Church. Can’t breathe. Candles and pictures of man saints covering the wall up front. Man saints looking hard. Looking old and mean. Sad like. I am sitting there, on the hard wooden bench. I am sitting there and the devil is with me. The devil makes me think wrong thoughts. I am a good Greek girl. I tell the devil, go. I tell the devil not now. The devil is my fingers at night under the sheets. I’m feeling myself. I’m looking for the hole inside myself. The little nub part of myself that feels good if I rub it. Hard. Push myself against a pillow like it’s a girl. A girl with a nub like me. I am a big man and the pillow is a little girl. I am a big woman and the pillow is a little girl. I push hard. I close my legs together so the devil won’t get in. Close my legs sitting on the brown bench in church, staring at the black and white floor. Swinging my legs to stop the sound the devil makes in my head. The devil breathing hard sound. I don’t breathe good in church. Mary staring at me white, pale, I can see she isn’t breathing. Holding her breath. She says, pray, God will forgive you. Pray, so you can be a good girl. I don’t look at Mary. My mother’s name is Mary. I look up, at the big eye high above the altar. A big eye with a tear squeezed out. A big tear drop about to fall. It never does. I don’t hear what the priest is saying. He is speaking in Greek. I go to Greek school but I don’t know what he is saying. I watch his mouth move. His spotty old man hands tremble holding the heavy book that is gold on the outside. He makes the sign of the cross. Everybody makes the sign of the cross. I feel like a sinner. I am a sinner. I can’t make the devil leave. We have to kneel. Everybody gets down on the floor and kneels. I try to pray while I am kneeling. Please god, make me good. Don’t let the devil get in. Again. The black and white floor is cold under my knobby knees. My eyes are open staring at the black and white floor. Time to get up. Sit back down on the wooden bench. Me and my friend Angel make the devil come all the time. In her mother’s bathroom on the white tile floor. The devil is inside us good. Angel says don’t tell nobody. Angel says, you be the girl I’ll be the boy. Angel is older than me. Angel rubs my nub with hers on the floor in the bathroom. I like how it feels, hot and wet and juicy. We make the devil come everywhere. In the house under construction across the street, in a closet on a cement floor. We play rape in the closet. I open the door to the closet. I pretend I am bringing home the groceries. I pretend I don’t know she is there. When I close the door she jumps me from behind, says if you scream I’ll kill you. When I’m on the cement floor she takes off my clothes. She gets on top again. Rubs. Says you better not tell. The devil feels like dirt inside me. The devil feels like glista, on the inside. The old Greek woman who lives beside the church told me you only live to be old if you’re clean. Live a clean life, she said, you get to be old as me. She is old. She gave me a glass of cold water. Angel says I can’t believe you drank her water. She’s a witch you know. Everybody knows she’s a witch. After Greek school we play in front of the church, throw stones at the witch’s house. She comes outside with a stick in her hand, shaking it at us like a long crooked finger. We howl, laughing at the witch. Angel says if you talk to her, she’ll curse you, and don’t look her in the eyes. I remember the story of Medusa. Snakes for hair. Angel says, don’t let her touch you. I can’t believe you drank her water. I am thirsty on the wooden bench and the tear won’t fall. I am thirsty on the wooden bench and the man saints are old and dried up, cracks running down the length of their arms. There are snakes nudging at my scalp, baby snakes just hatched out of tiny brown egg shells. I touch my hair, my itchy scalp. My mother grabs my hand and I pull it from her. We stand again. My mother stands next to me, breathing. My mother doesn’t like Angel. She says Angel is too old for me. She says Angel is a bad influence. Knows too much. Thinks she knows everything. I don’t talk about Angel anymore. Mary looks at me and says, pray, God will make you good. Mary says, don’t breathe so hard. Mary says the devil is never far. Be careful.
I don’t breathe in church. I hold my breath, like Mary. I stare at the tear drop not falling. I am thirsty. I am full of the devil and snakes.
•••Helen Klonaris’ work has appeared in two anthologies including Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writings from the Antilles, and several journals, including Yinna, The Caribbean Writer and HLFQ. She is the co-director of the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute and teaches creative writing in the Bay Area.