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 Short Story

Sunday Mornings

By Goddonny Fassig Normil

That most hallowed of days, when God, deeply sighing, uttered a booming, "It is good," and rested. That fleeting day preceding the frenzied bustle of Monday mornings. Sun Day. I have always hated Sundays. The suffocating air that seemed to seep through the cracks of every room, reeking of sadness and judgment, and mystically possessing everyone in my household on those mornings, still creeps in today.

My father, with eyes as yellow as the sun from his failing liver, would walk pass the doors of the room I shared with three women, ominously clearing his throat in mock disapproval. The noisy floorboard creaked loudly under his heavy footsteps. He always cleared his throat when something upset him. Growing up, I was told, in true Haitian myth-making fashion, and for many years believed, that it was blood welling up in his throat from his hypertension, and by clearing it, he was able to prevent a heart attack or sudden suffocation. Until I was old enough to realize the absurdity of this nervous tick, whenever my father cleared his throat, I would find myself negotiating between dread and sympathy, fearing his wrath and being extra careful not to exhaust his fragile heart.

As usual, my mother, with her perpetual frown, was grumbling about some long ago resolved grievance. She could never let things go. She slammed the doors of our small, blue-walled attic apartment, as if to scream, "Wake up you damned heathens! Don't you know it's Sunday?" Her heavy body worked at an impossible pace. Her usual unhurried waddle was now replaced by movements of fervor and purpose as she went on making my father's coffee, ironing her newly made dress over which she had labored all week, and would only wear to church on this particular Sunday, and perhaps once more several months from now to avoid recognition by Sister Edith, her nemesis. Her pink, spongy rollers were still in her hair from last night as she applied her make-up.

My sisters and my cousin zipped around with equal mechanic exactitude. All their dresses had been laid out from the night before. Their multi colored, hard plastic rollers came cascading off their jet-black hair, newly permed with Revlon relaxer. No one uttered a word, or seemed to take notice of one another. Everyone was a stranger to me on those mornings as I suddenly disappeared in the thick piety of that house. My father would find me standing behind him in my small suit with a tie in hand. He'd turn and scrutinize my choice and if he approved, he'd put on my tie and reprimand me for not remembering how to tie it myself. Perhaps it was because he was left-handed and being right-handed, I found replicating his inverted dexterity a bit difficult. In time, I would master the art. Once I was fully dressed, my mother would inspect me, and pinch my cheek with a smile. This was the momentary human moment of those mornings. The tension dissipates and is replaced by nervous mistrust.

Then, it was off to the car where we sat cramped and silent as my father drove to church. My stomach-always in knots. The quiet ride was usually interrupted by one of my mother's shrill critiques of my father's driving. She watched him like a hawk. To her credit, it is true that my father never really watched the road. Rather, he looked entranced by the insignificant goings-on of the street; barely dodging other cars, or unexpectedly propelling us, the snugly packed sardines in the back seat, forward with a sharp pump of the brake, and each time my mother would suck her teeth, shift her weight, and shoot him a death glare. I would try to follow my father's quickly shifting eyes, but never seemed to notice what he found so much more compelling than the road ahead. Later in life, it became clear to me what my father's eyes, and for that matter, the rest of his body searched for, and I stopped following them.

In those days, church was nothing more than a damp, small, square room. The walls were colored a pastel blue and the ceiling was ornately decorated with sculpted wreaths, framed in raised squares. The floor was lined with burgundy-colored wooden benches. The brownish tile on the floor emitted a hint of urine mixed with excessive layers of Pinesol. The pastor's wife, whom he's beaten throughout the years, once so bad that she lost their third child, was the one who cleaned the room every Saturday night. The pulpit, with a cross emblazoned in front of it, stood on an elevated stage lined with bright red carpeting and a few chairs for the church dignitaries. Three times a week I came to this room to pray…stand…sing…sit and stand again. A melancholy congregation languidly wailed in a multitude of discordant harmonies, "Grand Dieu nous te bénissons. Nous célébrons tes louanges…" Always on my best behavior under my father's watchful, yellow eyes, I vacantly mouthed the words to every hymn, mostly from memory. Their true meaning, however, was a deep mystery to me. My sisters kept their eyes straight ahead, never daring a glance at any boys, for there, my father's eyes waited to meet them. Then someone would lean into the microphone and announce with great drama, "The Eternal is in His temple, may all the world be silent before Him." A chilling hush waved across the room, and like a hermit emerging from a long period of isolation and meditation to rediscover the world, the pastor, Frere D'Or, would slowly emerge from some obscure corner of the stage. Hunchback, subdued, contemplative, and clutching an oversized Bible to his chest, he would mount the pulpit. At first building a disarming momentum, he would suddenly begin screaming and sweating, his handkerchief laboring away at mopping up the rivers of sweat that dripped from his face. All the while, he would be pointing at the congregation, slapping his Bible, and raising his hands toward heaven. Spittle flew from every corner of his mouth, and showered the heads of the dozens of teenagers who sat, motionless in their pretend-attention, nearest to the pulpit. They couldn't be trusted not to doze off and had to sit under the watchful eye of the church elders. For an hour or more, Frere D'Or pounded the sermon home. Lessons learned? Love God and NEVER incite his wrath; pay your tithes, but take care not to work too much overtime to avoid being greedy; steer clear of thy neighbor's wife or women in general; keep coming to church; never dare question God or His church, and just maybe you might enter the Kingdom of Heaven and be spared an eternity of roasting in flesh melting fires and harassment by a hideous creature called Satan. Let's just say I was very scared of God and hell, and that heaven seemed like the most impossible thing in the world.

Just as quickly, the sermon was done and the pastor had hurriedly thrown himself onto his chair a few feet from the pulpit. Genuflecting, with eyes tightly shut, his lips moved inaudibly as he muttered a fervent prayer of gratitude to God for granting him such divine inspiration. The dirigeant ended the service by leading the congregation in one of three lethargic and formulaic hymns sung every Sunday at this time. I never took my eyes off the pastor.

Once outside the small, stuffy room, as if a potent spell had been suddenly lifted, everyone morphed back to their former selves. Lively and chatting about recipes, Michael Jordan and the Bulls playing later that day, Haitian politics, the hopelessness of teenagers in the US, back pain, needing more overtime at work, and brother D'Or's fiery sermon. Children ran up and down the block, the wealthy families took their time getting into their glistening Cadillac Sevilles, while the less fortunate gossiped about the insurance frauds that paid for them. The Sun, always late, finally peeks its shiny head on this day named in its honor, and I seek shade.
Goddonny Fassig Normil
Copyright 2004
Listed 11/21/2005

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