The laxative I’d eaten after school had just taken effect. I’d been down the street begging for candy from behind a hockey mask when my stomach made that first unmistakable gurgle. I almost didn’t make it home in time.
While my insides emptied into the bowl and the stink rose around me, I heard trick-or-treaters on the street outside, laughing and whooping as they went from house to house, filling their bags and pillow cases, and remembered something Father Mognahan had said that week during his sermon: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”
When the next morning arrived, I was one of only a few students who didn’t dress up for All Saints’ Day. My school uniform stuck out in a sea of fake beards, robes, and head coverings. The air was filled with the giddy anticipation that comes with any change to the usual, drab schedule. At lunchtime, kids shared and traded their Halloween candy from the night before. Piled it on the table in front of them to see who had the biggest haul. I opened my brown bag, set one single chocolate bar on the table beside my sandwich, and waited.
Saint Francis of Assisi and his disciples emerged from the crowd of other saints. They eyeballed the mounds of brightly wrapped candy on the tables and took anything they wanted. I didn’t watch, but I could feel Todd getting closer. As if we were connected by something spiritual. When he snatched my foil wrapped bar he slapped me so hard on the back I could feel it in my chest.
“Nice!” he said. “I was getting tired of those brownies.”
The smell of styling mousse and bad breath lingered as I watched Todd finish his rounds then sit with his buddies in the corner where they divvied up their take. One of the other saints reached for my chocolate bar. Todd smacked his hand away. I watched him rip off the foil, pull down his fake beard, and eat the whole bar, all twelve cubes in three big bites.
I unwrapped my sandwich and tried not to smile.
Next period I was sitting with my class in the church five pews from the front. The first row was reserved for those giving speeches. Mrs. Bonner, the organist, played a slow, indistinct tune as the saints, cloaked in the smoke of burning incense and led by Father Mognahan, slowly made their way down the aisle.
My body buzzed with anticipation. But I had to be patient. Father Mognahan talked for a long time. He read from Revelations, John, and Matthew. He gave a homily. And there were a lot of psalms and prayers to get through, a lot of standing and kneeling. More than in a regular mass. My ass went numb. It felt like it wasn’t there. I had no ass. I wondered if anyone else felt like they had no ass. I imagined leaning toward Sister Mary Ellen, loudly whispering, “Do you have an ass?” and tried not to laugh.
Finally it was time for the speeches.
Many of the girls had chosen to dress up as Joan Of Arc. They approached the pulpit wearing cardboard armor, hair tied up or hidden under short, dark wigs. It was hard to tell the boys apart. Saints didn’t care about individual style. Lots of robes, halos, beards and mumbling. The stained glass was dull. No sun. I watched the old Italian women light candles and pray.
Todd, the star of the show, went last.
I had watched the back of Todd’s head through the whole mass. He seemed calm. I started to worry something had gone wrong, but when he got up to give his speech, I saw the strained look on his face and forgot all about my numb ass. Beads of sweat trailed down Todd’s forehead as he read through the same script as the last two years. It dripped into his eyes and beard. Rolled down the long fake hairs. He wiped it away and knocked his halo crooked. The stigmata rubbed off, leaving a bright red smear on his forehead. He tried to read his speech faster but lost his place, stumbled over words. By the time Todd came to the part about how Saint Francis could tame wolves and flocks of birds, he was leaning on the pulpit like it was the only thing holding him up. Father Mognahan and the altar boys frowned at each other but didn’t move. Giggles bubbled up from the pews, followed by shushing sounds from nuns.
Todd came to the end. He talked about how Saint Francis died singing Psalm 141 and, breathing hard into the microphone, recited the words through gritted teeth, pausing longer and longer between each line. When he finished, “Guard me from the trap they have set for me, from the snares of evildoers,”he stopped short and clutched his arms around his stomach as a long, wet fart ripped through the silent church. The place erupted in screams and laughter that drowned out any shushing. Todd moaned into the microphone, backed away from the pulpit, and crumpled to the floor, ripping more farts on the way down. He tried to crawl away. A dark spot spread on the back of his robe. Something ran down his legs, into his stupid sandals. Then the smell crashed over everyone like an invisible wave.
“Todd shit himself!” someone called out.
Saints scattered from the pews. Todd’s buddies trampled each other to get away. Father Mognahan ran off into the sacristy with his stole pressed to his nose. A couple of nuns waddled up to Todd, tried to lift him to his feet and drag him away, their heads turned from the smell, faces pinched in disgust. Todd farted every time they tugged. A bird fell off his shoulder.
I stood up. Savored the tingling sensation as feeling returned to my ass cheeks. Looked around the church. Everyone fleeing. Retching. Laughing. Everyone except the old Italian women, who went about their business. Like nothing different was happening.
Alan ten-Hoeve wrote Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement (Gob Pile Press), Burn-KLR10
(Malarkey Books), Bob and Me-From Parts Unknown Anthology (Daily Drunk Magazine).