Deus ex

Sister Mary Emily was hot. On that point, every third grade boy at St. Anne’s School was agreed. All except Chris, who delighted in showing the rest of us his bare butt in the boy’s room, something to make us laugh, we thought. And laugh we did.

She also was our youngest instructor by far, early 20s, and the only sister whose habit wasn’t floor-length black. Hers was cloud white and calf-revealing. She was springtime in the dead of our parochial winter, playing her guitar and singing, and we loved her, all we boys. All except Chris.

Looking back, it makes sense that Sister Mary Emily was designated our destroyer. Our Trojan horse. Chosen, I must assume, by Sister Ursula, the expressionless mother superior whose office was approximately the Mouth of Hell. Sister Ursula must have known that we trusted her novice implicitly, that we’d accept on faith whatever otherwise untenable tale she might tell.

It worked, too. Brilliantly. Sister Mary Emily, the smiling, the singing, the lamp unto our Hushpuppy-clad little feet, she parted her lips one balmy afternoon and spewed us with a white-hot wretchedness. She boiled the oceans and blotted out the sun.

On the way home, I cried. I begged my parents to tell me they hadn’t … done … what Sister Mary Emily had told us parents … do. Yes, they said, they’d done that thing. More than once, I asked? More than the minimum required? They might have, they said. Might have, I thought. O God.

I don’t remember whether we boys debriefed each other the next day. Or ever. So I don’t know how Chris took the news, whether he cried himself to sleep, too, or whether his parents refused to renounce their sins as mine refused to renounce theirs. He did continue to show us his butt from time to time, though maybe with less enthusiasm. He continued until one of us, acting perhaps on the implications of information just acquired, reported his strange behavior to Sister Ursula.

And then he disappeared.