Mental Notes From Catechism
by Joe Fletcher
The Convenience Store is Open till Seven
If you are dropped off at ten minutes of seven by your mother, you will not be late for Thursday Night Class. It is a five minute walk to Griff’s and they sell foot long rulers of grape or sour apple bubble gum. You inhale and push one down between the front of your pants and your underwear. You run so you can slip in under the bell, and if you keep your mouth shut so the gum flavor will not be detected by the wrinkled nun. One bubble later, you are told to spit it out.
Mary in a Skirt
You are a seventh grader and Mary looks good in a plaid skirt. Enough said but you squirm in your seat. If the nun calls you to come up and do anything on the blackboard, you plan a refusal, something about being uncomfortable with that particular point in the Faith but you will enthusiastically volunteer five minutes later to discuss anything. You end up not making any sense on, what was the chief end of man.
What You and Pickle Both Saw
A kid called Pickle has a real name, Mark; which everyone laughed at when he used it as his Confirmation name. Pickle watched the same rerun of the Brady Bunch that you had today. Somehow it was funny that Peter Brady had unleashed a frog on top of a pizza while on a date but the nickname Pickle wasn’t funny to anyone anymore. It was stuck there, the name, the frog and the cheese stretching out, the frog trying to disengage. You have no idea how the show ended since you both left at the same time to be at Catechism. The wrinkled nun wants to know what’s so funny, but your mouth is stuck shut as Pickle tells her about the date, the frog and the pizza. “That’s enough of that,” the nun says.
A Wrinkled Nun Can Make a Big Noise
Apparently that is not enough of that, as the nun whaps a ruler on Mary’s desk because you laughed at Pickle’s commentary, the ruler making a loud crack, which sucks all the other sound out of the room. It used to be kids were hit on the knuckles by rulers, with the same force the nun used on the desk. It used to be that nuns spanked you with a big wooden paddle with your pants down. It used to mean something greater when you misbehaved.
Pickle passes a note to Mary, then you pass a note to Pickle, followed by Mary passing a note to you.
First note: Do you like me?
Second note: What did your note say?
Third note: Mind your own business!
You are kicked out of class and asked to see Father Wilcox. “Do you like the church?” he asks. You want to say, “Mind your own business,” but instead you say, “Yes.” He then asks, “Do you like me?” You don’t know. “Get on your knees,” he says. “We’ll get on our knees together…” So you confess about the gum, the skirt, the note, laughing and thinking of Sister Gertrude in an unflattering wrinkly way.
“I think you’re disgusting,” Father Wilcox says. “I want you to say 100 Our Fathers and 100 Hail Marys.” You think it’s a lot but then you think about your own father and also about the Mary in the skirt. “I want you to like the church and to like me,” he says and leaves. You say three of each prayer, and head out the door.
The Convenience Store Closes at Seven
When you get to Griff’s it is locked. A lot has happened and you didn’t think about the time. Pickle’s older brother is on a milk crate behind Griff’s with a Miller High Life in his hand. You don’t make eye contact because you know somehow he’ll ask if you want one. You walk back to the church parking lot and stand near the far back edge. You stay there because maybe there’s a chance that your mom won’t see you and she will pull away. You see the wagon already there. The bell rings, Pickle walks out of the rectory with Mary, your mother and the nun. Everyone is laughing.
The Drive Home
You don’t have to confess. The wrinkled nun told your mom everything but she has told the nun a few things too. She told her that your father had left nine months ago and it’s been a difficult year for you and how she tries to look after you but she can’t completely, not 100% know everything. Her eyes see you in the rear view mirror and when you look, they look back at the road. She says, without looking, “Don’t get into any more trouble, please, not any more trouble.”
After 35 years, I became a sober individual and it has subtly affected my writing just as anything in my life subtly affects what I put to paper. The fellowship I'm involved in is based on spirituality, which causes me to reflect upon my own and what happened on my path. "Catechism" is 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction, and yes, Pickle was a real person.
Timothy Gager is the author of eight books of short fiction and poetry. His latest Treating a Sick Animal: Flash and Micro Fictions (Cervena Barva Press) features over forty stories, many previously published in various literary magazines. He has hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts every month for the past ten years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival.