by Mike Helsher
Ron came to stay at my house for the weekend. We did all the things that 13-year-old boys did in the early 70’s. We went fishing, slept in a tent in the backyard, raided the fridge, and watched the afternoon Creature Double Feature show.
Come Sunday morning I was scheduled to perform my duty as an Altar boy. Ron knew nothing about the Catholic church. He asked me why I had to go. “My mother makes me do it, it’s just stupid!” I said. “You have to sit there for an hour, and don’t fart on the benches!” I raised my eyebrows. I had done that once and it echoed through the cavernous sanctuary.
“And when everybody comes up front, you can’t,” I said. “Don’t come up for communion!”
“Because you haven’t been to confession. Because you’ll go to Hell if you do!”
“Yeah, Hell! So, don’t come up, Okay?”
Ron made an evil grin.
My mom dropped us off at the church. Ron sat in the back row of pews. I went to the prep-room and, as usual, Father Magainin didn't say a word to me. He was a tall man who looked like Lurch from The Addams Family. He would flip out on Altar boys that screwed up during a rehearsal. He hadn’t flipped out on me yet, though, because I made sure to get everything right. I took his silence as a good thing.
The Mass droned along until I looked to the back of the church to find Ron. He made a big dramatic yawn, leaned his head back and feigned sleep. I was a few seconds late pouring some wine; Father Magainin shot me a disgusted look. Ron began popping his head up and down behind the pew, making horror movie faces. I was waiting to hear the echo of compressed gas on his wooden bench during the silent moments, was relieved and disappointed when it didn’t happen. Thinking about farts made me miss my cue to ring the bells. Father Magainin scowled. His aura was penetrating. I decided to stop looking at Ron.
I had to hold a gold dish that looked like a shiny ping-pong paddle under the parishioners’ chins during communion, just in case the body of Christ might not stick to the end of someone's tongue. Father Magainin was sticking the wafers. We were almost to the end of the line of kneeling people when we came upon Ron, kneeling, grinning, holding his hands in prayer position. His eyes were big and glassy, staring past me, avoiding contact.
“The body of Christ,” said Father Magainin, as he had to everyone else. Ron was supposed to say, “amen,” and then stick out his tongue, to which Father Magainin would then stick the wafer. But he didn't say amen or stick out his tongue, instead, he just opened his mouth as wide as he could.
For ten long seconds, Ron’s mouth hung open like a begging baby bird in waiting. Father Magainin’s hand began to tremble with the body of Christ held delicately in his fingertips. I stopped breathing. My eyes shot back and forth from Ron’s gaping mouth, to the vibrating body of Christ until Father Magainin wound his fingers back, and flung the wafer like a frisbee, into Ron’s mouth.
My abdomen erupted. My cheeks puckered. I bit my lips together, but it was no use—laughter spit right through.
Ron covered his mouth to keep from spitting out the body of Christ.
Father Magainin stared at us with awe and disgust stretching down the length of his long face. He turned to scan his flock, one-hundred churchgoers stared back.
“Stop it,” he whispered.
“Stop!” he said, a little louder.
I bent over, clutched my belly. It was heaving so hard it hurt.
“Stop it!” he yelled, to which the nearby church-goers let out a gasp in unison.
The cold silence of God filled the church, and listened, as our laughter echoed off the sun-lit stained glass windows. Ron stood up, walked down the aisle, and on out the back door, laughing all the way. Father Magainin called the other Altar boy over, told me to go pray to the Virgin Mary for forgiveness. I pinched my mouth shut. I walked over to the statue, knelt down, looked up at the sad face of Mother Mary and tried to feel sorry, prayed for even an inkling of sorrow. But God had forsaken me.
I bowed my head, clasped my hands in prayer, and giggled out-of-control.
Mike Helsher is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.