The Galien Missionary Church
People said she was “slow in the head,” although she knew enough to ride the bus and count change. She could start a conversation just fine, but then you reached a dead end quick. She could take care of herself, but not to the point she could live alone. She was living with her father when a neighbor got her pregnant, though for a while people suspected it was her father who fathered the baby. That was the kind of town it was.
The year she turned fifteen, she gave birth on the kitchen floor to a baby boy with a full head of hair. Her father put the baby up for adoption faster than you could dunk the child’s head in the River Jordan. “Look,” the midwife exclaimed at the hour of birth, “I’ll be darned if this little ’un doesn’t have his mother’s widow’s peak and dimpled chin.” They took the baby so quick after that, leaving her breasts heavy with milk. The milk drained into a hole in her heart, pooling at the bottom, drying inward from the edge.
When her father died of consumption three years later, she had nowhere to go. One Thursday a social worker brought her and all she owned to the Galilean Missionary Church on Howell Road, seventy miles from the house where she had lived all her life.
The first time she laid eyes on the church, she liked the tall, stained-glass Gothic windows on its red-brick façade. But as soon as she was inside, she thought the windows were too narrow. They never opened. The stained glass felt cool to her fingers, cold even, a cruel conduit for a pale, slow-burning sun. Still, she lived upstairs in the church with the minister and his family, listened to his fire-and-brimstone sermons every Sunday, and watched them all go about their very important business of saving souls.
To be fair, she was safe. But there were moments when she walked by those Gothic windows when she’d raise a hand to her heart and feel the hole, and she wept without knowing why. Quiet and meek, she did as she was told. Napkins and bedsheets and newspapers were folded, and cake batter, and calendars, too. And for the next forty years she lived hidden from view, and the town that throbbed and swelled beyond those tall windows forgot about her.
In 1993, a small crowd gathered in front of the Galien Missionary Church. The mayor gave a fancy speech just before a wrecking ball struck full force at the red brick façade, taking down the vacated church to make way for a strip mall. Afterwards, the townsfolk lingered. They dawdled on the sidewalks, stepping over the rubble to shake the mayor’s hand. And some of them spoke of how handsome he was, how the slow-burning sun bounced off his elegant widow’s peak, how it lingered like a lover over his dimpled chin.
Reni Roxas has been publishing children’s books for Filipino families for thirty years. Her short work has appeared in the New York Times, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. A Tin House alumnae, she is currently enrolled in the Writing by Writers DRAFT program. She lives with her two sons in Seattle. Say hello at reniroxas.com