monsters. Present company excluded, of course.
Your wife could be facing some type of existential crisis that’s led her to question a long-held faith.
Or maybe she just sings in the choir.
Anyway, I see you. And I want you to know that I admire you. I mean, not that I find you attractive or anything like that. I might not even like you, if I knew you better. God, what if you voted for Trump? In any case, you’re a good dad; that’s all I’m trying to say. A great dad, the way you take those kids in hand, firmly but lovingly, for an hour every Sunday. As a matter of fact, I’m doing something similar myself. We’re alone here, my girls and I, in a different country and navigating all that that requires. The travel arrangements. The relatives. You should have seen us in Texas! Me, with my bad back, carrying a two-year-old all over the airport. Not to mention the four suitcases.
Life’s like that sometimes; everything goes wrong. It reminds me of the evening we rushed to Mass from a birthday party, then Daisy spent the last forty-five minutes of it throwing up in the bathroom. I held her hair back to keep the vomit out of it and tried to keep the baby from touching things. The vicissitudes of being a parent, huh? Or is it your wife who handles those situations?
It’s a tough job, parenting. Don’t even get me started on my own family. I’ll never forget the time my dad took me behind a wood shed on Highway 226 and switched my legs till they bled because I was talking too loud on the way to my grandmother’s house. I thought she was going to eat him alive. My grandma always did stand up for me. Or the time the belt buckle caught me on the backbone when I was getting whipped for falling into the creek over by Tina’s house. Belts and switches have been known to leave scars. Fortunately I’d rather burn in Hell than take one to my own children.
Do you think about Hell as much as I do? It figures pretty prominently in our theology, you know.
It occurs to me that if you were a woman—funny thought, right? ha ha—but if you were a woman, I might not even have noticed all the things that I’m taking time to admire about you now while Daisy stirs the soup for me and Dani catches up on her homework and the baby’s on the potty because, to tell you the truth, it’s easier just to sit her there and see what happens than to wait for her to tell you she needs to go. She doesn’t always make it in time. Come to think of it, I sometimes take the girls to Mass alone myself, even when we’re home. Their daddy doesn’t always feel like going. It’s easy to overdo it on Saturday night, and sometimes he needs Sunday morning to recover. What if I were someone else and saw me some Sunday, from three rows back? Would I write then?
Well… no. Which is weird, because I do the same kinds of things you do for an hour a week every single day, from the moment I open my eyes in the morning till I nurse the baby to sleep at night.
April Vázquez lives in León, Guanajuato, Mexico. She is the winner of the William Van Dyke Short Story Prize, and her work has appeared in Salon, The Missing Slate, Cleaver, and others. Some of her published writing can be found at https://aprilvazquez.wordpress.com/.